Ill-tended, one-speed resort bicycles in the Blacktip Haven bike racks await riders for Blacktip Island’s annual Rat Race bicycle race around the small Caribbean island Saturday. (photo courtesy of Jessie Catahoula)
The 17th Annual Island Rat Race resort bicycle rally around Blacktip Island is slated for Saturday afternoon, starting at the Blacktip Haven resort, to mark the Caribbean island’s hotels and dive operators shutting down for the height of hurricane season.
“It started it as a joke, but it proved quite popular,” Blacktip Haven owner Elena Havens said. “We named it after a guest who came face-to-face with a big dumpster rat and bolted on a resort bike, yelling bloody murder. The guy ended up broken down and bug bit down by Spider Bight.
“Contestants have to ride rusty, one-speed loaner bikes, and have to finish with the bike, or most of it,” Havens said. “These bikes are so abused, most won’t make it all the way around the island. Pedals break. Chains fall off. Handlebars come loose. It’s great fun to watch.”
Race organizers pair riders and bikes randomly.
“Riders draw numbers from a hat, and the number corresponds to a slot in the Haven bike rack,” Blacktip Haven staffer Jessie Catahoula said. “The best riders can get total junk bikes, and vice versa. And no maintenance is done, or is even allowed, prior to the race.”
“Most years it’s a victory just to finish,” Catahoula said. “These bikes aren’t up to an unpaved, 18-mile loop. Plus, down the east coast, where there’s no one watching, racers get nasty—kicking other riders, shoving branches in their spokes, that sort of thing. That’s part of what makes it a sport.”
Participants say the race is not for the faint hearted.
“It’s more a survival challenge than a race,” Club Scuba Doo divemaster Finn Kiick said. “You’re fighting your bike and the other riders taking whacks at you and your bike. Back in the day you had to finish on a functioning bike, but that wasn’t realistic.
“Last year Gage Hoase won carrying his bike across his shoulders,” Kiick said. “Well, most of the bike. Enough of it for it to count. Chase cars trail the racers to collect all the trashed bikes and beat-to-hell riders.”
Emergency personnel are stretched thin preparing for the race.
“Everyone raves about how fun the Rat Race is, but I have to bring up the rear with a pick up full of medical supplies to tend all the injured contestants,” island nurse Marissa Blenny said. “I treat more people during this damn race than I do the rest of the year. Locals, tourists, they all bleed the same. Last year I ran out of bandages and splints.”
As ever, judges will be stationed at both island intersections to make sure no one takes a short cut across the island.
The winner receives a ‘King Rat’ t-shirt, a beer and free medical attention, if required.