An alley-cat race is an informal race held in cities with as much emphasis on participation and fellowship between cyclists as on winning. Usually there is no set race course, and cyclists are free to choose whatever route they come up with to get to the finish as fast as possible. Formats vary, but alley-cat races may include a series of checkpoints that cyclists must reach in order to complete the race. Often there are tasks and/or obstacles at each station that must be completed that add to the fun and competition. This may be something like chugging a beer, performing a track-stand or doing a three-legged race.
Since the required checkpoints are commonly provided just shortly before the race itself, a cyclist's knowledge of the city and various ways to get around may be an advantage. Participants may ride on-road or go through parks, college campuses, bike trails or other off-street routes.
Alley-cat races are usually unsanctioned, and streets remain open to vehicular traffic while the race is going on, since there is no designated route the cyclists must follow. (Related article: How to ride safe in traffic.) Alley-cat races have historically had a close association with fixed gear bikes and bike messenger culture. This comes out of the bike messenger's desire to get to the end point as fast as possible in the performance of their job, regardless of traffic and without consideration of the limits brought by the typical route that an automobile driver might have to take.
After the race, there is usually some sort of party where prizes are awarded and the participants boast or lament their performance.