Don’t be alarmed by the name! Frigid Bitch is an event in Pittsburgh meant to bring together a community in the coldest, darkest time of year. Last year, Jarrod Bunk was on site, camera in hand to document the fun! We’ve got a wonderful story, penned by event promoter, Anna-Lena Kempen. Let’s check it out…
The Frigid Bitch is a race that hundreds of cyclists in Pittsburgh describe as the “best day of the year.”
Nestled right in the absolute most depressing cranny of winter–that grey, slushy, dreary part of February around Valentine’s Day– when any seasonal wonderland or sparkly lights have faded out of everyone’s hearts. The roads are all pockmarked with enormous freeze/thaw holes; if there’s snow, it’s leftover and dirty, and yinzers all across town crave a spark of stoke to carry them into riding season.
Hence the name: Frigid Bitch.
It’s a hard time to ride your bike, much less be social. But it’s always a hard time to ride in Pittsburgh–the geography makes for confusing street layouts, incredibly steep hills, roads that turn into staircases, narrow bridges, fast-moving traffic, random one-ways, and cobbles, bricks, and potholed pavement as far as the eye can see.
Part of the joy of riding in Pittsburgh is the satisfaction of knowing the city is throwing as many obstacles as possible at you, and yet, you’ve persisted.
The Frigid Bitch was born because I wanted to create a race that made me feel like that. No matter how hard it got, how cold, how many miles, how deep the snow, or how slick the ice–I would still conquer it. I hoped that by slicing open that space, I could pull in peers who felt the same way. I’d been racing alleycats for years and managed to find a handful of road-ripping women I’d aggressively best friended at those races, but I wanted one of our own. So I made one. So we would have somewhere to belong.
In the first year, nine women raced. In the second year, five people showed up. There were more volunteers than racers, and partially out of pity for them–standing out in the bitter cold taking down just a handful of race numbers–but mostly because I just really wanted to, I left my race director post to rip joyfully from checkpoint to frozen checkpoint. There were more prizes than racers, too, and a trend was set that showing up was hard enough to warrant walking away with something.
The third year, I heard a rumor that some bike messengers from NYC were coming down to race, and I made the checkpoints extra tough. The weather matched my intentions and went brutal. Snow, ice, and negative 11º wind chill sang a siren song answered only by the hardiest riders. Photographers’ cameras froze. Cars pulled over at the top of steep hills to comment on the teeth-gritting resolve of cyclists slogging their way up from the bottom.
The out-of-towners followed tire tracks in the snow to get around, knowing only Frigid Bitch racers were out riding that day. The volunteer tendency of offering hot drinks and shots of fireball at checkpoints was born. Finishers blasted past me, shouting their race numbers and demanding to know where they could find the sink to run their frozen fingers under hot water. I wasn’t sure that they wouldn’t murder me once they thawed. It was so great. Forty-two people raced.
It’s now been ten years, and 250+ people show up each year. The space has expanded into something for cyclists who intimately know the feeling of overcoming obstacles. Whether it’s bracing for the weather, the anxiety of organized competition, taking off work or finding child care, navigating social assumptions about their gender identities, uncertainty in their body’s capabilities, traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to the start line, fearfully anticipating the hills they’re going to have to climb, or scraping together enough money to make sure they have a bike to ride.
People who have had to fight to be heard, taken seriously, or accepted can find a community that doesn’t force them to defend themselves but celebrates them for who they are and what they’ve conquered.
That second Frigid Bitch was the only one I’ve ever gotten to race. I spend all year ruminating on what corners of Pittsburgh I’ll send people to next, planning a geographical puzzle fraught with demanding logistics, deceptive maps, and gorgeous views. It’s work accomplished not by any inherent genius but by a dogged determination to challenge and celebrate those cyclists I wanted to race beside.
I’m just a girl at a computer, making a game that people play one day a year. The riders who show up are the community who make the race. Riding in Pittsburgh is hard. To do it, you have to love it. So it’s easy, to find people who love it as much as you do.
Check out the trailer for A Bitch of a Race.