Events: The Bucks County Classic – September 11, 2016
(2016) The recent cycling scene in these parts of the United States has been remarkable. To the north this area saw the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at Windham Mountain Resort in Windham, NY. To the south the East Coast hosted the UCI Road World Championship in Richmond, VA. In nearby Philadelphia is the yearly Philly Bike Race that goes up the infamous Manyunk Wall. To top it all off the Bucks County Classic is set to take place for the thirteenth year this September 11 in Doylestown, PA. Luckily there is no lack of excitement for cyclists on the East Coast.
This has always been an exciting event for Bucks County. The town brings in an Arts Festival, shops report a healthy bump in sales, and naturally the bike race exposes the community to the enjoyments of cycling. I’ve hosted professional riders for the weekend when the original Classic was a road race/ criterium combination. The hosting was my favorite part. Getting to know some of the guys from Gateway Harley-Davidson/ Trek a couple of years ago was highly rewarding. I was even lucky to show one of the riders some of our roads in a pre-race ride.
While this year’s format is focused solely on the criterium, its standing as part of the revamped USA Cycling Pro Road Tour (and the UCI label that comes along with it) brings some notable competitors to the starting line. Last year twenty-seven nationalities raced. The ever-tireless Chris Horner smiled for the entire race as he led the most laps while animating things. Eric Marcotte, the 2015 American Criterium champion, sprinted his way uphill to victory. These are noteworthy competitors.
I’ve often told people not from around here that the course is the perfect length for a particular approach. Naturally the first order of business is to stand at the start/ finish line on Court Street to see the roll out as well as the first few laps. In order to get a sense of the speed our out-of-town spectators should walk around the first corner and down Pine Street. Considering laps take just over five minutes, viewers will hear the whistles of marshals alerting street crossers the race is coming back around again.
Speed is on hand at this portion of the course. Pine Street goes downhill remarkably. The race zips past the eastern-most portion of Arts Fest here. The pace car often bottoms out while crossing State Street. Here, prior to the hard right-hand turn onto Oakland, is the distinct acrid smell of heated cork permeating through the air. It’s not uncommon for the racers to come through in the forty-mile-per-hour range. Oakland is slightly downhill to carry the speed into a fast ninety-degree left-hander onto Main Street that allows for even more speed. Here is where a large gathering of spectators at the southern end of Arts Fest come to watch the fast approach and the even faster exit of the riders. This is the fastest portion of the course: a slight obtuse right onto Ashland and more downhill speed (complete with speed bumps). The wind created by over 150 riders in full flight is impressive.
The uphill portion begins as the riders go right up a small incline of Washington. Being the farthest point from the finish, it is also the quietest portion of the course. Specators populate in the singles. Oakland Street is kind to the racers who are hanging in there for now, as is Clinton. This is also where many block parties take place. This is also where the neutral pits can be found, maintained by Doylestown Bike Works. The final right back onto Court is the commencement of the uphill sprint to the finish line.
I once overheard a lady ask a yanked rider why he quit the race. He responded in frustrated broken English, “The pace is too high! It's impossible to keep up!” An overlooked fact is that this racecourse provides no place for rest. Allowing a gap to open off the front tire could be the last thing a rider does that day. Criterium racing is simply a speed race of attrition. By the time our spectators return to the start/ finish line, those riders who haven’t been yanked will be gearing up for the finale. Just in time too. The course is the perfect distance to do such an approach.
The Bucks County Classic has been in operation since 2003, and since that time improvements have been made. The race has been lived streamed since 2014. There has always been a Cyclosportif morning ride for anyone looking to explore the roads surrounding Arts Fest. This metric century does a great job of capturing the area. Riding in the 'sportif also grants participants access to the VIP tent at the finish line. Need more convincing? It's stocked with food.
A new event as of last year is the opportunity for Category 2 and 3 men to race the professional course in the morning. This gives the local racers a chance to go for glory in front of friends and family. And speaking of local participation, numerous kids’ bike races occur up the finish sprint on Court Street.
One of the progressive actions taken by the organizers of the Bucks County Classic is the women’s race, introduced in 2014. Local women racers have managed to make their presence felt, especially last year’s edition. One of the great aspects about the women’s race is their race receives equal prize money payout. This has been a progressive topic in global professional cycling and the Bucks County Classic is taking the initiative to recognize equal pay for women’s racing. The women certainly earn the equal pay by getting to work quickly on the course.
The event I would like to discuss is the newest addition to the lineup. I remember watching a lost video on the Internet years ago that was filmed in Australia. It was controlled chaos. The course was a flat affair with curious runaway truck ramp-like straightaway one of the corners. In the video are serious cyclists. Their faces indicate that although the race may appear to be a laughing matter, the riders came to win. I sat back and watched sheer determination in a highwheel race. They were going for it as evidenced by the racer who took full advantage of the runaway bike lane for his self-preservation.
And Doylestown’s Bucks County Classic will bring the madness of highwheel racing to the lineup for 2016.
I’ve always wanted to report the feeling of riding a highwheel bike. Yet the memories of chaos from the aforementioned Internet video kept me from pinning a number onto my wool kit and strapping down my secondary number to my pith helmet. I would think it be worth growing out the accompanying moustache to twirl at the starting line. I’m not ruling out commandeering a Penny Farthing for a chance at glory five feet in the air in front of adoring fans and potential sponsors. I just hope they don’t use the entire criterium course; I would instead be found at the bottom of Pine Street with my camera at the ready for what may follow.
I feel quite lucky to have the numerous cycling events around the Bucks County region. The Doylestown Arts Festival is certainly an event that should be explored if one is ever looking for a perfect time to push a bike up and over our hills and down to our mighty river. Where else could a visitor get to race on a professional course, purchase some art, sit on a bar patio all day with racers whizzing by, and witness a Penny Farthing mount sprint for glory in front of a several thousand fellow visitors? When people ask me what is American cycling, I often point to this weekend and ask them to observe.
Doylestown Arts Festival takes place September 10 and 11 on Main Street and State Street. Be prepared for local street closures. The parking garage is approximately four blocks from the start/ finish line, so be prepared to walk for a fair portion of the day. The SEPTA regional rail line station is immediately off of the bike course and als approximately four blocks from Arts Fest proper. This event is free to the public, though some services require purchase.