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Pedaling forerunners have already done the dangerous work of preparing SA streets for two-wheelers

Photo: Photos by Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

Last Friday night ride with the Downtown Highlife Bicycle Club, September 30, 2011.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

James Odom, San Antonio's solitary bicycle messenger.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

Young riders at Síclovía, Sunday, October 3, 2011.

Many bike shops and tour companies offer guided rides that provide a tour guide and bicycle for about $50, but it’s the free community-based events that are most effective in spreading the two-wheel cause. The Blue Star Growlers (on Facebook at DTSApolo) is a hard-court bicycle polo club that meets at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays at the concrete slab behind the parking lot at La Tuna before riding out to play at a nearby empty lot. The game is a three-on-three pick-up rotation, with teams chosen by throwing polo mallets in the air to see which side of a line they fall on.

And then there’s racing. Fixed-gear bicycles may be a trend-setting bike today, but they were developed by road racing teams over 100 years ago. In San Antonio on Wheels, a history of transportation in SA written by Hugh Hemphill, the director of the Texas Transportation Museum, a section on bicycles in SA recounts the story of the Independent Five, whose motto was “Keep in Front.” They competed on the Texas bicycle racing circuit in the 1890s on Nationals, an extremely light bike that was stripped of extras like brakes, gears, and the free-wheeling mechanism. The fixie is still in use on the banked ovals of velodromes and as a work bike by bicycle messengers. They’re definitely not for amateurs, though. Try stopping in traffic by dragging your foot on the ground and you’re likely to soar right through a busy intersection. The fixie race par-excellance is the Alley Cat. Like the bike, it’s part of bike messenger culture.

When Sergio Hernandez came back to town in 2005 after two years as a bike messenger in Chicago to work as a tech at the Blue Star Bicycle Company, he brought his Alley Cat attitude with him. “In Chicago and New York, the bike messengers get together and see who’s the best in the city,” Hernandez said a few weeks ago at La Tuna. “But it’s not like necessarily the fastest rider who wins. It’s more like, ‘Do you know where this little place is? Do you know about this secret alley to get you across here?’ and that’s the tricky thing about it.” Unlike road races that are run on set courses, in Alley Cats the riders are required to pass by a number of checkpoints before reaching a final goal. How they get there is their business. They’ve been staged in SA before, and may be again. Though they have the deserved rep of being risky, the emphasis is usually, believe it or not, on safety.

“Here in SA we wanted to show people, ‘OK, you’ve been riding your bike around town fixed up ready to go, but do you know where you’re going?’ If you’re on your bike and you don’t, you’re going to get hurt. Something bad is going to happen to you.”

As an ex-messenger, Hernandez is a bit critical of some of the rides around town. “There’s a group of them riding out to the Flying Saucer at night, so they choose to ride down Fredericksburg because it’s a straight shot, but Fred is dark as shit and people are driving 50 miles an hour.” He’s talking about the Monday night Highlife ride. “I’ve tried to go on these rides with them and kind of pull out in front and show them little moves. Three or four riders can pick up stuff from you, but a big group of people is just wanting to burn through every light, no matter.”

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