“Alleycat” Street Race Catalyzes Chengdu’s Cyclists

The Natooke Bicycle Shop hosted Chengdu’s first “Alleycat” street race this last Saturday, and it was a historic event that drew together hundreds of members of the city’s burgeoning bicycle sub-culture under the Natooke banner.

In case you aren’t familiar with an alleycat (as I wasn’t), it is an informal, urban bicycle street race that demands quick thinking and knowledge of the streets as much as a heavy pedal. Birthed from the bicycle messenger culture of cities like Toronto and New York City, alleycat races can attract hundreds of cyclists who race between checkpoints, often on fixed gear bicycles. But by most accounts alleycat races aren’t  just about being the fastest: there’s emphasis on ad-lib fun and debauchery.

“It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt” says co-organizer Jacob Klink. “The points are not revealed until just before the race.  It’s not just a test of speed and fitness, but also someone’s wits and their ability to navigate the city.”

This event wasn’t just an alleycat street race. Nicknamed “Zombiecat”, this was a halloween party on wheels, roving across Chengdu in waves of cyclists.

At the Alleycat Event

Larry Adamson of Natooke
Larry Adamson, half of Natooke Chengdu

Jacob Klink and Larry Adamson of Natooke Chengdu began promoting the underground race several weeks ago on their Weibo account and with a post on the Chengdu Forum. With such a humble promotion campaign, many more participants emerged than organizers had expected.

“Response to the alleycat was amazing,” said co-organizer Jacob Klink. “With only 10 days notice we had over one hundred people from in and around Chengdu show up to race. Add atop that the number of bystanders, photographers, friends without bikes, etc. and it made quite the crowd.”

Chengdu Alleycat
Jacob Klink addressing hundreds of participants through a megaphone
Chengdu Zombiecat card
The “Zombiecat” spoke card

Competitors arrived at 4pm and registered just north of Tianfu Square at the center of Chengdu and were handed two items only moments before racing off:

  • A double-sided bi-lingual map with six Chengdu locations marked
  • A Natooke “Zombiecat” spoke card with each participants number on it

The rules were as follows: reach each of the map points in any order, finishing at the sixth and final location, the Natooke shop in the South of Chengdu.

After a precious few minutes of planning, hundreds of cyclists ran across the street toward their bicycles when Larry Adamson screamed “Go!” into a megaphone. Within sixty seconds the area was quiet and dozens of cyclists were off, pedaling at full speed in every direction. Below is a Youtube clip of this moment:

At each location were volunteers and affiliates of Natooke who stamped the map of each racer, offering encouragement and Dixie cups of water.

“Zombiecat” Checkpoints:

The Winner’s Circle

Although there were many foreign participants, all three winners were Chengdu locals with superior knowledge of the Chengdu streets. Winners raced down the final stretch toward the Natooke shop welcomed by enthusiastic cheers, and when they dismounted their bikes after the 20km hour-long trek, they looked ready to collapse.

Chengdu Alleycat winners
Winners of the first Natooke Chengdu “Zombiecat” race celebrate moments after arriving at the finish line

The first place winner, 19-year old Niujiao said: “I’m excited to win because this is my first time competing in a fixed gear bicycle race. I’ve only been riding fixed gear bicycles for four months, so this is a big deal to me. The fixed gear bicycle community is incredible and I’m excited to promote such an active and ecologically conscious movement.”

The winning female cyclist, 22-year old Li Yanxi said: “I participated in a previous alleycat race organized by the Tanker fixed gear shop in Chengdu. The Natooke event had more competitors and overall felt like a larger production. The prizes are fantastic, too.” When asked what was next for her, she added “Upgrade my bike and prepare for the next event.”

The Next Alleycat

Chengdu’s first Alleycat street race has already transpired, but Zombiecat organizers promise that there are sure to be more.

“We want to organize alleycats in Chengdu regularly”, says Jacob Klink.  “Maybe every few months organize a race on the order of this past weekend.  As I said the format’s flexible and we’re already talking about doing different styles including a ring road relay or a grand prix. Also we’re expecting within the next several months to do at least one big event over a weekend that includes a number of different races and bicycle competitions that hopefully should draw folks from all corners of the country to come out and ride. Keep your ear to the ground and listen for that whirring of the bicycle chain. And follow us on Weibo

More Photos

Maps in Hand
Jacob Klink with maps in hand, moments before releasing them to the crowd
Jacob Klink Natooke
Jacob Klink Addressing hundreds of Zombiecat participants with a megaphone
Fixed Gear Bikes
Dozens of colorful fixed gear bicycles lie in wait for the race to begin
Zombiecat Maps
With maps in hand, participants begin planning their route to hit all six destinations across Chengdu

Costumed Chengdu cyclist

Costumed Chengdu cyclist

Jacob's Jewelry
Closeup of the costume prop worn by Jacob and Larry. “Both of these are for sale in our shop,” Jacob tells me
Natooke Shop Bikes
Bicycles hang on the wall as people gather outside of the Natooke shop at the end of the race
Steven Laughing
Bicycle newbies and veterans alike enjoyed the alleycat event together and recounted the details afterwards
Bikes at the finishline
Dozens of fixed gear bicycles at the finish line. You won’t find many kickstands here


19 thoughts on ““Alleycat” Street Race Catalyzes Chengdu’s Cyclists”

  1. I have only been to Chengdu a handful of times, but it looks like the perfect city for an event like this. There seem to be so many quiet little back streets that it often seems like a quiet little town, not a big city.

    It would be practically impossible to have an event like this in Shanghai. Too much traffic on the roads.

    • Exactly, Chengdu is well suited for this kind of event for this reason. Ideally you’d want to stay off of second ring road where there’s constant traffic and construction, but there are alleys everywhere in Chengdu. Those are the best places for riding in the city – you quickly figure out smaller paths between destinations.

  2. Shanghai actually has a big alleycat every spring and it draws crowds of 600+. To accommodate the traffic of Shanghai they usually limit the checkpoints to all be within a smaller area of the city and increase the number of checkpoints to add to the challenge.

    For future alleycats we plan to get more sponsorship, categorically distinguish participants between locals/out-of-towners, geared/fixed gear bicycles, in addition to male/female, to better level the playing field.

    Most importantly it is just a fun time on a bike and a great way to meet fellow riders.

  3. Great pictures and excellent breakdown of the race. If anyone’s still curious what these races are like, just wait for the next one. Don’t want to race? We’re always looking for participants to help things run smooth and volunteering’s as fun as racing.

    In a lot of places races like this usually have a scene attached to them and they’re nearly inaccessible. Here people are enthused to ride and they’re basically a fun, open way to get out and ride which is just how we want them!

    Also, don’t let the weather fool you into thinking we’ll not be organizing rides and races. A ride is a ride whether you’re wet, cold, whatever!

  4. Interesting to see the “fixie” craze has hit China too. Nice you can organize an event like that. . I think in Beijing it would be hard because they discourage organized masses of any kind except for anti-Japan protests.

    • It’s been slow in making it’s way through China. Beijing and Shanghai were first to hop onto the hype. In fact Beijing has been running an alleycat of national fame for over 4 years running.

      I know for a fact this has caused some trouble with the authority for the amount of people, but there’s also proper ways to go about it in terms of notifying authorities, renting locations, etc. 2 years ago it caused a big stink because the primary sponsor, instead of covering the costs of the permits and necessary police coverage, decided to try and slip it under the radar. The police didn’t like this and broke up the event before a number of events could finish and an impromptu space had to be picked.

      For the scale of things, smaller local level races can be run without incident. We plan our races to convene at a single public location for only a short while. Once the race sets out there’s never the same mass of people as at the start.

      Considering 100 people tearing around on bikes it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the average daily traffic in Chengdu.

  5. I saw Line of Sight tonight, the documentary about alleycats made by a guy who filmed 150 of them around the world. Some of this footage is incredible, next time there’s a race in Chengdu someone should get footage with a helmet cam. Here’s a link with info on the film: http://tinyurl.com/b3u52fr

  6. I live in Dali and Beijing but will try and attend the next one. We started alleycat races back in Toronto around 88 or 89… Word spread after our stories of Halloween Havoc and st valentines massacre were told in Berlin at the first wcmc in 93. New Yorks first alleycat took place in 93 three monthes after the 1 day organized Berlin naked alleycat. Traditionally we had two a year, oct 31st and February 14th. Being a messenger in Toronto for two winters or winning a alleycat removed your “rookie” tag from your number. Thumbs ups on the wheel cards, but traditionally we used Tarot Cards. Keep em safe and fun. Get at least two shots of baiju in the next one if you want to keep traditional.


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