Courtesy of BMoreFixed

Stu Louder is the fastest bike messenger in the country. He’s got the trophy to prove it. The Richmond-based messenger won the 2010 North American Cycling Courier Championship, held in a park adjacent to the Atlanta Zoo. The race, which simulated a bike courier work environment, attracted messengers from all over the country to see who could pedal the course the fastest. Messengers have been gathering on a smaller scale in their home cities for decades, organizing underground races for fun, cash purses, and bragging rights. These small “alley cat” races are fly-by-night events on open streets, no permits, and very few rules.

“With an alley cat, you never know what to expect. It’s a lot like a day on the job,” Louder says. “Are you going to get hit by a car? Are you going to have a drinking day? Are you going to have to deal with some jerk? You have to be prepared for anything. I like that.”

Alley cat racers show up at a predetermined location to start the race, but that’s all they know before hand. Once at the starting line, they’re given the location of the first checkpoint a few miles away. At that checkpoint, they’re given the location of the next checkpoint, and so on. First person to the finish wins. How you get from one checkpoint to the next is entirely up to you. You can even take the bus if it’s fastest.

“Other than the notion of checkpoints, there’s a complete lack of rules,” says Sam Hanson, one of the founders of BMoreFixed, a loose-knit group of bikers dedicated to promoting cycling in Baltimore. Hanson and BMoreFixed produce a popular Halloween alley cat within the Charm City. “You can take shortcuts, hang on to cars…anything goes. It’s like the Wild West, totally wide open.”

While alley cats began as bike messenger bouts, they’ve recently been co-opted by the biking community at large, with races popping up in cities big and small all over the country.