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Rumble in Brooklyn

Story by STRAVA May 25th, 2016

Photos: Jered Gruber and Ashley Gruber. Words: Sarah Gearhart.

“This is the hardest fixed-gear race, no doubt. It’s like the Tour de France of fixed-gear racing, the pinnacle. Red Hook allows for the Rocky Balboa story, where you have elite guys who really are established and newcomers who get to take a shot at it.” - Neil Bezdek, two-time Red Hook Brooklyn winner


lady liberty

“I have so much adrenaline being here. It’s super cool to be in New York City. It’s a dream. I’m only 23, and it’s my second time in New York. This race is my playground. There’s a big crowd, and the race is international. There are about 50 countries represented for this race. We don’t care where you come from. I make new friends from all over the world. I love that.” -Fleur Faure, Red Hook women’s race competitor, pro cyclist


not for the faint of heart

The Red Hook Crit course is hypertechnical with multiple 180-degree turns. During the day, athletes got a shot at the course during the prelim qualifying races. “As someone who has raced professionally for over a decade, this is a new world. I’m the guy who’s an amateur. Fixed gear racing is something I never thought I’d do. Ever. I have respect. I’m not going to say I’m not scared. I’m not dialed with the riding style as I am with other racing. This is like having a car with five pedals that you have to use the whole time when you’re used to using only two.” -Aldo Ilesic, pro road racer & criterium specialist


the code of the street

“This race draws a nutty personality. We’re wearing lyrcra—spandex onesies. You’ve got a helmet, which gives an illusion of safety. I think the worst case scenario that could happen at Red Hook would be a broken collarbone or road rash. This race is an opportunity at greatness, to compete on the world stage. There’s really no money on the line. The prize money doesn’t even pay for half the trip to get here. It’s all about street cred.” - Ronnie Toth, LA-based racer and the co-host of the CycleCast podcast.


turn it around

“I saw the course map and I thought, ‘Oh my God, what are we doing?’ The first hairpin throws you wide and going into the second hairpin you need to the cut back across. Your stomach feels like you’re on a rollercoaster.” - Keira McVitty, pro cyclist



Before the qualifier races, athletes get ready and warm up inside the Brooklyn Transit Terminal. “Red Hook isn’t like your normal USA Cycling categorized races where you have to go through the steps and fit this norm of what cycling is. If you want to sign up for the Crit and you can do a hot lap that qualifies you, then run it. You could wear jean shorts and a T-shirt or you could take it super seriously. I think that’s the big draw for a lot of people. It’s the meeting of both worlds - this free spirit versus the guys who take racing as a livelihood.” - Daniel Holloway, pro road racer and six-day track racer



In the period immediately before qualifiers, riders move to rollers outside.


the greatest stage

“This is New York. Enough said. No matter what sport you do, New York is the greatest location.” -Aldo Ilesic


fixie family

“When I’m on the road and there’s a fixie gear person, we say hello. We are a big, big family. When I came last year in New York, I first stopped in Madrid and there were fixed gear teams. They welcomed me and offered to let me stay with them instead of taking a hotel. Everyone invites each other in their countries. It’s a community.” - Fleur Faure


why be normal?

“To win is definitely about kudos and reputation, street cred. For me, with the Why Be Normal Team? I want to help take home the team prize. That’s our slice of cake in the fixie world as a reward for what we brought to the table.” - Keira McVitty


results check

“I love a race where the strongest person wins. Red Hook is a bit like that. There are no fluke wins that happen. This is my second Red Hook. My main thing is I want to be a man in motion and a benefactor to the weak. My goal is to exhaust my potential.” - Ronnie Toth

“I had no expectations coming into the race. Coming off of the road season I hadn’t really ridden a fixed gear. I felt alright once I was into the race. I was enjoying it. I qualified 18th, my worst qualifying to date. Maybe my legs weren’t there. I just tried to do my best.” - Keira McVitty



The qualifying format opens the door to greatness for some, and leaves many disappointed.


day to night

Qualifiers end in the afternoon. The main events start later in the night.


before the start

“It’s a shock to the system the first time you race Red Hook. I had no idea what to expect. Even though I’ve done other Red Hook Crits, I still feel a bit of a newbie. I didn’t really know the girls. I went in to the race and gave it my best shot.” - Keira McVitty


the main events

The women stormed the course first and a highly tactical game of cat and mouse ensued.


bright lights, big city

Massive crowds cheer every racer.


turn 10

Crashes are commonplace at Red Hook. The women’s main event was no exception. “The hairpins were the most difficult part of the circuit, but the big crashes coming into the finishing straight surprised me. People underestimated it and took it hot in the last few laps and were sliding out. It was a bit scary for me. Coming into the last lap, the last corner, there were still people with their bikes all tangled outside the corner. So coming into the finishing straight, I had to kick back a little bit just to keep it tight in the corner to miss these people.” -Keira McVitty



Surviving Red Hook without crashing is a reason for athletes to celebrate.


start, crash

The men’s race started then almost immediately stopped when pacing motrocycle stalled and crashed out a massive swathe of the field in a wreck that went viral instantly.

“The guys in front, about the first 20, could avoid it, but coming from the back, you just see the rider in front of you. I saw the motorcycle, but the guy behind me didn’t and crashed into it. It wasn’t on purpose. It happens in every sport. Honestly, it didn’t affect me physically or mentally. I always say when things are out of your control, don’t get upset.” - Aldo Ilesic

“I mean, that’s bike racing. You know this can happen and this does happen. If you let this rattle you, then maybe this isn’t for you. I’ve seen all sorts of different varieties of crashes - it’s inevitable.” - Daniel Holloway



After a long delay, the race had to be restarted two more times before it finally got underway.


“Fear hurts you in a race like Red Hook. If you have fear, you might give up a wheel or get bumped out. You just have to hope that people are respectful. There’s a lot of testosterone out here. Fighting for wheels is definitely going to happen. It’s chaos.” - Ronnie Toth


inside the race

The view from Daniel Holloway’s handlebars of his ride to a fifth-place finish.



how the race was won

“On the sixth lap Colin Strickland from Allez-Allez Specialized, got off the front. His teammate Aldo chased down anyone who was trying to get across to Colin. That gap was big enough where nobody was going to jump across. To jump across a 10-second gap you’re looking at a two- to three-minute all out effort. On the corners, Colin took an ideal line while Aldo was soft pedaling, definitely blocking, which is fair play. For every hairpin and every lap, Colin gained a second or two.” - Ronnie Toth

Strickland rode that lead to the win.


make it rain


high five

It’s not often you see riders who don’t win smiling after a bike race. But you do at Red Hook, where the crowd showers every athlete with kudos and respect.


closing time

While Red Hook has become a globally popular race series, athletes don’t arrive on team buses with an army of mechanics and soigenurs at their disposal. A punk rock, DIY ethos still sits at the heart of the event and for the most part, the athletes work on their own bikes and take care of themselves. After the race, many riders pedal away with their spare wheels and equipment strapped to messenger bags on their backs. Simple, beautiful and entertaining, Red Hook stands out.

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