For as long as there have been messengers there have been messenger races. Foot messengers raced all over the world and with the invention of the bicycle came bike messengers and bike messenger races. In 1895, bicycle messengers from rival Toronto telegraph companies were racing each other. In the first documented bike messenger race the Great North Western Telegraph Company (GNW) messengers challenged the Canadian Pacific Railway Telegraph (CPR) messengers to a bicycle race at the Toronto island track.
In 1896, the fall championship meet of the New York State Division League of American Wheelmen. included a race for District Messenger boys.
Many telegraph messengers in the 1930’s were racing enthusiasts. Like many messengers today, they rode fixed gear racing bikes with no brakes. Toronto messenger Bob McLeod surprised the world by beating a very strong field to win the premier cycling event of the 1934 British Empire Games – the 10-mile race. In addition McLeod came second in the time trial. And in 1984, New York messenger Nelson Vails became the first African-American cyclist to medal in the Olympics, collecting a silver in the sprints.
By 1985 messengers in Toronto were competing in races that mimicked their work day by delivering to various checkpoints throughout the city in live traffic. In 1989, ex-courier, Johnny “Jet Fuel” Englar would coin the phrase “alleycat scramble” to describe his annual Halloween messenger race. From then on, live traffic messenger races would be known as alleycat races.
In 1993 Toronto messengers brought films of their alleycats to the first ever Cycle Messenger World Championships in Berlin and messengers from around the world returned home to organize alleycat races in their own cities.
An alleycat race requires the racers to think and plan the quickest route to a series of checkpoints. The type of bike the racer chooses is irrelevant.
Alleycat Scramble – The original Alleycats now have a site up with information and flyers from the historic first Alleycat Scrambles in Toronto.
The Toronto Story – Lost Cat, Mid-winter 1998
Those Crazy Messengers– Hideousewhitenoise, #56, 2003
Bicycle Couriers in Love With Life on the Mean Streets – Toronto Star, March 1993
Alley Cat Couriers – The Atlantic Monthly, Jul 97
Guido Does New York– Hideousewhitenoise, #33, Summer 1997
Full Contact Traffic – Hideousewhitenoise, Summer 1996
Sixth Annual Halloween Alley cat Scramble – Moving Target, Spring 1995