The Upside of Smaller Events: The 2022 Red Bull Bay Climb

The Red Bull Bay Climb is pure and simple: straight line it up three of San Francisco’s steepest blocks, rinse, repeat in a new heat. If you’re a finalist, you’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets to go through the process four times. Erik Mathy covered the event in his usual, stunning, photographic fashion. Check out his full photo gallery and event recap.

Whereas the 2021 edition of the Red Bull Bay Climb marked a return of the event from the pandemic lockdown, with a huge crowd from all over the United States, the following 2022 edition felt like a much tighter knit affair. Last year the race was coupled with the Red Bull Short Circuit, a fixie race held on an indoor kart track. The combination of the cancellation of that year’s Mission Crit made the Bay Climb an extremely well attended event. Racers from all over the United States attended what was, for 2021, arguably the biggest fixed gear event of the year.

In 2022, however, the Mission Crit came back with a vengeance. Remade as the Fixed Gear Triple Crown, it featured five days of fixed gear racing from August 31 to September 4th. As such, the Red Bull Bay Climb became a stand alone event. With the Fixed Gear Triple Crown drawing all the attention (and people’s travel budgets) the Red Bull Bay Climb was much more sparsely attended.

The Bay Climb itself is simple: Racers line up in heats to do straight line sprints up the historic, near-vertical Potrero Hill in San Francisco. Starting at the corner of De Haro & 18th they charge up three of the longest city blocks they’ll ever experience with a maximum grade of 21%. By the time it’s all said and done the finalists will have raced up Potrero Hill four times. On fixies. Or cargo bikes. Or with a parrot on their shoulder. Or, in one notable case, riding backwards on a mountain bike.

While there were a few people who came up from Orange County the bulk of the racers and spectators were local. As the day progressed the crowd moved further uphill, congregating on the last 100ft of De Haro before 20th. Featuring a ridiculous 21% grade it offered spectators the best place to yell encouragement, give a push or offer a joint hand up as the circumstances required.

In this case, though, the argument “bigger isn’t always better” could be convincingly made. The race, to me at least, felt much more intimate. It reminded me of the days when small, wildcat races, like the DFL Urban Outlaws and the Dirt Saloon, ran rampant all over the city. In the current times where there always seems to be a rush to commercialize everything, having a race like the Red Bull Bay Climb get a little smaller, feel a little more local? That’s a good thing.

If you’re interested: Erik shot the event on a Fuji GX50R camera with three different M42 lenses, running in panoramic mode.