Interviews From The Red Hook Hate

In my previous post I wrote about the animosity directed towards the Red Hook Criterium after a pile-up involving a lead motorbike. For that article I spoke to racers Michael Stromberg and Colin Strickland, as well as race director David Trimble in order to gain insight from those directly involved in the event.

Below are their full interviews, parts of which I used in the said earlier post.


Michael Stromberg

Michael is a category 3 racer on the road and has competed in five Red Hook Crits. He qualified in 33rd position for the Brooklyn race this year, but was unable to complete the race due to the motorbike accident. 

How did you experience the crash?
The crash happened so fast, I didn’t even realize it was caused by the moto until I looked up from being on the ground, and the moto was there, with cyclists and bikes piled on top of each other. As I was only one row or two back from the initial group that hit the moto, it was unfortunately unavoidable. The way I remember experiencing it is that everyone starts off with a sprint, as they always do in the Red Hook Crit to position themselves well from the start, yet from the sprint, everyone was all of sudden trying to move around, change line, causing wheels and bodies to collide as we go down. I believe that after I was knocked down, I slid into the actual moto, because I remember hitting something particularly hard. Moreover, my injuries were some of the most substantial of those involved.

How do you feel about the incident?
At first, I was very angry about the incident, indescribable anger. Especially as I was one of those who had to be taken away by ambulance and unable to race. The following few days I was increasingly angry as I have been unable to ride, and riding is the most important thing in my life. I am coming to peace with it, and understand that it was an accident. I know RHC does a great job at making the Crit as safe as possible, and this was simply an unanticipated, and very unfortunate accident. The Red Hook Crit is still my favorite bike race, and all I want is to recover quickly to race it again.

You race road crits in NYC. How do you find the safety measures between the RHC and regular road crits?
Road crits in NYC are generally safer. But that reflects not directly to the Red Hook Crit, but to the discipline in general. Road racing is a safer discipline than fixed gear criterium, bar none. One of the things I love about fixed gear criterium is the feeling of being on the edge. I believe that the the Red Hook Crit has taken, and is continuing to take the measures necessary to make the race as safe as possible without changing the spirit of the event.

What do you think of the response by the RHC to the incident?
Though I love the Crit, and am a supporter, I do believe that the response was a bit delayed and a bit half hearted. I understand the idea of wanting to express that which is positive about the Crit, yet I feel that some people were seriously concerned about the incident and those involved, and when asked about it, comments were either ignored or redirected. I believe a more proactive response to the incident, while still acknowledging the crit as an overall positive event, would have been the best response.

How do you feel about racing more RHCs?
I will of course continue to race Red Hook Crit. As I have previous mentioned, it is my favorite bike race, and bike racing is my favorite thing to do in life. I shall be recovered and strong for Red Hook Crit London on July 9th.

What, if anything, would you like to see change about the races?
I think that it is a no brainer that from now on, we must have the moto actively rolling before we take off from the start line. It is one of those things that we would never think about until something goes wrong, especially as we have done so many Red Hook Crits successfully without this measure being in place. This is why I am not mad that this measure has not already been in effect, you don’t think about it until something goes wrong, and hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it.

What is your opinion on the race rules being enforced and penalties handed out?
I am glad that the penalties for riders have been initiated and enforced. Many riders are overly excited for the Crit, and ride well outside their abilities. This can make for a dangerous race for even those experienced fixed gear cyclists who are in control of their bikes.

Do you think the huge social media storm is justified over one incident that was caused by human error?
It is tough to say, the video of the carnage has definitely spurred this social media storm. Had such gut wrenching footage not been captured, and people simply read about the event, such a fuss would not have been created. So, I can’t say whether it is justified, it is what it is, yet often the internet spreads things like wildfire, which could be considered unjust.

Have you spoken to other riders? What is the general mood/consensus on the situation?
Riders have been generally angry about the incident, and empathetic to those injured, at least in the beginning. Yet, I believe most riders are taking the same position as myself and coming to terms with the incident. We don’t seem to harbor resentments towards the Crit, and have accepted that it was an accident, and whether it was avoidable or not is irrelevant. It has happened, we will all be alright, and just want to recover to race again.


Colin Strickland

Colin is a domestic elite road racer for Elbowz Racing. He has competed in five Red Hook Crits, and has won two. He qualified in twelfth position and went on to win the Brooklyn race this year.

What is your opinion of the moto incident?
I see the incident involving the moto as a profoundly unfortunate case of human error at the worst possible moment. Every big crit race I’ve competed in has a lead moto. This incident could have happened at any race, really, but it is sad that it happened at the RHC. I really feel for the racers involved who travelled a long way to race their bikes and didn’t get a shot, or worse, ended up with broken equipment or injuries.

Do you feel safe at RHC in general?
In general, I do feel safe racing in RHC events. The level of care and oversight that Dave puts into everything from course design to training course marshals is evident. When you take a lap around the course, you notice how much attention to detail goes into securing the course, marking potential obstacles, and installing crash pads in technical turns. Regarding the risks caused by inexperienced riders, I think the qualifying laps are a great way to insure that the field competing in the main event is composed of experienced racers. I try to stay in the front 20 wheels at all times, and I have observed a high level of mutual respect among the top racers. We are all racing for the win, but we also respect each other. It is something every racer realizes when they get to the top level of competition in RHC. We are all friends here.

You race a lot of sanctioned races. How do you see the difference in terms of safety measure implemented by both sides?
The main difference I see between sanctioned races and RHC races is the lack of mutual respect and friendly attitude between racers at sanctioned races. This lack of respect often translates to dangerous racing. The addition of brakes to the equation certainly does not make anyone safer. Earlier this year I ended up in the hospital after a pileup late in the race at the crit stage of the Redlands Classic Stage race. In terms of the courses, the RHC course is fully enclosed by barriers and does not allow crossing. It is very rare to find a completely enclosed course at a sanctioned race, and I’ve seen many crashes caused by tangling up with spectators. Yes, racing brakeless track bikes is dangerous, but racing any bikes is dangerous.

What, if anything, would you like to see change/improved at the RHC races?
I would like to see a supermoto used for all on-course motos, due to the maneuverability of these bikes. I’ve often cringed watching a cruiser of antique BMW as they whip around the course trying to outrun the leaders. I think the tapered starting grid was a great idea, and creates a much more natural flow into the first corners. I would be a fan of individual qualifying laps, but I don’t think that would go over to well with most. It would prevent many of the silly crashes during qualifying.

What is your opinion on the race rules being enforced and penalties handed out?
I think that as an event grows, there has to be forms of rules implemented to keep the order. This race belongs to Dave Trimble. He started it. He has poured the energy into it to make it the awesome international phenomenon it is today. The “Race Rules” were distributed to all riders prior to the event.  In terms of enforcing the rules, David is a fair dude, and I’m sure he considered all evidence before giving some riders a slap on the wrist. After all, its’ not like a sanctioned race, where they actually fine you fucking money! This is small potatoes and people need to worry about the stop sign ticket that’s about to cost them $250.

Do you think the huge social media storm is justified over one incident that was caused by human error?
I think that the moto incident played into the hands of those searching for an easy headline. The reputation of RHC as being dangerous (justified or not) made it irresistible for many critics to jump on the “I told you so” conclusion. Human error occurs in every field of life, and it is unfortunate when the timing of such errors have effects such as this.

Have you spoken to other riders? What is the general mood/consensus on the situation?
Literally every experienced rider that I have heard weigh in on the incident has reached the same conclusion. This race is run with the utmost attention to rider safety and eliminating variables that could result in incidents. Please check out the analysis of the event by veteran American National Crit Champion Daniel Holloway (posted on his FB page).

Have you been in other sanctioned races where something similar went down and what was the response by race management?
I have been in big sanctioned races with serious incidents that caused the race to be stopped. At the 2015 Elite Criterium Nationals in Truckee a rider broke his leg halfway through the race. The race was stopped for 25 minutes about halfway through, then restarted. I didn’t see any headlines about the restart after the race, only the fact that Daniel Holloway won another national championship in a field sprint.


David Trimble

Trimble Lebeau

ph: Jason Sellers – http://www.instagram.com/fwdbound

Dave is the founder and director of the Red Hook Criterium. He organised and raced the first two Red Hook Crits before the event started taking off and he had to turn to full time organising.

What was the initial response from race organisation to the incident/those involved?
Our initial effort was focused on finding out how everyone was doing after the crash. Because of patient confidentiality it took us some time to understand exactly who was injured and how they were doing.

Why did it take so long to get an official response to the incident out?
Related to the answer above. In addition we felt that our voice would be better understood once the mania died down a little. It was clear that there was an amazing race before and after this crash so letting those stories speak during the immediate aftermath was the goal. First we got a handle on the whole situation and injuries involved, we then emailed all the riders, and finally made a public statement.

What are you planning on doing to make sure scenes like that never happen again?
That particular type of accident won’t happen again. Because it was such a simple failure that lead to such a big consequence solving it is straight-forward. That being said in any time of racing it can all go hay-wire at any time. We are learning huge amounts at every single race on how to make this sport safer.

Did the level of online criticism and hatred surprise you?
I’m not surprised but that didn’t make it any easier to take in the week after the race. It’s a little crazy to receive so many physical threats after organizing a bike race but I mostly ignored it. The best way to answer the critics is just to show how amazing the race really was. It is for example impossible to watch the onboard footage from the front group in the men’s race and then claim fixed gear bikes don’t work in this format.

What affect do you think it will have on your race and other fixed criteriums going forward?
This will live on for a long time. I know that any time a major news outlet decides to cover the race they’ll reference the moto crash video. This is a shame because it will set back the appreciation people should have for this growing sport. I don’t think the crash will affect the core people who are already involved and who have a stake in the future of this sport.


* * *

I’d like to thank Michael, Colin, and David for taking the time to answer my question, and doing so with such honesty.

I’m more than happy to close the chapter on this particular incident, and I hope most people already have. It’s plain to see that exceptional safety structures and considerations do go into the planning of each race. What is also clear is that mistakes can happen no matter how hard you pore over the details ahead of race day.

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