Words: Daniel Wakefield Pasley | Photography: Daniel Wakefield Pasley | Date:
Oregon Manifest, Portland OR.
It’s early afternoon, Saturday October 11th in Portland, Oregon, inside the newly refurbished Leftbank building. The first Rapha Cross Roller Race, in fact, the first Cross Roller Race ever, in the entire universe, is only hours away from starting. In a few minutes the first of ten waves of teams are scheduled to show-up for their mandatory ‘event pre-production meeting’. I’m hoping that if I explain it enough times, field enough questions and watch as the riders take it all in that it might start to make sense, even to me. Because to be honest, we can be honest with each other right? Even after months of theory and preparation, I still wasn’t really sure how or if, this is going to work. And, here they come…
“Do we have to run with the Zoo-Bomb bikes. Or can we ride them. I think we should have to ride them?” – Team Beer
“Everybody, can I please have your attention? Seriously, please listen-up while I run your team through the program and the course. We only have 15 minutes and we need your seat-height measurements and you need to ride the rollers and run the course before you leave.
Okay so, no, you don’t have to ride the Zoo-Bomb bikes [miniature kid bikes modified and reinforced and rebuilt for adults and 40-mph descents], you can carry them, ride them, sail them, run with them, whatever you want them, it’s a CROSS roller race and this is the running part. As long as you finish with one, preferably the bike you started with, then everything is fine.
Okay so, as I was saying, please put your pants back on, seriously this is no longer a dress rehearsal. And dude, that is not a street legal thong, I demand that you put your pants back on at once.
As I was saying, you and all the teams will be held in the green room until the start. Teams will be introduced one by one. As your team is called-up we’ll ask you to step out onto this balcony area and acknowledge the crowd however you like. As your names are called run down the ramp and complete one lap around the course, please don’t ‘disturb’ the roller bikes, the Zoo-Bomb bikes, the bell, the clock or any spectators on your way across the stage. I don’t know, a slow run or a jog or a canter maybe. Prudent but theatrical, remember this is your teams Olympic-style parade.
For the actual race now; it starts with rollers for a simulated distance of 500 meters, much like a traditional roller race only the bikes have freewheels, because dismounting a fixed gear bike after 23 seconds of sprinting would be dangerous to impossible. And it would likely void one if not both the no-liability waivers we need you to sign.
When you reach the 500-meter mark, your spotter will grab your attention (the clock is behind you so the crowd can see it) by touching your arm, through eye contact, telepathy. Somehow, your spotter will immediately let you know that you’re ready for the run. At which point you turn around and grab a little bike. They’ve been tested by an independent lab and deemed to be within at least two pounds of each other so which bike is inconsequential. Run down the ramp stage right, the same direction we’ll walk it now, the same direction you’ll canter in for the team parade, over the barriers and through the hallway. The hallway is pretty tight, maybe five-feet on the inside and it narrows through the doorways on either end. Please don’t Zoo-Bomb the walls on your way through. Up the ramp, down the ramp. The first person back on stage to ring the giant Rapha cowbell wins. Any questions?”
“Hey Rapha, we need to start letting people in. The scary door dude with trench coat and mini-shades is freaking people out. Oh and it’s two minutes after 7:30” – Ryan ‘Evil’ Thompson, Rapha Continental Rider, Doorman and Spotter
“How did it get to be 7:32 already?”
We finish the final safety/staff meeting focused on course marshalling one crucial spot that is also the ‘entrance’ onto the show floor for the crowd. Which right now is several hundred people deep, pushing on the doors outside to get in. The space, a 2200sq.ft. rectangle, was finally complete and ready to roll. The stage, like a boxing ring, front and center, is superbly lit, while everywhere else is, except for the course of course, dramatically dark. 8 o’clock, the place is packed, and announcers Dan Roth and John Walrod are into team introductions. It’s, as they say, ‘on’.
“I think that racer just rang the cow-bell with a beer can in his hand, is that legal?” – Greg Johnson, Rapha Continental Rider and course marshal
Watching the very first heat was like watching history, up close in the making. As soon as first racer came back-up on stage and rang that magnificent massive golden cowbell, having just rolled his ass-off for 20 seconds and run his ass-off for another 20 seconds, over the barriers, through the hallway, up the virtual mud-hill and all the way around the course, chased by three others also lugging Zoo-Bomb bikes. Everyone in the building—racers, the crowd, staff—went crazy. You could feel it, 450 people had the same feeling and came to the same conclusion all at once—Cross Roller Racing is not only the most ridiculous and most wonderful spectator sport ever, it might just be the future.
The next three-hours was one amazing display of physicality, pageantry and single-elimination competition, after another. The entangled Zoo-Bomb bikes never came out clean, so tired-legged riders wrestled and fought for first position onto the cross course. It never let up with DJ Beyonda expertly dialing-in and ramping-up the energy each round. The night never got boring or predictable.
At some point during the evening, the first barrier off the stage was demolished, but in an effort to ensure quality and consistency, members of the crowd came to the event’s rescue by laying down as a human barrier in the very same place the now destroyed barrier once was.
“Everybody knows you never lay down in front of a Team Beer guy.” – Nate Armbrust
Late into the competition, the final heats (men’s and women’s) started to take shape from the usual combination of upset’s, favorites, unknowns, underdogs and surprises. Zac, in the lead and on the home stretch, riding for one of the wild card teams that qualified the night before and not Team Beer (ask Team Beer why he wasn’t picked immediately and they’ll tell you that although he was good enough to race National Track Championships, they were worried about his running abilities) went down hard on the backside of the mud-hill, ending his night a bit prematurely (guess they were right). John Howe, the captain of Team Beer, went a little WWE after his win against Cat 1-pro Shannon Skerrit, riding for the Bike Gallery/Vanilla. Craig Ethridge, riding for Seattle Sabotage, came quite literally out of nowhere to race against local-hero Steven Beardsley in the final. While Megan Farris, racing for River City Bicycles would match up against Gentle Lover Joanna Mensher in the women’s final.
At this point the night settled and gelled. DJ Beyonda, with mind-blowing precision, had races starting to the Beastie Boys one minute and an Iron Maiden guitar solo the next. The crowd was fueled by Bridgeport brew and louder than imaginable. Racers had the course tested and wired. It was time for the finals.
“When all the barriers have been exhausted. When the cowbells go quiet. When the parks are overrun with speed walkers and pooping dogs. When there’s no one left to receive a hand-up from. That’s when they send in us in, the only guys crazy enough to clean up this scene.” – Seattle Sabotage
Course and race organizers, Slate Olson and Carey SH, realizing just in the nick of time only moments before the final races started, that the race just wasn’t hard enough. Added a second 500-meter sprint to the back of the race so now racers would roll, run and roll. 60 plus seconds of torture.
The women’s finale was a close race and Joanna Mensher’s face was a picture of pain and agony. But for all her effort, Megan Farris could not be beaten. Megan, who after winning a Sweatpea cross frame and the women’s title, dropped to the stage for a quick set of push-ups to contribute, in her unique way, to the I-WON dance.
Steven Beardsley has a nice bod. And that’s not something I volunteer lightly. Craig Etheridge wore the best costume and rode for the team with best overall theme and style, also the team that came down from Seattle. But Steven, the track star and hometown favorite, couldn’t drag his shaved Greek-god-red-speedo’ed-ass around the course faster than Craig in a tie and dress shirt from Seattle to win the Signal Cycles Cross Frame and the men’s title. Seattle Sabotage indeed.
The racing finished, the champions crowned, the crowd started to leave. But, just when you thought the night was done DJ Beyonda wicki-wicki-whacked something from the turntables and a party ensued. Joshua Creem stepped out from behind his waffle irons to show everyone what he learned from MTV’s ‘The Grind’, and Tony Kic demonstrated that his Salt-N-Peppa-esque jumpsuit was more than a mere prop, it was a cry for a dance party.
Header image by Nate Armbrust.