On Sunday, December 13th the annual Supermarket Street Sweep will take over San Francisco for its tenth-anniversary race. The Supermarket Street Sweep is an annual event which benefits the SF-Marin Food Bank. It combines two unlikely elements; bad-ass alley cat street racing and charity food drives. (Street cred and karma points collected.)
Alley cat street races are typically informal bicycle races designed to challenge the navigational skills of cyclists, often organized by those in the bike messenger community. These races usually involve a manifest or list of checkpoints around the city. While these races tend to be informal, sometimes humorous, and often with beer along the way, these races can often be extremely grueling to casual riders, and a challenge to say the least, to even the strongest of riders.
In 2005, San Francisco rider and resident Jenny Oh, had been riding in these types of races and was inspired by Cranksgiving, a charity style alley cat race held in New York. Acknowledging the lack of any such type of organization in San Francisco, she assembled a small crew and formed what would later become the Supermarket Street Sweep, but not without some learning curves along the way.
“The first year we had no idea what the rules were and what you could give the food bank,” admitted organizer and rider Jonathan Koshi. “One of the key things is that there are no perishables or glassware. We had a bunch of stuff on our manifest that were these random things, someone brought an entire leg of ham once.”
While the thought and efforts were there, Jenny Oh and her team realized they needed to adapt their manifest to the Food Bank’s standards. In 2006 they grew from 20 riders to 80 riders, contributing 1,172 pounds of food, and in 2014 had an incredible turnout with over 134 registered riders and a massive contribution of 12,095 pounds of food.
The success of the Supermarket Street Sweep didn’t happen without lots of improvement over the years and creatively implementing ways of involvement for riders of all calibers. “Every year we have a list of things to improve on,” says Koshi.
The race is free and starts at the infamous Cupid’s Span (Bow & Arrow) at Folsom & Embarcadero. This year the race has evolved to three categories for racing. The Cargo Race, contributing the heaviest loads of food from the designated grocery stores, The Points Race, buying specific food items from the designated grocery stores to tally as many points as possible, and new to this year, The Team Race, where teams of five are appointed a giant bin, along with their manifest, and attempt as many trips to the food bank as they can to fill up their bin. “We added that [third category] because we noticed a lot of people were riding together and we wanted to foster that sort of team attitude”, said co-organizer Kacey O’Kelly.
While alley cat races are generally for the more hardcore riders, the Supermarket Street Sweep welcomes all levels of riders from all over the Bay Area. “It’s really exciting to have all skill levels,” says O’Kelly. “A couple of the guys are actually professional racers, and then there’s a dad with his eight-year-old son.”
They’ve also compiled an impressive list of sponsors along the way, including Bicycle Coffee Company, Mission Bicycle Shop, Benny Gold, and Enduro Bites (among many others) and even gift certificates from local restaurants Trick Dog and Flour + Water. While the riders have become diversified over the years, the race still holds true to alley cat racing, providing a manifest that holds checkpoints around the city at specific locations and grocery stores. The race used to end at various bars around the city but now finishes at the SF-Marin Food Bank and offers a celebration at a specific location. This year, the celebration will take place at Bender’s Bar and Grill.
To participate in the Supermarket Street Sweep, register here.
Back in 2009, at our 4th Annual Supermarket Street Sweep, Jeremiah Ducate hauled in a staggering 962 pounds of food (which is believed to still be the overall record for the CARGO category!)