Introduction: AlleyCats: Treasure Hunts on Your Bicycle.

About: I live in the UK, and own a small business designing and building: Cargo Carrying Bicycles, Bike Trailers, Pedal Powered Utility Trucks & Vans, Pedal Racing Cars and Human Powered Vehicles, lightweight Pony Ca…
AlleyCats are more usually associated with Bike Messengers riding either fixed gear, or single speed bicycles as they race around a city passing through several checkpoints where a task may also have to be accomplished.

Here in Norwich in the United Kingdom, we do things slightly differently, having adopted the casual, open to all, social type treasure hunt.

For the last five months I have been responsible for the organisation and running of the Norwich Alleycat, and have found this casual, social approach is proving very popular with cyclists from all walks of life, and all age groups. I am very proud of the fact that entrants into the Norwich AlleyCats have ranged from 16-67 years of age, even a couple in their mid 20's riding a tandem and towing a toddler behind them in a child carrying trailer, and a young disabled lady undertaking the route and tasks in her electric assist wheelchair.

Entrants have turned up on; Fixies, Single Speeds, MTBs, Shoppers, Dutch, Hybrids, Commuters, Folders, Roadies, Tricross, Tandems, Recumbents, Tadpole Trikes, and even the world famous Bicycle designer; Mike Burrows on one of his small wheeled mono fork racing bikes.

When setting out your Alleycat, you need to consider the people who may be taking part, the kinds of bicycles they are going to turn up on, the route you are going to utilise, and how you are going to control the checkpoints. A Sociable AlleyCat needs to be about 90 minutes long for an average rider and I have found that a mixture of 10 clues to solve, 8 checkpoints to pass through, and 2 simple tasks to complete are more than sufficient to keep them interested and their competitive spirits engaged; especially if you are running the AlleyCats during the dark winter nights.

You need a nice public place to start your AlleyCat from, and a nice welcoming place to finish your AlleyCat at.

The Norwich AlleyCat begins at the Norwich Forum; a large public library in a car free zone. In front of the Forum is Millennium Plain; a paved area of approximately 1 acre, so there is plenty of room for the cyclists and pedestrians using the area. The finishing point is usually a welcoming café/bar with plenty of bicycle parking stands which the AlleyCat entrants can use to secure their bicycles to, whilst enjoying the social, as the results are collated.

Step 1: Planning the Alleycat.

Many AlleyCat entrants have asked me why I do not sit back and let others organise an AlleyCat. There are two main reasons for this:

1) If I don't do it, no one else will.

2) I get a great deal of pleasure exploring the city on my bicycle looking for the unusual, and thinking how I am going to incorporate a particular place or feature into either the treasure hunt questions, or the card punch control points

With an AlleyCat each month (and I am proud of the fact that since I took over, Norwich is now the only city in Europe that has a regular monthly Alleycat) careful planning is key. I have found that I need to be out on my Bicycle for two sessions. One session taking me 4 or 5 hours covering a distance of about 20 miles. The second session taking me about 90 minutes to 2 hours as I cycle my planned route and modify it accordingly. I also need to go out and cycle the route to the control points just prior to the AlleyCat to place the control card punches, and then again after the Alleycat to collect up the punches. This usually means that I am out on my bicycle for about 8 hours of pleasurable riding each month doing what is necessary for an AlleyCat, and not just the 90 minutes that an average rider will take to cover the course.

There are several things that are essential to organising a successful treasure hunt style Alleycat: A well maintained bicycle, a road map of the local area, a digital camera, a pair of pocket binoculars, a note book and pen, and I like to take a compass with me; I have a wrist mounted Suunto divers compass that I tend to wear when out on my Bicycle. Being a devious person with a sense of humor is also essential to ensure that the entrants have a good time. 

Step 2: Planning the Route

When you set out to plan the route it is very important to remember the variaying cycling abilities and endurance of people who may want to enter your AlleyCat. So keep the hills and any climbs to a minimum, think about other road users and try to keep as much of the Alleycat as possible on designated cycling paths and routes. Also plan the last two or three clues, tasks to complete or checkpoint to be within a sensible striking distance of the finishing point. I have found that a ½ to ¾ of a mile is ideal for those who wish to sprint to the finish, and it is not too far to disenchant the casual ambling pleasure riders.

The best kind of route should be circular, but I also like to mix the clues and checkpoint instructions up on the sheet, so that the riders have to plan their own routes, and there is less chance of the AlleyCat becoming a linear route that favours only the fast, and disheartens the slow. By mixing up the order on the sheet, those who think about it will enjoy sorting their routes out, and it is not uncommon for individuals or teams to approach a clue or checkpoint from different directions at the same time, which can provide some good humored banter, encouragement, and co-operation. 

A mixture of 20 clues, tasks and checkpoints is ideal for 8-12 mile AlleyCat that can be completed in approximately 90 minutes by an average none-competitive cyclist. The format that I am currently using is: 10 clues to solve, 8 unmanned checkpoints to pass through and 2 tasks to complete

When you are out exploring, a digital camera, map, note book and pencil are essential, and a pair of pocket binoculars and a compass are very useful to have with you. I tend to wear my Suunto wrist mounted divers compass for convenience, but a cheap pocket compass will be sufficient: Accurate compass bearings are not required, and you are only going to need general compass directions to help you plan a circular route 

The pocket binoculars are extremely useful for route planning, and also for spotting potential clues from a distance.

The Digital camera is essential for recording photos of the solutions to the clues. Always print out the photos and add notes to the photos using MS paint or a similar programme, as this prevents arguments when collating the answers and marking up competitors sheets at the finish of an Alleycat. .

Step 3: The Clues to Solve

Try and keep the clues simple and engaging, but do not be afraid to use the odd one or two that are cryptic.

Here in the UK we have many Blue, Grey, Green, Red, Brown, Black and Silver wall plaques attached to buildings and land marks that commemorate many historical locations, figures and events. So I tend to use these plaques as clues. Take a clear photo of the plaque and then you can form a clue from the information upon it.

Public parks also have commemorative plagues and paving slabs and I use these for clues to .Many park benches are dedicated these days and part of that dedication can also be used as a clue.

Statues, mileposts and works of art are also a good source of clues, as is street art and wall murals, and so are interesting displays in shop windows.

Many companies, businesses, schools, public buildings and churches often have a clock, and usually there is some kind of inscription or date on it.

Churches often have ornate porches and gates and these make good clues, and sometimes you are lucky and an interesting headstone may be found next to a pathway leading up to the church doors: Next to the front door of St Benedicts Church in Norwich, I found a head stone on the grave of a Hanged mid 18th century Pirate that included a carved Skull & Cross Bones, so of course I had to use that as an AlleyCat clue.

Take digital photographs of the solutions to your clues and then use MS Paint or a similar programme to superimpose the correct answer to the clue on the photo. Number the picture to the relevant clue on your sheets and then laminate this master to prevent it becoming damaged. I also like to keep a master clue/task sheet, and the master solution sheets in a ring binder for future reference..

Here are a few photos of my favourite clues I have set.

Please accept my apologies for the blurred scans of the clue & tasks, and answer sheet documents: They have been laminated with  clear plastic covers which have not scanned too well.

Step 4: Tasks to Complete.

Try and keep the tasks simple, but engaging.

Taking a photograph of a particular land mark is a very good one to use, but my favourite I take a photo of a musical instrument, with a bonus point for the instrument being played.
I have also asked the entrants to bring me a menu from a Chinese takeaway restaurant, or a menu sheet from a proper sit down restaurant: not fast food or pizza outlets. 

When you have other people to help out the tasks can be a little more demanding and interesting. On another Alleycat I took part in that had many helpers we had to bob for Apples in a bowl filled with water, remember a part of story told by a story teller, burst a balloon to get a phrase written on a piece of paper, receive a serve from a tennis player, par 3  putt a golf ball into a hole, and ring a church bell.

I am also a member of the Norwich Bicycle Polo Team, and the practice court we use is in a public park that has a National Cycle route running along its boundary. This cycle route also passes through Norwich city centre so it was common sense for me to set the clues and tasks along and close to this route. My fellow Polo team mates became one of the AlleyCat checkpoints where entrants had to pick up a polo mallet cycle once around the court and hit the tap in gong with the mallet before cycling onto their next destination.

For the January 2012 Norwich AlleyCat I set only one task, and that was to take a photo of a musical instrument. A bonus point to be awarded if the instrument is being played in the photo. In Norwich there are several shops selling musical instruments making the taking of a photo reasonably simple. However there are also several buskers and street performers playing musical instruments around the city centre, and there are also many pubs & bars featuring live music performances, so taking a photo of a musical instrument being played would have been relatively easy to find with the application of a little thought.

Step 5: The Control Points

If you have volunteers to man the checkpoints things are far easier for the organiser. Riders can have their sheets signed or stamped by the checkpoint controller or can collect a visiting card from them.

If you do not have any helpers, I have found that card punches used at competitive orienteering checkpoints are ideal; the competitor has to punch their card as proof of passage through a checkpoint.

I have 10 Silva orienteering punches, and these have proven to be; inexpensive, simple, robust, reliable, and very popular with those taking part in the Alleycat.

These punches are small and made of a visible red, durable plastic. Each of the punches has a different layout of pins which prevents cheating: you have to use a particular punch at a particular checkpoint.

The Silva orienteering punches are around 4 inches or 100mm in length, and are provided with two holes. one for fixing the punch to an object with a wood screw, and the second for attaching the punch with a cord; a length of 3.2 mm para-cord is ideal.

In populated areas it is a good idea to either make the punch as discreet as possible or hide it................. some people will steal just about anything that is not attended................ but remember to add some instructions on how to locate and find the punch on the clues and task sheet, and then include a polite request for entrants to discretely hide the punch from view again after they have stamped their card. 

I now use A6 size plastic laminated cards with the Norwich Alleycat Logo printed on them and place these cards within approximately 3 feet/1 metre of the punch so that the AlleyCat riders can easily find the punch.

Please accept my apologies for the blurred scan of the clue sheet document: it has been laminated with a clear plastic cover.

Step 6: The AlleyCat

Once you have set all of the clues, made sure you have the answers and the photos ready, and have the checkpoint controls in place it is time to to begin your AlleyCat.

I have found that advertising on various Internet cycling forums, and in the community sections of free Internet advert site sites will bring in entrants. Here in the UK we have, and in the US you have craigslist.

Norwich AlleyCat also has a Facebook page, we are also lucky enough to be included each month on this website  and I also put up A4 colour flyers in all of the local bicycle shops and on the Student Union Notice boards of the local colleges and University.

I charge an entry fee of £1 GBP per entrant, and some of this money is used to cover my expenses: printing the clue & task sheets, printing the flyers, etc. It also covered the purchase cost of the of the Silva Orienteering punches, and I ensure that I have sufficient Energy bars so that each rider can have one at the end of the AlleyCat.

The excess money I have collected goes into the AlleyCat general fund, which I keep track of in a separate notebook. After polling all of my regular AlleyCat riders, it was decided that we would use this cash to buy a used Scalextric slot car racing track, and cover the cost of making two pedal powered generators so that if an Alleycat was to be cancelled due to inclement weather, we could all then retire to a friendly Bar/Cafe/Pub and spend the evening having a pedal powered Scalextric racing competition (more of this in another instructable).

With our social approach to the Norwich Alleycat, and the afterwards social gathering we have have a good regular number of entrants, but each month a few more new riders take part. One of the reasons that I took over the running last Autumn was to keep the AlleyCats going through the cold dark nights of winter so that the AlleyCat is much more popular during the warmer spring and summer months.

It is best to advertise for an assembly of cyclists approximately 15 minutes before the start of the AlleyCat, and this will give you the opportunity to announce any special requirements for the tasks, but also to ask all gathered if any of the inviduals would like to join or form a team to help with navigation etc. Don't forget to announce that the riders should carefully read the clue & task sheets before setting off, so that they can plan their routes.

After the start, I like to cycle out to the most difficult clue to solve and wait there for a few cyclists to find it, and then I set off for the finishing point, to personally greet the cyclists and record the "in" time and check their sheets.The winner is not necessarilly the first one home, as some riders will not be able to solve a clue or complete a task, and one or two just may skip a checkpoint. The winner is the first one home who can produce a comepleted sheet filled with the correct answers, has completed all the tasks, and has punched their card at all the checkpoints.