Every year for the last 10 years there is a chill in the air right about now. Not the kind that burns your face like the gnawing teeth of the groundhog biting into our Mayor’s finger, but rather an excitement. Its the chill of winter and a buzz in the air that signals the world of underground “alleycat” street racing is about to blossom like a spring flower. Like anything else, the bench mark is set in New York City and nothing signifies that more for the sport thats not a sport, then the annual Monster Track race. This is NYC’s own, like rappers battling in the South Bronx or dominating the side of a subway with a graffiti tag. Monster Track is its own unique animal, a local one, specific to this city. Often imitated but never duplicated, the street cred begins here. Most alleycats have no rules…thats the point…this one has only one…NO BRAKES. So all those who have been fixed gear curious or following the latest bar spins on Youtube. Here is where that bar gets set. Its a chance to see who’s been riding the rollers, taking a few laps in the park, despite the frigid temperatures…like the Warriors…its time to come out and PLAY!
I first started documenting Monster Track in 2005 when it started on the West Side Highway, by the Frying Pan. I have always been interested in this race for the competition, for the rivalries and just to see how far people come to travel to race in the winter.
This year I thought I would profile specific people who have made Monster Track what it is. A different portrait of the people involved.
I start with the Rookie.
Pavel Marosin hadn’t done alleycat races till the end of last year. Now he’s trying his hand at Monster Track.
Name: Pavel Marosin
Where you reside: Jackson Heights, Queens
What bikes do you own: A Fetish Cycles road bike that I got on craigslist, and a Windsor Hour frame that I eventually replaced all the parts on.
What kind of cycling are you into?: I’m mainly into more of the endurance aspect of biking, I like to ride for a while at a fair clip.
What got you into track bikes?: I won’t lie, the whole fixed gear trend is what first got me curious. I saw so many fixed riders during the summer and I wanted to experience what it actually felt like to ride a fixed gear as opposed to my road bike. It also seemed like I’d be able to beat it up more and not worry as much about locking it up.
What got you into alleycat racing?: It was the competition aspect of it. I missed challenging myself against others as I did in my competitive distance running days in H.S. and college. It was also not as intense and expensive as a “legit” road race. I also watched a bunch Lucas Brunelle vids on youtube.
Do you follow the fixed gr forum at all? Nope, I felt intimidated/lazy when I saw the required log-in.
How do you hear about events? Guys at Continuum, messengers/bikers at parties, bikeblognyc, prollyisnotprobably, and whatever other blog I come across.
What other alleycats have you done?: Cranksgiving, Alley Kitten and Midtown Nightmare
What are some of the biggest challenges of racing in the city?: The biggest challenge for me is getting over the fear of knowing that many times you’re trusting someone else with your life. You trust drivers to look in the side view mirror, you trust drivers to not accelerate through the ‘just turned red’ light and you trust that they will follow all traffic laws, so you can brake them. Then of course there’s the ability to handle your bike and predict how cars will move in front of you. I definitely take my risk taking up a few notches when I race, the adrenaline sometimes makes you do stupid things, and that brings in the challenge of controlling yourself.
How competative are the races compared to how fun? Whats the precentage? and why?: For me the race itself is about 80% competitive and 20% fun. I want to beat as many people as possible and have the satisfaction of knowing that I made my legs and lungs burn longer and harder than other riders.
I have fun when I’m joking around with people at checkpoints or being raucous when riding in a pack, or when I’m bombing down an open avenue to catch a rider.
I approach it from the point of view of a track race, because that’s what I’m used to and that’s what I think of as racing. When I would toe the line in a race I wasn’t having fun 98% of the time. I was nervous and I hated everyone around me, I wanted to beat all of them by pushing through the worst pain. In an alleycat, people are friendly before the start, during and after. That’s part of the appeal, you have people smoking, drinking, focusing or just not giving a shit about it at the start. There’s no pressure to take it seriously.
What makes you want to race Monster Track?: The pure simple fact that it’s a race where you not only challenge your own desire to stop but the riders around you. The extra skill level involved when not using a brake is also a new challenge for me, which is exciting.
What does it mean to you that Monster Track is 10 years old?: To me it means I’m a total newbie haha. Personally I have no attachment to the race or the history of it. But from what I read and hear about it, knowing how seriously people take it and how people come from all over the world to race it makes me realize that I’ll be taking part in something special. I’m sure it will mean much more to me after the fact.
What’s unique about Monster Track?:It seems like the intensity of riders is definitely upped for this race. A lot of people are weeded out so it’s quite a bit more serious than other races.
What has been your history about riding without a brake and will Monster Track be the first race brakeless?: Monster Track will be my first race brakeless. I have so far been riding without a brake for about 2 weeks. It’s going fine, had a few close calls and a few minor crashes in the rain, but that was expected, just growing pains. I have definitely developed much more control and confidence over the last 2 weeks.
Who should race alleycats?: Anyone who is smart yet crazy enough to ride fast through traffic.Of course they need to realize what kind of danger they’re putting themselves and others in, and take responsibility for it.
Where do the messengers fit into this whole culture?: They are obviously the starters of alley cats and they get tons of respect from me. I think part of the reason the whole brakeless and alleycat scene is coming up big is that the messenger lifestyle is romanticized as thrilling and free. Who doesn’t want to ride a bike around all day for a living, especially during the nice parts of the year? But, obviously it’s not as fun as it may seem. So alleycats are a chance for desk jockeys like me to play messenger once in a while. They started the scene, they make up the scene and they keep alley cats going.
What is the future of alleycat racing?: Hopefully it’ll remain a mainstay in urban communities, a chance for people to push the limits of interacting with their environment on bikes. Obviously it sucks when a trend or an activity blows up because you don’t feel as unique and excited by it when everyone’s doing it. On the other hand I realize that I’m part of that crowd that makes these races bigger every year, so I feel awkward wanting the scene to stay small, friendly, fun, and not attract too much attention from the media and the authorities.
what are you goals for cycling both sanctioned and unsanctioned?: I can’t say I have any goals besides getting to a point of being competitive in alley cats. I don’t have any desire right now to get intense about road biking, even though that’s why I got into biking in the first place. Maybe someday. I might try a track race, preferably of the longer variety.
What do you think of the rise in popularity of fixed gears, the fashion, the trend? Will we stay on the underground or will we see an alleycat race in X games 2012?: I sure as hell hope we don’t see an alleycat in the X games! As far as the fashion of fixed gears goes, I try not to succumb to it too much. I’m a sucker for deep Vs as much as anyone else but I don’t focus on looking cool when I ride. Yea, I want my bike to look a certain way, but I’m on it because I love going fast, and putting effort into it. I get sweaty as hell coming into work everyday, I’m not on it to look pretty. People can buy whatever cool clothing and bike accessories they want, but that’s not what biking is about to me(maybe I just wish I could afford that stuff!).
You have a full spectrum of fixed riders, the guys who just ride to work and bars in fancy clothes, the tricksters, the messengers, the hardcore trackies and roadies, whatever it is, the bike holds a certain place in these peoples lives. It’s a special feeling riding fixed and brakeless but it’s also a special feeling being able to shift up on a road bike when you didn’t think you could. I think it’s too late for the fixed trend to stay underground, but no matter what the trend is, I just hope there’s no elitism about the kind of bike people ride.
Pavel, raced in Last weeks “Give em hell” Alleycat.
and this is what happened to him:
It started well for me and i was with some of the top guys going to the third check point but a few avenues away I ran into a woman(not directly) who was walking her dog. She had one of those long thin leashes that I couldn’t see, I actually thought the dog belonged to the guy walking behind them. Anyway, I rode right in between the woman and the dog. The leash got tangled in my back wheel, pulled the dog for a few meters, it was a mess. Took me more than 5 minutes to get the damn thing out of my wheel. Surprisingly, the woman was actually really cool about it.
That incident completely frustrated me and i ended up riding pretty slow to the next few check points, it was really frustrating knowing that I was almost DFL at that point. I ended up picking it up and passing a few riders but making a bunch of wrong turns because I was still so frustrated about the damn incident.
Needless to say, the opportunity to prove myself to the top riders went out the window.
I took my brake off yesterday and have ridden quite a bit so far around the city without it. It has felt great, definitely brings a whole new level of awareness and enjoyment to riding. It’s kind of scary but also freeing at the same time. Although I had a few close calls, I didn’t have to ride as slow as I thought I would, compared to how I rode with a brake.
I’m training hard for monster track, getting those miles in, so hopefully I’ll surprise a few people!