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Racing Red Hook with Formula Femme

Racing Red Hook with Formula Femme

Photos by Kelly Neuner (except where specified)

Four members of our media-sponsored team Formula Femme raced Red Hook Crit for its tenth anniversary in Brooklyn. Read about their experiences below.

Becca Book

What inspired you to sign up?

I have been dreaming of doing Red Hook since first going to view the races. The energy there is intoxicating! You can see the focus and determination on each of the racers faces, and the opportunity to have such a large, enthusiastic crowd at a fixed gear event is rare and hard to pass up. Although the atmosphere from the audience is a bit gladiatorial, with hundreds of viewers cheering racers to lean harder and faster into every curve, it is overall incredibly positive and celebratory.

There were a lot of reasons for me not to sign up this year. Between a recent surgery for my collarbone (I had just been cleared to ride my bike again 5 weeks before the race) and a pretty ridiculous workload in my final year of grad school, I definitely was not in my best racing shape.

I had initially come to the logical conclusion to pass on the 2017 event and just train really hard and be prepared for RHC 2018, but the excitement surrounding the event and my overwhelming FOMO quickly won out. It took roughly three people telling me that I’m a good cyclist and should really just go for it this year, and I ended up signing up to race a week after my doctor told me my collarbone had mostly healed up from my last bike accident and that I could do anything I wanted to…as long as I didn’t crash.

What did you find the most challenging? 

I think that the mental aspect of the race that requires a calm trust in your capabilities and those of the other racers riding mere inches away from you is the most challenging. It takes an amazing amount of focus and self confidence to fly into those hairpin turns at the speed necessary to keep up with the pack. After going around the course dozens of times I gained some confidence, but I never quite got the hold of Turn 2, an incredibly tight, right turn after the one straightaway where you could pick up any speed, given the wind blowing off the bay.

I definitely need to practice turning and work on my ‘crit lean’ and the more technical aspects of racing fixed gear crits, but I think the confidence gained from completing cornering drills over and over again would be the most useful aspect of this training. 

What surprised you most about the race?

I was surprised both by the amount of pomp and circumstance surrounding the main race, and how quickly that started to get my adrenaline rushing. I had been joking all day that we were basically human race horses, pacing around our assigned stalls nervously and munching on our snack bags, with spectators admiring our shiny skin suits and asking for photos whenever they spotted a racer outside. As we rolled out for the ‘neutral lap’, everyone was drumming on the barriers and reaching out for high fives. In a weird way this settles your nerves – or at least just sets everything in your mind into go mode, with the knowledge that everyone watching thinks you’re a pretty good racer and is excited for you to attempt something really hard.

I was also quite surprised to find myself ushered to the medical tent to get twelve stitches on my nose just 20 seconds after the race started, a gaggle of photographers trying to snap a shot of the blood flowing down my face. There was a nasty pile up after one of the lead riders seemed to get a wheel caught in a grating right after the start (I’ve analyzed the footage from my handlebar cam maybe one too many times) and I went flying through the air and skidded on my safety glasses. Perhaps most surprising of all is that, except for the cut where my rimless glasses hit my face, I was remarkably OK!  

Would you race it again next year? 

Yes! There were a lot of factors that prevented me from racing well this year, and I look forward to arriving at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal next year with several more fixed gear crits under my belt, more than four weeks of solid training, and a pair of safety goggles with substantial padding between the sharp lenses and my face.  

Overall I was impressed by the supportiveness of the community, with other racers lending me parts and invaluable advice, and hundreds of friends and strangers reaching out to see if I was ok after my crash. I look forward to stepping out into the noise of the cowbells and the bright lights of the jumbotron next year, with increased confidence in my bike handling skills but with that same rush of adrenaline I got when I first arrived at the starting line!


Ashley King

Photo by Miki Marcinkiewicz

Photo by Miki Marcinkiewicz

I attended my first RHC race as a spectator in 2013. I walked away inspired, thinking "one day, maybe I could do that." I joined Formula Femme and first started track racing this year and it occurred to me, "Why not jump into RHC, too?" While I knew the race would be physically demanding, I didn't expect it to be so mentally challenging. Crash into the hairpin hay bales? Get back on your bike and race. Lend your body to a 20+ person/machine pile-up? Great, now get back on your bike and race. And although I crashed out of my qualifier and got lapped out early on in the finals, I will definitely be back on my bike and in that race next year.


Marcy Cruthirds

Photo by Kenji Edmonds

Photo by Kenji Edmonds

What inspired you to sign up?
My teammates inspired me to sign up! I had been waffling back and forth trying to decide if I was ready as a racer for something like this. My main reason for hesitation was that I didn't want to risk breaking something so soon in the season. But then my new teammate Ashley registered, mind you this is her FIRST YEAR RACING and I was like, well shit, let’s do this crazy thing together.

What did you find the most challenging?
I had always known in the back of my mind that this was a race where skill and experience was much more valuable than fitness, those hairpins are such jerks! During qualifiers, it was an eye-opening experience finding out how important selecting the correct line and riding through those tight turns with confidence were. I definitely crashed twice during qualifiers because of my inexperience, luckily I was chilling in the back of the pack so no one else was hurt in the making of my crashes.

What surprised you most about the race?
The amount of organization and professionalism was really impressive. It was super cool for an amateur bike racer like myself and my teammates to have the opportunity to participate in a race that feels larger than life.

Would you race it again next year?
Heck yeah! I hope to come back next year with more crit experience and even more teammates competing.

Photo by Miki Marcinkeiwicz

Photo by Miki Marcinkeiwicz


Stefanie Lai

Photo by Jess Morgan

Photo by Jess Morgan

What inspired you to sign up?
I raced Red Hook in London last year as my second fixed crit and really enjoyed the challenge of racing fixed bikes on a course with tight turns and a very different flow from a velodrome. I had just moved to New York six months ago and although I wasn't in great racing shape thought the chance to participate in the ten-year anniversary Brooklyn was too good to pass up.

What did you find the most challenging?
The course was very challenging with a series of hairpins one after another. While I was comfortable going around them solo, doing so in a pack of riders is very different. The most challenging things for me is finding the courage to make a move when opportunity presents itself, because a gap or a wheel can disappear in an instant.

What surprised you most about the race?
It was not surprising but what's stuck with me the most is the support among riders and especially in the women's field. It was also more fun than I was expecting.

Would you race it again next year?
Yes! hopefully with some actual training


Follow the rest of Formula Femme's track season here.

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