With the 10th edition from Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn No.10 coming up we thought that this is a good time to look back on the history of Red Hook Crit with one of the veterans from the scene, Neil Bezdek. Neil’s first RHC was RHC BK No.2 which he won, and he would go on to win 4 RHC’s, get 2nd and 3rd twice, before a ski accident wherein Neil broke his leg ended his cycling career. Besides his impressive RHC track record and despite only starting with cycling at the age of 23, Neil was able to climb the ranks in road cycling entering the UCI Continental level in 2010 and 2012 focussing mainly on US stage races and crits. As a retired road and fixed gear racer Neil is now a teacher in applied math and data science in New York City. We met Neil on a rainy day at the original track of Red Hook Crit, right outside the Red Hook Crit office.
Photography & Text: Brian Megens
Neil met David Trimble, the race director of RHC, during an alley cat in the Bronx in the summer of 2008. “I was racing it in jeans and shirt and David couldn’t drop me for a long time, although in the end I had to let him go. We actually became friends after that and even room mates.”
“By meeting Dave (David Trimble) I got to know about his race and decided to start in 2009. I was surprised to see such a big turned out and media attention. I mean the New York Times were there, a guy who filmed the whole race. Funny thing, I went in the race completely blind as I actually never had raced a fixed gear bike with drop bars as I was using my fixed gear only for commute purposes. It was also pure luck that I picked the perfect gear ratio 48×14. What was also in my advantage was that the cobblestones were slippery which was an extra challenge for the rest and a section wherein I was faster than most. After sprinting for the prime I noticed that I had a gap on the rest and I decided to put my head down and push the pedals, I won the crit with a 30 second gap on David Trimble who had to settle for 2nd. The after party was literally a house-party, a really good party.”
“In 2010 the level of RHC got even more serious. Unfortunately, I had to miss Brooklyn that year due to road racing obligations, but I was there in Milan in which I got 2nd mainly because I really positioned myself very poorly. In 2012 I crashed out with Evan Murphy, who worked his way up in the field again and even won. I then asked him to join my newly founded amateur team and we became friends as well.”
On the question what his favourite Red Hook Crit ever is Neil answers “RHC Navy Yard stands out, it was a fantastic course and the venue is normally never open for public.”
If someone can tell how the scene has changed it is Neil. “I would actually say first that it hasn’t changed. I mean anyone can sign-up and race, anyone who is also a fan can also be an aspiring rider, you almost don’t see this in any other sport. Back in the days, Red Hook Crit was the only serious fixed gear crit event, and although it is still by miles the most prestigious fixed gear race, other events with great potential are arising which makes it possible for riders to actually have fixed gear crit racing as the main focus. This is in great contrast when I was riding as we always raced our geared bikes to switch them a couple of times a year for the fixed gear bike when there was a Red Hook Crit. With the scene growing the race moves more away from the urban cycling trend. The format is important but I honestly think David just does everything better in the production of the race, better courses, better safety measures, better after-party, better marketing of the race. If David would organise a road race I am sure it would also be the best out there. However, I am happy to see a team around David now as it feels more sustainable also for David. It might still take years off of his life but at least a bit less. Despite the critical attitude of many people from within the tradition cycling scene, this is declining and it is declining rapidly. I mean the biggest compliment the race can get is that it are the athletes that they were the first to recognize the viability of the race and names of these athletes doing so is only growing.“