Alleycat Insights: Q & A with Sean Martin
Alleycat Insights is a series of interviews about the evolution of alleycat culture that took place over the course of putting together the Urban Velo #38 feature story, Alleycat Explosion. In this installment we catch up with Sean Martin in Los Angeles where the races he throws keep the fixie foo’s pumped. Martin rides for CBNC and Affinity Cycles, and documents his biking exploits at TakeoverLA.
You’re one of those dudes who is entrenched in urban cycling but you aren’t a messenger. Have you ever been?
I certainly am out here in these streets; urban riding is my love and passion and to address the messenger question, once before I became so engrossed in “urban cycling” I worked as messenger for like a month or two many many many years ago in Seattle. The job didn’t last for me at all, I was into other “things” and I wasn’t doing my best in life. I don’t claim to be one, I don’t claim to be an ex-messenger, never was. It was one of those times in a young man’s life when I was bouncing around from job to job and place to place for a brief period. I call it the skateboard years.
I’m curious to know how you got into fixed gear riding. Where did you discover the bikes and what influenced you back then?
My sister, Kelly Martin. My sister was living in L.A. more than 10 years ago at this point and was getting into the early stages of bike culture in L.A. She would tell me about what they were doing. I was interested in it, but there wasn’t much happening in Seattle. I bought a BMX, rode to bars and work and walked up hills.
She was taking a trip with her soon-to-be husband Ben Guzman, Jimmy L. (both founders of L.A.’s Bicycle Kitchen) and a few other L.A. messengers to Portland for the Westside Invite. I hopped a train with my BMX and chased her, the L.A. boys and Portland’s finest all over the city for a weekend of bike games, alleycats and other races.
I saw my first fixed gear there and got hooked on the idea. Went home to Seattle, told my friends about what I had done, seen and that I was getting into this thing called “Bike Culture.” Most of them shook their heads and thought it was cute I wanted to be like my sister and her cool friends. I bought a road bike–a Univega 10-speed–while a friend built up a fixed gear, and away we went. It took me about a year before I built up my first fixed, but I was hooked. I would visit my sister back in L.A. during these growing stages of my bike addiction and went to some amazing events back then–the first Bike Kitchen Benefits, the first Bike Summer, a couple early Midnight Ridazz rides and went to CMWC when Seattle hosted it in 2003–and would always come home to Seattle full of ideas and stoked.
What constitutes an alleycat in your mind?
First and foremost an alleycat is a checkpoint race thrown by a working messenger or has messenger approval to call it an alleycat, period. An Alleycat to me is a checkpoint race: race to a checkpoint, drink a beer, do something silly, fix a flat, answer a question, play hopscotch; whatever you need to do to get your manifest signed to head off to the next checkpoint, or a race meant to simulate a day in the life of a working messenger. For example, picking up packages or envelopes and routing yourself to the next pickup/drop location.
How have street bike races become less messenger-oriented and more open to everyone, and what is your role in the progression?
Nowadays, everyone worldwide are throwing street races. It was a natural progression from what messengers were doing worldwide back in the day and the fixed gear is the reason why. The fixed gear and the fixed gear scene really made these non-messenger ran streets races/ events happen. Riders wanted to show their bikes, tricks, bike handling and of course who was the fastest. There was always non-messengers racing alleycats throughout the years, but the explosion of the fixed gear bike, through blogs, forums, word of mouth, shops, etc., really made it accessible those who didn’t know messenger culture, or in some cases there were no messengers in their part of the world, but there were bikes. The mother of invention and all that, ya dig?
I would go to messenger races in Seattle, then a few months later a non-messenger or two would throw a street race (fixed-gear specific). Then Fast Friday was started by Dustin Klein, a messenger, but was assisted by non-messengers. It was the community getting behind each other and progressing the fixed gear scene. It wasn’t about messenger or non-mess, it was about the bike, the fixed gear and what could be done with it, by throwing races, games, tricks, it was progression at it”s finest. I took what I saw in happening in Seattle with these events, moved to LA and I wanted to give back to the city and people that showed me how to ride, by organizing races, trick comps and documenting through a blog (takeoverla.wordpress.com). I just throw quality races here in LA and if I inspired other riders/ organizers to do the same, then maybe I have some role in the progression of non-messengers throwing street races and that would make me happy, but there were other guys that deserve that credit and were doing right along with me or at the same time or before and after me (Matt Ruscigno, Joe Lobato, Hern, Chris Cono RIP, Juan, Beaver) and I feel like we threw some great events and amazing street races, ones that I would hope be worthy of LA and it’s working messengers who were also throwing some of the best alleycats and crits (13skids!!!) I have ever been too at the same time and before what I was doing. Those early days (5-6 years ago) of me racing and riding in LA were the best. I miss it.
You’ve taken heat on occasion for being what some might call a “fakenger”–How do you react when people come at you about that?
I have heard that rumor before and I don’t listen to it. For some reason, I only hear myself being called that in the city I call home, nowhere else. It’s kind of sad and old really. I don’t pretend to be anything but me. If I wear a big bag when I commute in L.A. or have one on when I travel to street events on my track bike or road bike, then so be it. If I get labeled that because I have thrown great street races in L.A. and have tons of racers and riders show up to them consistently year after year, then so be it. I don’t really care about that label, ’cause I don’t pose as one.
I just wanted to have a good time by making racers have fun (suffer) on their bikes by going fast and testing their limits in the streets. If someone wants to label me as something, then call me an “Urban Cyclist” or an “Organizer of Awesomeness.” Ha!
What was your experience at the North American Cycle Courier Championships in Seattle this year?
This was the second NACCC I have been to and it was amazing. Last year Mel and I went to the NACCC’s in Richmond. It’s an great event, where I get to see all of my messenger friends from around the country in one place, catch up with everyone, race bikes and have damn good time doing it. It being in Seattle was extra special for me, because I got to see friends, both cyclists and non-cyclists, that I haven’t seen for years, and spend time riding in a city that holds a small part of my heart. I wish it was longer, it was so much fun!
About Krista Carlson
A regular contributor to the print edition of Urban Velo, Krista Carlson is a cyclist obsessed with bike polo, baking, pickles, and all things bike-y. She is a native Angeleno and is madly in love with the city and everything that makes it the beautiful, crazy place that it is.