Saturday June 9 is the 25th edition of Seattle’s classic Ballard Criterium (also previously known as the “Twilight Criterium”) road bicycle race. As of the beginning of 2018 there was some question about whether it would happen. Apex Cycling Team has been managing the event for the past three years, and according to team president David McKinnie, they had established a savings reserve to accommodate future costs increases. But, a larger than anticipated change in the fee structure from the city of Seattle combined with the loss of two major sponsors put the race’s future in jeopardy.
The Ballard Crit is a ~1/2 mile lap around the streets of Old Ballard:
Although the common wisdom is that road racing is experiencing a decline, McKinnie told me that participation in the Ballard Crit has been flat at about 300 participants since Apex took over the reins.
Higher costs and lower participation have been a problem for other road races in the Pacific Northwest during the past year or more. Thus far, race organizers have attempted to address these problems by requiring competitors to pre-register, then canceling the race if not enough folks sign up. The Ballard Crit is in the unique position that it can leverage its visibility and role as a community event to get neighborhood businesses to sponsor the event.
Given the race’s high visibility and community reputation I was surprised to see Apex holding a GoFundMe campaign to raise additional capital to help ensure the race’s future.
According to McKinnie:
“Though we have been fortunate to have generous title sponsors in the past, the Ballard Criterium is at heart a community event–both for Ballard itself and for the Pacific Northwest racing community. Rather than chase title sponsors–which admittedly are hard to find these days–we have decided to focus first on our community. Business sponsors like Carter Volkswagen operate in Ballard. Many Ballard bars and restaurants are offering primes (“preems”–the cycling term for a prize) and other support. Iconic Seattle institutions like Sub Pop Records and Tom Douglas Restaurants are helping. The racing community is helping, too: Feng Images has made a very generous donation and is sponsoring the Pro 1/2 race. And now each racer in the area has a chance to contribute amounts small and large to help ensure this Pacific Northwest race institution remains strong and healthy for years to come.”
Contributors who donate at least $25 receive an 11″ x 15” commemorative poster. Contributors who donate at least $100 receive an enlarged 16″ x2 0″ fine art print of the poster created by Scott Musgrove, Apex’s racing artist.
The costs and logistics of putting on a road cycling race, especially in an urban setting, are daunting. There are road closures and traffic disruptions, and police and medical staffing is required. Not to mention push-back from neighborhood businesses who fear the road closures might negatively impact them.
Yee Feng told me about his rationale for his family’s support:
“After hearing about the deficit Apex was facing from losing a longtime sponsor, our family wanted to help, but we also wanted to help in a way that would encourage the cycling community and community at large to help as well. There are so many benefits to cycling and so many reasons to start riding. The cycling community is so kind, strong, diverse, interesting, and encouraging, and being part of the community is by far the greatest benefit of all. We had a little extra savings from our photography business, so we felt that offering to match any contribution made up to a certain dollar amount would encourage others to follow suit. Given how successful the campaign has been in just a few days, the community has really come through just as we knew it would and it’s such an uplifting thing to see. I’ve been racing since 2014 and have always been impressed by how the Ballard Crit is a celebration of both cycling and the Seattle community. I feel that it is awesome for all of us to band together and support the race and further promote the sense of community. Giving to something other than yourself helps lower the walls between us a little bit, and brightens our smiles. We could all use more of that!”
To further promote that sense of community, Rapha Seattle is hosting a Ballard Criterium Kick-Off Party on Friday, June 8, 6-8 PM. Rapha will be serving beer, complimentary tacos, and provide music to get everyone in the right mindset for racing.
Here is a “classic” perspective on the Ballard Crit written by a non-athlete after witnessing the 2009 edition: $256, a Couple of Bus Passes, and a Miller High Life
The 2017 edition of the men’s category 3 race had two interesting backstories.
How To Spectate the Ballard Crit
A criterium is a kind of race that goes around and around a short circuit, usually less than a mile. Amateur bike races are organized based on skill and athleticism, with racers assigned to categories depending on previous results: category 5 is at the slower end of the spectrum, and category 1 is the fastest.
The Ballard Crit is a fast, technical course. After racers accelerate out of turn two onto Shilshole Ave. speeds can exceed 40 mph. To avoid crashing turns one and three, in particular, require concentration, skillful bike handling, and a bit of luck.
Parking in Ballard is always a hassle. Add 300 bike racers and 1,500 spectators and it’s just not worth driving in the age of dockless bike rentals and car shares. Last year we rode bike share bikes to the event (which meant we didn’t have to worry about locking our own bikes), and found a car share within easy walking distance for the return trip back home.
The racing starts at 1:30 PM with Juniors aged 10-14. The races get faster and more skillful as the afternoon progresses. The fastest men’s race starts at 7:30 and lasts 70 minutes.
If you are new to bike racing, hang out across from the announcer’s stage/start-finish line. The announcers do a great job of doing play-by-play, explaining the rules of the game, and adding anecdotes about specific competitors.
I typically circumambulate the course against the flow (counter-clockwise) with my camera in hand. Strolling around the course you’ll see team encampments where racers warm up on trainers. Fans and friends cheer and heckle along the main straightaway on Ballard Ave. Drunk bar regulars stagger out of their favorite haunts surprised to see a bike race underway…
Turns one, three, and four are typically the most crowded with fans, and not coincidentally the most likely for crashes.
There are tons of great places to eat and drink along Ballard Ave.