The secret is out on the Red Hook Criterium. The once underground (and still unsanctioned) bike race held after hours in Red Hook every March now regularly draws top cyclists from around the world, as well as crowds that number in the thousands. It’s like Brooklyn’s own Indie 500 but with bikes, and this year it’s expanding to become an international, four-part championship racing series, with cyclists set to compete in the second round this Saturday, June 8 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“For the first three years, the race was un-permited in Red Hook” says David Trimble, who threw the first RHC six years ago as a birthday present to himself. “It grew to the point where we needed permission, and we found getting street permits was pretty much impossible, so we started looking at these private, underutilized industrial spaces that have proven to be perfect race venues.”
By design, a crit is very different than a traditional road race. It’s held on a short course–each lap of the RHC is 1.25 km or 0.78 miles–and typically run on closed-off city streets. Unsanctioned races allow cyclists to compete without obtaining racing licenses and without organizers getting the official thumbs up from any governing bodies–giving renegade races like the RHC badass street cred in the cycling world.
Unlike larger, better-known bike races à la the Tour de France, which begins June 29, the Red Hook Crit doesn’t leave all the racing up to the professionals–it purposefully levels the playing field for the 200 participating riders by welcoming anyone with a helmet and a track bike to register–so expect bike messengers, fixed-gear fanatics and bike shop workers, as well as bartenders, artists and anyone else interested in squeezing into some spandex and tackling the 26-lap course totaling 20.2 miles.
“I’d say this is the best course we’ve ever had,” says Trimble of the Navy Yard Crit. “It’s very technical and visually spectacular with all the old buildings and the skyline, the cranes and the ships.”
Better weather, an earlier start time and a more accessible location have the potential to make this second Brooklyn race an even bigger draw than the original, and as an added bonus for spectators, grandstand tickets are on sale for prime seats at the Navy Yard overlooking the start/finish line. Tickets are $40, and the profits will be awarded to the top 25 finishers as a cash prize. Admission is free otherwise.
Partnering with the Navy Yard has allowed Trimble to turn the late-night race into an all-day event, which starts at noon when BLDG92 opens to the public, with a bike tour of the Navy Yard taking place at 3pm (buy advanced tickets here), as well as a 5k running race at 9pm, before the big show starts at 9:45pm.
“We’ve proven we can successfully activate underutilized spaces,” Trimble says. “In Red Hook it’s the Cruise Terminal, which is also never used for public events, so last year I approached the Navy Yard, thinking it was another cool venue for a race. They were immediately interested in it.”
The Crit is the first public event of this magnitude to take place in the Navy Yard, which until now has limited its public engagements to open-studio tours.
“The race works for us because it’s being held late on a Saturday night with minimal to no interruption for Yard businesses,” says Aisha Glover, vice president of external affairs for the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. “We kept our tenants informed and worked with the area’s Business Improvement Districts to ensure that local businesses are prepared for the increase in traffic.”
Following Saturday’s finish, the series heads overseas with a race scheduled in Barcelona, Spain on Aug. 24 and ends in Italy in early October with a championship race in Milan.