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No braking for alleycats

for The Brooklyn Paper
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DUMBO’s quaint cobblestone streets will be taken over next Saturday by thrill-seeking bike messengers in a renegade “alleycat” race.

At 2 pm, 50–100 young men, a few women, fewer helmets and plenty of tattoos will speed away from the starting line near the corner of Plymouth and Washington streets.

City officials rarely intervene since “alleycat” details are kept secret until the day of the race, riders determine their own routes and the unsanctioned events are publicized through fliers, MySpace and word of mouth.

But that could change, if the riders’ attitudes are any indication.

“Normally, I’m pretty sane, but when I do this, I go completely nuts.” said 26-year-old Miguel Reyes.

With few rules, winning depends on speed, strategy and, most important, fearlessness.

These days, Austin Horse, 25, may be the reigning madman, recently winning the “Rumble Through the Bronx” race.

The DUMBO alleycat is one of Horse’s favorites because of its hills and rugged terrain. Last year, some riders avoided the cobblestone in favor of dodging pedestrians on the sidewalks, but Horse toughed it out: “I got a flat tire right at the beginning, so I rode the whole race on a flat and still won it.”

Riders push the boundaries of traffic laws, but local authorities have not done much to challenge the races.

“If it’s just 50 or so people riding bikes through the neighborhood, I don’t really see a problem,” said Tucker Reed, executive director of the DUMBO Improvement District.

While messengers’ disdain for lane constraints and traffic signals may seem hazardous, riders often insist that they have a sixth sense for timing and, in turn, blame accidents on cabbies and bad drivers.

Reyes said he gave up messengering after having nightmares of being hit by buses. But he still races to get his fix.

“You could lose your life, be paralyzed, mangled or lose a limb,” he said. Then he added with a smile: “It’s all about how much you’re willing to risk.”

The DUMBO Alleycat race is on Saturday, July 21. Visit www.nybma.com for information.

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