The air was crisp and fresh in the grass parking lot at Sly Fox Brewing Company at 7:30am on a peaceful Sunday morning. Just a few hours later, the serene scape around the beer garden would turn into an all-out bike, beer, and heckle-fest otherwise known as a cyclocross race.
Across the states, attendance in cyclocross events has more than tripled since 2005, and the Philly scene appears to be thriving. There are enough race events within one or two hours from the city to book every fall weekend from late September to early December. Within the city limits, Bilenky’s homegrown Junkyard Cross gained the attention of Red Bull in 2013 despite all the weirdness Philly could muster.
For its inaugural year, Sly Fox Cyclocross (SFCX) crushed it. With a slightly longer course and separation of the kids from the women, it might just be perfect. For spectators, it had Insta-perfect designated viewing areas and logical course cross-overs. For the racers, winners’ prizes included stainless steel pint glasses featuring the SFCX logo with laser-etched 1- 5 placing and some forged belt buckles by Iron Studio Ltd. out of North Philly. Swag gets local around here. For everyone, post-race recovery beers were ready in time for first wave of finishers (Men’s 4/5 Category), which was about 10am.
All this aside, the course itself was a major highlight. It started out asphalt-fast, quickly hit a maze section tucked behind the brewery that might be described as tight and squishy, and then catapulted into the woods where tires went to flat, derailleurs went to die, and some riders went to eat dirt. At the exit of the woods there was a cute rideable log in case your chainring was feeling left out. Popping back out into the sunshine, a grassy section featured numerous tight turns and a pair of smart-looking SFCX branded barriers, which were easily visible to spectators. Yes, the beer tent is nearby.
We envisioned what we thought was lacking from the scene of local CX races, said Matty B., race visionary and director. We wanted a huge run-up and more technical sections. We really wanted to get away from the grass track.
Indeed, no one escaped the pain and the glory of the Belgian-style Sly Fox Steps. Most riders shouldered their bike and ran up it. Some walked up it, some fell up it, and a few wise guys on mountain bikes tried to ride up it. Despite the roaring crowd, all were halted, rejected, and ejected by one humble log near the top. To the riders’ chagrin, a man playing a blue trombone signaled failed attempts with a few choice notes and the occasional dollar hand-up. There are no honorable mentions for cyclocross, only honorable nose-wheelies.
For Matty B, the seeds for this race were planted when he was old enough to drink beer. Matty and close friend Christopher Topher Valenti raced and rode mountain and cyclocross together for Bikesport while becoming loyal patrons of Sly Fox. With the help of some craft beer, patronage led to friendships, friendships lead to partnerships, and partnerships lead to dreams of an awesome cyclocross race. Todd Palmer, Sly Fox advertising/marketing director and Cory Reid, beer ambassador recognized the opportunity to blend the cycling and craft beer community. With the support of Bikesport and Sly Fox, Matty B., Topher, and Nick Shaffer led over 30 volunteers to construct the course to make dreams reality.
The best part about cyclocross is that most spectators can’t stand to not join the fun and so they race. And most racers can’t stand not to spectate and so they heckle. For the women’s race, the attendance had reached a critical mass; I could actually hear the noise of the Steps’ crowd over my own panting from the backside of the brewery. By the time the single-speed race hit, the crowd and riders were in full-tilt weird.
Selene Fit Chick Yeager picked up a fistful of dollars on the ride then lost all but one, Spiderman was eating a pickle, bikes were held overhead on run ups, the Scary Hamburger was eating a pickle, skilled or brazen riders were bunny hopping the barriers, and a tandem was spotted on-course. (Check out the gallery photos for evidence.) The entire scene seemed to dissolve into a party on the Steps with pickles. As the winter sunlight faded, smiles stayed bright. Matty B. admits, I can’t even remember how many [people] came up to me during the race, gave me a hug or a pound, and thanked us for putting on this event. With all the smiles I saw yesterday I think we achieved [the] main goal creating an event for all.