Rawk & Roll Alleycat & Scavenger Hunt to Benefit the Bicycle Music Festival

by Eric Shalit on June 27, 2010

A decorative arrangement I made from several of the racers at the starting line of the alleycat in the alley behind Mobius Cycle just north of Pioneer Square. Note the bicycle gang hand-signing.

Yesterday, Seattle hosted 2 race events. Some 27,000 runners (not a typo: that’s 27 thousand!) participated in the Rock-n-Roll Marathon, one of a collection of behemoth road running events owned and operated by the for-profit corporation Competitor Group, Inc. The series is known for lining race routes with live bands, cheerleaders and themed water stations. The Marathon fee is $105 and $95 for the 1/2 Marathon.

My son Max and I participated in a different event, this one involving bicycles, as is our calling and likely genetic disposition. The Rawk & Roll Alleycat & Scavenger Hunt Race is a new event benefiting the Seattle Bicycle Music Festival. It’s non-profit, of grass-roots origin, and inexpensive. The race fee was $5. About 35 racers competed in this first-year event.

The Urban Dictionary tells me the word “Rawk” is an alternative spelling of the word “Rock”, frequently used to refer to alternative music. After much research I also learned that the “n” in “Rock-n-Roll” is an alternative spelling of the word “and”.

While I think it’s amazing and wonderful that so many people are participating in colossal outdoor athletic events like the Rock & Roll Marathon and STP (Seattle to Portland bicycle parade), there’s much to be said for smaller grass-roots events. The $5 entry for the Rock & Roll Alleycat  and similar events is affordable and inclusive; and there is clear evidence they are at least as much fun. It’s like the difference between seeing your favorite band in a stadium or a club.

On the other hand, by participating in a mega-event like the Rock-n-Roll Marathon, you get to pretend to be an elite world-class athlete (unless you actually are an elite world-class athlete), cheered along by throngs of supporters you don’t actually know, while big-name bands specially paid to perform anthems to your athletic achievements play on the sidelines, and marketing professionals tout the financial benefits to the local economy as they plan ahead to extort money from local governments for next year’s profit taking event. This is America after all, a once-great nation driven by fantasy and dreams of massive transfer of wealth, so I’m OK with that. And, if you don’t actually like running, there are thousands of people to cheer you along and encourage you to do it anyway.

Alleycat racers in the Mobius Cycle "War Room" strategically mapping their route to as many of the 17 citywide checkpoints listed on the manifest as they can manage within the time limit, which I believe was about 1 hour 45 minutes.

How the Alleycat thing works:

Checkpoints Up Front: Organizers gave each contestant a checkpoints/manifest/list/sheet-o-paper before the start of the race. This allowed each rider to strategize their individually planned routes. While some checkpoints were designated locations, others were given as clues that riders had to solve. There were about 17 checkpoints on the manifest, with locations ranging from north Ballard to Georgetown.

Point Collection: This was a scavenger hunt style race with each stop worth a certain number of points. Since I don’t believe it would be possible to hit all the checkpoints within the designated time (without cheating), riders had to decide which checkpoints would give them the highest point totals (without cheating). Riders who have the best knowledge of routes and those who are able to solve clues are at an advantage. Riders who are skinny and have big legs are also at an advantage. Cheating will also put you at an advantage, but is frowned upon. Known cheaters often remark that their after-party beer tastes like urine.

Some riders were lone wolves, heading out on their own, while others formed alliances (called “pah-sees”) and rode together. I started out as a lone wolf but later was allowed to join a pah-see of young dudes who no doubt expected to quickly lose me (didn’t happen boyz!) based on our age and girth differentials. Riding with the pah-see was fun and also made for more interesting photos (at least I like to think so).

Here's a group of riders outside Guitar Center on Westlake Ave., one of the checkpoints. If Jimi Hendrix had worked in Guitar Center I'm certain he wouldn't have lived as long as he did and would have been better known for his bad attitude than for his music.

This is Dan, who kindly volunteered to man the checkpoint at KEXP. Contestants needed to be signed-in, stamped, or have other proof that they were at the checkpoint. I believe the "manifest" comes from the days when bike messengers had customers sign for the delivery. Dan gets extra points in my book for coming from my hometown of Brooklyn (home of non-franchise pizza).

This is the checkpoint at Belltown Pull-Apart, an amazingly lush and stimulating bike shop on Fourth Ave. near Cinerama. It's the only bike shop I've ever been in that has a piano and a "live" piano player. He was actually quite good.

Checkpoint at Vera Project box office, in Seattle Center.

Another checkpoint. Charles Hadrann outside his Fremont shop Wright Brothers Cycle Works. Charles is a legend in the local bike world. He teaches wheel-building classes at the shop. Knowing how to build or true your own wheels is a good thing to know, which I don't actually know, but should.

Checkpoint at Slave to the Needle in North Ballard. You can see by my pah-see's expressions that they are afraid of needles. It did smell like industrial strength disinfectant though, which is likely a good thing.

Volunteer Park checkpoint. Finishing the climb from the U-District to the top of Capitol Hill was cause for a bit of celebration.

About 10 minutes to go before the 6PM finish deadline, after which points get docked.

Finish line and party at Cafe Metropolitan Bar & Cafe on Capitol Hill's E. Olive Way. This was a great place to finish with cold beers and warm pretzels. This is one of the most bike-friendly places I've ever been to. We were allowed (welcomed?) to bring all our bikes inside. That's dazzling event organizer Sylvie Janecek in the center of the photo. Please volunteer to help her with the Festival!!! Really!!! Don't make me ask you again!!!

The atmosphere at Cafe Metropolitan was perfect after a hot summer day of bicycle fun. It's a seemingly endless warren of living rooms. Maybe it's the trompe-l'œil that makes it seem that way, or perhaps dehydration. That's right "trompe-l'œil". Lookitup!

Bicycle cheer & beer.

Joe, one of the event administrators, tallying manifest results.

An excellent selection of prizes went to race contestants and raffle winners. Not a sad face in the house.

Fans cheered from above at the start of the race. You won't see this at the Rock-n-Roll Marathon.

One of the great things about this event is I got to visit amazing shops I’d never been to like Mobius, Belltown Pull-Apart, Wright Brothers, and Slave to the Needle. Bicycle culture is thriving in Seattle. Although I’ve ridden in big organized events like STP, Chilly Hilly, RAPSODY, and Flying Wheels, smaller grass-roots like the Rawk & Roll Alleycat are just as much fun, way cheaper, and have great prizes.

I won the Pinarello rainbow cap signed by Bike Snob NYC. Other prizes included Monkey Lights, brass bells, various bike gear, T-shirts, Recycled Cycles gift certificates, and gift packages from Toys in Babeland. Not sure what those toys were exactly, but judging from the battery packs I’m guessing they were some kind of bike lights.

Official Sponsors

Wright Brothers Bicycle Works

Aaron’s Bike Repair

Mobius Cycle

Recycled Cycles

20/20 Cycles



Other Links

Cafe Metropolitan: Bar & Cafe

Belltown Pull-Apart

About the Seattle Bicycle Music Festival
Inspiration for the Seattle Bicycle Music Festival came through the Bicycle Music Festival, which was started in San Francisco in 2007. The Bicycle Music Festival is the largest 100% bicycle-powered music festival in the world. The free, all-day (and late into the night) event features: a 2000 watt pedal-powered PA system, as many as 15 bands, up to 7 festival stops, outrageous bicycle party caravans between festival stops, and zero use of cars or trucks. With its completely bike-haulable stage, the event is packed up and deployed numerous times: staged sequentially at different public parks and also on a moving “Live On Bike” stage which rolls down city streets.

The mission of the Seattle Bicycle Music Festival is to promote sustainable culture in general and bicycle culture in particular, by physically engaging and immersing communities in the magic of bike culture, and cultivating and nurturing networks of local sustainable musicians, through our staging of usually free, community participatory, educational, bicycle-based music events.

Please check the Bicycle Music Festival website for upcoming events and schedules.

Click here to read an article I wrote on the “First Golden Age of the Bicycle & Popular Music” or scroll down.

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