In my last column I wrote about how I believe that fixed gear crit racing is a lifestyle and sport in one emphasising that the goal must be to become recognized and accepted as a sport in order to give fixed gear crit racing a future. One of the arguments was that crit racing is a different ball game than road cycling. As many people don’t see the added value of riding fixed the question “why not just promote crit racing on a geared bike?” seems logical. However, there are several reasons why we race crits on a fixed gear bike and not on a geared bike.
Before going into depth on the differences of racing crits on a fixed or geared bike, it is good to have a look at the current state of geared crit racing which is embedded in the traditional cycling scene and the bureaucratic bodies. These bodies do not recognise crit racing as a different discipline in road cycling. Although in Europe and America there are some really good riders that fully focus on crit racing, most riders see it as a stepping stone towards getting into a UCI team that competes in big classics and stage races while crit racing demands totally different skills than road racing. It is short, explosive, and technical, while road racing often relies on endurance, team tac-tics, positioning, and route knowledge. This results in that being a good crit rider doesn’t mean one is a good classic/stage race rider and vice versa. Obviously people in the road cycling scene know this, and as it looks at the moment, crit racing will not get an official status with official national and international championships any time soon leaving the US and Australia as exemptions aside.
So why don’t we just promote crit racing on geared bikes away from bureaucratic bodies? Well, riding the same circuit on a fixed gear bike is totally different and brings in new dynamics to a race than riding it on a geared bike. Racing, note that I do not mean riding here, a fixed gear bike on a technical course is a craft and demands bike handling skills that are from a whole other level than racing a geared bike on the same circuit. With a fixed gear bike you have to judge your speed, the people around you, the space, time for slowing down and clearance for cornering in a split of a second wherein there is no to little room for corrections as there is simply no brake to pull. Another extra dimension that the fixed gear brings is that, obviously, freewheeling is not possible and the legs are not only responsible for the forward movement but also for slowing down and braking. Those who have experience in racing a fixed gear bike know how exhausting this is. This forces fixed gear crits to be shorter and more explosive than geared crits which also makes it more spectacle as there is no time to hesitate, one has to go full gas from start onwards. So spectators get to see a short race wherein constantly things happen and race situations change quickly.
A last reason to race crits on a fixed gear bike is that it is simply different, something new. The fixed gear bike is cycling in its purest form. All one needs is a frame, a handlebar, two wheels, and one drivetrain. These bikes were only used ons special cycling tracks, not intended to be used on public, or curvy roads. The bike messengers showed that with practise and the right skills one actually can. The crit racing scene took it to another level showing that you can even race with them, and the current level of Red Hook Crit finals shows that it is a sport on its own. A sport in a very social community with open minded people.
In short, although the two might look similar, and in some aspects it is, in the end of the day it are two different disciplines demanding different skillsets and resulting in different formats for the spectators. Furthermore, crit racing on the road seems undervalued by the traditional cycling scene, it is simply not a priority, non-existent on their agendas. Besides that, maybe the most important reason is that is just really cool to do something different for away from these bureaucratic bodies. Just start something new backed by a very social community with open minded people. Although we have a long, and likely bumpy road ahead, I think we are going into the right direction!