From sceptic to convert: How a visit to Red Hook Crit convinced a traditionalist there’s more to cycling than classics and stage races

From almost the time I first discovered fixed gear racing I was sceptical.

Despite in the late 00s reading little publications like Bone Shaker and seeing clips of what was a bit of fixie revolution happening in the UK, I was much like my dad, a traditionalist in the cycling world, not always open to change.

I used travel into London for work with him and from the van we would lambast those ‘fixie nuts’ on equipment and bikes that should have belonged on the track or a museum.

Super Record crank sets, Mavic Tri spokes and Lo Pro time trail frames being battered over manhole covers, used and abused. Whether it was envy or jealously it effected my opinion of fixed gear scene for years.

I used to watch endless YouTube videos of the messenger scene in Manhattan ripping and rolling through traffic, with little or no regard for anyone else.

That no-fucks given attitude always attracted me, and appealed to the alternative attitude inside, I saw a tenuous link towards the likes of skateboarding, something that always grabbed my interest and was at the heart of a lot of my thinking towards sport in general. 

Fast forward a few years, well more than a few years.

I was sat in Belgium living the old school dream of racing my bike in Europe.

I was at the heart of what I thought was the cycling world, and in many ways it is.

During one season there, up popped the viral videos from Red Hook Crit, where riders were crashing into the back of motorbikes and a bike throw in which a Jeremy Santucci snapped his frame coming across the line.

This in a lot of ways added to my frustration. I was quick to take to the viral headlines and make a snap judgement about the whole thing based off none other than what had appeared on my Twitter feed.

It was all I needed at the time to add fuel to the fire and confirm my thoughts that the racing and the scene was nothing but a gimmick.

I can still remember ranting and raving that it was the end to real racing as we knew it, no one knew what they were doing and “traditional” professionals were putting their careers at risk. 

I was quite focused that year on my racing and was doing almost everything I could at the time in a rather serious fashion.

This undoubtedly effected my opinion on the fixed gear racing, no one – in my eyes – at that event seemed to be serious, which with my mood at the time turned me off it completely.

The only thing that held my interest slightly was the sponsorship from Rockstar games. I kept thinking at the time how and why were they supporting an event when traditional cycling could benefit hugely from such a sponsor, and potentially open it up to a new audience.

Little was I to know this was also the thinking of RHC itself. It was beyond me at the time to actually put two and two together to realise that a company such as Rockstar was the perfect fit for such a race and scene.

Ask anyone who was with me at the time, I was known to fly off the handle about it, and get incredibly pissed off. 

That winter in 2017 I started to see rather fleetingly another side to it.

Riders such as Alec Briggs and Justin Williams aimed in many ways to change the face of the sport itself.

They appealed to my traditional sensibility while also adding a new style and pattern to things. They both raced on the road with great success and were also heavily involved within fixed gear racing, mirroring if not passing their success on the road in races such as RHC. 

Suddenly the ‘gram had me looking at bikes and kits that I became awfully jealous of – road racing had become rather stale especially that year, plain kits ruled the roost.

The racing itself was far too predictable and the line out of teams in the Tour bored me no end.

The fixed gear teams offered a strong alternative, bringing in famous designers and artists to showcase their talents on lycra and steel.

The highlights I was watching to keep me amused in long winter of painting and decorating were entertaining, the crashes, the attacks and my new-found appreciation for the skill had me gripped to my cracked phone screen watching YouTube.

Whatever these people were doing started to work for me, finally I was seeing what I wished for as little lad, a sport that provides real entertainment. Cycling was looking cool and off the wall again.

Soon the new season rolled around, I was in house with load of adolescent lads and a girl, Keira McVitty.

A real-life fixed gear racer. Fate, serendipity?

Who knows; either way the reality of scene was laid bare by her. Myths and viral videos debunked, I finally got it from the horse’s mouth the truth about fixed gear racing.

Then came the one thing that got me hooked. The mention of sponsorship and money which far rivalled anything I could have obtained at the time, with my ability, the most I could have gotten was what I worked for in the winter. 

The stories Keira told about racing actually being fun and slightly more adventurous than the often-treacherous path I was taking, made think a bit broader about those opinions I once held.

I became a lot more invested personally in it. The scene itself was gaining a more mainstream traction as well brands such as Specilized and Cinelli seemed to be especially keen to push models of their bikes specifically made and designed for fixed gear racing.

Teams from all over the world were popping up left, right and centre. Another turning point was the news that Romain Bardet had turned up to watch.

One of my road racing idols was interested, a skinny French rider doing something oh so modern really convinced me this side of the sport could really be something for me as well. 

I was soon living vicariously through what Keira was doing, upon chatting over a brew one day we soon came up with an idea of covering the RHC Milan through a podcast.

We were wrapping up things with The Cycling Podcast and our Espoir diaries series, and the perspective we could both bring with Keira racing and me on the sidelines seemed ideal.

Before I knew it October had rolled around and with much trepidation I was in the centre of the Vigorelli Velodrome on warm up day.

Slightly, in fact hugely, in awe of my surrounding – the home of hour records and many a finish of the Giro – the place gave me quite a surreal feeling.

Slap bang in the middle of it all was the creme de la creme of fixed gear crit riders. Everything from that point on start to make sense. The atmosphere was no longer tense as it was when I was racing in Belgium, but hugely relaxed.

I felt I was among friends before meeting anyone. As much as it was an alienating experience to begin with – as is anything when coming into a new world – I felt welcomed and accepted, encouraged and supported.

I’d had more positive conversations about cycling in two hours of being there than I had in the two years previous.

Race day in Milan was an exhilarating experience to say the least. The weather had not dampened a single spirit.

The crowds started to pack in throughout the day and the racing had shown itself to be a lot more traditional in nature than I first anticipated. The simplicity of fixed gear racing, the lack of power meters and its pureness provides something that has been lost in modern racing.

Entertainment value is undeniable, I could cite comparisons with Six Day racing, the music and three deep crowds hanging over the barriers was more than pleasure to see. The speed on that course was something to be marvelled at, whether it was because I wasn’t participating myself, I still don’t know but it was certainly a pleasurable thrill. 

I started to become a bit envious of those racing. The smiles and adrenaline coursing through the veins of those partaking soon had me sucked right back into a world I knew all too well. Post-race bullshitting could be heard miles away, I was loving it, but trying to remain rather cool and unimpressed on the inside, doing my best to take it all with a pinch of salt and not get swept up in it all, but I couldn’t help myself. 

It was only after arriving back home a couple of months later that I realised what I had bear witness to. A true reflection of where cycling should be headed. The guys and gals involved all soon got a follow on Instagram and keeping up with the racing and latest developments has become just as big of an interest to me as any other news within the cycling world.

It certainly provides a positive distraction from all the bad news that comes from the sport. 

So much so this keen interest has now led me to having a fixed gear bike built, much to the dismay of many of my traditional racing friends.

The no-fucks attitude comes into play there. I may have just found the balance between new and old, very much a happy medium. 

I can only imagine what the fixed gear world has in store for me, but if its anything like what it has offered so far then I have a lot to look forward too.

I’ve surprised myself with how much an opinion or thought can change, from being so sceptical to fully fledged convert speaks volumes about this side of cycling itself.

It is open to all and does nothing to discriminate against whoever you may be, whatever ability you obtain on a bike you can partake, and for those who want nothing but pure entertainment.

Well just take a look at the highlights of the recent Rad Race elimination and tell me what you think. 

All images courtesy of David De Keersmaecker. Check out his Instagram page by clicking here.

1 thought on “From sceptic to convert: How a visit to Red Hook Crit convinced a traditionalist there’s more to cycling than classics and stage races

  1. A very interesting piece Cal, I to had been influenced by your Dad and your good self regarding the “fixies” being the anti christs of Cycling. So it’s encouraging to hear your different stance, I will follow your comments and information with interest & eager anticipation. Keep up the good work lad.

    Like

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