“You’re just going to Red Hook to escape our nightmarish weather.”
I would have partially agreed with that statement, at least before being greeted by three straight days of rain in Brooklyn. The conditions were blustery, wet, and grey - but none of that could dampen the Tatito spirit. In all, a dozen (or was it fifteen?) orange-at-heart riders descended upon Red Hook over the weekend. Most of us simply came to admire the spectacle, pin some numbers, and offer moral support for what would be a challenging, and downright frightening racing experience. But Roderick, Liz, Brian, and Sophia (along with our adoptee for the weekend, Melissa) toed the line, cuz they ain’t scurred. Our motley crew, hailing from Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania piled mostly into the lovely and cozy Queens home of the De Jesus family. Now, there is host housing, and then there is Host Housing, and this was certainly the latter. Plus I think we all might have learned at least a handful of useful Tagalog phrases.
This would be the first RHC for all of us. Though Rod and Brian have some track experience, none of the ladies in our contingent had ever raced (uh… or ridden) fixed before, and all would be using borrowed bikes. If this wasn’t worrisome enough, once we got to the event we discovered that there would be no pre riding… meaning that the first time on their borrowed bikes would be in the race itself!
Red Hook is an event without a perfect domestic analog: the influx of corporate dollars shows in the level of infrastructure and professionalism. In some ways, it looks a bit like an NRC crit. And in other ways, it feels like a really really big alley cat. We warmed up with midwestern friends Brent, Erin, and Kesha - all of whom straddle these worlds as well. It’s an event in transition, and it’s unclear where it will go - but as it is, RHC is a fascinating and fantastic spectacle. What it surely is not is the cartoonish adrenaline-rush circus that some have painted it to be. The majority of the top athletes in attendance are Cat 1 road/track racers, many of whom hail from Europe - where a fixed gear crit circuit has developed.
It should be noted, I suppose, that RHC was simply the latest in a series of Tativille #hobocycling adventures: pairing legit racing with a pauper’s travel budget and a desire to meet up with far flung friends. We all carpooled like clowns, crashed couches, ate rice, shared bikes, and endeavored to explore as many free cultural assets as possible during the all-too-short trip. This naturally meant visits to Chari & Co, King Kog, R&A, and Dixon’s. It meant perusing several dozen galleries, strong arming the architects-among-us to provide a walking tour of Bedstuy, and stopping into every used bookstore along the way. It’s an approach where splurging means checking out Williamsburg’s hottest new 62sf artisinal cafe and spending $3 on a rad Cortado, and sharing some overpriced tubs of ice cream bought at a sketchy bodega in Bushwick.
There wasn’t enough time to do everything, there never is. I was supposed to say hello to the dashing young Dan Chabanov. I was supposed to give a high five to Mickey of Spooky Bikes, visit Fifo, buy a band at Central Watch, and a dozen other things. But Saturday morning we all made it over to Rob Nelson’s studio, home of mer bags. It’s a tiny shared space in a Bushwick warehouse on a beautiful street that has the look of war torn Lebanon. Rob’s become one of the old guard over the years, I guess. We checked out his old sewing machines, spools of colorful thread and gigantic rolls of material. There were a couple beautiful bags in progress, part of the collaboration with Austin Horse. Rob’s low key, gracious, and a highly skilled maker. He’s even cooler in person that I could have imagined. Even before meeting him, I wanted everyone to buy his bags (mer is the only handmade bag brand ever sold in Tativille) - but after being charmed by this humble guy and his dog, all of us left the studio singing his praises. I wonder if Rob realizes that he sold six bags that rainy morning.
The race itself went well. As has been documented in a thousand photo blogs around the internet, the conditions were downright biblical. There was absolutely no grip in any of the corners. There were puddles big enough to drown a small cat. And there were some pretty fast folks without a lot of racing experience mixed in with riders from teams like Texas Roadhouse. The Tatito contingent finished the night without any injuries, and only one broken wheel, which is more than I could have hoped for. We also were treated to see one of our own make it onto the podium and go bananas with the champagne.
I’ve been around bike racing for a very long time. Not only did RHC exceed my expectations in terms of the quality of the event itself, but what was most impressive was something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. What was most impressive about the event was the prevailing sense of optimism and excitement and positivity shared by the racers, promoters, media, and spectators… amidst what can only be described as a dangerous and scary-as-hell bike race being held at twilight in a rainstorm, with swirling frigid winds. What was most impressive was the unavoidable and kind of shocking demographic diversity of the entire scene. We’ve all read about the fact that racers from various disciplines have come to embrace this event. But what hasn’t been discussed enough is how many folks don’t fit the archetypal bicycle racer mold. This very clearly carried over to the spectators as well: lots of women, lots of young people, lots of folks with only a few bucks in their pockets, lots of non-white faces, and so many languages being spoken in and around the venue! Surely a big part of this is the fact that RHC is held in New York City - but you could see similar levels of diversity in the crews hailing from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and elsewhere. Maybe the sense of ad hoc community was a function of the amazingly challenging conditions of the race. But I wonder if it wasn’t more closely related to everyone’s realization that something special is going on in Red Hook. Whether this is by design or happenstance, I’m not really certain. But it was palpable, and it’s pointing us towards the future.