By Anna-Lena Kempen
The Frigid Bitch is a ladies’-only bike race in Pittsburgh that happens Valentine’s Day weekend every year. The format is classic alley-cat style–go fast, get there first (try not to freeze). Held in mid-February, this race is aggressively NOT pinkified–not shorter, not easier, no gimmicks. In fact, its probably the hardest alley-cat all year.
Ladies gear up and slog their way through snowed-in trails, slice through cutting winds and grit their teeth against freezing temps and Pittsburgh’s infamous terrain: steep hills, cobbled streets, city steps, and wheel-sized potholes. Because alley-cats are modeled after the day of a bike messenger–racing around town as quickly as possible to deliver packages–there are specific checkpoints racers want to hit but can go in any order, via any course. This means while being fast and competitive are definite pros, women can also pull ahead based on how well they know the city and trails, how confidently they ride in traffic and through obstacles, and how efficiently they plan their route.
Winning the race is tough-as-nails; this year, the full course included hauling up a massive city staircase (or 2), racing down railroad tracks to a secret spot on the river, flooded-out trails, and about 25 miles of riding. Racers have 2 hours to hit checkpoints and another hour to get back to the finish. In order to qualify for rank, however, racers are only required to make it to 1 checkpoint and cyclocross rules apply–you have to have a bike, but you can carry it if you need to. This means a killer time can be had for riders of all levels, and thanks to the absolute outpouring of support from the cycling community, organizations and businesses both local and international, the prize table is stocked to the max. Every single rider, every year, has walked away with swag more than equal to their $5 registration fee.
And this year, having heard that the biggest ladies’ field in Pittsburgh was the 1997 US Pro Women’s Championship with 100 riders (and a $25,000 prize purse), Pgh Babes on Bikes decided we wanted to beat that bar. If registration broke 100 riders, 100% of the fee would be donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Women’s Shelter and Center. Day-of we got a record-breaking 106 registered racers for the 5th Annual Frigid Bitch.
Ladies poured into the venue to grab their manifests, hand-drawn maps, form teams and plan their routes. They rode through the river, hauled ass up a staircase to ring a cowbell, grabbed hot toddies, mulled wine or straight whiskey from cheering volunteers, ran the tracks to shot gun a beer, and hugged a water tower at the top of a steep brick and potholed hill. They rode carbon fiber, fat bikes, commuters, fixies, borrowed bikes and city bikes. Complete strangers rode together and when they cut back through the sleet and snow, ran down the steps to yell their spokecard # into the crowd, they sprayed the organizer with wet from their helmets, grinned and grabbed a beer to exchange road warrior stories and wait for the results.