A Lady's First Floyd

New York City is an amazing place to be a recreational cyclist.* In spite of the dense urban landscape, we have beautiful places to train, a wonderful community, and interesting race courses, from Bear Mountain to Grant’s Tomb. But amidst these attributes, even the most enchanted cyclist might start looking for new things. No, I’m not talking about cyclocross (pfffttt) or triathlons (lol). I’m talking about new road race courses! Early in the season, I traveled to New England road races in search of newness. After getting my legs ripped off by the cyborgs of Boston (many of whom race CX at the pro level, apparently), I decided to look for newness more locally.

 photo: Phil Penman ( @philpenman )

photo: Phil Penman (@philpenman)

Enter: Floyd Bennett Field. Floyd is a storied race course. People skip out of work early on Tuesdays and Thursdays to make hour-long -- sometimes longer -- journey down Flatbush Avenue to an abandoned, bumpy, and overgrown airstrip in the far-reaches of Brooklyn. When you write it, it sounds insane. What an odd place for a bike race, right? Somehow it seemed like a good idea. It also seemed like a good way to get out of doing solitary speedwork and/or waking up at 5am for the enduranceWerx ride (sorry, Allan, I hate waking up that early).

Earlier this summer, I made up my mind to go. I was lucky enough to meet up with a crew of Kruis dudes en route, who escorted me over the Manhattan Bridge, down Nostrand Avenue, and finally down Flatbush Avenue out to Floyd. We picked up more riders along the way. I was already excited; there’s something special about a group of lycra-clad nerds all riding together through the chaos of the evening commute. The size and enthusiasm of the group dilutes the noise and danger of navigating city streets. For better or worse, playing bikes becomes the only thing that matters. I was even more pleased when I realized that no one batted an eye that I, a lady, was riding out to race Floyd.

 photo: Phil Penman ( @philpenman )

photo: Phil Penman (@philpenman)

I had been to Floyd once before, when CRCA hosted a race there back in 2013. Since then, I’d only passed by en route to the beach. I was surprised to see the number of people there and the sophistication of the race set-up. Everything was running smoothly and everyone seemed to know what was going on. It was like some sort of secret society hanging out in a magical oasis.

Being at Floyd for the first time felt like the first day of band camp. I was excited to see so many familiar faces. Everyone was friendly and helped me figure out the registration drill. I was also stoked to see other women!! Just ahead of me in the registration line I saw Chanel Zeisel and Rebecca Brown, two CRCA pals. My pre-crit jitters and the nervousness of doing a new race subsided as I realized that this was just as friendly as any other NYC bicycle race where I AM comfortable. The fun and friendiness carried over to the line, where I was chatting with other safe streets advocates. I was so wrapped up in conversation that I didn’t realize the race was about to start until the official blew the whistle. And we were off!  

 photo: Phil Penman ( @philpenman )

photo: Phil Penman (@philpenman)

Floyd is FAST. And the group is BIG. And the road is BUMPY. And it’s … EVERYTHING!!! The first laps were a lot of “omg what am I doing this is actually happening!!!” but… it was FUNNNNNNN. I tried to stay tucked in behind big dudes, fearing the much-fabled FBF wind effect, and moving up when it felt easy. In the end, I only managed to stay with the group for four laps. Maybe it was five? It didn’t feel hard, but then all of a sudden I wasn’t with the group anymore. Isn’t that how it always works when you get dropped? I kept trucking, holding out hope I could catch back on. Alas, it was not possible (see wind effect mentioned above).

I felt pretty crummy for getting popped so early, but then all of a sudden a group of about 10 came up behind me and I realized HEY! I wasn’t the first one to get dropped! I stayed with that group for several laps, and we all took turns pulling. Eventually my smaller group shattered, other groups formed, the field caught us, and there was mixing up again. But everyone I was racing with was having fun, and so I was too.

I was relieved when the race finally ended. I’m not sure if I’d ever gone that hard for that long in my life. I was GASSED. And yet I still had to ride all the way home to Washington Heights? Ooofff.

 photo: Phil Penman ( @philpenman )

photo: Phil Penman (@philpenman)

Thankfully, there was another crew to ride home with. Everyone donned their lights and we set off again to make the trip back down Flatbush. Phil from Kruis put on some music and we had a little rolling party, chatting about racing, life news, transportation policy, and upcoming trips. Slowly the group whittled down as people peeled off to find their own way home. Then we were three. Nathan from Foundation was kind enough to guide Rebecca and me back towards the Manhattan Bridge so we wouldn’t be two lost puppies roaming in a pitch-black Brooklyn.

After a flat fix in Chinatown, we finally made our way to the Hudson River Greenway. Rebecca and I were both tired from the long trip out to Floyd and the race, but her company helped me forget. We talked about what a great experience Floyd is, and how it seems to activate all senses: the light is beautiful, as the sun begins to creep away from the city. The air is clean and fresh, blowing at a million miles an hour. And Rebecca said it first -- the SOUND! Floyd is a loud race. The sound of tires on rough pavement, paired with the constant whir of chains clanging up and down cassettes is loud. When you’re in the middle of the field, all you see, feel, and hear is the sound of pure, beautiful bike racing.

 photo: Phil Penman ( @philpenman )

photo: Phil Penman (@philpenman)

It only occurred me to how tired and hungry I was when Rebecca peeled off to head home around 60th street. And then, I was on my own to make the trip another 120 blocks north.

I didn’t get home until around 10. I entered my apartment and collapsed on the floor in a sweaty and hungry pile of gross. Once I found the strength to stuff my face and shower, I realized I was hungry again. After I made a new favorite (warm rolled-up tortilla with butter, cinnamon, and sugar), I decided I had eaten enough to fall asleep finally.

When I woke up on Wednesday, totally hungover, all I could think about was the next time I could race Floyd. Well, ride out there, race, and then ride back. Because it's really about the whole package. 

* Commuting in NYC leaves a lot to be desired. You should join Transportation Alternatives and donate to StreetsPAC to fix this problem.

 photo: Phil Penman ( @philpenman )

photo: Phil Penman (@philpenman)

For more terrific images from Floyd Bennett Field please visit Phil Penman's blog entry "Racing on Sacred Ground"