David Trimble: the evolution of Red Hook Crit and how he spends his birthday now

In Interviews, London, New York by Claire

David Trimble started the Red Hook Crit in Brooklyn as a birthday party. It marked a change in fixed gear racing. Ten years later it’s now hundreds of riders deep. He’s surprised there’s still the intense love for it. As it comes to London for its third year, I asked David how he celebrates his birthday now – and a few other questions. Cover photo by Meg McMahon.

How did the idea for Red Hook Crit come about? I know it was to celebrate your birthday ten years ago, but where did that first thought come from?

Initially I had the idea to organise an alleycat, but then I thought it would be too complicated. I wanted to do an alleycat that ended at my birthday party. Then I realised that would be too complicated and I wanted to design an event that was going to be more contained, so that everybody who was already coming to the party would already be at the race to watch it.

“People weren’t really convinced. The road racers thought it was too dangerous, and the alleycat racers maybe didn’t think it was dangerous enough.”

How long did it take from the first idea to the event itself?

I think I came up with the idea maybe two weeks before my birthday party so it was pretty quick. The first year there wasn’t really a lot of planning involved. You know, not needing an infrastructure, permits or anything – it was a super tiny event for fun so it didn’t take much to plan. I think I came up with the idea two weeks before the race.

I’d never organised anything before, no races or anything. I didn’t know what I was getting into.

This is what the start line of first Red Hook Crit in 2008 looked like. Pretty much every competitor, spectator, and race official appears in this photo. Notice the guy with the pot. This was used as the “bell” to signal the primes and last lap. Photo by Sam Trimble

How long does it take in planning now?

Now it’s year round. More than a full-time job. Months and months of planning, even during the off season, is the hardest period cause you have to find the race venues and the sponsors. Now it’s just year round and endless amounts of planning time.

What was the vibe of the first race?

Yeah the atmosphere at the first one was definitely.. it’s similar to what it is still. The race was pretty serious – people were racing hard and going fast and caring about the win, winners were partying after the race but it’s still going on today.

Obviously with 15 people instead of tens of thousands of people. It’s scaled but with the same atmosphere.

How would you describe your place in New York’s cycling culture at the time? Where were you in everything?

At that point in New York I was pretty involved in the local cycling community, both in the road racing world and also the alleycats. I’d kind of go back and forth between racing alleycats and racing road races, so I knew people in both communities. You know, when I came up with this race people weren’t super warm to the idea at first. I mean, I could only get a handful of riders for the first race.

People weren’t really convinced. The road racers thought it was too dangerous, and the alleycat racers maybe didn’t think it was dangerous enough – I don’t know. Took some time to get people on board with the idea.

How did you get into cycling in New York? I know you were into mountain bikes and then started off with Monster Track as your first alleycat.

Actually, my father was always involved in racing – he had a bike company and growing up I was around bikes but I didn’t get into it until later. I started out racing mountain bikes in my early 20s, then when I moved to New York City there wasn’t… you know, mountain bike racing wasn’t accessible so I started racing alleycats. And from there I started racing alleycats just because it was the most accessible form of racing for me.

Red Hook Crit has been said to basically have been the start of the fixed gear racing sport. Do you feel like there’s been a marked change in the cycling world because of Red Hook Crit?

Yes, the Red Hook Crit was the first track bike criterium of its kind. There was definitely nothing like it when we started it, and now it’s established it as a new genre of racing. There are now hundreds, if not thousands, of other track bike criterium all over the world. You know, every week there are probably a dozen of them around the world.

I think it made a big difference in the cycling world, especially in the urban cycling world because alleycat racing started taking a dive and people still want to race track bikes. This was more accessible and safer than an alleycat.

Why do you think alleycats started taking a dive?

I just think it was already a pretty small community of people doing it, and then if you organise alleycats you’re really just doing it for fun – there’s no way to make money off of it or to make sponsors or to make it into a more serious race. The race organisers are really just doing it for fun and there’s a lot of risk involved. So you might get a good organiser for a few years but they drop off and with nobody in their place to keep driving the sport, it just kind of starts dropping off. Whereas a race like Red Hook Crit is very easy to get sponsors and to make it something sustainable.

Was it an intentional to do something for the very first time?

Nah, I had really zero ambitions. I had no idea if I would even do it more than once. Just had really no ambitions at all for it really.

When you did expand, why did you choose those cities at those times? Why did you go for Milan first, then Barcelona, then London like that?

There was a different circumstance for each city. When we went to Milan it was still really early in the race’s history and I made some friends in the cycling world in Milan, and then we came up with the idea to bring the race there. It wasn’t a lot of strategic thinking. I just had some friends and we thought it was a good idea, then did it.

That was sort of the thing with Barcelona. I made some friends through the race, then there was one person in particular who had some connections with the venue so we got that race off the ground. Then we moved to London, which was more in collaboration with our title sponsor Rockstar Games, who really wanted a race in London.

Am I right in thinking that Berlin’s next?

We don’t know yet but we would love to go to Berlin. It’s not something set in stone yet.

Photo by fwdbound

How have you found adding the women’s race in 2014?

It’s been a huge addition to the race. I think it’s, almost more than anything, made our race a serious sporting event. It’s a complete event now that we have really high level men and women. I think it really critical to the success of the event from a sponsorship, spectatorship, athlete [point of view] – from every angle it was necessary.

In organising Red Hook Crit for its 10th year, what are some of the surprises?

That it’s still growing. You always expect there to be a peak and maybe a plateau or it going down, but it really just keeps growing and getting bigger each time we do a race. It’s been like this year after year after year, and it’s ten years on and it still surprises me.

Can you tell me a bit about the artists that you use for the design?

I’ve worked with a friend of mine named Jonah Birns on the art direction of the race. Since the third year he’s been Creative Director and he’s done all the posters and stuff. So it’s always the same Creative Director managing it.

From time to time we’ll collaborate with different artists who design the posters, but the overall design of all the merchandise and the posters and graphic elements is done by Jonah. That’s really helped the race to have a consistent visual identity, so when people see something by it, it’s different every year, but they can also recognise that it’s Red Hook Crit.

What does this week look like for you?

They’re pretty crazy, yeah. Things always come down to the wire, logistically, marketing-wise, managing athletes. It’s just really full-on right now. Things always come together but when you’re three days out, it’s a little overwhelming. There’s just a lot of stuff that you really can’t plan until race week.

Photo by Tornanti_cc

How do you find the day itself – do you still have fun?

It’s obviously a lot of pressure and a lot of stress but when things are going well I definitely enjoy it. I think I’m the biggest fan of the race. I really care about watching the race to see what happens – when everything’s running smoothly and the race is on, and people are fighting in the last few laps I definitely enjoy it.

Do you still live three blocks away from the Red Hook Crit Brooklyn site?

I do yeah. I’ve been in Red Hook for the last ten years and don’t plan on leaving.

Is the Brooklyn Crit still on your birthday?

No, it’s not. 2014 was the last year it was on or around my birthday and we had really terrible cold, cold rainstorms so after that we decided to move it until the end of April. Since then, the weather’s been a lot better. I’m fine with bad weather but there’s a lot of pressure from athletes and sponsors and everything.

What kind of cycling do you do now?

Not a lot because I’m always working but when I do, I go on long rides by myself. If I had more time I’d get back into mountain bike racing. I like cycling because it gives a sense of adventure, and if I could choose one type of cycling it would be mountain bike racing because it gets you out, down to the woods, down to the trails and it’s the most fun. If I had really a lot of time to train and are, then I’d consider racing track bike crits but the amount of time it takes to get to that level of fitness is really demanding.

What do you do for your birthday these day?

Hah, usually I’m just working on the race. So at that point we’re a month away and we’re working super hard on it, so I just have some friends over for dinner. Every year on my birthday I at least ride by the track and see what the weather’s like, see what we’d be dealing with if it was still on that day. I think last year it was actually snowing on the day, so we’re happy we’ve moved it.

London’s Red Hook #3, on a rainy July Saturday

Race finished

David Trimble, post-race face

Find Red Hook Crit on Instagram, Facebook and on the website.

ClaireDavid Trimble: the evolution of Red Hook Crit and how he spends his birthday now