By Krista Carlson
From humble Toronto bicycle courier beginnings alleycats have grown to be an inseparable part of urban cycling culture.
Today nearly everyone and their cousin has heard stories of infamous alleycat races—of messengers jetting between cars and skidding through intersections, reckless and crazed, like a sharknado on bikes. In the last decade, alleycats have gone from underground to ordinary, almost de rigueur. Races like Monster Track, Quake City Rumble and Stupor Bowl have established themselves as long-standing traditions, while countless others in cities across the country are one-and-done affairs of varying size and intensity.
Bike races—just plain ol’ bike races—have been around for as long as there have been bikes. And messenger races—well, they’ve been around even longer (first on foot and then by horse). One of the earliest recorded bike messenger races was the Critérium des Porteurs de Journaux, a checkpoint race in which racers would exchange packages for tokens. Held as early as 1895, the Critérium des Porteurs de Journaux continued for several decades.
“Before alleycats there would be unofficial, unspoken races when you saw someone on the street,” says Corey Hilliard, who began his career as a courier in Philadelphia in 1990. “You give them a look—I’m looking at him, he’s looking at me.”