With fixed gear bikes leaving the boards of the velodrome behind in favour of the city streets, cycling is nurturing a new, edgy alternative to traditional racing, thanks largely to the Red Hook Crit.
What’s the Red Hook Crit?
Cycling’s flourishing hipster race series is named after Red Hook, an area of Brooklyn, New York, and boasts unique roots. Founded by David Trimble in 2008 simply to celebrate his birthday in style, the Red Hook Crit has grown into an annual series of circuit races that barrel around specially designed courses in four large city cycling hotspots – Brooklyn, Milan, Barcelona and London. The racing is renowned for its purist style, relying on the simple bond between rider and bike.
The thing that really sets fixed-gear racing apart is the gearing. Every rider must plan ahead, looking at the course in question to decide what gear ratio they will need. Once pedalling, the only thing influencing speed and cadence is the rider’s raw power through the pedals. Oh, and there are no brakes.
Red Hook, and fixed-gear racing generally, is becoming ever more popular in traditional racing circles. Riders with a background on the velodrome naturally excel in the fixie crit discipline, like Specialized Rocket Espresso’s Stefan Schafer, winner of the 2016 Milan and 2017 Brooklyn rounds, who is a former German track star.
The 2018 fixie criterium season has already begun with races around the Netherlands and Italy kicking off the year. None, however, have earned the prestige of the Red Hook races –equivalent to road cycling’s three Grand Tours – which are the crowning jewels in a discipline that is forever gaining momentum.
Fixed-gear criterium racing attracts the most speed hungry of cycling daredevils who yearn for non-stop action. Whether tussling in the final sprint, or getting caught up in an inevitable crash, the thirst for action is certainly quenched with fixed-gear racing.
Races like the Red Hook Crit and other criteriums on the domestic scene – fixed-gear or not – all offer the similarly enticing draw of roadside entertainment. Events like the Rapha Nocturne in central London and the National Circuit series held in towns all around the country treat spectators to a rare sustained spectacle of action.
One extra special draw of criterium racing, at Red Hook in particular, is the procession of drop-dead gorgeous custom paint jobs that zip past with each and every lap. The prestige and culture surrounding fixie racing inspires the artistically inclined to go to town on each unique frame, creating some utterly stunning works of art.
The perfect setup
With a long history of criterium racing in the UK, there are a wealth of opportunities for all types of riders, from the grizzled fixed-gear pro to the fresh amateur rocking a brand new road machine.
For fixed-gear criteriums in particular, riders may prefer to look into some more durable, crash-withstanding kit because spills and tumbles are inevitable in fixed-gear events. Tried and tested by the dominant Specialized Rocket Espresso team, the Allez Sprint frameset utilises DSW sprint technology, reinforcing the welding where it is needed and ensuring the aluminium frame is both compliant and stiffer than many carbon alternatives.
Air resistance punishes all two-wheeled disciplines, so even crit racers cannot scrimp on aerodynamic performance. Cinelli’s Strato Faster frameset is constructed with the crit racer in mind, dialling in the geometry to make a more compact and aggressive frame that allows the rider to adopt an efficient aero tuck.
For those not yet ready to give up the luxury of freewheel and surrender themselves to the frenzy of a fixed gear, Raleigh offer a crit-specific line of bikes ranging from entry-level models to the titanium Raleigh Crit Comp, a bike designed specifically for aggressive criterium racing.
Spectator or avid racer, the UK crit scene is enormous and really does have something for everyone. It’s time to leave the predictability of the Tour de France behind and enter into cycling’s trendiest sub-culture.