On an undisclosed, vacant Oxnard street on Saturday night, dozens will compete in a fast-paced, high-stakes underground drag race.
They’ve been doing it on the second Saturday of each month since October — but no one’s called the cops yet.
That’s because they’re racing bicycles.Heber Pelayo, a 25-year-old vintage-bike enthusiast, created the monthly race, which he calls Oxnight.
“I wanted to make a ride where everybody could ride together and then race, but have it not be complicated,” he said.
Each month, as many as 60 cyclists meet at an unassuming Spudnuts doughnut shop on the corner of Channel Islands Boulevard and Rose Avenue. Then they head out for a bike ride, typically about four miles long, to the racing location. Most of the cyclists are in their 20s and 30s, but teens and older riders participate, too, Pelayo said.
He and a few other Oxnight members scour the city’s streets to find a suitable race location each month. Requirements are that it be well-lit, away from major traffic, without crosswalks or cross streets, and a straightaway, so neither the fixed-gear nor road bikes have an advantage.
“The main thing is that we want it to be fair,” Pelayo said. “Road bikes have an advantage when the race is longer, and fixed gears when it’s shorter.”
Race organizers randomly write down attendees’ names on a flow chart that shows the competition schedule. Then, two at a time, the cyclists race to the designated finish line. Winners of each initial race compete against each other, until there’s only one rider left.
The final winner gets the prize — a collection of cash and other semi-valuable items.
In order to race, cyclists must throw something into the winner’s pot beforehand. Usually it’s a few dollars, but participants have also been known to throw in packs of gum, McDonald’s gift certificates and articles of clothing, including a belt, Pelayo said.
“The pot has gotten more interesting every time,” he said. “If you want to be in the race, you pitch something in, but it doesn’t have to be money. It can be McDonald’s coupons or other random stuff.”
Typically, about half the riders who show up at Spudnuts end up racing — the rest just come to watch, Pelayo said.
The racing distance is anywhere between a quarter mile and a mile — short enough to allow the other cyclists and bystanders a good view.
Pelayo, a graphic designer and freelance photographer, created the race after noticing that there weren’t many gatherings for the growing cycling community in Oxnard.
“There’s a strong fixed-gear scene in Oxnard, with a lot of new guys who are kind of like hipsters or in line with the punk scene,” he said. “And then there are a lot of people who just ride bikes.”
Pelayo got the idea for Oxnight from his childhood, when he and his friends would race each other to street corners on their bikes.
“I’ve always been infatuated with the concept of kids saying, ‘Hey, I’ll race you to the corner,’ ” he said. “I think pretty much everyone who was about 9 or 10 and had their own bike did the same thing when they were chilling with their friends.”
He decided to make the event a drag race — where participants race two at a time — to make it more suspenseful and also safer. Riders are encouraged to race with safety in mind, and so far there have been no racing injuries, Pelayo said.
“It’s probably more dangerous if you’re riding bikes on your own on the street,” he said. “We choose a location that’s well-lit and out of the way.”
Pelayo hopes Oxnight will continue to grow in popularity in Oxnard and perhaps inspire similar gatherings in other cities. He expects as many as 100 riders to attend Saturday’s race.
“Last time, it was pouring rain and we still had about 45 people show up,” he said. “So I’m thinking we’ll do a lot better than that.”
Oxnight will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday at Spudnuts on the corner of Channel Islands Boulevard and Rose Avenue in Oxnard. The event begins with an approximately four-mile bike ride to the racing location. Those who would like to race are asked to bring a suggested donation of $5 or an item of comparable value for the winner’s pot; no one will be turned away, however, due to lack of funds. Oxnight continues on the second Saturday of each month. For more information, visit www.oxnight.com.