How do you get all your one-track minded bike friends to come to your 26th birthday party? Host an illegal fixed bike race at night of course…
The first Red Hook Criterium took place in the backstreets of Brooklyn at 11pm, with no sponsors, permits or prizes… except pride. David Trimble, the founder of the race (whose birthday it was) came second to Kacey Manderfield, a woman who would go on to win the National Track Championships and turn professional that same year. A new style of bike racing was born.
‘People can take bike racing way too seriously,’ says Trimble. ‘If you give it a party atmosphere and have artists, photographers and creative people there, the sporting side becomes cool again: it’s not just about who’s the strongest man…’ So he started building a community: a space where athletes could hang out alongside amateurs; where style, aesthetics and the after-party were as important as the race and what you’re riding on.
The third London Red Hook Crit is being held at the Greenwich Peninsula on Saturday 22 July – and the race now holds competitions in New York, London, Milan and Barcelona. Trimble’s model of merging fun and creativity with a serious sporting event – to temper the typical a-type characters – seems to have brought a new democracy and accessibility to cycling competition. Although there’s always someone who disagrees…
‘People have been complaining about only the top athletes winning since the very first race,’ says Trimble. ‘But the race has always been this mixture of elite athletes, amateurs and total beginners.’ This inclusiveness has meant that Olympians and pros can line up with – and lose out to – bike couriers and semi-professionals. The competition is fairer than ever, insists Trimble. ‘Even just a few years ago we'd have been lucky to have 15 to 20 riders finish the race, with the top three to four riders demolishing the competition,’ he says. ‘Now 60 to 70 riders finish the race’.
You also don’t have to be a bike expert. ‘It’s a super simple event,’ Trimble says, ‘It's not like Formula One or other types of cycling where the technology has to be understood to understand the competition.’
At 32km, the course is relatively short and technical. It’s a hard and fast race, with cyclists hitting speeds averaging 46-48kph. Unlike track racing or the Tour, there are no complicated strategies to decipher: it’s basically a first past the post system, with the riders that are at the front, being aggressive from the beginning, most likely to win.
Trimble’s singular drive to innovate something new could partly be attributed to his upbringing in Alaska and the creativity of his family life. ‘Barely anyone lives there, so everything you do you have to pioneer yourself,’ he says. ‘There's no established way to do things.’ His father James and uncle Brent would build bikes and then organise competitions to race them in. With their six other brothers, it was not uncommon for five of the 10 people in the local race to be Trimbles. James and Brent Trimble then went on to build bikes professionally, innovating the use of composites – notably carbon fibre – that were used by the US Olympic team in 1996 and 2000 Olympics. David Trimble now lends their bikes to a few of the racers in the Red Hook Crit. ‘They were commissioned via a brand called GT to design and make those bikes,’ he says. ‘The designs are so good, they still perform really well today.’ Trimble himself was more into go-karts and motorsports as a younger man – and only got into cycling in his early twenties. Although he has raced in the past, he has no ambitions to be a professional racer: cycling for him has always predominantly been a conduit for adventure. ‘It was a way to travel the world and meet people and see different places,’ he says.
Trimble admits he’s never had a plan, more than taking one race at time, so with the latest London race only a week away is he feeling the pressure? ‘Yes definitely. People always ask me what’s next, I’m always just trying to survive the next race!’ So how will he judge if it’s been a success or not? This lies in the hands of the spectators. ‘There’s got to be lots of people watching the race.That’s the metric of success for me.’
London no. 3 Red Hook Crit is a free for all spectators and runs from 12 noon at the Greenwich Peninsula on 22nd July. Expect to have a lot of fun. Find out more here