David Trimble Interviewed by Anna Maria Diaz-Balart
In the days that followed Red Hook Crit, the keyboard commentary was intense. Everyone had an opinion, a theory, an explanation accounting for every resounding success, and biting criticism for every perceived failure. Velonews credited the 'fixie' bike for the event's success, message boards dissected the moto stall and crash, the internet was filled with experts. And while some of the commentary was interesting, very little of it was illuminating. Perhaps because precious little of it went back to the source, race organizer David August Trimble.
Certainly there are things to learn and ways to improve every single incarnation of Red Hook Crit. Its clear the Trimble Racing is a dynamic organization and continues to grow and continuously adapt every year. But no matter what one's personal opinion is of the event, one must recognize its success head and shoulders above any other bike race. The field is diverse and the giant crowds are positively electric. It feels like all of Brooklyn comes out to cheer, and for many spectators it will be the only bike race they see that year. The women's race in particular, is a resounding success, something which many in the larger cycling community still find baffling.
In partnering with brands like Strava and Levis Commuter, its clear that the RHC is bridging the gap between hard core racers, and the active/athletic community at large. The race itself still gives you the opportunity to cheer for dazzling European pros, along side hometown heroes and working bike messengers. There are so many metrics for calculating RHC's enormous success, but I might have to go with my own. I cheered so loudly for the women's race that I lost my voice. I cant think of any event that even compares. I asked David a few questions to understand where he credits this success of his events.
You started the race as mixed field with just a few female competitors. What signs did you see that signaled to you that a separate women’s field was needed?
The modern era of the Red Hook Criterium started in 2013. We signed with Rockstar Games, introduced qualifying, and launched the 4 race championship series. At this point we still didn't have a women's race.
In Brooklyn we had 10 women register and only 3 qualified for the main race (Kacey Lloyd, Ash Duban, and Olympian Ingrid Drexel). Can you imagine a woman trying to qualify for the final in the today's men's race? It was incredible that even 3 of the women made it into the final. From this point on it was only a matter of time before we needed to add a women's field.
I used to joke that I would never add a women's race because Kacey won the first one. In reality it took us a while to feel that there would be a decent sized field. Once we were confident we added the women's race. I felt a lot of pressure because I knew there would be a lot of attention and hype right from the start. If we added the women's race and only 5 women showed up it would be embarrassing for everyone involved.
A lot of attention is paid to the equal prize. What role do you think that plays in the success of the race?
I actually don't think we've put that much attention on it. If we are going to have both a men's and women's race they have to both be headline events. Any race that happens on crit day is there for a reason and not just a warm-up act.
If you just present the races the same way equally you don't even need to draw extra attention to the fact they are equal.
Of course the trick is making a race that is high quality enough that when both races are presented equally they both look amazing and create a lot of hype. If the main men's race is boring and not promoted well the only trick the promoter has for the women's race is to advertise equal prizes.
In summary the reason the women's race is a success is the exact same reason the men's race is a success.
To what degree is the parity we see now in your races a result of the cycling culture that surrounds fixed gear bicycles?
I don't think parity at the Red Hook Crit is linked specifically to fixed gear bicycles. I think it's more linked to our endless pursuit of making the absolute best possible event we can. In this pursuit having both the men's and women's race have equal stature is the only option that makes sense.
How has having a sister that races bikes informed your decisions as a race director?
My sister Hannah got me into cycling so it’s all her fault! All of sisters are insanely smart and talented (I have 4) and they help a lot with the race. I wouldn't say they help specifically with the women's race but with the overall concept. If we make the overall event better and smarter, then the women's race will be better as well.
Could road crits or even cyclocross benefit from moving closer to urban areas, or offering more spectator friendly hours?
This is a long and complicated subject but absolutely races need to be held in places and at hours where people will want to be at. The main problem with cycling is that it's not presented well and is not easily accessible to spectators. If nobody is watching a race then sponsors don't care about it. More than anything my pursuit with the Red Hook Crit has been to make a spectator friendly event.
RHC must take up almost all of your time, but you have done smaller races that explore other formats. Can you tell us a little about Neversink? And does it offer a model for other types of road racing?
When I have some free time I like to organize smaller races like Neversink. Unfortunately the last two years I've been too busy with Red Hook. So far Neversink has just been for fun but considering that everyone who races it loves the format I think there is something to be learned from the design. I would like to put a big effort behind a road race some day. I used to race myself, so when I design an event I just make the kind of race I personally would want to compete in. If I make something that I find interesting and fun usually other bike racers will as well.
I’m struck by how relaxed and egalitarian the athlete area is at the cruise terminal. Big teams coexist in the same square footage as local amateurs. No fancy RVs or team tent displays, how intentional is this?
The absolute best thing to come out of the RHC is the global community that has formed around it. I think it is a self fulfilling prophecy. If you make a race that is meticulously organized and promoted and then remove the stereotypically bad elements, you'll end up with lots of amazing characters involved. The prize money remains relatively low, you don't earn UCI or upgrade points, and no athlete is getting rich off of this. Everyone who is there is there because they want to experience this race and the culture around it.
What role does hiring women like Kacey Lloyd play in creating an great environment for women who race?
Having Kacey involved in the women's race has been great. I think she commands a lot of respect in the field because of her history in the race. Even when she was racing she would always be available to share advice and tips on competing in the race. Having a peer behind the organization of the event helps a lot in both the men's and women's race. In the men's race many of the riders understand that I used to compete myself so they can see that decisions are made from a racer's perspective. That same goes for Kacey in the women's race.
What role do female spectators play in the overall race experience?
If I ever organize an event (race or otherwise) and only men show up I will know I did something really wrong. I think having women in the crowd is natural when we are working so hard to make a race that is great for spectators. If it’s truly great for spectators there is no reason it shouldn't appeal to both men and women.
In many ways your races have just broken the mold, and are something entirely new. Is there any hope for bicycle racing that’s steeped in dated traditions?
I think traditional cycling has endless potential that has been neglected. If anything we have broken the mold just by working extremely hard to deliver an event that makes sense and is fun. I don't believe there is a secret formula to the Red Hook Crit beyond attention to detail. If we had put this much energy and design into a traditional road crit in New York City it would also be famous by now.
The people that race your races are on the younger side, do you think we’ll ever see parity in races that accommodate giant masters men's fields?
I'm not really interested in adding more categories. We had a 47 year old rider finish top 10 in Milano in 2014…. I think one of the best things about the RHC is lack of categories. For example at a traditional road crit there are races all day long that all look the same. A normal person can't tell the difference between a Cat 3, 2 or 1 race so by the time the feature events come everyone is tired of racing already.
That being said I'd love to add a junior field someday.
What role do media savvy racers like Kelli Samuelson play in growing the public’s interest in fixed gear crits?
It might be an understatement to call her just media savvy. She's beautiful, well spoken, friendly, available, and fast. I personally want to be around people like her so I understand the appeal. We are blessed with so many great characters around the crit all of which help grow the public's interest in it because it makes sense to want to be around these people.
How did you come into bike race organizing? What are some of your organization’s other unique attributes?
I fell into race organizing. I never intended to do this professionally and never organized any events before the crit. I have a diverse background in cycling, motorsports, architecture, and design all of which have influenced the crit to some degree. More than anything my family which is full of crazy inventors and out-of-the box thinkers has shown me the right way to work and be creative.
What made you decide to include a running event into the series?
I've always been impressed by one of my brothers (I have 3) who used to run at a high level. We were equals on the bike but when we ran together it would be such an intense experience just to hold onto his pace for a half mile. I knew how impressive athletes who run at a high level are and wanted to see them compete in front of all the spectators that come out to see the bike race. It also goes back to my desire to limit bike racing categories. We needed more races to fill up the day but didn't want to just add more bike racing which will eventually bore the spectators. Having the 5k break up the qualifying and final events makes for a diverse evening that is constantly changing.