Last Friday night at the Canterbury Ale & Eats on 15th Avenue, Seattle's bike messengers and assorted freaks gathered for the fifth annual Dead Baby bike race. Over 150 bicyclists gathered to compete in this highly illegal and strictly word-of-mouth event.

"It's gettin' close," says one biker, wearing a thrift-shop football helmet and a foam-padded chest plate. "I better get a beer." It was 7:56, nine minutes till race time.

Outside the Canterbury, Tyler, a part-time bike messenger, gets ready. After a quick check of his "chopper," a modified kid's bike with extended forks, he reaches for the volume knob of a mini green guitar amplifier strapped to his shoulders. Italian bullfighting music blares. "I might not be the fastest one," he yells, hopping on his bike. "But like all of us here, I sure like to have a good time!" Three minutes later, the downhill race starts.

The bang of firecrackers launches the short but fast scream down the streets of Capitol Hill. Riders race from the Canterbury to the Rendezvous bar on Second Avenue. There are no rules, no set routes, and no acknowledgments of traffic lights. Most riders take 15th Avenue south down to John Street, then take a right, racing across Broadway toward Denny Way. "Go, you fuckers!" yells a punk rock teenager encouragingly from the sidewalk, as a blur of bikes and colors flies by. The distant whine of a siren can be heard. At the bottom of the Denny hill, near Play It Again Sports, the light turns red. Cars honk in annoyance but allow the pack to continue--just barely. A few minutes later, the race finishes.

In the cobblestone alley behind the Rendezvous, Dave Ranstrom, creator of the Dead Baby race and owner of Counterbalance Bicycles on Queen Anne (and whose dead babydoll mascot gives the race its name), gives out this year's prizes. Each winner gets $50, a rain jacket, and a year to hold on to the homemade trophy--a collage of welded bike and doll parts. Winners Todd Gallager, Rose Johnson, and Gary Geiger, all messengers in their 20s, accept their prizes.

Wrapping up with five bands, BBQ, late-night bike tricks, many water bottles filled with beer, and no casualties, this year's Dead Baby race was a total success.

pat@thestranger.com

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