The growing bicycle culture in Detroit has spawned what might be the most fun event on two wheels. The catch is despite the amusement provided; it may also be the most dangerous. I'm referring to the alley cat race. Alley cats are popular in cities all over the country. They are unsanctioned races through cities designed to mimic a bike messenger's day at work. Races normally start at Hart Plaza, include anywhere from six to twelve checkpoints, and usually cover about ten miles. Also, racers are generally paired up or teamed in groups of four.
Here in Detroit the architect behind the alley cats is one Ron Shelton. Alley Cat Detroit usually plans all facets of the races from the racecourse to the after party. Not only is Ron the brains behind Alley Cat Detroit, but also he is also a terrific mechanic and a bicycle genius. Additionally, by no means does Ron hold a monopoly over the nuts and bolts of the Detroit race scene. You want to design or put on a race? All you have to do is ask Ron and he would let you throw one together.
Alley Cats in Detroit are like alley cats nowhere else. The atmosphere is most accepting, especially considering the potential for hip snobbery in bicycle culture found in other cities. If you were to attend a race you would find racers of all types on many different sorts of bikes. You find the courier contingent, the commuters, the professional nine to fivers, and even sometimes teens on bmx bikes. Indeed, inclusion is the strongest asset of the Detroit alley cat scene.
Now, I must implore you not to get caught up in the word "race." Yes, there is a sense of competition, but prizes for winning are usually only laminated spoke cards for the wheels of the victors (and of course, bragging rights). Alley Cat Detroit is mainly an opportunity for bikers to get out on the streets and to have a good time. Most are planned in the evening hours to ensure all can be included, even if you have a day job. The aim is more to build a bicycle community rather than to separate the men from the mice.
The races are built upon a theme. Last January saw the running of the arctic alley cat, where racers bundled up and raced through the snow and ice. Before that was the devil's night alley cat, where some showed up dressed in Halloween costumes. Last summer, a race was constructed where riders had to not only hit each of the checkpoints, but also had to hop off of bikes in order to compete in games such as wiffle ball, basketball, poker, craps, and others that counted toward the outcome of the race.
Truly, racing around downtown Detroit is the way to spend your summer. Not only can you find the lowdown on the Alley Cat Detroit web page, but also on flyers that can be found in many places downtown locations. Keep your eyes peeled and you will find the races. Grab a bike and come down to Hart Plaza, you won't regret it!