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The Red Hook Crit in Brooklyn this weekend marks the start of the international fixed gear crit racing season for 2018. Now in its 11th year, the event brings together over 450 riders from over 40 countries to race against each other on a closed circuit course on fixed-gear, brake-less track bikes. If you're lucky enough to be able to catch the race you are in for a treat: high-paced, high-adrenaline, highly technical riding from incredibly skilled riders, all with a healthy dose of music, beer and partying on the sidelines.

To mark the start of the season for 2018, we caught up with our favourite local-international fixed-gear team East London Fixed to get the lowdown on the fixed gear crit scene. Co-Founder and Designer Charles Nicholson and Race Team Manager Owen Blandy spoke to us about the team, their plans for the year ahead, their personal background to getting into fixed gear riding, and lots more about the racing. Check out what they had to say here!

East London Fixed riding in Brooklyn

AR - Please could you introduce the East London Fixed team and give a bit of backstory for readers who aren’t yet familiar with you.

Owen - The team was formed in 2014 through a love of riding fixed gear track bikes on the road.
Mainly formed in and around Brick Lane, the team has grown from late night bagel rides to dedicated training and racing overseas. Brought together through a shared passion and similar attitudes, the team is built around friendship, and hence we are not formed in the classic cycling club status. In a way we are more of a collective that has grown as the sport of Fixed Gear has changed - many of us are now diversifying into road cycling, Cross, MTB and bike packing.

Charles - We formed East London Fixed back in 2014 as a way of rejuvenating a sense of camaraderie among riders in London and also generally to find other people who loved riding their track bikes as much as we did. With a particular passion for riding fast, we began by hosting weekly "training" sessions at Regents Park as well as bi-weekly relaxed rides, barbecues and parties. A number of us started to get along particularly well and began to ride and train aside from the weekly sessions, and this group effectively started to form a team. The foundations of the ELF Race Team membership comes really from the close friendships formed at these events and an eagerness to start pushing each other to ride faster and eventually race.

Since 2014 the team has grown from late night bagel rides to dedicated training and racing overseas

Owen Blandy, East London Fixed Race Team Manager
East London Fixed team members 2018
ELF team members 2018

AR - What are the teams goals for 2018? Where will we be able to we see you guys racing?

Charles - We want to attend as many races as we can but we also fully respect that each of us lead normal lives and have jobs and other commitments so why try not to pressure anyone to race. This both keep things fun and has helped us maintain a relationship more as a family than a race team. Red Hook Crit is our main event and the full team will be in attendance through the season, but individual riders also have their favourites such as Rad Race, the NL Crit Series, Thundercrit and other national crits.

Owen - We have a relaxed view on racing and don't put pressure on our riders. All of us have normal jobs - in IT, bike shop, as an events set designer, accountant, courier etc. - so we encourage our riders to race but it's not a deal breaker. Having said that, the Red Hook Crit series is our main race that we will send a full team too. But other fixed gear races will also be treated as objectives for the season (ThunderCrit, Rad Race, NL Crit Series). Racing is a great way to push yourself and test your skills against others but our main objective is to ride bikes, meet like-minded people and share the passion with whoever we meet.

Racing is a great way to push yourself and test your skills against others but our main objective is to ride bikes, meet like-minded people and share the passion with whoever we meet.

Owen Blandy, East London Fixed Race Team Manager
ELF ride in Brooklyn ahead of the Red Hook Crit

AR - For readers who have never seen a crit race, what’s the deal? What can we expect as spectators?

Owen - Crit racing has been going on for many years in road cycling. It is essentially a circuit of 1-2km long. with around 30 laps or 45-60 min effort. These races are popular all over the world as they are accessible whether you are a Cat 4 newbie or Elite pro. Fixed Gear Crit racing is the new bastard child which takes traditional crit racing and puts a velodrome specific track bike on the grid. So simple track geometry, one gear, no brakes. The simplest form of bike racing. Races like Red Hook are so great to watch as riders have to be physically very fit, but also balance demanding course layouts with quick responding bike handling skills. And then it's a young sport so expect music, beers, crashes, parties - It's the rock 'n' roll Formula 1 of bike racing.

The Joy of Great Cycling Socks
ReadThe Joy of Great Cycling Socks

Charles - It's usually a full days event with a race track usually laid out on closed streets or in some cases on specific tracks or even airfields! Starting with heats for the most part of the day the places and participants in the main race will be decided in basically smaller races featuring a wealth of riders from amateurs to professional athletes. Come the main event, the ferocity is taken to whole new levels and it becomes a difficult concept to grasp seeing riders racing so close to each other and at such high speed with no brakes or ability to stop pedalling. Courses are hugely diverse in their speed and technicality which inevitably leads to spectacles of phenomenal bike handling and crashes. You can expect hugely energetic crowds, plenty of beer, loud music and many many parties.

Fixed gear crit racing courses are hugely diverse in their speed and technicality which inevitably leads to spectacles of phenomenal bike handling and crashes. You can expect hugely energetic crowds, plenty of beer, loud music and many many parties.

Charles Nicholson, Co Founder & Designer
ELF ride ahead of the 2018 Red Hook Crit

AR - East London Fixed emerged from very community- and social-focused roots, do you think this sets it apart from other crit teams and if so how?

Charles - I don't know how much it sets us apart from other crit teams. All we really aim for is to keep the racing enjoyable and to be able to use the international events as a way for us to spend more time together as we are a little scattered around. This in itself is one of the most exciting parts of this style of racing. Fixed gear crit racing seems to have developed into such a wide spanning international community so every event feels like a celebration of both phenomenal racing talent but also sharing experiences and passion. It has a level of accessibility that I think is quite unique not just in the cycling world, which on the whole is quite open, but certainly over most sports. The time for competition is when you are lining up on the starting grid. Off the track it doesn't matter which team you're on, you all feel connected and happy.

Owen - I wouldn't like to say it sets us apart as we love being part of the community. Comparing with other team sports which I've played to a high level, the open atmosphere and positive attitude with the cycling society far outweighs any other sport. Athletes, organisers, fans and sponsors are all approachable and willing to help in almost any situation. The so called "Crit Family" is why we do these big races; meeting and then re-meeting people from round the world and competing in amazing new cities is why we keep pursuing this sport. The fact that Fixed Gear racing is still fairly underground must be addressed as it's a fantastic sport which deserves more media attention.

The fact that Fixed Gear racing is still fairly underground must be addressed as it's a fantastic sport which deserves more media attention.

Owen Blandy, East London Fixed Race Team Manager
ELF 2018 team members
ELF 2018 team members

AR - The ELF team has grown from being a small group of riders based in London to a sponsored international team, how if at all has this changed the team dynamic?

Owen - Yes - It's been challenging at times, but totally worth it. For several years, we looked to form a women's team to match the men. And at the start of last season, we had the opportunity to take on some un-signed women. Johanna Jahnke and Veronika Volok have been amazing to have on the team. They balance out our immaturity and give the team two very high level riders who are totally committed to the sport. Both of them have such positive attitudes which really helps to keep everyone happy. Race days in particular can be quite stressful and it's very useful having happy people in your base camp!

The logistics of international travel and postage are difficult at times but we manage it, and it's totally worth it. Especially with the help of our major sponsors - Chrome, Quirk Cycles, Giro shoes, Bell helmets.

Charles - Our earliest relationships with brands were derived in our roots as a community and hosting events, alleycats and competitions. These stemmed from mostly personal contacts and side projects but they really were a catalyst for us in increasing our confidence and desire to grow as a race team. We had always wanted to develop a women's team and we were fortunate enough to meet Johanna and Veronika in much the same way as we originally met the other team members in the community. Bringing them on board felt natural and they are outstanding team mates, and in spite of being so far away are just as much a part of our family as those of us in London. That and they are absolutely phenomenal racers who we love to scream for at races.

An Interesting Morning For Bike Racing: Cyclocross In The Snow
ReadAn Interesting Morning For Bike Racing: Cyclocross In The Snow
ELF team 2018

Bringing Johanna and Veronika on board felt natural and they are outstanding team mates, and in spite of being so far away are just as much a part of our family as those of us in London. That and they are absolutely phenomenal racers who we love to scream for at races.

Charles Nicholson, Co Founder & Designer

AR - What advice would you give to riders thinking of getting into crit racing?

Owen - Don't be afraid of the sport, it may seem expensive, exclusive and hierarchical but everyone started somewhere. Get down to your local road cycling centre or velodrome and grab a bike, gears or fixed gear. Sign up to a Cat 4 race and give it a go. Ask questions and don't be scared. Everyone learnt one way or the other. Also accept it's dangerous and bones do get broken!!!....But your body has a good habit of healing itself!!!

Charles - Just try it! It is easy to feel intimidated but there will always be someone at the same level as you. The cycling community is incredibly inviting and the passion runs deep. Race within your limits but also don't be afraid to push yourself. You will only ever get better with experience and speaking with other riders and racers will help teach you the valuable skills you need to improve but also stay safe and respect the decorum. We're a friendly bunch really!

It's dangerous and bones do get broken!!!....But your body has a good habit of healing itself!!!

Owen Blandy, East London Fixed Race Team Manager

AR - Crit races are quite unusual in the way they combine professional and non-professional riders, how do you think this affects the vibe of the race?

Owen - It is great that amateurs get to ride with pros as it's unlike many other sports in that way. Even pro road cyclists are approachable and regular people compared with the sports superstars of football, athletics and the American sports. But it needs to be balanced and I can see the sport growing to a level where it is dominated by professionals. Which would affect participation for sure. The vibes are still great at the moment though and that's why we keeping coming back for it!

Charles - It's one of the things that keeps me wanting to race. It is easy to feel intimidated by the level of some of the riders participating but the feeling of waiting on the start grid knowing that you do have a chance of qualifying is exhilarating. Obviously I don't think any of the participants really want to see the field swarming with professional athletes but the odd additions to each race do spice things up a bit and keep motivating those "amateurs" to keep pushing. At the end of the day, the racing style demands a broad variety of skills and not just the ability to ride fast which is why in the past pro athletes haven't necessarily always won, plus the risk factor is very high so I can't see it going down a full pro route.

The racing style demands a broad variety of skills and not just the ability to ride fast which is why in the past pro athletes haven't necessarily always won

Charles Nicholson, Co Founder & Designer
ELF team ride 2018

Even pro road cyclists are approachable and regular people compared with the sports superstars of football, athletics and the American sports

Owen Blandy, East London Fixed Race Team Manager

AR - Has the tragic and well publicised death of a pedestrian who was hit by a cyclist riding a fixed gear bike had any impact on ELF, riding fixed or perceptions people have towards you as fixed gear riders?

Owen - It's definitely changed the atmosphere in London, many people now only ride gears. The ones that do ride fixed now use a front brake. Cycling is booming in London at the moment, just go to Regent's Park on a weekday morning at 7am and you'll see hundreds of riders. Many of which I have now met and can call friends. That is the positive of the community. However accidents do happen and people do get hurt. But there are many more cars in London causing accidents than bikes.

Accidents do happen and people do get hurt, but there are many more cars in London causing accidents than bikes

Owen Blandy, East London Fixed Race Team Manager

Charles - I definitely think it has increased the awareness of the risks of riding these types of bikes especially in built up urban environments. However I strongly believe the responsibility lies on both sides of the fence. As the number of cyclists in London has increased quite dramatically over the last few years, the roads have become progressively more congested. While there are many reckless cyclists, there are also an equal number of reckless pedestrians more interested in checking their social media then checking what is coming before stepping into oncoming traffic. A large number of fixed gear riders have fitted brakes to their bikes now. I believe this is in part out of concern they will be fined heavily by police who are increasingly aware of the bikes, but also I think that riders have become more aware of the potential consequences of their riding style and choice of equipment. My personal view is that riding any bicycle in the city is a personal responsibility and you cannot have an arrogant attitude to one individual's right to be on the road than another's. It is important to respect everyone on the road.

Strathpuffer 2018 - 24 Hours of Snow and Ice
ReadStrathpuffer 2018 - 24 Hours of Snow and Ice

While there are many reckless cyclists, there are also an equal number of reckless pedestrians more interested in checking their social media then checking what is coming before stepping into oncoming traffic

Charles Nicholson, Co Founder & Designer

AR - Crit racing has been growing in popularity over the last few years, where do you see the crit scene going next?

Charles - I think mainly it's going to continue to expand through the work of individuals locally but spread internationally. I feel the worldwide community has caught the Red Hook Crit bug and now every year we are seeing more and more races emerging in different countries hosted by local teams often in collaboration with sponsors. I think the next step will really be for these events to start getting televised and increased publicity. However I hope this will not have a negative effect. We still want it to feel like an underground event and nothing overtly corporate, it's a difficult balance to achieve.

Owen - I would love to see events such as Red Hook Crit expand to more countries and bring in new athletes from the next generation. However, this needs to be balanced otherwise it could make the sport too professional and too high level which creates a barrier to entry to younger inexperienced athletes. Which brings us back to our team ethos in that cycling is more than racing, we met though the love of riding the streets. This has been enlarged to country lanes, velodromes, crossing countries etc but the idea is still the same. Whatever you do, make sure you do it on a bike!..

East London Fixed - sunny Brooklyn riding

AR - The Red Hook Crit used to be a combined field and later moved to having separate men’s and women’s races, have you got any thoughts about this?

Owen - This is just sensible and allows for women to compete at their own level against their fellow athletes. Our girls managed third in the team championship last year and they deserve their own stage to promote their abilities. Equal prizes for men and women should also be widely adopted throughout the sport of cycling. I'm happy to say that every Fixed Gear Crit I've been to has maintained this standard of equality.

Equal prizes for men and women should be widely adopted throughout the sport of cycling. I'm happy to say that every Fixed Gear Crit I've been to has maintained this standard of equality.

Owen Blandy, East London Fixed Race Team Manager

Charles - I think it's completely understandable really as the numbers have continued to swell year on year. In creating a women-specific race I believe it has also encouraged more women riders to the event. Everyone races the same course and the ferocity is equal in both the men's and women's events. Taking my team mates Veronika and Johanna as an example, I know either of them could kick my ass and I know for sure that the same is to be said for the women's field. Having their own stage to compete on and show their immense talent can only be a good thing in my eyes.

Taking my team mates Veronika and Johanna as an example, I know either of them could kick my ass and I know for sure that the same is to be said for the women's field as a whole

Charles Nicholson, Co Founder & Designer

AR - What about your personal cycling back story? How did you get to be where you are today?

Charles - I grew up skateboarding in London and have always been interested in, let's say, less "organised" sports. I have also been cycling to school since I was 10 and my brother who used to ride a lot got me into customising and improving bikes. I loved how bikes could both be very sociable and also allow you to be alone in your own head at the same time and after being introduced to track bikes 11 years ago I fell in love with the machines themselves.

At university in Kingston somehow I managed to convince a bunch of friends to also get fixed gear bikes and we started riding together and hosting alleycats and competitions. Next up were the long distance trips; starting with a 450km, four and a half day trip across the south of France, then to riding London to Paris on two occasions over two days, London to Amsterdam and numerous long rides in the UK - it became somewhat of an obsession. This is where East London Fixed and the ELF Race Team slotted in and has only spurred on my passion for two wheels.

I loved how bikes could both be very sociable and also allow you to be alone in your own head at the same time

Charles Nicholson, East London Fixed Co Founder and Chief Designer

Now I have my perfect collection of my track bike, road bike and gravel/adventure bike, I am working as a bike mechanic at an amazing shop My Beautiful Parking in Barcelona and I am the designer of the racing kits, bikes and helmets for ELF.

My next aim is to design cycling apparel and keep working in this exciting industry I am so passionate about. One day I hope to have my own apparel brand.


Owen - I was a passionate footballer as a child, dreaming of becoming a professional. And subsequently playing to a decent level but unable to balance school sports with professional sports. So I accepted it and continued to play into my mid 20's.

I then got disengaged with the game as it was aggressive, sub standard and lacked the social environment that other sports hold. I had always commuted on my bike but never raced or didn't even own a road bike. However in the summer of 2013 I had agreed to ride John O'Groats to Land's End; 900miles in nine days. I was a fit person but not bike fit, after that nine days I gave up football and launched myself head on into cycling. Amassing bikes, kit and new friends most importantly.

In the summer of 2013 I rode from John O'Groats to Land's End... after that nine days I gave up football and launched myself head on into cycling

Owen Blandy, ELF Race Team Manager

2015 I did my first road crit at Lee Valley road circuit - which I won ;) Then the Red Hook races in 2015 to present day. Having joined ELF in the summer of 2015.

2018 and 2019 I'm having a new Quirk Cycles bike built up which is an all-road gravel adventure bike. I plan on crossing countries, camping under the stars and cycling to any country which takes my fancy!


AR - Any other plans for the future for ELF?

Owen - Personally, I see the team as merging into more of a cycling collective of friends. I can see us still racing but not prioritising it. I plan to do more bike camping and touring, the pursuit of adventure is what entices me. Doing it with mates, on bikes to new places!

Charles - As long as there are crits to race, we will continue racing enjoying every second of it. We just want to keep riding and racing together as much as we can.

AR - And finally, anything else you would like to add?

Owen - Please get in touch via social media if you want to ride with us or you have any questions. And a big thank-you to all our sponsors who help us enjoy our sport throughout our team.

Charles - As Owen says I would like to say a monumental thanks to our amazing sponsors:

Chrome Industries
Biehler Cycling
Quirk Cycles
Columbus tubing
Cole Coatings Workshop
Giro shoes
Fizik Equipment
Halo Wheels
Vittoria Tyres
Bell Helmets
Grip Grab
London Velo Bike Cafe
Jackpot Peanutbutter

Whatever you do, make sure you do it on a bike!..

Owen Blandy, East London Fixed Race Team Manager

As long as there are crits to race, we will continue racing enjoying every second of it. We just want to keep riding and racing together as much as we can

Charles Nicholson, Co Founder & Designer

If you like what you've read but you are unable to make the Red Hook Crit in Brooklyn this weekend, fear not because there are lots of other fixed gear crit races taking part around the globe over the coming months, and chances are they might be one near you. The Fixed Gear Crit website has a calendar of races and, if you're in the UK, Thundercrit takes place in London on the 2nd June.


Chrome Industries are one of ELF's main sponsors, they are also one of our favourite brands, making a great range of urban cycling clothing, bags and accessories. Check out some of our top picks from the brand below or view the full range here.

 

Our Top Picks From Chrome Industries

 

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About the Rider: Anne
Anne’s unique selling points are her super-strong thumbs (a hangover from her days fitting Marathon Plus tyres) and her enthusiasm for cake (both baking and eating). When not sorting out returns, writing for the website or delving into complex customer questions, you’ll find her fixing up friends’ bikes or enjoying the ride.
@alwaysriding
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