This Pittsburgh alley cat is ‘a bitch of a hard race to win’

The 6th annual Frigid Bitch starts on the North Side on Saturday.

The start of the 2018 Frigid Bitch

The start of the 2018 Frigid Bitch

Courtesy of Frigid Bitch / photo by Noah Purdy
MJ Slaby

Part scavenger hunt, part fundraiser, and part test of the elements, the Frigid Bitch isn’t your typical bike race.

“I wanted to throw a race that was just for women, [but] wasn’t dumbed down and was just as hard,” said Anna-Lena Kempen, race founder and director of Pittsburgh Babes on Bikes.

Saturday’s 6th annual Frigid Bitch is an alley cat race modeled after paths a bike messenger might take, including steep hills, cobblestone streets and steps, she said. Riders have two hours to make it to all the checkpoints, which they learn about on the day of the race, and one more hour to get back to the starting point.

 This year, the race starts at noon and is moving its starting and ending point from Lawrenceville to Threadbare Cider and Mead on the North Side. Frigid Bitch continues to grow. Three years ago, there were 42 riders. Last year, there were more than 100.

“I hit on the name Frigid Bitch mostly because it’s damn cold in February, and it’s a bitch of a hard race to win,” she said, adding that she’s reappropriating the derogatory term.

While there’s been some negative reaction to the name, Kempen says women get called a bitch when they’re standing up for themselves, refusing to comply with other people’s demands or excelling at something.

“I have never been called a bitch for doing something I have been ashamed of,” she said.

Kempen, 31 of Lawrenceville, said the race was a way to revive the charitable goals of Babes on Bikes, which previously sold calendars to fundraise for the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. Race proceeds will go to the shelter.

A checkpint

A checkpint

Courtesy of Frigid Bitch / photo by Noah Purdy

How to race an alley cat

Based on a bike messenger’s day, an alley cat race starts at headquarters — in this case Threadbare — where cyclists pick up a list of checkpoints, called a manifest. Then, they decide what order they want to make their stops before returning to headquarters.

While the number and location of the checkpoints is a mystery until race day, Kempen said a typical alley cat race, which usually has a theme, will include five to 10 stops though there can be as many as 30.

For the Frigid Bitch, riders will have two hours to go to the checkpoints across the city and an hour to get back to headquarters, so it might make sense to do the farthest stop last, Kempen said, adding that it’s all about strategy.

There’s a “natural teaming up” that happens, she said, adding that riders often create groups to plan and share shortcuts.

Because it’s an unsanctioned race and riders design their paths, an alley cat doesn’t include street closures. Racers can take any route they want, just like riding their bike to work. There are no lines of spectators, but people who want to watch can pick up a manifest on race day and hang out at the checkpoints to cheer on cyclists.

“The nice thing about alley cats, in general, is you can edit them to be what you want,” Kempen said.

The Frigid Bitch is a classic alley cat race, in which cyclists race from checkpoint to checkpoint to get back to headquarters first.

In a creative race, each checkpoint would have an activity or an item to collect. Examples include a poker-themed race where riders get a playing card at each checkpoint and whoever has the best hand at the end wins, or “ladies night” where each checkpoint has activities like “badass lady flashcards” or even sewing.

The key to putting on a good alley cat is organization, she said. “It’s like playing a board game. If the rules are clear and there’s a strategy, it’s fun. If not, it’s confusing.”

2018 racers

2018 racers

Courtesy of Frigid Bitch / photo by Noah Purdy

Race day

Online registration is open until 8 p.m. Wednesday, and riders can also register on the day of the race, but Kempen advises registering in advance. Riders pick up their manifests an hour before the race, so if they are already signed up, there is more time to look at the manifest and plan.

Although the race is difficult, Kempen said, Frigid Bitch is open to riders of all abilities. Past participants include bike commuters to BMX professionals.

“Anyone racing the Frigid Bitch is killing it in a context that has nothing to do with expectations of men,” she said. “… this race is for badass ladies reveling in their own competence, skills, drive, and motivation.”

A rider has to make it to at least one checkpoint and back to be considered for the standings, she said, adding that part of the fun is the afterparty, where riders share war stories.

For first-time riders, Kempen advises dressing for the weather and bringing a buddy, or if you don’t have one, finding one in the hour before the race.

“That way, you’ll have fun, even if you aren’t killing yourself to finish first,” she said.