On Saturday night I participated in the Black History Month alleycat held at Pal’s Lounge on Auburn Avenue. We raced from checkpoint to checkpoint, where we were asked some questions about Atlanta-specific black history. I would like to have learned more about the questions, but I was too busy jumping back on my bike and hauling ass to try and keep up with my fellow riders to learn anything.
I think a slower-paced ride with a less racing and more learning would be an excellent idea for February 2011, but I feel old just typing that out so forget I said it.
In the annals of Jim history, we will find that I have participated in alleycats before and had a lot of fun. Typically I ride with my friend Bob, who knows every street in the city and is thus indispensable on these scavenger hunt style races where the route is so crucial.
Bob, however, had some girlfriend-related matters to attend to and couldn’t race, so I was on my own to tag along behind someone else. My knowledge of the city streets is relatively good, but not good enough.
If you don’t know what an alleycat is, it’s a style of bicycle racing which ostensibly mimics the workday of a bicycle messenger. Elements are often added to the race that have nothing to do with speed, such as answering historical questions or wearing 80’s clothing. Sometimes there are time bonuses for getting a tattoo during the race, or for holding a latte and being smug about indie bands while doing a trackstand in the middle of an intersection.
There’s little doubt that brakeless fixed-gear bikes are the clear popular winner in terms of style, but geared bikes with brakes are both faster and safer. You don’t see any videos of kids in skinny jeans riding road bikes in circles on Vimeo, but add some music and remove the gears and brakes and you’ve got yourself some hipster culture, son!
The legend goes that poor bicycle messengers in New York City and other places favored fixed gear bikes because the maintenance costs of geared bikes was too great. The alleycat aims to celebrate this spirit of simplicity.
I can understand the maintenance woes. I am forever replacing chains and adjusting derailleurs to get my geared bikes to shift correctly, not to mention spending a few hours this weekend with a toothbrush and some citrus degreaser on my mountain bike drivetrain.
Still, it is hard for me to understand why anyone would want to dart out into traffic the way my two riding partners did. Both faster riders than me, I was struggling to keep pace with them even though I had gears, but when it came to stopping at intersections I had them beat.
Their method seemed to be just to be to rush headlong into oncoming traffic. Whether this was due to some deep-seated wish for head trauma or merely the lack of good braking equipment I cannot say, but I did notice that I seemed to be one of the few wearing a helmet.
Cars would lay on their horns and stomp on the brakes, and my friends would loop and swerve to avoid getting hit. I couldn’t help thinking “no wonder drivers hate cyclists!”
I’m certainly guilty of coasting through a stop light or two when no one is coming, but I don’t split lanes and I certainly don’t whip into an intersection full of speeding death. I also never punch my hands down into running blenders, or starve an alligator and then attempt to copulate with it.
Excitement must always, it seems, come with a certain measure of risk or taste of the taboo. Some of these are acceptable to some and not to others. It is for this reason that I believe that fixed gear city riding is the bicycling equivalent of sexual fetishism.
For my part, I am boring and safe on a bicycle as well as in the bedroom. My turn ons include naked girls and bikes fitted with brakes. I also strap on protection before I engage in either one. Bor-ring!
Some girls have been known to complain about my practice of wearing a full-faced helmet to bed, but one cannot be too careful.