A little weird, a lot welcoming RodeoCross is cyclocross…but only kind of. At the end of this year’s Sacramento season, Kate Rose pays tributes to this rowdy and irreverent subculture of cycling category. Read on for her entertaining recap and sound bytes from racers who try to explain this “disguise for a party on bikes,” along with photos from Sydney Lewis.
“I’m not responsible, I just open the gates and the party rolls in.”
– Frank Shoemaker, Race Organizer
A Tin Man, a dragon, and an inflatable fox drop a chain from their triple tandem and pull off to the side of the course. The fox studies the problem while the Tin Man and the dragon sip a Coors and look on, and offer the sage (and largely ineffective) advice all cyclists offer when we’re bystanders, “Yeah, but did it fall on the inside or the outside of the chain ring?” After about five minutes, the dragon shouts over the DJ, “Is there a mechanic in the house?!?” Fortunately, they’re in “Heckle Hollow,” the rowdy (often inebriated) mosh pit of unwashed friends from the bike community. So yeah, there are a few mechanics in the house.
One of them risks his life crossing the path of crushed Dixie Cups (handups), smashed Twinkees (failed handups), and other carnage (who’s riding out here without a shoe?) to help the fox figure this shit out. Moments later, the wheels are spinning again, the crowd erupts with a cheer and they push off, dragon facing backwards, smiling and wild. You have no idea how they’ve made it through this course, which contains muddy ruts, sharp corners, carrying your bike up stadium stairs, over barriers, and a descent into a hollow that makes your butt pucker even on a full suspension.
There’s no harm done, though, because this isn’t really a bike race.
It’s the last night of RodeoCross for the year, Sacramento’s rowdy, rambunctious, and irreverent cycling circus. Whether it’s the core of spectators in “Heckle Hollow”, the participants on all flavor of bikes (cyclocross, mountain, singlespeed, tandems, triples), or the fact that you ride for the love of bikes–no awards, no podiums, just riding–RodeoCross has become wildly popular.
While some race organizers scramble to keep their registrations full, “Ringmaster and MC” Frank Shoemaker and his wife, Asa Salas, preside over sold-out nights. From time to time, professional cyclists enter the melee. Tour pro, Lachlan Morton, moved to the area a bit ago and had the same look of awe on his face as any other racer lining up in the rodeo grounds for the first time. Geoff Kabush, Emily Kachorek, and Katerina Nash have all come out to take their handups because IYKYK.
But this isn’t about Lachlan. Or pros. Or competition, really. There are plenty of places and airtime for that scene. RodeoCross is really about the love of bikes and the community of people who come together to pull this off every season.
Dawn Til Dusk
Most riders who come out to RodeoCross have very little idea of the planning, hard work, and sheer physical labor that goes into setting up and tearing down the course each week. For the main crew, setup starts with insurance and permitting. Day of, the work starts at 9am and goes past 10pm. It’s hanging lights, packing down safety hazards, dropping generators, driving posts, posting signage, putting up tape, walking the course, setting up timing, watching hundreds of riders come through and party…then disassembling the whole thing in the same night.
None of it happens without sponsors and volunteers, of course. Mike’s Bikes covers juniors’ race fees, and there’s ample support from local bike shop In Velo Veritas, TREK Folsom, PNW Components, Squid Bikes, Bn3th, and Michael David Wine. For beverage selections, our beloved Bike Dog Brewery, Red Bus, and Best Day keep the fray properly hydrated.
Despite the anarchy, Frank and his team set a tone of respect and general “hey, don’t be a dick” attitude that is largely unspoken, but somehow sets the entire vibe. Every night, miraculously, the DJ cuts the music by 10 to observe the noise ordinance, the Hollow is free and clear of all evidence of debauchery, and the gates are locked.
The crew, in their own words…
Frank Shoemaker: “I’m just a cyclocross-pusher trying to catch more addicts. I had a friend who raced on her daughter’s Walmart mountain bike because she just wanted to do it, and that’s the people I’m going for: the ones on the fence. Bike racing looks intimidating, but we’re going to make it something you need to be in the middle of.”
Asa Salas: “What makes RodeoCross unique is that it’s always been a little weird and welcoming. The community has always been a little weird, which makes it more inviting for people who are nervous about “racing.” There’s a thin line between safety and sanity, but at the end of the night, when we close the gates and the last people are gone, it’s got energy that’s unlike any other race.”
Cabot O’Callaghan: “I helped out those first few years, but during the race I’d have some beers and watch people race. Now, I’m constantly monitoring the course; I put in over 40,000 steps. So, I take pride in it now, too.”
John Simmons: “Being a Marine, it’s important to stay connected socially and physically; it helps me cope mentally. Like so much in life, there’s a handful of people who step up and make something happen. Most people show up and enjoy it, which is why we do it, but it’s probably my way of building up my karma bank. It builds the community and someone’s gotta do it.”
Renee Roberts: “I’m an emergency paramedic and I do standby medical at cycling events. We mostly see slide-outs and abrasions on knees and elbows. Occasional collarbones. We had a few encounters last week with rider vs. tree. Most of the time they stay rubber side down.”
Sure, it’s cyclocross….kinda. There are handups and barriers and obstacles, but it’s also DJs and a pit of people cheering you on, and a never-ending “Spiral of Doom”, and a costume party, and, and, and…look, many have tried to explain RodeoCross to the uninitiated, so we just asked a few racers how they describe it.
“You know when you’re a kid and you get recess, and then they suddenly transfer you to adulthood and cut it out of your life and you’re like, ‘Where am I supposed to scream appropriately?’ This is that place. They took it away from us, but I found where we get it back.” – Ashley Fruhwirth
“I’m here to ride my bike in circles with my friends. It looks like a race, but it’s a disguise for a party on bikes. My favorite memory of RodeoCross was when the triple bike had riders dressed as inflatable penises and one penis was backwards and deflated and riding through Heckle Hollow. That, to me, is the spirit of RodeoCross.”
– Christine Foster
“You ride in the grass and the dirt and some hills and you might have to get off your bike and climb a hill then get back on and it’s terrible but you’re gonna love it. Handups are where you try to drink as many tiny beers as you can on the way. Oh, and sometimes the handups are beer and sometimes it’s clam chowder, you never know. That’s important.” – Lauren McKay (the parrot next to the hot dog)
Pippie Duffy (age 9)
Jennifer (Mom): “That was a lot of laps, huh?”
Pippie: “I think I got 4th. Or 3rd.”
Mom: “Yeah, with all of the teenagers? Did you try your hardest? At least you didn’t break your bike like poor daddy…”
Pippie: “He ALWAYS breaks his bike. Can’t you just get new handlebars?”
Dad: “I’m not the best bicyclist out there, so I got cut off in a turn.”
Mom: “I think, definitively, she’s the best cyclist in our family.”
Pippie: “People kept screaming at me to get the candy. I didn’t get anything. I need to get faster, and I want to get clipped-in shoes and a cross bike, but they don’t sell any in my size. And they might not sell clipped-in shoes in my size.”
Mom: “We’ll research it.”
So. When you’re ready, come show up, throw up, and blow up with us. RodeoCross will be back, better than ever, next year.