Drag Racers -- Literally -- Busted By Park Rangers

Categories: SF Oddities
You! Race over!
Wednesday night's DFL Cross Dress Cyclocross event -- in which some 300 athletes at an undisclosed location, many of them in drag, mounted their cycles for a clandestine race -- broke up about 15 minutes before the finish when an San Francisco park ranger pulled up and began hollering for racers to get off their bikes.

Hardly anybody dismounted -- park rangers aren't real cops, after all -- but racers relayed yells of "race over! Race over!" until most everyone dispersed.

For readers unfamiliar with the DFL Cross Dress series, here's the description from our 2010 SF Weekly "Best of San Francisco" edition.

To innocent passersby, the annual DFL Cross-Dress Cyclocross series defies explanation: Without warning, 150 bicycle-mounted men and women, mostly in drag, emerge from a thicket in full sprint, leap from their cycles like acrobats, and then throw them over their shoulders and sprint up dirt embankments. This is a two-decades-old subterranean version of a century-old off-road sport called cyclocross. The San Francisco version, however, is even more anarchic. Events, which are held during September and October, are announced by word of mouth mere days before each event; entry fees are waived for cross-dressers, while people in gender-appropriate attire pay $5. Typical fields of 100-plus riders include national and world-class athletes. Courses are set up, raced upon, and abandoned without government permission in the spirit of anarchy that participants believe guides their sport.

San Francisco, it so happens, is a veritable hotbed of illegal bicycle racing. A slightly younger perhaps less fiercely competitive crowd participates in a summertime off-road racing series called Soil Saloon, run without permits in city parkland.

The city's legions of fixed-gear riders, meanwhile, occasionally compete in so-called alleycat races, in which competitors will traverse a pre-planned route on city streets. Because these fixie riders don't have brakes or gears, they can't go fast, and their events thus only loosely qualify as races.

Cyclocross racing, however, definitely qualifies, and has been the wintertime sport for bicycle road racers for about a century now. Here's how SF Weekly described the sport in a 2004 article about the DFL series.

Cyclocross is an off-road bicycle-racing sport involving slightly modified, skinny-tired, multispeed bikes that preceded the Marin County mountain-bike fad by three-quarters of a century. (The first cyclocross world championships were held in 1902.) Riders do laps on an off-road course of a mile or so, periodically dismounting with a balletic two-step as they hurdle foot-high artificial barriers or clamber up unridable embankments.

The U.S. version of cyclocross got started in the 1970s, when a group of Bay Area crazies assembled at places such as Tilden Park in Berkeley and the UC Santa Cruz campus and mapped loops taking them over logs, up cliffs, and through rivers. They slogged over the courses carrying their bikes one-third of the way, then collapsed on the ground after they had clocked an hour. Whoever was ahead after 60 minutes would win.
With park rangers now on the prowl for scofflaw cyclocrossers, could this mean the death of off-road bicycle brigrandry? Not as long as there still exist undisclosed locations in this city, ripe for use as race courses at a time known only to a few.

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