Winter cycling in much of the U.S. can be a rough affair with snow, wind and cold temperatures driving athletes inside to the trainer. About five years ago, an enterprising Washington D.C.-area resident came up with an idea: Let’s hold a cyclocross race in a parking garage. Protected from the elements, it gave cyclocross riders and other fun-havers the opportunity to ride their bikes and see faces other than virtual avatars on Zwift.
The idea to race bikes in a parking garage started with Joe Petty, who then worked for the Crystal City Business Improvement District located just west of Ronald Reagan Airport. Petty and the Crystal City BID put on one-day garage events that looked like cyclocross races, right down to the hay bale barriers and party-like atmosphere.
After a few years, Petty and his crew wanted to expand Parking Ramp Cross into a series, so they asked Bill Schieken, one of the race directors for DCCX and purveyor of the Crosshairs media empire, to help take the next step. “Irony of ironies, when they wanted to expand to a series and brought me in, I got rid of the barriers and made it into a crit-style training series,” the cyclocross scene mainstay Schieken said.
Schieken said the series cup still pays homage to the founder. “In honor of Joe’s vision and contributions to the series, we now have the Petty Cup trophy presented to series winners.”
The garage series started four years ago as Wednesday Night Spins, but this year, it rebranded as Crosshairs Garage Races to reflect the work Schieken, Taylor Jones, Travis Herret and the Crosshairs Cycling team does to make it a reality. Races are held every Wednesday in March in three categories: Beginners’ Open, Women’s Open and Open. Because races are held every Wednesday in March, the calendar helped create a special fifth week of racing a few years ago that the organizers decided to run with.
“In years two and and three it turned out we had five Wednesdays in March, so we made the final week a free for all. To keep the fun alive, we extended into the first week of April this year,” Schieken said.
And fun it was. “For that final week, we host a fixed-gear race which is a huge hit and pretty competitive. Red Hook Underground? We also have our loosely adhered to ‘Inside the Beltway’ relay race pitting teams of federal workers against contractor employees. We also have a cargo bike and tandem race. The main attraction, however, is the ‘Anything Goes’ race. Over the years people have truly taken that to heart. We get skateboards, several unicycles, tiny bikes, an entire mini penny-farthing bike category, some contraptions I can’t even describe. The spectating is amazing.”
At first glance, the Crosshairs Garage Races have the look of an alley cat or bandit race, which Schieken is okay with! but his team’s involvement also brings professionalism—and knowledge of how to throw a good party from DCCX—to create a unique event to help D.C.’s cycling community defeat the Smarch Blues. “My goal is to have the event on the outside appear as if it’s this great secret alley-cat-type event—it’s been called Fight Club for Bikes on many occasions—but to know that on the inside we are super-professional about making sure everyone has a fun, safe experience with professional scoring and accountability from my team.”
To learn more about the Crosshairs Garage Races, I reached out to Schieken to ask him more about the series and how it’s grown. Check out the Q and A below for the 411.
Crosshairs Television Crosshairs Garage Races Highlight Video
Not surprisingly, Crosshairs Television was there to document the action. For an idea of the vibe, check out this video from last week’s Crosshairs Garage Races finale.
Q and A with Bill Schieken of Crosshairs Garage Races
Cyclocross Magazine: How would you describe the vibe? It seems like people have responded positively to being able to ride during the winter?
Bill Schieken: The vibe is pretty amazing. The series is broken down into a novice/beginner category, a women’s race and an open/advanced race. The series has been embraced by beginners and newbies who find the welcoming atmosphere and low-stakes racing a great way to get in a good workout and dip their toe into racing. Much like cyclocross, we’ve had many people whose first race ever is CGR. We have a youth cycling workshop, Phoenix Bikes that brings their whole squad out. Many of those kids are getting their feet wet racing CGR.
More ironies of ironies, while the beginners absolutely love the race and want us to do it year ’round, a contingent of more “serious” racers in the area believe it’s too dangerous. I try to explain to them that sliding on a slick floor feels a lot better than sliding on asphalt, but they’d rather race a “safe” local crit than play in the garage. There are exceptions and we do get some damn fast racers battling it out week to week. But for the most part this is a beginners and Masters affair, with some Juniors mixed in. It’s much like grassroots cyclocross in that regard.
As far as the safety factor goes, the mantra is “race to the conditions.” We recommend wide tires (28mm is a good width) and low pressure (you’re not going to pinch flat). It’s ’cross conditions as far as setup goes. There have been more than one set of file treads on the podium. We’ve definitely had people go into corners too hot and slide out, but I’d put our track record for safe racing conditions up against any road race or crit in the country … not to mention a few ’cross races I won’t name. And there’s no road rash in the underground.
Last but far from least, the women’s cycling community in the DC-area is the best. It’s truly a “build it and they will come” scenario. Our women’s race kicks ass and we’ve sold out the Women’s field on more than one occasion. That alone makes this event a win every week.
CXM: So it looks like the first four weeks have a series and then the last week is more fun? What is the seriousness level of the racing?
BS: The series is every Wednesday in March. In years two and and three it turned out we had five Wednesdays in March so we made the final week a free-for-all. To keep the fun alive, we extended into the first week of April this year. That was a good call since we had to cancel one week because of a freak snow storm.
For that final week, we host a fixed-gear race which is a huge hit and pretty competitive. Red Hook Underground? We also have our loosely adhered to “Inside the Beltway” relay race pitting teams of federal workers against contractor employees. We also have a cargo bike and tandem race.
The main attraction, however, is the “Anything Goes” race. Over the years people have truly taken that to heart. We get skateboards, several unicycles, tiny bikes, an entire mini penny-farthing bike category and some contraptions I can’t even describe. The spectating is amazing.
And speaking of spectators, they come out! The DC-area cycling community and friends show up, enjoy pie from Acme Pie, grab a grilled cheese sandwich from the Java Cruiser, get an espresso from Rare Bird or have a beer at the cash bar. It’s a happy hour with a bike race circling around it.
CXM: How do you do call-ups?
BS: Scrum, baby. Just like the good ol’ days of cyclocross.
CXM: How do you set the course up? Looks like a ’cross race in a parking garage? Borrow any course features from ’cross races?
BS: The first few years we were in a different garage. It was much bigger. We had a multi-kilometer course on one level. Since moving to our new garage (also owned by JBG Smith, love those guys), we race on two levels, which adds a bit of elevation. The goal is to have some fun twists and turns but also to leave some sections wide-open so you can do some spinning. We tape the course like a ’cross race and figure out laps remaining like a ’cross race. We are cyclocross promoters, so how we run a race is going to look a lot like that, but with less mud.
CXM: It seems like cornering in a garage would be slick. Is there a lot of tire pressure talk?
BS: Tire pressure is key. You’ve heard of the cyclocross handshake, we have the underground-garage handshake. Despite the advice posted everywhere, we get the occasional guy showing up with the 21mm tires pumped up to 120psi. It’s never pretty.
CXM: I saw Craig Ethridge in one of your videos…? Any other cycling celebrities come out?
BS: Of course! Libbey Sheldon, Masters cyclocross World Champ raced the entire series. She’s our favorite celebrity. And Craig is awesome to have in the community. He and Julia support everything that has to do with cycling and they do it with more enthusiasm and fun than you could imagine.
One nice thing we have going for us is the timing of the event means that the National Bike Summit happens during our series. So we draw a lot of cycling advocates and industry luminaries into our event while that is happening. We also seem to be a favorite for local television. They like a spectacle, and we like to deliver.
CXM: Do you race? If you don’t which of the bikes in the video would you want to ride?
BS: I don’t race, but I did a lap on one of the small penny-farthings. Think tall man in a car from The Simpsons.
CXM: If someone wanted to emulate Crosshairs Garage Races, what are some of the most important things you’ve learned over the years?
BS: My goal is to have the event on the outside appear as if it’s this great secret alley-cat type event—it’s been called Fight Club for Bikes on many occasions—but to know that on the inside we are super-professional about making sure everyone has a fun, safe experience with professional scoring and accountability from my team.
My warning to anyone who wants to do this: bring your checkbook. It may look like a lark, but this event costs a lot to put on. Mostly, insurance.
Final word: This would be a great event for title sponsor. Just going to put that out there. We will get you noticed.
CXM: Awesome. Thanks for this peek behind the garage curtains.
BS: Thanks. Already looking forward to seeing everyone again in March.