Red Hook Crit Interview: Andrea Monroe
Interview by Kelly Neuner
Fixed gear racing for women is exploding across the country, and Red Hook Crit tests the speed, skill, and endurance of the top racers in the world. While the men’s feature race is filled primarily with riders from corporate teams, the women’s race showcases a true range of experience and backgrounds that embodies the spirit of Red Hook Crit’s beginnings.
While more attention is paid to the women’s field, coverage is often limited to the frontrunners. We’re taking a deeper look into the women’s field to highlight the experiences of different racers - including up-and-coming and first-time racers - through a series of interviews.
Andrea Monroe is a multi-discipline racer from Baltimore, MD. Starting out as a triathlete, her first bike race ever was at Red Hook Crit three years ago. Coming from a place where she’s one of a handful of fixed gear riders, she’s taken on an early morning messenger route on top of her full-time job purely for the love of riding - and some solid base miles. Read more about how this race propels her through a full season of racing each year.
How long have you been racing?
I was a triathlete for three seasons 10 years ago. I have been racing for three years - the second Red Hook [with a separate women's field] was my first official cycling race.
What made you transition from being a triathlete to focusing on cycling full-time?
I hate running [laughs]. It's funny because I'm good at running in cyclocross racers - I can really pick up the pace - but I can't do it as its own thing without getting over obstacles in a race and getting through a course
How long have you been track racing?
I actually have not raced at the track yet. I took a class up in Trexlertown and I think this summer will be my first season. I'll get up there at least a few times.
So what inspired you to sign up for a fixed gear crit as your first bike race? Seems like a pretty big undertaking.
I've been really into fixed gear bikes and I've been riding with a group social ride in Baltimore and I just loved it. I realized I was decent at it so I saw the first Red Hook Crit with a women's field on social media and I saw these women and was like, "Wow, that is -- I'm going to be there next year." I made it a goal, I got a new track bike to race, and I was here the second year they offered a women's field.
What's been the biggest challenge you faced with this race or just in general as a racer?
Overcoming fear, definitely. You don't want to go down and when you do, it definitely is like a mental block afterwards. I don't want to break any bones, I'm getting old [laughs].
Facing my fears is a big reason that I come out here and I do this, you know, because it is dangerous, but it's a lot of fun. I always leave this race and I go home rejuvenated and even more eager to go out on my bike for my job every day and it propels me into cyclocross season. Fixed gear racing is definitely my favorite part of cycling. I did Intelligentsia Cup in Chicago last year, but this race is definitely my favorite.
What's the toughest part of the course or actually racing this particular race for you?
Coming out of the hairpins and also just taking them in general. I want to take them very aggressively but I also don't want to end up on the ground - those are definitely tricky things to balance. Gotta stay upright and rubber side down.
What was the thing that surprised you most coming into this race, this year or any other year? Something you didn't expect coming in about the race or community?
Definitely the culture. I knew the fixed gear scene and messenger scene were a big thing, but seeing it all come together in a race like this, something that's now commercial and a huge deal, it's so unique. Seeing the artists, musicians, and athletes, just all the different people it brings together whether they're competing or just spectating - it's a great atmosphere.
It's so unlike any other form of bike racing. You go to the local velodrome and it's not this built-out.
Right, seeing all of the bikes, you get serious bike envy. My track bike doesn't leave the house unless I'm racing on it - I rarely train on it, too.
So you work as a bike messenger?
I do. I have a route I do in the morning before I go to my real job, working in sterile processing for surgical instruments.
Has being a messenger helped your racing at all?
Definitely. Baltimore's a hilly city and I'm up and down those hills all day. I'm also one of the few couriers who enjoys the miles and takes the packages with long routes. It keeps me on my bike every day early in the morning. I love it. It doesn't pay well at all, but I keep coming back.
Right, it's a labor of love - and getting those miles in. It's for a good reason.
I also met my current partner this way through bike messenger work, so that's a plus. [laughs]
Always a bonus. I remember when we spoke last year, you talked about being one of the only women in fixed racing in Baltimore.
Yes, I'm the only one who actually races and there's only a handful of us who even ride fixed gear in the city. I've tried to get women to come out and take that next step, but they are yet to do so. I've even tried to get some of my teammates to join me here - like the really strong road racers - and not yet. But I'll keep trying and keep pushing until I have a teammate join me.
It's definitely helpful to have a teammate, but people tend to work together pretty well here.
Right, you really need to work together, otherwise you're not going to get through that headwind on a day like today by yourself.
What advice would you have for someone who's just started out racing or would want to race Red Hook Crit for the first time?
I'd say just put your fears aside and do it. It's an exhilarating experience that can't be matched in any other type of bike racing. The race itself, the other competitors, the crowd, being under the lights - it's unlike any type of race I've ever done in any sport I've competed in.
What else do you have coming up this year in terms of racing?
I'm going to focus on mountain biking this summer. I'm really hoping that's going to propel me into my third cyclocross season. I'm three points away from my Cat 3 and I got my first win last season, so I'm feeling a lot more confident in that realm. I'm hoping the bike handling skills I gain from mountain biking will translate well into that, and it all translates into being better on my fixed gear, better in the hairpins.
In terms of fixed crits, I'll possibly go out to Chicago again for the Intelligentsia Cup. I'd really like to get out to California eventually, and a big goal of mine is to do one of the international [Red Hook] races - specifically Barcelona - this year or next year.
Read the rest of the stories from this series here.