New Haven Connecticut has been throwing this annual alleycat, Grand Theft Velo. Besides having awesome artwork for their flyers…they seem to put on a pretty damn good show.
I spoke with Matt Uva to get an idea of what the scene is like and what to expect for this upcoming throw down.
Name, Age, where you live?
Matt Uva, 33, recently relocated to Wallingford, CT from New Haven
What bikes do you own?
1912 Iver Johnson, DeBernardi (Thron) Track, Charge Plug, Bareknuckle, A couple of old English 3 speeds, and a John Deere pedal tractor.
What is the bike scene like in New Haven, CT?
New Haven has two distinct bike “scenes”.
On one side you have Elm City Cycling, a bicycle advocacy group formed in the mid-to-late 90’s from the ashes of the GO-alition, which advocated for all types of alternative transportation. In the early days ECC did some great work. They got the city to install bike racks at all public buildings, racks installed on every city bus (a practice that is now copied throughout Connecticut), and the first bike lanes installed in New Haven. They started to hold bike-to-work breakfasts every month, and were the unofficial leaders of Critical Mass.
Over the years, some of the upper echelon of ECC seem to have gone off the deep end, though. They regularly criticise the police department, inviting occasional “crackdowns” on bicycle related infractions — sidewalks, wrong way, stop signs, even right turn on red. They seem to have lost touch with their original base, in favor of becoming a group of, dare I say, “yuppie activists”. (That first bike lane was in a predominately white, middle- to upper-middle- class neighborhood) Our Critical Mass is escorted by police officers who “cork” intersections. The mayor and former police chief have ridden CM.
ECC still does a ton of good, and have definitely helped to establish New Haven as a bicycle friendly city. Most of their members, who discuss all things bicycle via a listserv (http://www.elmcitycycling.org/), are great people with no political aspirations, who just want to ride in a safe, organized manner.
The other New Haven bike “scene” we’ll call “everyone else”. This is the countless art school kids with fixies or 3 speeds, the unaffected roadies, the urban mountain bikers. These are the people you never see at Critical Mass, never see at the alleycats, never see period. They’re out there, and they want nothing to do with ECC, the Scorchers, or anyone else. They just want to ride. I’m a bit jealous.
The Scorchers sit somewhere else — voluntary castoffs.
Has it changed over the years and has the fixed gear interest, alleycat, race culture helped influence the scene?
Things have definitely changed over the years. When I first started riding in New Haven, the bicycle was a great form of transportation. You could go anywhere, dip off the street, use a sidewalk for a while, head down the wrong way, etc. You rode your bike with a sense of self responsibility. If you were on a sidewalk, you dismounted for pedestrians; if you were in the road, you were cautious of cars. Nowadays, there are so many “rules” enacted by the advocacy types that you ride with one eye looking over your shoulder — heaven forbid you roll through a stop sign in a residential neighborhood.
This has definitely given rise to the fixed-gear scene, where everyone gets to be a badass, and the Scorchers in general. The Scorchers really became organized while ECC was undergoing a change of sorts that really took the fun out of riding. It’s funny, really, because a few years ago, a good 50% of our alleycat attendance was from ECCers, now we’re lucky if we see even one. Whereas at one time, they saw an alleycat as a great time, they now seem to frown upon them as examples of bad behavior.
What is the Fixed gear scene like?
The fixed gear scene in New Haven is strange. We have a core group of guys and girls, who are out there, hitting the races, working on the tricks, really absorbed as well as integrated in the fixed culture. Then you’ve got hundreds of people who are riding them, but don’t come out, don’t participate. It’s just like the bigger cities, where every day you see 10-15 new fixed bikes — and they’re even following the trends — riser bars, platform pedals, “colourways” — but they’re just not participating in that larger urban cycling scene.
Tell me about GTV? How did it get started? How has it grown to being one of the events to attend on the North East? How has the participation changed?
We’d been doing alleycats on a smaller scale for a while, with one large scale event, Kings of New England. When you’ve thrown a few, your brain is always searching for new themes, new checkpoints, etc. So one night, Sean Milnes and Tom O’Hara are hanging out, possibly under the influence, just rapping back and forth with ideas, and there’s this Grand Theft Auto video game sitting on the coffee table…
That first year, Tom and Sean really put something together. It’s an alleycat, just like any other, but there’s so much taken from the video game. You have to beat a series of missions, replete with tacky story lines, in order to “open” the next part of town. There’s silly side missions. The lore of the video game series really comes through.
The second year, Tom and Sean brought in Drew Nemetz to help organize. He helped take it to the next level, traveling to races along the Eastern Seaboard to attract new riders to the event. That year, the first place rider was from Baltimore.
This year, the guys asked me to help. I had done KONE and a ton of other races from scratch-race size to larger events. I’m in the corporate world by day, so they wanted my scmooze/BS skills to help increase the overall scope of the event.
Grand Theft Velo has become a “must attend” event, really because of the Scorchers as a whole. These guys and gals throw a great party, have the right connections throughout the bike world, and can get super organized when necessary. Mattio from Team WreckStuff / Tracklocross (http://www.tracklocross.blogspot.com/) put it best — “They throw some brutal alleycats and some extremely friendly parties… their races are always so well organized and I can’t believe more NYC people don’t take the 90 minute train ride up there to race more often”.
Organization of the route is key. We don’t just pick a bunch of cool spots and make you pedal your ass off to get to each one. We figure out *how* a rider would get from one to the other and design the race based on where we want people to ride and for how long. We set it up so it’s not all sprints. There are fast sections and slower, longer sections.
The first year saw about 50 riders. Last year we doubled that. This year? Who knows….
What kind of riders attend GTV?
Grand Theft Velo definitely gets the in-it-to-win-it alleycat riders from around the NorthEast, especially the ones who aren’t the normal Top 15 in NYC. We also get mountain bikers and BMXers, and even your daily commuters. Shit, just last night I was in a random Thai restaurant 20 minutes outside of New Haven and overheard a family talking about the race with their 13 year old daughter. (I don’t think she’s gonna finish)
Any surprises this year? What are the prizes?
Surpises, eh? Well, we always run GTV as a more than one manifest event. This year there’s going to be a “bonus” manifest for the top XX finishers. We did that so the 1st place rider doesn’t show up to the finish to just a couple of organizers. We want the afterparty to be in full swing when those top riders arrive, so they get a cheering section. The other big surprise? Let’s just say not everyone’s going to have the same manifests at the same time.
We’ve really gone overboard on the prizes this year. Our sponsors have been phenomenal, even in this economy. The first place rider’s gonna see a Bianchi Pista Concept, 1st Ladies a Cannondale Capo. There’s bags, including a custom GTV themed bag from Blaq, There’s a Milwaukee Bruiser for the trick competition on Saturday night. There’s a Pake somewhere in there. We’ve got enough swag to give out prizes for the top 65 finishers minimum, possibly more. Oh, and New Haven ALWAYS does something special for DFL.
Are there messengers in New Haven?
Oh, boy, there’s the big one. Nope. No messengers. There’s a couple of dudes riding food around, and a mythical law firm rider that no one has ever seen, but that’s it. New Haven is too small and flat to even need messengers. Everybody just sends an intern out to make quick deliveries, because they can grab coffee on the way back.
We actually use this to our advantage though. New Haven sits pretty much smack dab between Boston and NYC (okay, okay, and Providence) so we are usually the place that can truly pit those two cities against each other.
What’s the furthest people travel to GTV?
This year we have definites coming from San Fran, Madison, WI, Austin, TX, Milwaukee, and Baltimore. There are rumors of some kids from Montreal as well.
Who won in previous years? Who’s looking like the top contenders? Male? Female? Out-a-towners?
Last year saw Baltimore take the win, with a few choice locals rounding out the top spots. This years contenders, besides the obvious dark horses who show up from outside New Haven, I think are a few of the Scorchers — Dan Nugent (2nd LY), Rafael Cornier, Eric Jennette, Justin Bagnati. Eric and Raf just took 1st and 2nd in a pretty brutal road race so I know they’ve got the legs. As for the ladies, my money’s on “Pandalicia”. She took it last year, and pretty much takes most of ‘em around here these days. As for the out-of-towners, it’s really anyone’s game.
Any memorable stories to share about GTV’s past?
Last years Footdown event was won by SF Lily, who is basically 100 pounds soaking wet, and was up against about 20 dudes. Also from last year, chopping the top off of champagne bottles with a pedal wrench.
Who makes that awesome flyer art?
he flyers are from Todd Rogers (http://www.teaessare.com/). He’s a friend of ours, who doesn’t even ride. He’s just a great artist who takes a concept and really nails it. Each year the flyer is a bit different, but the riders in the panels are all based on locals, and the panel backgrounds are of NH spots. Look closely and you’ll see some of the earliest sponsors to sign on used on spokecards, t-shirts, etc.
art by Todd Rogers
What does it take to win a GTV?
You’ve gotta be able to read a map, even for the locals. We design this event so no one has an upper hand. Speed’s gonna count for something, but spending your energy wisely is paramount.
Whats with the Scorchers.tk website? Who started it? Who runs it? Who reads it?
The Scorchers blog was started by myself as a way to help promote our original sponsor, Ghostship (http://www.ghostshipclothing.com/) as well as get the word out for various events, etc.
Currently a larger group of the Scorchers contribute, giving us various angles and opinions.
According to Google Analytics, about 1,000 people a day read it. I’m not entirely sure who they are, but damn, thanks folks!!
Why does it say, New Haven, Madison, Boston, New York, Baltimore and Austin…are their clone sites?
We have a few smaller satellite groups of Scorchers in those cities. Some, like Austin and Madison, WI, were started by New Haven ex-pats. Baltimore and New York are comprised of friends we’ve made over the years. Boston is our newest, and is essentially the crew at OPEN (http://openbicycle.com/) and a few other choice Beantowners.
No other websites up yet, we’re working on it.
Future goals for the site? Future plans for GTV? Your future cycling goals?
Looking forward, I’d like to obviously grow the blog and possibly add separate blogs from the other cities, etc. As the Scorchers grow, so should the web presence. Besides Ghostship and Azonic (http://www.azonicusa.com/) we’re starting to see sponsorship opportunities for our individual riders in their specific “areas”. I think that’s the goal, at least for me. I’d like to see as many of my guys getting comped for what they love to do as possible, building those relationships, etc.
As for Grand Theft Velo, obviously we’d love to see that grow as well, but for now we’re thrilled for where it’s at.
Anything you wished I’d asked you?
Yep. I would’ve liked to answer all the questions as “the Scorchers”. Me? I’m nobody without the rest of the crew. Shit, I don’t even ride as much as those guys do. I’m an overweight lush in a suit and tie most of the time. Those guys are where it’s at.