Skin-tight spandex. Heavy breathing. The whoosh of tires against the asphalt. Cheering crowds. The fourth annual Mission Crit fixed-gear bike race is returning to the Mission District this Saturday, with a slew of international competitors joining the pack for their chance to win glory.
For many, a bike race means something about climbing mountains in France, a dude named Lance Armstrong, and some sort of drug drama. While the Tour de France is a stellar sport in its own right, for those looking for a serious local adrenaline rush, your hunt is over with Mission Crit. Unlike the Tour de France — where bikes are feats of exemplary engineering costing upwards of $10,000 — Mission Crit is a fixed-gear “fixie” bike race, which means one gear, drop handlebars for aerodynamics, and most fun of all: no brakes. These pedals never stop turning, which means that for forty minutes, every rider participating is spinning their legs at top speed.
As if the bikes themselves aren’t challenging enough to ride, the course offers up its own test. The City of San Francisco grants approval for this event, and closes off a triangular stretch of the Mission near the SFSPCA. With this shape, there is room for two super technical hairpin turns, which test the cyclists’ skill and resolve as they speed around the corners brakeless.
The final course will look like this:
While many high-stakes sports feature trained athletes or sports teams, fixie bike racing is one contest where the playing field is pretty level. Bike messengers compete against professional road racers, and a fair share of people who’ve never competed before will line up for a spot in the group. As is customary with fixie criteriums, a qualifying trial will take place prior to the race, to determine whose fast enough to play. The women’s race will take place at 8 p.m., and the men’s at 9 p.m.
The rules are simple: once a rider is “lapped” (passed by someone in the lead) they’re out of the race. In the forty minutes it takes for the race to play out, the group of participants gets smaller, the speed rises, the crowd starts getting rowdy, and towards the end, everyone is screaming and yelling for their cyclist of choice to get across the finish line first.
“The race is a fun and exciting event for the athletes and the community,” says Mission Crit founder James Grady. “Ultimately our goal is to promote cycling, and to show that fun stuff still happens in San Francisco while encouraging inclusion and diversity in sport.”
If this sounds fun to you, show up early. Last year more than 1,500 spectators rolled up (PBR and burritos in tow) and way more are anticipated for this year’s race.
The whole shebang will go down on Saturday, April 22, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Harrison and 17th streets. We’ll see you there.