Fixed gear criteriums have moved from an underground form of urban racing out of Brooklyn, to an internationally engaged with form of cycling. But as the popularity grows in Europe and the States, it feels as though Britain has been left a little behind.
Typically run on track style fixed gear bikes, riders are generally not allowed even a front break. Effectively, by swapping to some slightly more durable road racing tires on your track bike, you’re good to go.
Other than the bikes themselves, the fixed gear criterium follows pretty much the same format as traditional crit racing. Short technical courses with bunch racing over a set time. Larger events may run an ‘f1 style’ qualification ahead of the main race, where riders compete for their place and starting position on a fastest lap basis. If the traditional criterium can be seen as a little bit old fashioned by some, fixed gear criteriums have developed a reputation as being nebulously ‘cool’ events.
Rarely will you see an event advertised that doesn’t make use of striking design in its media to build this reputation. Posters are bold and modern, locations are picked within urban centres moments before their gentrification becomes unstoppable, and non bearded or tattooed riders can look a little out of place.
Poster marketing Red Hook fixed gear criteriums in London 2015, available on the Red Hook website
Red Hook criterium have this image down to a T, and unsurprisingly remain the largest and best known fixed gear criteriums currently being run. With the first race to take place organised by a group of friends in 2008 in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn, it has grown exponentially into an international event. With title sponsorship this year from Rockstar Games (the company that makes Grand Theft Auto) it seems that fixed gear criterium is finding an audience outside the sometimes insular world of competitive cycling.
This year, we were treated to the first Red Hook fixed gear criteriums in London as part of the 2015 series. 250 riders from all over the world entered, with 95 qualifying for the main event. The racing was fast and tightly contested up to the line, and attracted large crowds of dedicated race fans and bemused passersby.
Other than the occasional low key event, the last time we saw an organised, well attended fixed gear criteriums was The Hunt held at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit in 2012. Following a similar format to Red Hook, all be it with a smaller budget, The Hunt has not been renewed since for a follow-up event. As it currently stands, British Cycling are unwilling, or unable to provide race insurance for organisers in events where racers ride without breaks. This has a knock-on effect of venue owners and local councils refusing permission for official races to go forward.
As a cyclocross or time trial fan, all you would need to do to organise a race is contact British Cycling via your local club. Competitors bring their race licence or pay for a day licence, and British Cycling take care of the third party liability. It seems that without a change of heart, fixed gear criteriums are going to remain the reserve of Europe and the States, and not make their way over to the UK in any meaningful way without a big budget organiser.
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