One of the better reasons to head out to Red Hook (aside from the lobster pound, Ikea and the many many artist’s lofts) occurred on Saturday, March 29, when some of the most dedicated cyclists and runners from Brooklyn and around the world gathered at Red Hook’s Brooklyn Cruise Terminal for a race like no other. Pouring rain didn’t stop these athletic, talented lunatics from running, or racing full-tilt on fixed-gear track bikes without brakes.
The reason for this madness? The 2014 Red Hook Criterium.
For the uninitiated, a criterium, or crit for short, is, according to Wikipedia, “a bike race held on a short course (usually less than 1 mile), often run on closed-off city center streets.” The Red Hook Criterium is a three-quarter-mile course with a 180-degree hairpin turn and a chicane.
From the Red Hook Criterium website:
The Red Hook Criterium is the world’s premier track bike crit, featuring professional road racers, track specialists, bike messengers and urban cyclists competing over multiple laps around a fast technical circuit. Fixed gear track bicycles are mandatory, requiring riders to possess street-tuned handling skills and high levels of fitness.
Patrick Batchelder via Tumblr
The Red Hook Crit was started in 2008 by cycling enthusiast David Trimble, who organized the race for his 26th birthday, which is one party-alternative to stuffing your face full of diner food and drinking yourself to sleep. The first Crit took place on the streets of Red Hook between a few dozen cyclists, without permits, sponsors, or prizes.
“As someone who came up with one foot in traditional road bike racing and the other in unsanctioned urban alleycat races,” explained Trimble in an article on BikeNYC.org, “I wanted to create a competition that would combine the physical intensity of road races with the amazing rivalries and spirit from the urban cycling scene.”
Now the event is sponsored by Rockstar Games (the video game developers behind the Grand Theft Auto series), features 250 cyclists competing over multiple qualifying races, includes a 5K race for runners, and has expanded to Barcelona and Milan.
The 2014 event took place at Red Hook’s own Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Inside the terminal, some of the world’s greatest fixed gear racers were stretching out and double-checking their equipment in anticipation of the race. Their fixed-gear bikes are highly engineered machines which use carbon fiber or other esoteric materials to achieve the strength of steel without its weight.
These wheels, for instance, are Metron 81s, which will set you back a couple of thousand bucks.
March 29 brought an astounding amount of rain to Brooklyn — nearly 2 inches. That’s a pretty hazardous proposition when racers are taking sharp turns at high speeds without any brakes, and there were a few spectacular wipeouts. The dedication these athletes displayed by competing in the downpour was inspirational.
The qualifier races began in the afternoon, and the competitions lasted through the night. Trimble explained the qualification process on BikeNYC.org: “Registration is capped at 250 riders. Those 250 riders are then broken down into six groups of approximately 40 riders. Each of those riders gets 20 minutes within their group to set their individual qualifying lap times, with the top 85 advancing into the race.”
Rockstar Games had crew running around with brooms clearing puddles. Safety personnel, cops, and paramedics were on hand. Additionally, there were food trucks, vendors with tents, and a DJ. A far cry from the modest 2008 Crit!
French mountain biker Thibaud Lhenry took the top prize, while San Diego’s Jo Celso won the inaugural women’s race. Lhenry only started racing fixed-gear bikes a year ago, if you can believe it, and Jo Celso is a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor.
After the Criterium, it was finally time for the runners.
Runners lining up for the start of the 5K | Ramses Rivas
The 5K race attracted over 200 runners, many of them elite, and even in the pouring rain, they brought it.
Brian Vernor via Facebook
Haile Memdesha won the men’s race — wearing a shower cap! — with a time of 14:10, and New Jersey native Lauren Penney won the women’s title with a time of 16:14.
Allen Carr via Facebook
It was truly an epic night, and the perfect illustration of how a scrappy Red Hook startup can become an event that people around the world will be talking about for a long time.