Citywide Alleycat III

Alleycat races are the ultimate urban cycling challenge. Aside from a mass of brakeless fixies, the third edition of Philadelphia's Citywide featured hot sauce shots, rap performances, and scary(ish) dragons.

Citywide Alleycat III
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If you're not familiar with Alleycat races, allow me to introduce you. If you are familiar with them, it'll be fun to recap. Preparing for this story, my friend Leo described the phenomenon as "punk rock meets Mario Kart on bikes without the turtles and bombs" and, yeah, I think he nailed it.

Alleycat races are a pillar of urban bike culture around the world and test riders' strength, courage, endurance, and ability to navigate the city unlike any other event ever could. The prototypical alleycat racer rides fixed-gear with no brakes and their skin is a canvas for titillating tattoos. There's no set route - just a secret manifest with checkpoints scattered across the city like Wawas. Challenges await riders at those checkpoints and top competitors possess the unparalleled fortitude and skill required to negotiate busy streets and intersections. Street cred is on the line, for sure, but Citywide III's sponsors came through with some awesome prizes in different categories (including 50ยข off every item at Tattooed Mom's for life ๐Ÿ‘€).

To be clear, I'm not trying to glamorize running red lights without brakes. At the same time, I am trying to glamorize urban cycling culture and alleycats have been one of its most alluring traditions for over three decades.

At the southern terminus of the SRT in the Devil's Pocket, riders began gathering to register for the third edition of the Citywide Alleycat. The event started in 2020 and has steadily grown from about 20 riders to 68 this year, filling in the void left by the discontinuation of the long-running Rocky race. Citywide aims to be inclusive and they encouraged their followers to share their flyer on Instagram to encourage new faces and first-timers to join the race. Eight riders from NYC Bicycle Messenger Association rolled in alongside others from DC, Baltimore, Lancaster, and elsewhere to try their chances on our streets.

The air filled with a sweet dank aroma I can't quite identify, organizers instructed riders to lock their bikes to a nearby fence, as is alleycat custom, and began to set the rules and expectations. Sprinting off to unlock their bikes, riders were surprised to have learned they wouldn't know where the race's checkpoints were until they picked up the manifest a mile away at Wharton Square Park in Point Breeze.

Nobody wasted any time getting there. At Wharton Square, riders found the checkpoint volunteer, received their manifest, and began to plot the fastest way to hit all ten checkpoints before the finish while a few unlucky souls tended to mechanicals. After snapping some photos, I followed someone fast-looking in an homage to Terry B but unsurprisingly I was quickly dropped.

I skipped a few South Philly checkpoints by sprinting down Washington Ave toward Washington Square and by the time I arrived the ten fastest had already been through. Here, checkpoint volunteers marked riders' manifests after dabbing glitter on their cheeks and facilitating a shot of Tortilla Silver. I heard tales of hot sauce shots at a previous checkpoint and, if the flavor was anything like this ride, it was damn spicy.

I tailed Staf across town through checkpoints at The Foodery, Paine's Skatepark, and the Drexel dragon statue apparently named Mario the Magnificent. Staf was maestro of the street's intricate rhythm and I mused at his relentless power while inhaling the smell of rubber burned by jamming his Vans into his back tire to stop.

The final checkpoint and challenge was at Clark Park, where racers swarmed seemingly at once, flying off their rigs or skidding to a stop on the crushed stone. To proceed they'd need to attempt to score a point in a ball toss game - but as skilled as they are on bikes, they weren't so great at this challenge. I don't think I saw anyone actually score but they all looked good trying and were allowed to roll after nine tries.

The home stretch featured epic skyline views crossing back over the Schuylkill on Grays Ferry Bridge and ended underneath at Grays Ferry Skatepark. A completed manifest (along with the crayon, card, and dragon selfie acquired on the course) earned all finishers a Citywide spoke card.

A bottomless cooler of PBR and generous helpings of Francis James Rye lubricated an afterparty that was just as fun as but significantly less physically demanding than the race itself. The DJ spun genuine vinyl records and the intrepid vied for more prizes in bike games like foot-down and sprint contests. After racing, Sly entertained with a rap performance and others baffled my brains by making no-handed wheelies look downright easy.

There were prizes for overall podium, WTFN-B podium, first fixed, first out of towner, and DFL. Overall podium was Misha (also first fixed), Noah, and Shane (also first out of towner - NYC). WTFN-B podium was Chris, Sonja, and Tali. The prize for the hardest worker, DFL, went to Megan.

Jarrah and Dan started the Citywide to celebrate the rich history and culture of a fading messenger community. It's a unique world that they feel people still want to participate in and they plan to keep hosting these events into the future. Be sure to follow Citywide on Instagram and check out Philly Bicycle Messenger Association for more on the culture.