Racing Under the Lights in Brooklyn’s Badass Bike Race

Mj 618_348_red hook crit
Francesco Rachello

In the weeks leading up to his 25th birthday, Dave Trimble was missing something. He was far from home, living in a new city — the Big City — and he was far removed from his old way of life, his old passions, his old habits. He needed a way back, if only for a night.

So he did what any self-respecting former racecar driver from a family of competitive cyclists would do: He used his birthday as an excuse to organize an illegal bike race with 15 or so of his closest cycling friends. "The idea was to make something exciting at my birthday party and to get my bike-racing friends to come to the event," Trimble says. He also organized the race with spectators in mind: The course he laid out passed in front of his apartment on each lap, and was held at night so people were more likely to come. "That was the only time we could get away with it because we had no permits and no money or anything like that."

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The race comprised several laps through the dark, pitted streets of Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, where Trimble was living. And the race went well. Well enough that more people showed up for it the next year. And the year after. And the year after that.
Fast forward to 2015, and today Trimble is Director of the Red Hook Criterium, an unsanctioned fixed-gear cycling event with international offshoots in Barcelona, Milan, and, new for 2015, London. Gone are the days of racers navigating pedestrians and cars, the threat of being shut down by police a distinct possibility. Present are the days of brand-name sponsorship, courtesy of Rockstar Games, and so many competitors — professionals, semi-pro racers, bike messengers, hardcore amateurs — eager to compete that this year's entries were booked a minute after registration opened online, says Trimble.

But before these days of plenty came some serious salad days; in fact, the whole thing just about ended in 2012. The race had reached its breaking point. It was too big to be held on public roads without the necessary permits from the city, but the city wouldn't issue the permits Trimble needed. And just when it looked like the race would fold, a friend who worked for New York City's Economic Development Corporation had an idea: Move the race to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, a cruise-ship port sandwiched between the post-industrial, shabby-chic residential confines of Red Hook and the murky waters of the Hudson River. The terminal, with its open roads closed to public traffic and unused by industrial vehicles at night, was the perfect venue. An agreement was reached.

"The whole thing came together about a week before the [2012] race," Trimble says.

The race moved locations but kept its post-sunset start time — a block-party atmosphere is part of the Crit's DNA — and it has continued to surge in popularity since the move; Trimble says spectatorship grows each year and that 4,000 people attended in 2014.

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For Trimble, the Crit, and its unexpected progression into his life's work, was a natural outgrowth of his upbringing and an ingrained passion for competition and speed. Trimble's father and uncle made names for themselves designing competitive cycling frames in the 1980s and 90s, some of which were used by the U.S. Olympic team in the 1996 and 2000 Games. But Dave Trimble was infatuated with motorsports, not cycling. He spent his childhood racing karts, striving to be a racecar driver and ultimately settling into work as an Indy Car mechanic in his early 20s. After five years on the circuit, he burned out and moved from Texas to Brooklyn to work in his uncle's architecture firm.

Yet, once settled in New York, Trimble still had that racing itch. 

"I really missed the kind of wheel-to-wheel competition of kart racing, and then bike racing was in my family — it was accessible and it was affordable." Then, riding his bike back to his new home in Red Hook after work, night after night, the idea dawned on him.

"I never really had any ambitions for it or knew where it could go," Trimble says. "I was just going home late at night, riding around in the streets and thinking, 'Wow, it's empty. I could hold a race here.' If I had lived somewhere else it probably never would've crossed my mind."

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