Dresden is definitely not Brooklyn. The city is bang on the cusp of the German-Czech border and to the east are the Instagram-friendly Saxon Switzerland hills – as a result, it’s got a pretty small fixed gear scene. But U-Lock Justice Crew host the crit ‘This is not Brooklyn’, which is less a dig at Red Hook and more about their own fixed gear world. When they’re not hosting crits, they’re supporting refugee projects or going bikepacking on training camps that take them down the length of England from Scotland to Paris or exploring Tel Aviv – and a bit of roadbiking, as you might guess from the above picture. I passed through on my ride to Budapest and asked Tom about the crew and the scene there.
Hey Tom, what’s the Dresden cycling scene like?
That’s a good question.. Most of the cycling in Dresden is probably road cycling, definitely. There is a huge road cycling scene – a lot of cyclocross, mountain biking, and a small fixed gear scene but it’s a really small fixed gear scene.
Most of the city is road cycling because it’s really really nice to ride over here. You have the Sachsische Schweiz – Saxon-Switzerland – over here. So you can ride about 10 minutes and you’re in the hills and you can go up and down, up and down because Dresden is in a valley, so you have to ride in the hills to come out of the city all the time, so it’s pretty cool. You can do tough shit over here.
But Dresden, it’s beautiful.
What were you all doing before you formed your crew?
Mainly, we were friends. There is an alternative subculture centre I was a part of called AZ Conni – it’s a place for culture and concerts. We met over there and all of us were really into cycling. We thought it would be cool to form a bicycle club – be a gang. So we formed U-Lock Justice Crew in 2012. It was just fun. Not any serious stuff.
At the moment we’re about eight guys, between 21 up to 28 – around that. Unfortunately there are no women. I’m not really sure why. We’re open for any women but we’re just friends – there’s no tough inner-circle. If you want to come ride with us, that’s cool and if we have a cool ride maybe you can be a part of U-Lock Justice Crew. But we’re mainly friends who love to cycle. We’re just doing what we want.
Where does U-Lock Justice Crew’s name come from?
We’re all really political people. We’re doing a lot of political stuff, we organise a lot of things against the system, we fight for refugees. Combined with this whole cycling stuff – like collecting money by selling shirts – and, I think this is one of the really special things of the U-Lock Justice Crew, we combine politics and cycling. This is really important for us. That’s one reason we chose the name – it’s about emancipation, equality and justice.
Then you fight for your rights on the streets – there are a lot of car drivers that think they can cross your path and come around too close, and every day you have to be scared about cycling. Justice on the streets.
And it’s also the song of hardcore punk band Rambo. It’s a cool song by a band from the 90s. That was the beginning of the name.
There are political statements in a lot of German crews. Other cycling crews do the same – FixedPott have a small print on the back of the jersey that says ‘Fight Fascism’ or Mess Pack who are really punk. Also the Black Spoke Collective – they’re really cool. I think in the whole fixed gear scene there are a lot of cool political people who care about each other and social things. For us, it’s really a big thing.
What other groups exist in Dresden?
We have a lot of other small cycling crews over here. We also have a lot of teams – normal road cycling teams, mountain bike teams. But there are also a few small crews who do a little bit of the fixed gear lifestyle fun or road bike stuff and organise some training rides. They’re small. One of the groups is only four or five people, they’re really small and are called Fitfucker.Red Riders are really punk rock. The are awesome. They are really bike punk. Schleudergang Dresden, but they’re not into the fixed gear stuff – most of them are riding road and cyclocross. They organise a training ride every Tuesday.
So you started getting into racing and then held your own crit, which is a pretty big jump. What was the first race you took part in and when did things ‘get serious’?
We organised our first alleycat at the end of the 2012 and after that it’s gotten more serious. At the end of 2014 we thought it would be cool to get more into this racing stuff and do a competition, so we joined rad race in March 2015.
The first Rad Race in Berlin in March 2015 at the Kartbahn [gokart track]. It was our first Rad Race and also our first race. After that we participated in different races all over Germany. It was a really nice experience – you know all the guys over Germany. Its getting more professional, there are a lot of riders – like the 8Bar riders or other big teams who buy pro riders and ex-Tour de France riders.
So you guys haven’t done started trading riders yet.
[Laughs] No. We haven’t got any money and we don’t want to spend our time with guys we don’t know. We’re just friends.
So it was a really nice experience. We though: we’ve known everybody since the first day and there are so many other crews we call friends, like Mess Pack or FixedPott, from all over Germany that’ve met five or 10 times here. We have a lot of fun. I think that’s one of the special things in the fixed gear scene but it’s getting more professional. At the Red Hook Crit a lot of sponsors pay a lot of money, there are a lot of huge brands like Aventon, Cinelli, or Specialized. It’s kind of strange – it’s not the kind of punk rock that started some years ago.
The DIY punky vibes are changing in the bike world?
It’s tough because [at Rad Race] you want to be good at the race so you have to train a lot. Four or five years ago it was about: ‘okay, let’s going for a ride, maybe 50k, drink a beer.’ Now we’re riding about in a week about 300-400km and other teams ride more than this just to be really fit. Most of the time it’s on road bikes – it’s good for the training, it’s good for the hills. Riding about 1000-2000 metres in elevation on a fixed gear bike is not the best thing for your knees, I’m sure.
So your training’s changed to keep up with everyone else.
Yeah. The race is going more professional, so I have to be also. It’s not just about sponsorship – it’s also about not wanting to lose, of course. I want to be in the first quarter.
Then you created your own crit, ‘This is not Brooklyn’. Tell me about that.
After getting more into the fixed gear crit stuff we organised a fixed gear crit. It’s called ‘This is Not Brooklyn.’ It’s totally insane. We’ve done it two times. It was sold out in about two hours. We had support from al over Germany. Huge cycling crews came over here and participated in this race – and from Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland. It was crazy.
“We’re not the Red Hook, we’re just Dresden”
How did that come about?
I’m not really sure. We’re pretty well connected to the crews, so I think they supported us and connected us. ‘Hey there’s going to be a cool, small fixed gear crit in the south east of Germany, in the Zombieland of Saxony, so ride over there and have fun. It’s cool.’
But it’s a little bit sad because the men’s race is totally booked out but for the women, it’s harder. There is space to grow and do better with women in the cycling scene. I hope. They have [more opportunity] now though, and I hope more of them will participate.
‘This Is Not Brooklyn.’ What’s going on with that name?
Ah! [Laughs]. it was a night where we had a meeting where we plan stuff every one or two months – grand tours and different things. One of these nights we spent some time together, drank some beers and thought: ‘Let’s do a crit.’ We need a name and were thinking about Red Hook – Brooklyn is this very professional shit, and everyone has to pay a lot of money – but we’re not the Red Hook, we’re just Dresden. So, it was just a homage to the Red Hook.
Brooklyn is the dream – I also would like to participate at the Red Hook just for fun, to be a part of it and have seen it one time. I hope I will do it this year at Milan or Barcelona. I would like to combine it with some vacation, stuff like that. It was just fun. We’re a small other side to this huge Red Hook industry.
Good word. Where do you ride outside of Germany?
We’re all really open minded about cycling stuff. At the start we were fixed gear fascists: ‘fuck all the other shit!’ But we’ve become far more open minded. There’s so much more than that. Like beautiful cycles from steel frames to the carbon frames we’re all riding, or like cyclocross or mountain biking!
Last year we did The Stoneman – it’s a competition where you ride a route that’s about 165km and then about 4500 metres in elevation. We did it and it was my first time in ten years that I was on a mountain bike. It was so fucking awesome and I am sure I must buy a mountain bike. It’s so crazy, I love it. When I was about 14 I was riding downhill and dirt stuff. My bike was stolen about five times and so I didn’t want to ride the dirt bike. So I started with road bikes, which wasn’t that popular at the time – about 10 years ago – and that was the beginning of riding fast.
We’re doing a grand tour every year, since 2014. Our first grand tour was around the Baltic Sea. The whole crew was riding – we were about eight people. We started at Hamburg, riding to the north of Denmark. Then we got the ferry to Gothenburg, then down to Malmo, Copenhagen and back to Rostock. It was all fixed gear and really tough. It was without any support car or whatever, we just had our bikes with 48-17 gearing and luggage about 20-25kg on the bike. It was a really tough thing.
The next trip was from Edinburgh to Paris. We were about 10 people, riding across the whole island – your home. It was a really nice trip – so beautiful. I wish we had spend more time in Scotland. It’s just a beautiful place.
The hills going down the length of the UK must have been amazing. I say this as someone who lives in a very flat Berlin.
It’s going more and more flat as you go down to the south of the UK. We’d like to spend more time over there with the cyclocross or the mountain bike. You can have a really nice time. We did that fixed with a supporting car. That was much easier.
Then we’re doing different stuff. Last year and this year we went to Israel, it was something like a training camp. We did this ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because you can ride uphill all the time and you can collect a lot of metres of elevation. It’s good training. It’s a beautiful country. I love Israel.
What’s riding there like? I’ve heard it’s tough terrain.
I think the cycle scene in Israel is growing more and more. It’s crazy. When you go out on Shabbat or Friday morning about 6 or 7am, there are so many huge cycling crews and teams who are out training around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv there are beautiful places, and to the north in the Golan Heights next to Lebanon and Syria. You can ride really beautiful places. It’s particularly beautiful to cycle with my bike around Jerusalem, really.
It’s a small country so you don’t have the chance to choose really small roads – around Tel Aviv there are only really 4-5 huge roads so you have to go on the shoulder all the time and hope no car will kill you.
Yes, just hope.
They’re really crazy. But when you’re out of the centre of Tel Aviv, the main capital over there, it’s cool. I can recommend it. We did that this year and last year. I will do it next year.
I’m really interested in these bike packing trips. On the last Sunday of the month we’re doing a bicycle film club. We thought it’d be good to have a non-commercial film stuff, to say: ‘hey, there are so many crews who make movies.’ So we have these different theme nights – we had fixed gear, mountain biking and this time we have bike packing. I really liked Length of Sweden.
I will do more of these. Since the first time we went out for bicycle trip around Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea, I fell in love. I don’t want to do any other vacations than by bike. I’ve never done anything else since then. I think it’s the best way to see the world.
Are there any favourite rides out of Dresden, you’d recommend?
Yeah, Saxony-Switzerland, definitely. Next to the Czech Republic there are so many beautiful places to ride. The Erzgebirge [Ore Mountains]. You have to go south for the Fichtelberg which is the highest point in Saxony. It’s a really beautiful place and you can ride really nice over there. There are a lot of lakes – Sees – and you can spend a lot of time at the water. It’s also nice to ride along the Elbe and chill, and eat some Eis. But you can spend a lot of kilometres in Saxony-Switzerland – the roads are small and you can be by yourself.