Ride Report: komoot Alley Cat - may the best adventure win!

Posted By Gravel Union On 30 October 2020

Shimano Gravel Alliance rider Erwin Sikkens heads into the forests near his home with his race-legs and more importantly, his route-planning brain in-tow.

Just before a second lockdown hit the Netherlands, or maybe right at the start of it to be more honest, True Grit - a lovely gravel event organiser - created this unique event, that I hadn’t seen before anywhere else – a komoot-based gravel alley cat

Bike messengers will definitely know the concept of an alley cat, but for those who have never delivered mail on a bike, let me please give you the short version of what an ‘alley cat’ actually is. An alley cat is basically a race, originally run between different bike messenger crews in an urban environment. The route of the race isn’t fixed and riders are given a manifest, or part of a manifest with locations and assignments that they’ll have to get to as quickly as possible, mostly running into unexpected new assignments along the way.

As you can probably imagine in a race like this, speed is an important factor, but a good knowledge of the city you’re racing in may very well be the biggest advantage you can have when looking for the quickest route from A to B. Decent route planning and a bit of creativity on the go might very well bring you the win over a faster rider in an alley cat.

Now let me jump back to last weekend's ride, where the idea was to create an alley cat outside of its original urban environment, using route planning app komoot and gravel trails as the key ingredients for the first ever komoot Alley Cat.

And then, the second lockdown hit.

I had almost scratched the event from my calendar, when a message from the organisers hit my inbox… the event is still on! No, we wouldn't be able to do the mass start at the beginning – sadly, there would be no running to our bikes in the grass, start planning our route and get on with it as fast as possible. The fastest woman or man wouldn’t win. Also, the afterparty as intended wasn’t to be, but we could still get creative on komoot and create the best adventure out there, and that’s exactly what we did.

Part one of the manifest was sent to us only a couple of days before the event was due to take place. A few of komoot’s gravelly highlights were named and some route planning rules were shared. The komoot route planning, as well as the anticipation could begin. Instead of a fixed start day and time, we could start at any time during the weekend, spreading out the contenders in the most Covid19-proof way possible. At the starting location, a local brewery, the second part of the manifest with extra assignments was handed out to us by riding through a “drive-through”. On the spot route planning was then needed to get that extra bridge and bus stop into the route, but easily tackled with the komoot app.

After that, we were on our own… well, in pairs to be precise. Together with my mate Bram, I set out to ride what quickly became a beautiful gravel ride through the province of Utrecht. The selected komoot highlights forced us to ride paths that we hadn’t ridden before and stop at places where we normally didn’t stop to answer questions in the manifest. This way we didn’t only get to ride a really nice gravel ride, but also got to know some historical stuff about the surroundings we rode in (and what time a certain bus we’d never caught departs, but that’s all part of the fun and games).

Back at the finish, we rode through the same drive-through at the local brewery where we had started, now being welcomed back with a nice beer and some food to go.

The winners with the best route and nicest adventure were declared a day later via an online seminar hosted by the organisation. Loads of people had ridden the event, without bumping into each other, riding all different kinds of routes and directions. This way the event not only proved itself to be a really fun and unique concept, but also an inspirational way of riding a socially distanced event in times of a second wave Covid19 pandemic.