Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Race report: Babes in Bikeland 7 alleycat bike race

I had a great time riding in the seventh annual Babes in Bikeland alleycat race this Saturday. Last year's Babes was my first experience doing a bike race of any sort, and it was SO FUN. Plus, at $5 for the event (plus $10 for a good T-shirt), it's the best deal on my race calendar, by far. Babes has fantastic volunteers and sponsors, and I want to give them a public shout-out here, because it's a great race and they make it fun. I was looking forward to racing through the Minneapolis streets again.

Babes is an alleycat race specifically for women (and female-identifying people). An alleycat is a race with a set of checkpoints but no set route. At the start, you receive the manifest -- a list of checkpoints throughout the city -- and determine which order you want to hit them, and by which route. Volunteers at the checkpoints may require you to complete a task of some sort before signing your manifest. Once you've been to all the checkpoints (and had your manifest signed -- don't lose the manifest!), on to the finish line, and usually socializing and beer.

Alleycats were started by bike couriers, and reward not only fast riding, but clever route-planning and knowledge of the streets and urban geography. I do okay on these, having biked Minneapolis regularly for two and a half years, but the winners in these events are so much faster and more savvy about route-finding than I am that it's pretty amazing. To give some perspective, I finished this year's event in the top third of finishers, in about 1 hour, 55 minutes. I think my routefinding was pretty efficient and I rode reasonably hard (until the last checkpoint, see below). By contrast, the winning woman did it in an hour and 16 minutes. Smokin'!

The weather was beautiful, crisp, and sunny early in the day, but as the 5 pm start approached, it became increasingly ominous. The Doppler showed a large green-and-yellow rain blob moving eastward over Minnesota. I packed my raincoat and, at the last minute, some armwarmers and a wool buff to wear under my helmet if it got cold. I made sure my lights had fresh batteries, oiled my chain, put air in my tires, and carried my flat-tire kit and pump, just in case.

I registered an hour before the start, got my manifest and some fabulous cold-brew coffee (thanks, Dogwood!),
These very cool ladies served GALLONS of iced coffee. Hooray!
and got to work with my map and a pen, just as light rain started falling. This year there were nine checkpoints, biased toward southwest Minneapolis, with the finish line/afterparty at a sculpture studio in Northeast Minneapolis.
Lots of people this year used iPhones and other electronic mapping devices, but I'm old school. Plus, a map shows you everything, fast. If you know the city streets at all, it's a better choice, I think.
This event draws lots of groups, and everyone was figuring out their routes and plans in the light rain. There were bikes and riders all over the park -- a total of 334 started, and 238 finished before the 3 hour cutoff.
Working out routes.
There were some well-dressed riders! A few had fantastic costumes, too.

Under the trees it was a little drier.
As the clock ticked toward 5 pm, we lined up and got ready to start. 
credit: babesinbikeland.com
I had my map, I had my plan, I had my routes written somewhere handy,
Note to self: Bring a better pen next year
and I was ready to go. After a briefing, including a reminder to ride safely in the rain, we counted down, and we're off!
Start line selfie. It started raining harder at this point, though, and I put on my raincoat. Less INKnBURN exposure, but much much drier.
My route took me up through my neighborhood, then eastward and down along the river to a Mississippi River overlook. Then a long stretch west to Hennepin Avenue, and a northward zigzag, hitting checkpoints all the way up through Uptown and into Loring Park. A sunset ride through downtown on Hennepin and across the Hennepin suspension bridge, a detour to Nicollet Island, and a finish in Northeast. It was a good tour of the city (though not quite as diverse and far-flung as last year's route). I rode about 18.5 miles.
This year's route. I think this was pretty efficient, though maybe not perfect.
Every checkpoint had a task or activity. The first, at Spokes, was to make a set of helmet antennae using pipe cleaners and a metal gear or other bike part. I got to the checkpoint just ahead of a big crowd and threw my antennae together quickly, then raced off to the next stop, a Mississippi River overlook.

Lots of people rode the same initial route as me, and I think almost everyone else did the river stop first then headed to Spokes, because once I hit the West River Road bike path, there was a steady stream of Babes riders going both ways. At the river overlook, we ran a lap along the scenic path while singing our favorite song (I did a very loud version of "The Walloping Window-Blind", which we sing a lot of in the car these days). Jumped back on my bike and headed westward.

It was a long straight shot to the next stop, Calhoun Cycle on Hennepin Ave. The rain picked up and then slowed down a bit, and I got warmer. I saw a few other riders along my route, but not too many -- we were pretty well spread out by then. At Calhoun, there was a camera set up and they took pictures of all the riders. Their photostream is here, and it's worth checking out -- there are some great poses, and great outfits!
I guess I was a little excited. credit: Calhoun Cycle volunteers
Then a northward zigzag, through Twin Town Crossfit (10 push-ups; I pleaded busted elbow and did 10 squats instead), Sunrise Cyclery (ring toss, where you had to throw a bike tire over a traffic cone from about 10 feet out), and up to Lowry Park, where the excellent volunteers had an awesome snack buffet, including homemade gluten-free oat bars that pretty much rocked. Thanks!

The next stop, and the only one that was the same as last year, was Alley Cat Cycles off of Loring Park, a 50% woman- (and 100% awesome people-) owned bike shop, where I got my spoke card (and where, last year, I got a really excellent bike tune-up. They know their stuff!). Then a zoom up Hennepin Ave to Nicollet Island, where I was asked to name my favorite book ("Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!", I yelled. The woman right behind me said, "Crime and Punishment!" They don't get much more different than that!). Up into Northeast, and the last stop was Behind Bars Bike Shop -- the only checkpoint I'd never been to before that night. They had a big bike box to sign for a friend in the hospital with a bike-crash injury.

At Behind Bars, I glanced at my watch - 6:45. "How many people have come in ahead of me?" I asked the friendly volunteers, who had a tent up, a grill going, a cooler of beers, and looked like they were having a great time. "Probably about 50 or so," one of them told me. "So I'm in no danger of winning or placing?" They agreed that I probably wasn't.

"In that case," I said, "Do you have enough of those brats to share?" They did, and were happy to share a bratwurst. I spent 10 minutes hanging out, eating hot spicy sausage, and watching about 15 or 20 more riders come through the checkpoint. Hey, I was hungry by then! As far as I was concerned, it was time well spent. Thanks, Behind Bars guys!

Back on the bike and a quick ride to the finish line at the Casket Arts Building, where results show I came in 90th of 238 finishers. Sweet! By then it was seriously raining and cooling off. It was close to 7 pm and the daylight was fading fast. I locked my bike up and started looking for food.

The afterparty was good, and would have been great if it hadn't been raining. They had kegs of beer donated by New Belgium, a DJ, snacks and coffee from excellent ladies of the Fox Den Salon, who do a rockin' haircut and volunteer at Babes every year, and a table of donated finishers' prizes. I scored a Sheila Moon bolero jacket -- awesome! Someone started a fire in a metal firepit using a flamethrower -- impressive and maybe even necessary, given the rain.

I was sipping coffee when one of the race organizers walked through looking for a medical professional. Reluctantly, I copped to being a doctor ("But not that kind of doctor!" I hastened to add). One of the riders had crashed, gouged her knee and was a little light headed. The race organizers didn't have any first aid kits or medical staff. Could I help? Well, if it was minor, I could. I grabbed a bottle of water and a granola bar in case the rider hadn't eaten or drunk since finishing the race, and followed her to the bathroom. The rider had a skinned knee, but after cleaning with some warm water and paper towels, it didn't look too bad. She ate and drank and told me she felt okay. I also cleaned up another rider who'd been in a crash, with an impressively skinned knee. With no other injured riders in view, I declared office hours over and rejoined the party.

It rained hard, and lots of us stuck around just long enough for the awards ceremony and drawing for a bike. There were some tents, but not enough cover for everyone, and I was *wet* despite my Goretex jacket and starting to get cold. I decided to declare victory and ride hard for home. Once home, after a quick bath, complete change of clothes, hot tea and a hot meal, I was wiped out. It was a good time, but exhausting!

This race was a lot faster than last year's, and I think rewarded fast riding with less of a premium on clever route-finding.  For last year's Babes, there were nine checkpoints, including one "mystery" checkpoint whose location was announced at another of the checkpoints. I took about 3 hours 20 minutes and rode about 23 miles all told, and finished about the same place I did this year, in the top third.
My Babes 2012 route
This was a really run race, with great volunteer energy and a really friendly vibe. As I said before, it's an absolute steal at $5 and will remain on my race calendar without a doubt. I would suggest the race directors stock a basic first aid kit at the finish line for future races. I liked last year's route, which was a true tour of Minneapolis, though I understand why a shorter route that finishes during daylight could be appealing. Last year's afterparty venue (Peacock Groove's shop in Seward) had the advantages of being indoors and being close to my house (okay, that was only an advantage for me), but if the weather had been good, the Casket Arts site would have been a great place for a party. Oh, and the free massages last year were really, really awesome. My sore deltoids the next morning were letting me know they missed them!

In conclusion, thank you, Babes in Bikeland, for another super fun race! It's so different from everything else I do, and so positive and energetic. I love this race and look forward to riding again next year. Thank you, volunteers and sponsors, for a great event.


  1. Great report Robyn. So fun to read about your evening race.
    It was awesome how much fun the racers were having. I definitely felt privileged to be a stop on the manifest.

    1. Thanks, Luke, for helping make the race happen! The Calhoun Cycle stop was fun, and it was a blast to see all your pictures afterward!