SARASOTA — Organizers of a Sarasota alley cat bicycle race Sunday said it would take more than pedal power to win.
Racers with the best knowledge of the city had the advantage in the informal bike-messenger race, which began outside Sol’s NYC Delicatessen on Main Street. Nearly all of the competitors in the first annual Sol’s Deli-Cat were assisted by map-enabled smartphones to plan their routes.
“You’re just going to do it as fast as you can as efficiently as you can,” race organizer Devin Borgwardt said.
Riders were given six locations, but unlike their true New York City counterparts, none had messages to deliver.
Instead, racers lined up and sprinted to start the competition at around 2 p.m. Sunday and rode to collect signatures from officials at each site. Riders then quickly returned to Sol’s.
Awards were given to the top three finishers, including First Fixed, First Out-of-Towner, First Woman, and the dead last rider. Sol’s provided a post-race meal for participants.
“It’s supposed to imitate a day of bicycle messengering,” Borgwardt said. “Just going somewhere picking something up; going somewhere dropping something off — we aren’t doing that exactly for this race.”
Alley cat races were first organized in big cities (New York, Berlin, San Francisco) where there was a need for same-day deliveries in central business districts. Bicyclists weren’t affected by traffic jams or parking limitations, and delivery was predictable.
Bike messengers in those cities often put on the races to tout their skills as the city’s best urban cyclists.
“For a town (Sarasota) that wouldn’t typically have bike messengers because it’s so small, it’s kind of cool to go out there and mimic that vibe,” racer Ken Knowles of Sarasota said.
Traffic is not stopped for the race, and there is no formal route.
“You’re generally trying to choose the best route that suits your riding style or your speed,” Knowles said. “Something that’s a little bit safer.”
Matt Gunter, a bartender at Sol’s and a race organizer, said the competition is mostly for fun. The “30ish-mile” race gives participants a chance to see Sarasota, and learn some nice spots to ride.
“It brings people together who don’t normally hang out,” Gunter said. “We have some road cyclists here and some track cyclists as well. It’s a pedal-your-(expletive)-off for an hour sorta thing.”