Keep the leisurely weekend biking in Golden Gate Park this weekend, because Saturday, April 23 biking will be getting serious in the Mission. The Mission Crit, which is the only fixed-gear crit in SF, is expected to bring some seriously skilled cyclists and bike bad-assery to the neighborhood. This will be the third Mission Crit and, as the event has been steadily gaining momentum, it has become a destination event for many fixed-gear fans and new onlookers.
Simply put, a criterium (or “crit” for short) is a bicycle race on a short, closed course. The fixed bikes required in this race don’t have brakes and the pedals don’t stop moving, racers must use their legs to slow down. This race is a flat out sprint the majority of the time, accompanied by eight tight turns. Read: athleticism and bike handling skills are a must.
Compared to more mainstream realms within the cycling world, there has not been a ton written about the history of fixed-gear crits (yet.) The best known fixed crit is the Red Hook Crit in New York which started in 2008. Red Hook has set the standard and paved the way for the popularity and success of other fixed crits that followed in its path.
The technical FAQs… the course is 0.8mi / 1.28km. 22 laps (17.6 miles) for men and 18 laps (14.4) for women. Each race will last approximately 40 minutes. This year the lineup order will be set based on timed laps run earlier in the afternoon—fast racers up front, slower racers in the back.
In anticipation of the race, we spoke with the hardworking founder of Mission Crit, James Grady, about the upcoming race. He took a break from the many inquiries he has been receiving about the race to fill us in on the history of the Mission Crit series.
Step one. How in the world did you convince the city to agree to block off this large of an area, in the Mission, to do a race like this?
Lots of begging. Just kidding. The people I’ve worked with at the City have been incredibly helpful. Believe it or not, they want cool things to happen here!
This is the third year for the Mission Crit. The first was held in a parking lot south of AT&T Park, and it was very DIY. I had initially wanted to run the race at its current location but realized that throwing a guerrilla race on busy streets would/could end quickly and badly. So for the second year, I decided to see what it would take to legally run it on city streets. Turns out, it takes a lot of work! Fortunately, the people I worked with at the City were incredibly helpful and encouraging.
Has it gotten easier or harder to coordinate this race as the interest keeps growing?
It has gotten more expensive, not necessarily more difficult [to throw these races]. And despite the explosive growth of the Mission Crit, it’s been difficult to make the transition from getting donations of items (such as bags, t-shirts, etc.) to money sponsorships. If it wasn’t for the support of BicycleLaw.com and LOW Bicycles, I wouldn’t be able to afford to host the Mission Crit.
How did you personally get into racing fixed bikes?
I’ve been riding a track bike for more than ten years, but only recently started racing them. In addition to competing in alleycats and fixed gear crits, I’ve started racing at Hellyer Velodrome in San Jose. My experience reflects that of lots of my friends—we start riding bikes casually, meet cool bike people, start racing informal races, meet more cool bike people, then get involved with formal racing, whether that’s track, road, [cyclo]cross, mountain, etc..
I saw on the message boards that people are looking to come up from LA to do this race—what’s the expected turn out for both categories and do you see a lot of out-of-towners?
This is one of the things that I’m most excited about this year.
In addition to lots of amazing Bay Area athletes, there are a number of people traveling from Southern California, Texas, New York, and as far away as England and South Korea. The men’s field is full at 85 racers and the women’s field is approaching 20 (which is twice as big as last year!)
Will any of last year’s winners be back to maintain their title?
Veronika Volok (Women’s First Place) and Christina Peck (Women’s Third Place) are returning this year. For the men, Manuel Barra came in first, followed by Marc Marino, Chas Christiansen, Zac Morvant, and Dylan Buffington—they are all going to put in good showings this year.
With all those turns and no brakes, you know people must be wondering…did anyone crash last year!?
There were two crashes last year but fortunately they were very minor. The worst injury was a skinned knee.
Well, that’s good news. Also, where is the after party – is it still a secret?
There is no official afterparty but if you know someone cool, they’ll know where to go.