The “working title” for the creative brief that would one day become Manual For Speed was Domestic. Why? Because our opinion was—and still is to some degree—that the heart of cycling was a near-heroic (fight!) to the almost-death in the streets, at the feet of the public. Blue collar, rowdy, rough and tumble. A hard man thing. A chance to die every weekend and if you’re lucky earn enough to stay on the road for a dew days more. Doing odd jobs, crashing on sofas in strange houses. Like boxing but on a bike, like Rodeo but minus the horse.
And yeah, sure, according to GALLUP 86% of cycling fans are clinically preoccupied with World Tour or “European”-style Racing. For the all the obvious sexy, romantical reasons, reasons like three decades of cheap, widely available black and white posters featuring dudes riding dirt roads through mid-summer snowbanks; all the many French, Italian and Belgian sexy place names, e.g. Galibier, Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, Ronde De Vlaanderen ; oh and the Country Colors! and the Alps! and the Dolomites! and the wide-angle switchbacks!, as well as all the coffee table books and monument descriptions and category climb statistics and foggy-cobble-misty hill-top-cross-postcards and all the documentaries about Merckx and Cipollini and Ulrich, because of all that, World Tour racing is and has been racing’s true North.
But that doesn’t mean it’s right. Or that it has to be that way. And that’s why, eventually, we created a project within MFS committed to exploring and documenting Criteriums (crits, son!), journeyman & privateers and the Saturday Night Streets of small town America.
Bright and loud. Fast and trashy. Here and us.
While criteriums and criterium-like races are held all over the world, they are, by all accounts, a uniquely American expression and/or manifestation of professional cycling. Clearly NASCAR is to car racing (in America) as Rodeo is to horse sport (in America) as crits are to bike racing (in America), it’s just how we do shit.
If we had the time and money to properly research the history of criteriums in America (we don’t), we’d likely discover their popularity has everything to do with the fact that Americans don’t care—pretty much at all—about cycling. Deductive reasoning is free and it tells us this. It goes like this.
- Because, as a society, we don’t care about cycling we patently refuse to let it interfere with our lives and/or, more importantly, interrupt our traffic. Cars and roads are our God Given Rights. They are inalienable and whatnot. So rolling enclosures are a no-go!
- But if you do your 90-minute bike tournament at night or on a weekend, and you promise crashes and sprints and amped-up unintelligible announcers and jock jams and podiums and champagne, and whooshing noises accompanied by a big blast of wind like when 18-wheelers go by, until we’re all corn-dogged-out and sunburned and done partying for the night, we, the citizens of America, will let you sprint your buns off for our enjoyment.
Whatever the actual reason is, this is—in fact—how we race. And you know what, that’s fine because crits are the purest, most unadulterated form of speed cycling has to offer, and because of that, because of the speed and the rush and whirr and the wind, it’s magically visceral or viscerally magical.
We’ve all heard the stories and we’ve seen some things. Older guys sometimes still talk about the dudes (proper privateers) in the ’80s, who drove all over America in their Honda Civics loaded with bikes and duffle bags, doing the circuit, gambling, maybe winning enough to pay for another 10 days of food and gas, maybe not. We’ve been to Walterboro, we’ve stayed in the motel next to the Cracker Barrel. We’ve seen and felt the blurry twilight time-lapse that is Boise. We’ve seen blood. We’ve eaten burritos in rural North Carolina at 1:01 AM. We’ve homestayed. We’ve sat in the plastic kiddie pool filled filled with lukewarm water and empty beer cans on the top of Cry Baby Hill. And we want more.