The 2021 Red Bull Bay Climb and Short Circuit on Medium Format with Handmade Lenses

On the weekend of October 20, 2021, something came to pass that hadn’t for what seemed like forever: the Red Bull Bay Climb in San Francisco, CA. Done in heats, the Bay Climb is a straight line sprint up Potrero Hill with pitches of up to 21%. Racers have to complete no less than 4 trips up the hill, as fast as they can, for a chance to win.

In the “Time Before COVID,” Red Bull had run a Bay Climb event for three consecutive years (2017- 2019). I’d photographed the 2019 event and had an incredible time. That made me excited to have the 2021 edition be my first cycling event to photograph coming out of pandemic lockdown. How many people would show up? Would it be subdued? Crazy? Somewhere in between?

Saturday’s Bay Climb started low key in the morning and as the day progressed became more and more like a street festival. Locals pulled out chairs, spectators packed both sides of the street and, at the midway point, Red Bull supplied bamboo “fishing” poles with money for racers to grab on the way up.

After four trips up Portrero Hill Danielle Morshead and Gino Gabuyo took home the wins in their respective fixed-gear classes while Helena Gilbert Snyder and Harry Elworthy topped the Rung What You Brung Open class. Among the high end road bikes, the Open class also included a cargo bike and a guy who rode up on a mountain bike backwards. Twice. No joke. Brian Barnes, known as “Backwards Brian,” went up Potrero Hill twice, sitting backwards, on a mountain bike. For me, both events can be summed up as: maximum physical racing effort, a ton of fun, and a cycling community that refuses to take itself too seriously. With the world as it is, this seems to be exactly what we all need.

A short circuit race was added to the mix this year, something new that Red Bull had decided to try for the first time. Raced indoors in a series of elimination heats on a kart track with fixed-gear bikes, of course, the Red Bull Short Circuit is a concept that’s been run in Europe. “Over in Europe these races are crazy! The crowds line the entire track, yelling like it’s a football match. This is our first time in the US so it won’t be as crazy. This is something we’d like to grow here, though.” Chaz, one of the Red Bull event organizers, told me.

When all was said and done, both days of racing were fantastic. Several hundred people, racers and spectators alike, crowded into the K1 Racing facility on Friday night to watch the Short Circuit. There was hard racing, skids, crashes, and the facility echoed with the sounds of the crowd as Evelyn Williamson and Frenk Martucci progressed through to win the Women’s and Men’s finals.

About the Images
I used a pair of Petacon 6 medium format film cameras which were made in the 70’s and 80’s in East Germany, Ilford PanF medium format film, hand made camera lenses and a small speedlight for the indoor Short Circuit. I’ve been making my own lenses to use on 35mm, medium and large format cameras for the last 5 years. It stemmed from lack of money to buy 4×5 camera lenses and just went off the rails from there. I’ve made lenses housed in dollar bills, telescope eyepiece barrels, wood, office folders, repurposed old projector lens barrels, 1800’s brass lenses and modern electronic controlled leaf shutters. You can learn a little more about all of that here.