A first hand account of Rad Race Fixed42 by team rider Dale Hawkins
I took another sip of my coffee and looked out of our apartment window admiring the clear skies above, then I turned my head to look at the team, now all gathered in the living room, "Damn" I thought to myself, "IT’S RACE DAY MOTHER FUCKERS!"
As we rolled down the quiet streets of Berlin towards the train station, all in team kit and race ready, all I could think was, "Are we ready for this, is this what I have been waiting for since I started riding a track bike? Ride with no fear and just go for it.” Eventually we arrived at the station and I realised we had a problem, "Fuck we need train tickets, shit this machine doesn’t accept our cards and double shit again, it doesn’t except 20 € notes... wait... we’ve missed the train?" This turns out to be the first crash of the day. As we plan the best way to navigate around it we see the first riders start rolling into the station and I start thinking to myself, “These guys are here for business not just pints with the buds.”
Finally sorted for tickets we jump on the next train, find our corner and crack jokes to hide the nerves. It’s a swift journey and we arrive in Ludwigsfelde in 30 minutes. Riders pile out of the train, and we take a gentle ride to the start camp, rolling over the start line as the music is pumping. It’s 8:30am and the hair on the back of my neck has already started to rise. My heart is pounding, "Shit... this is real!"
We find our spot and have a few hours to collect ourselves before we start getting into position before the race. Things are pretty chilled and I try drinking as much water and coffee as I can, not really engaging in much conversation and trying to maintain that race-ready, clear-mind, bullshit. I go off for a few spins on my ace to get away from the crowds. My legs are spinning a massive gear, one I have never attempted before so I try to centre my breathing while getting the legs to work. I try a few sprints, getting a feel for the bike and generally not trying to think about much at all.
Then one last minute piss and a few gulps of water and we head to the start line. Many riders have been waiting for the last 30 minutes to claim their spot at the front of the race. My hands start shaking a little and I get that sick to the stomach feeling, my team mate and I are silent with no jokes. To hide my fear I concentrate, this will be one hour of complete pain and agony, while trying to keep your head and focus... "Don’t fuck up and have fun, that’s why you do this right? It’s a new experience, nothing to lose, nothing to prove, just have the balls and give it everything you have."
The entire rider’s field pause for a moment of silence to remember a Disorderly Habits team rider who died in a car accident a week or so earlier. The chills running down my spin make my legs numb. Then over the speakers the countdown...10...9...8... with Metallica of all the fucking bands I know, my favourite band of all time... (up until the black album), starts blasting “Enter Sandman” from the sound-system, and we’re off!
As we ride through the “neutral zone”, which I learned in my last two races, doesn’t really exist, I start working my way up the field, pushing hard to get up to the front, which had already split the field. My legs felt good and I drafted who I could, when we hit the second roundabout the race was on and fuck me was it on, the speed and energy was breathtaking. Within moments it was Autobahn time, this so I was told, is where you sit in the pack and attempt to stay safe, allowing the pack to drag you along, but don’t look back, there is no such thing! It reminded me of being at school, trying to run down a busy hallway while getting pushed and bumped and shoved by pupils, but this time it was riders and the wind.
Riders finding themselves in a group above their ability struggle. They are unable to keep a consistent speed, and drafting becomes a bit unsafe as they pick up and drop pace in front of you. I found my safe place on the right of the pack where I could stay out of trouble and not suffer too much in the wind. As we hurtled forward we started picking up small groups that had dropped off the front group. I look to my right, a few km’s in and I see the leftovers of some bad crashes. Our group gets more strung out so I push to the front, where a few of us grind, trying to bridge the gap to a breakaway group. I latch on and take a deep breath trying to relax and recover. I lift my head and see the London teams bossing the group and I think, "I’m with a strong bunch, hold on dude, just hold on."
We keep moving at a fairly decent pace and I find my mind drifting and have to pull my thoughts together and just concentrate on holding line and wheel. We hit Tempelhof Feld and the field is now strung out to shit and I start suffering, I feel my pace slow and I get pushed into the wind. With no rider giving you a break you slow down so you can fall back into line and draft. Then some lovely German dude shouts, “GET IN! PUSH! YOU GOT IT!” Sometimes hearing that small encouragement from fellow riders pulls you through the race. I’m back in, recovered and pick up the pace again as we head into town.
I start recognising the sights and spot places where we bought beer before the weekend. We head over Spree, “Fuck tramlines!..” I have a slight shit my pants moment, but hold my nerve and navigate them safely, forgetting that I’m riding a super slick and shit, cheap, Conti’ 23c rear tyre. Clearly leaving the purchase of a good tyre till the day before the race was a bad idea, the six P’s were well and truly out the window.
Things start getting tough now as we head through town and once again I feel the burn, I’m struggling to breathe and my feet feel like bricks, that’s it, I’m out of this group, I gave it my all but my ass got dropped like a piece of grilled bacon alone in the sun, fighting a head wind with no group behind me to pick me up.
As I look down the road I see a couple of London riders coming, I catch up to Will Fox from the Elf Huez* team. He tries to let me sit on his wheel but I’m gassed, I’m on my own again and I grind the next few km’s with the crowd cheering me on, maybe so that I would pass them quicker so they could cross the road? I look back again and I see another group coming up. I think "Yes, let’s make sure I have enough pace to hold on when they come past me." Sadly I didn’t calculate that this group would be dicks and the fuckers make me work on the front. I weave across the road a few times to see if they will pass but they weren’t having it. They just sit like some ducks on my ass. I could have done a loop and they would have still been there. Eventually I find a way into this pack and feel stronger, working my way to the front again, feeling that we were getting closer to the finish. Cornering hard and giving the last bit all I had and just thinking, “Is this is what you wanted, it’s almost done, are you enjoy it?”
I see the finishing line in the distance and realise that I’m stuck in the middle. I have nowhere to go just trying to take over one rider at a time. My legs grinding harder and harder we cross the finish line and it’s done. The feeling was unreal, I wasn’t sure what to feel, relief, pain, joy? I still don’t know, I put my hands in the air like a dick, happy that I'd finished. I bagged 182nd in my third ever bicycle race and i’ll take that and feel proud, knowing I didn’t train as hard as I could of, knowing I don’t have the best gear or any sponsorship. I don’t think it would have been the same knowing I achieved that with any of the bullshit that comes with gram posts on how amazing some product is. I did it with a group of friends, that get my jokes, put up with my beer obsession and love riding brakeless bikes, whether it be in a race or on the street.
At the end of the day everyone had an opinion about the race, for me it was just a rad time with rad people. We explored the city, drank beer and ate kebabs. We meet new people, acted like clowns and avoided the police at all costs! We took part in a sketchy ride with messengers and bombed through Berlin at dusk, then sat in a swimming pool on the river and hung out at an abandoned airfield. But most of all we raced, something I’ve been dreaming about since this crazy world of fixed gear riding took hold of my life.