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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Summer is synonymous with bicycle races and fun on two wheels. The tour de France being one of the most famous bike races, may not be the most fun or the easiest race to enter.

Alley Cats, a generic term for inner-city bike races, are designed with the bike messenger in mind - get to as many locations around town in as little time as possible. The races, held locally and around the country, are designed like a scavenger hunt where the racers must pass checkpoints on a manifest given to each racer at the beginning of the event.

Gainesville's growing bike community has been participating in local Alley Cat races for more than a year, with races sponsored by local bike shops.

Jacob Adams, manager of Spin Cycle on West University Avenue, has organized three races since April.

He said it usually takes about a month to plan the manifest accordingly with the theme of the race and to get the sponsors and volunteers ready for the event.

"Part of the fun of the race comes from not knowing the course until you receive the manifest," said Adams as he explained why he does not race in the events he organizes.

In the planning period, Adams also advertises for the event with posters and fliers locally and by posting the event on www.flfixed.com, a bicycle forum for cyclists on fixed-gear bikes.

He also designs the spoke cards used during the race.

"A lot of people keep them as a memento to show they've participated in the event," said Adams.

The race he is preparing for now, the Postman's Calling Alley Cat on May 30, is themed after the 1997 Kevin Costner film, "The Postman." The manifest will include the four local post offices in Gainesville. Each post office will clue bikers as to where their next location should be.

Using a similar concept, the Easter Cat, held on the weekend of April 12, required racers to get off their bikes at each location and find an Easter egg with their next clue.

The scavenger hunt feel and the sense of community among the cyclists in the Alley Cat races allow racers to see the race as fun rather than purely competitive.

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"They aren't so much about the competition so much as the community of like-minded cyclists getting together and having a good time," said Michael Pedron, board member of The Kickstand, Gainesville's Community Bike Project. "The fun happens before and after the races."

Participants are encouraged to dress in costume according to the theme of the race and stay after the races for parties hosted by the sponsors.

For the race on Saturday, participants in costume will be eligible to enter both a costume contest and the race itself.

For the Easter race, Adams dressed as the Easter bunny for the race, and for another race he participated in, him he and Dave Vollbach, also an employee at Spin Cycle, rode tandem in neckties without shirts.

"At all bike races, there is a very fun atmosphere, but Alley Cats is the most fun," said Vollbach. "It's just a bunch of people having a good time. You can race hard and you can still have a good time. It's all about the attitude."

In the spirit of competition, Vollbach was stopped by a police officer for weaving through traffic and running through a red light.

"He asked me if it was worth it to risk my life for a race," he said. "I answered, 'I don't know, it's still early.'"

Vollbach's desire to quickly resolve his confrontation with the officer landed him in the back seat of the officer's patrol car, handcuffed, for 15 minutes before he was allowed back on the course.

He finished in 18th place, a feat which he is still proud of.

The races are held on the open streets of Gainesville, leaving the decision of whether or not to follow safe traffic laws up to the racers.

"The races are informal, but it's not the kind of thing I'd encourage kids to do," said Vollbach. There's no permission on the road to hold these races, the roads are still working. The races are more of a party atmosphere than a family one."

The entry fee to participate in Saturday's 30 race is $5 and a non-perishable food item which will be donated to the Bread of the Mighty food bank. The food bank will be among the stops on the manifest and the racers will drop off their food item during the race.

Spin Cycle has also been working with Mother Earth Market by collecting food items all week for the event.

This is the first time Spin Cycle worked with a charity during their races, but Adams said the volunteers who work each race play an important role in the event because the profits from each race are minimal.

Registration for the Postman's Calling race will begin at 3 p.m. The race will start in front of Spin Cycle at 4 p.m., and a party with live bands, DJs and food will follow after the race at the bike shop.

Adams plans on sponsoring a bike race every month of the summer. His biggest project is the Labor Day weekend race, during which he hopes to hold events every day of the weekend.

"I really enjoy Alley Cat racing because they are more fun oriented than ordinary racing. You don't have to worry about having the right bike or the right clothes," he said. "Part of what we're doing with Alley Cat racing is making people aware that there's a lot going on in Gainesville as far as cycling."

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