The story of Red Hook Criterium begins in 2008 when David Trimble wants to celebrate his 25th birthday with friends and a fixed-gear bike race in Brooklyn’s Red Hook district. Fast forward 10 years and Trimble can’t even believe Red Hook Crit is still happening, let alone the scale of it.
Text: Sarah Bartlett
Trimble is barely off the plane and back in his Brooklyn apartment after wrapping up the final race of the 10th Anniversary season of Red Hook Crit before my email hits his inbox. Fascinated by the mastermind behind the biggest fixed-gear series in the world, it’s hard to hide my eagerness to interview him.
“Most of the time we don’t even feel like we are organizing a bike race,” Trimble tells me when I ask him how he would describe his job to someone who’s never seen a bike race. “The bike racing part of it is so small. We are more like project managers with deadlines that can’t move.”
Trimble’s response quite perfectly paints a simple picture of the evolution of Red Hook Crit (RHC) from an illegal bike race in the streets of Brooklyn to one of the most well-orchestrated race series in the world with big sponsors such as Rockstar Games, Castelli, and Specialized.
It has taken years of trial and error, but Trimble has built his all-star team. In fact, when thinking about the magnitude of the series, it’s hard to imagine how Trimble’s team pulls off the four-race series with only two full-time RHC staff (Trimble and Nicola Riosa), and about 15-20 additional staff that fly into the host city about two weeks before each crit. “I make all the big decisions myself. But the staff own different parts of the event. Once I trust them and trust their decision-making abilities, they can decide on most things,” says Trimble.
But it’s not always easy. Think about the last time you planned an outing for 20 people. Now stretch that plan for 14 days, add a foreign country and a serious need for both housing and workspace. “Just finding housing for that many people takes a lot of work,” Trimble says. “In Barcelona, we arranged an apartment for everyone and the day everyone was supposed to move in; it turned out to be a scam.”
The RHC staff are now so good at their jobs that Trimble, who is constantly being pulled in many directions at once, can keep his eyes on the big picture. “My day is so different depending on how many weeks away from a race I am,” Trimble explains. “Normally when you are 2-3 weeks away from a race, you’re at the office from 9:00 AM until 2:00 AM, working on every little detail. Especially last year and this year, I haven’t had to focus as much on the logistics side of things because my team can handle that. I am more dealing with sponsors and the concept of what’s happening in the championships, looking at what happened in the races and making adjustments to the format, talking to the teams, trying to keep sponsors happy.” Did anyone think Trimble’s job looks easy?
Anyone who has ever experienced real success will tell you that nothing worth having comes easy, but Trimble has encountered a few serendipitous moments along the way that helped solidify that he was doing exactly what he is meant to be doing. “Every race it seems like something happens where it aligns perfectly. We have definitely had a lot of good luck,” Trimble says with a genuine tone of reflection. “The biggest one would be when we discovered the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. It was the fourth year of the race. We had just gotten our first big sponsor. The police had just declined our permit request to keep doing the race on the street. We were a week before the race and had nowhere to do it. A good friend of mine invited me to lunch and just casually mentioned that her friend managed the cruise terminal and that we should look at doing the race there. It was absolutely perfect and at the right time. It ended up saving the race and giving us the venue that we still use to this day.”
And Trimble doesn’t sugar coat the honest truth about how delicate the series truly is. “There’s been other moments where if we had made the wrong decision, or the wrong thing would have happened, the race would have gone out of business, but instead the right thing happened,” he says. Good luck? Perhaps. But more likely the fruit of Trimble and his team’s authenticity, creative vision and old-fashioned hard work.
“The first lap of the first race, I was racing and having so much fun. I think that’s when I realized we had something special,” Trimble says humbly. “I never thought I would do this for ten years. Every race, I can’t believe it’s still happening.”
And if Trimble could say anything to his 25-year-old self at his birthday race? “I wouldn’t want to say anything because I just had to do it. I had to learn the hard way. I didn’t know anything about events. I never thought I would want to work in cycling. If I had been able to see the future, who knows if I even would have wanted to do it. I just had to enjoy it while I was doing it,” says Trimble.
Trimble has spent years building local relationships in each race city, which makes adding and removing cities extremely challenging, though rumors circulate each year about possible changes in the series. Trimble keeps his official answer on the rumors short and sweet. “We are always looking at different options,” he says. I accept his vague response, but by this point in our conversation, I know Trimble won’t count out any opportunity if it is the right decision for RHC.
Trimble is a creative at his core, with a thick layer of businessman on top, and I can’t help but wonder if he would ever part with the series he created if the right offer came along. “It depends on what the investor wanted and why they wanted to buy it. In order for the race to keep going we are going to have to keep getting new sources of money, so I would definitely welcome a call from an investor who believed in my vision for how to grow the race. But if an investor wanted to buy it and turn it into a tough mudder or something, I would rather keep it and let it go out of business but be happy with what we accomplished,” says Trimble.
And if Trimble had access to all the money all the money in the world to put on his ultimate dream event? “I think it would be really cool to do a race without sponsors and just make really wild course branding and have everything super artistic and not corporate at all,” Trimble dreams aloud. “To make it a complete total performance art piece for one event; that would be really fun.”
Red Hook Crit has lead Trimble through a lot of interesting opportunities over the last ten years, but ultimately, he has been the master of his own destiny. “The biggest way it’s affected me is it allows me to be my own boss,” he says. “When I have an idea, I don’t have to ask anyone. If I can do it, then I do it.”
While Trimble’s set-up may seem perfect, he’s also the guy that has all the pressure on his shoulders – a tough position to be in when something doesn’t go to plan – but Trimble is one of eight children and became wildly independent and resourceful at a young age. “Growing up you were left to fend for yourself,” Trimble says. “I was always just figuring things out on my own. When I was 14, I might be in Canada at a go-kart race, and my parents wouldn’t even know I was there.”
If the past ten years are any indication about the future potential of Red Hook Crit, the fixed-gear race community is in for a wild and exciting ride. For Trimble, it comes down to just two simple things. “Adventure and creativity,” Trimble says. “When you have good ideas, go out there and put them into reality.”