I’ve been racing road bikes for almost nine years; since I was 16 years old. You know, the kind that shift, coast, brake, etc. So, when I received a phone call from my teammate, Johnny Corcoran, asking me if I would be interested in participating in this year’s notorious Red Hook Criterium in Brooklyn, New York under the flag of an up and coming local bicycle manufacturer, I couldn’t resist the opportunity.
For those who don’t know, the Red Hook is one of the world’s toughest and most dangerous cycling events. Riders participate in heats throughout the day riding fixed gear bikes - no gears, no coasting, no brakes - in an attempt to qualify for the feature event in the evening under the lights on a sinewy, technical, and arguably extremely dangerous race course.
I used to lambaste fixie riders, criticizing them for their reckless obsession with these bikes that were seemingly inferior to those that I had come to know so well. It was incomprehensible why someone would want to speed along out of control to inevitably be taken out by one of a million apparently obvious risks. But, then I rode one for the first time, and my perception changed almost immediately. Our sponsor, Kingdom, provided us with a soon-to-be-released model called the Elska, and within only a couple rides I quickly began to understand why people thought they were so fun. As a team, we spent the six weeks we had to prepare for the Red Hook getting to know these wild, “raw” machines, and by the time we arrived on the East Coast, I think we all felt at least some sense of preparedness. That confidence would be short lived, however.
Race day was Saturday April 28th. Back west it seemed like everyone with a fixation for two wheels was either up in Prescott, Arizona for the Whiskey Off-Road or out in Southern California for the Dana Point GP, both highly prestigious events in their own right. But, at Red Hook we felt like we were participating on one of the biggest cycling stages in the world. The first round of qualifications went well for exactly 50% of our squad. Johnny navigated through the field from almost 60 riders back to secure a top 20 and automatic qualification for the feature race in his very first go. Christina Hashimoto just missed an automatic qualification herself in the initial women’s heat, but easily moved along in what Red Hook calls the Another Chance Race (ACR - although it’s really your last chance). Jace Kuyper, perhaps the nicest human being on planet Earth, and I started the first round men’s heat number two together, although before the race was even three-quarters completed we had both exchanged pleasantries with the tarmac. Officials kept Jace from restarting, but I was allowed to chase on for a 34th/80 finish, which secured me a fourth row start in the ACR.