An Inside Look at the Red Hook Criterium: A Fixie Only Crit
The Red Hook Criterium has been bringing cyclists to Brooklyn, New York since 2008. Cyclists come from all around to race track bikes around tight turns and sometimes through torrential downpours. The race is seriously chaotic.
Kacey Lloyd is in crunch time, getting ready for this year's Red Hook Crit, which is being held on April 25. Kacey won the very first Red Hook Crit, and she has become a fixture at the event.
Here is a short review by 60 Minutes talking about the urban, night-biking event that has quickly grown from unsanctioned street race to full blow cycling competition drawing talent from cyclists all over the globe.
Kacey Lloyd: It’s basically a crit on a track bike. We always say on a track bike, because it’s not a fixie with a freewheel or a brake on it, it’s a proper track-racing bike with no brakes and a fixed gear.
Where and how did this crazy idea originate?
It started in 2008 in Red Hook [a part of Brooklyn]. David Trimble wanted to have a birthday party, but he didn’t really think that all of his friends would come out to Red Hook for his birthday party. So, he decided to plan this bike race so that, as he puts it, “his friends could have a chance at personal glory,” and then they would show up.
It was just a bunch of his friends from New York who all brought their bikes over. I happened to be there because I went to school with his sister and she wanted to go to his birthday party, and I ended up being her ride. So, that’s how I got roped into the whole thing.
And then you won?
Yes, I did. It was literally David’s friends and family members standing on the corner trying to stop cars with no real legal authority. We were racing in the streets with cars pulling out of parallel parking spots and buses. It was 11 at night so it wasn’t super busy, but there were also a good number of cars. Some would unexpectedly pull out of parking spots and we’d be racing the buses to try and get around a corner before the bus cut us off.
How has the race changed?
Obviously the first year it was completely unsanctioned. No permits, no real structure or organization, you didn’t pre-register—none of that existed. It was just an invite for a bunch of friends to come out and ride bikes at this impromptu race. There was $60 on the line that everyone had paid into.
They had a few video cameras out there to be the finish line. It was super underground; it was every man for himself on the street. It resembled an alley cat more than a crit. You’re out on the open street, and you have to watch out for traffic.
The second year it was still held in the street, and then even the third year, but beyond that point it got big enough that the cops had to stop turning a blind eye. They started requiring permits, and that’s when the race moved to the cruise terminal.
Now, it’s this huge thing that a lot of people know about. There’s pre-registration that opens a few months before and sells out in a couple of hours [this year it was minutes] and there are thousands of fans. We had a pretty good crew of family and friends the first year, but it definitely wasn’t in the thousands.
Obviously the whole production has gotten a lot bigger. When we started the trophy was just a painted brick and now there are artisan-crafted trophies and a whole art show mixed into a bike race.
Are there any special tactics that you need for Red Hook?
Probably the biggest thing is picking the right gear. What gear you ride depends on the competition, your legs on the day, the weather conditions, how windy it is, so it’s a little different in the sense that you have to pick a gear you can ride for that amount of time.
In a regular crit, you have gears so you get to jump around and find where you’re comfortable and it’s also different than a track race—it’s not like you consistently ride around on your 90-inch gear and everything’s smooth and you only ever move forward. You actually have to physically backpedal hard to slow down for the corners and that’s very different on the body. More than anything, that should play into your gear choice.
How do you get around corners without crashing when you can’t position your feet?
Hold your bike perpendicular to the surface of the road. It’s just like if you’ve been taught to ride cobbles in the rain, or even how to corner in the rain in a crit: Instead of leaning into the turn, you want to keep your bike upright. Lean your body sideways so that if you do slide you can correct it and not clip a pedal.
Any advice for first-timers?
I would recommend that you actually practice on a track bike somewhere where you can do laps or loops where you do repeatedly slow down and pick up the pace. Also, the biggest thing is to be mentally prepared for the stress that comes with the race. People talk about being nervous for races, but it’s more dangerous than an average bike race. It has sharp corners, you have no brakes, you’re on a fixed gear, you don’t have a lot of control over the riders around you. To top it all off, you’re surrounded by thousands of screaming people, which is what makes it one of my favorite events ever, but it also makes it a little daunting, too. Normally you line up for a bike race and you care, but there’s not normally a crowd there that cares, especially for the women. Here, you feel like you’re on a big stage.