Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, July 18

Gapers Block

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You could look at an alleycat (a term encompassing any unsanctioned bike race on city streets) as the grimy urban counterpart to an elite event like the Tour de France, complete with grizzled local messengers as the Armstrongs and Merckxes of the scene. It can be an intimidating sight to the uninitiated: a circle of cycling-capped urchins, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers on some street corner, suddenly hopping on brakeless track bikes and tearing through traffic with a reckless disregard for... well, anything.

At least, that's how I felt a couple of years ago, until I started doing them myself. I've raced in more than a dozen in the past year, and a general love of cycling is the only constant. Some riders show up in spandex, and some in denim, on high-end carbon fiber rigs and rusty steel tandems. There are messengers, of course, but also graphic designers, baristas, medical students — hell, even grandfathers. And just as "cycling" is often as much about collecting, researching and servicing as it is about riding, an alleycat is as much an opportunity to ogle, drink and photograph as it is to race.

Last week, I arranged my first real race: an "alleycriterium" in Fulton Market. (For the record, "arranging" here means that I made a flyer, asked a few friends to spread the word, laminated some spokecards, and showed up.) Around 40 people came out to watch 27 riders race laps around two city blocks (and also ogle, drink and photograph) on a mild summer evening. About halfway through the proceedings, a police officer pulled his car alongside a group of spectators, no doubt wondering what sort of unsavory event was going on in the warehouse district that night. "What is this, the Tour De France?" he asked. Assured that it was not, he volunteered that he'd been something of a cyclist in his day, as he settled in to watch the remainder of the heat.

Nathaniel Grotte

Click here to view the photo essay »


About the Author(s)

Nathaniel Grotte is a manuscript editor and loves getting his alleycat on. He is a staffer at Gapers Block. Naz Hamid hasn't raced an alleycat since last March but organized one last November. He is Creative Director of Gapers Block.

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