Alley Cat Racing: The New Extreme Sport?
    2012-03-21 14:39:04     CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Duan Xuelian
For the highlight of Beijing's first annual Bike Week, CRI's William Wang participated in the Alley Cat bike race.

William Wang gets his race on for CRI, at the Beijing Bike Week Alley Cat race.

by William Wang

I mentioned to my brother that I was going to participate in an alley cat bike race. "Alley cat bike race? What's that?" he asked.

"It's this race where everyone rides through downtown Beijing to three or six checkpoints before returning to the starting place. But it's kinda crazy 'cause everyone rides in traffic. So it could be a bit dangerous."

My brother paused a moment before responding, "That's stupid. I don't think you should do it."

The race was the highlight of Beijing's first Bike Week, and I was a bit nervous since I'd decided to participate. In competitions people can push themselves harder than they'd thought possible, which is great. Except that my direct experience is that in the streets of Beijing, the faster I ride, the more dangerous it is. And in the past my easygoing attitude has been crushed by the surge of adrenalin that organized competition brings about.

I heard that somebody got hospitalized last year. I was worried. What could I do to protect myself? I checked to find out if my health insurance was operational yet, and was told "not yet." I had another idea: invite friends. Then I could transform the race into a leisurely social outing. It wasn't too hard to convince a couple couples since amazingly the race was free, thanks to organizers Selkirk and China Bikers.

Saturday afternoon, me and my crew of four ogled all the fancy two-wheeled machines haphazardly scattered on the sidewalk. The minimalist fixed gear bikes that have come to stereotype hipsters won a clear majority. But I'd been to races before and knew that people with good equipment aren't necessarily any better than people without.

Ten minutes before the start, maps were passed out, revealing the destinations. The rules were yelled out to the restless contestants who had trouble staying behind the starting line. Six check points. Three for the short course. Any order. At each station, complete a mystery task. Get your map stamped, and continue.

After a couple exhilarating false starts, about 150 riders all charged off in a rush of mass disorganization.

The mass of bikes had momentarily overwhelmed car traffic and surged forward, its constituents hooting and hollering. My friend Craig materialized beside me and he astonished everyone by sprinting ahead of the pack on his rather uncool beater bike. He faded after a minute, panting, "I just had to show them I could do it."

At the first red light, a few riders stopped. Some darted ahead through gaps in traffic. Most veered right.

Me and Craig sat around an interminable two minutes before our group re-coalesced, and we hit the asphalt again. Our frantic map-planning now seemed irrelevant as it suddenly seemed more effective to yell at each other.

"I'm going left!"

"Don't go left! The main road is faster!"
 
"I'm going left!"

After 15 minutes, we arrived at the Workers Stadium, along with a handful of other riders. There was terrible confusion trying to decipher the task at hand, partly due to my inadequate Chinese, but it seemed that every rider was as baffled as I.

We had to find some hidden Post-it notes, and report the numbers written on them to the race officials with the stamps. It took a long time. I gave up after five minutes, waiting for someone else to complete the task. Someone did. And after another three minutes of waiting for our friend Yulong to reappear, we headed off.

On this stretch, we did spot one race casualty, a guy sitting on the curb, holding a blood-spotted napkin on his leg. Nothing serious, but nonetheless a good reminder not to ride any stupider than usual.

The second checkpoint task involved carrying two eggs to another mystery address before carrying them back to the original spot. Tragically, broken eggs were spotted, raising questions about disqualification.

The final stop was the national art gallery. Sprinting down the narrow alleyway, I incessantly rang my bell in such a way as to instill panic in pedestrians.

I luxuriated in screaming past a couple green lights, and arrived at the gallery in good time. A race official handed me a jar of beans, and said some stuff in Chinese.

"Do I have to?" I asked, and he affirmed that yes I had to.

They didn't look very good, but I popped a few into my mouth, which caused him and the other officials to start yelling at me. Oh. Uncooked beans are not slated to enter mouth.

I soon found out that we were supposed to count the beans. That seemed much more hygienic. My friends and I counted out 128 of them on the sidewalk (yuck), and hit the road one last time for the final stretch.

When I pulled up to the finish line, one or two people were standing there and one of them might have clapped. I was asked to produce my map with its required stamps, and I confessed that I'd lost it. My friend pulled up just after me, and shrugged that he'd lost his too.

"Sorry," apologized an organizer, as if we'd be bothered not to get an official placing. As if we were trying to win something. I was happy that I'd raced and not crashed. Yes, we'd broken a few traffic laws, but nothing that would be considered really inappropriate by Beijing standards.

Of course Carly was mad that her husband Craig hassled her to hurry up for the whole race, almost getting them killed crossing an intersection in a zigzag formation; but generally everyone enjoyed a drop of adrenaline in our afternoon tea.

Now the full-length course seems more tempting. Those hardcore riders got to do distasteful tasks such as catching poor little goldfish with their hands, while completing a 50 km course.

I hear that unsurprisingly, there were a number of spills in the course of the race, but nothing really bad. Probably nothing any worse than the crash I had myself as I hurried to my post-race appointment. Which did hurt, and did draw blood. But if it had happened during the race, at least it would have seemed more purposeful, and less like a bad literary device.

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