After years of racing with a freewheel, Kyle Murphy is returning to his fixie roots at the Barcelona round of the Red Hook crit series
Jamis rider Kyle Murphy is flying to Barcelona, Spain this weekend for a homecoming of sorts.
No, Murphy is not from the Catalonian capital — he grew up in Portland, Oregon. But long before Murphy was a domestic pro, he was a kid who raced a fixed-gear bike in unsanctioned road events. And this weekend, Murphy is participating in the Barcelona round of fixed-gear racing’s Super Bowl, the Red Hook Criterium.
Since the finish of the Tour of Utah, Murphy has been training on his fixed-gear bike. He says the sensations have been somewhat slow to return. The bikes, which lack a freewheel, require a rider to use his legs to slow down, which puts added pressure on the muscles. And, of course, there’s the whole no-brakes thing.
“I honestly can’t imagine racing a [fixed-gear bike] without having ridden one for a while,” Murphy says. “That first day, you try to coast, and the bike just wants to buck you off.”
Murphy joined Jamis this year after a successful 2015 campaign, which saw him race with Team Lupus for the first half of the season before joining the Spanish squad Caja Rural – Seguros RGA for the USA Pro Challenge. He finished eighth place at USA Cycling’s national championships, and grabbed third in the KOM competition at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The professional results represented a huge turning point in Murphy’s history on the bike, which included more than a few nontraditional twists and turns. Domestic pro racers often trace their cycling careers back to collegiate road racing, junior mountain bike competitions, or the junior road ranks.
Not Murphy. He got into cycling after watching the stunt videos produced by San Francisco-based production company MASH SF. The videos feature urban cyclists on fixed-gear bicycles zooming through traffic, skidding down steep hills, and navigating busy streets.
“It was like holy crap I need to buy a fixie and start doing skids,” Murphy says. “I rode around Portland on a fixie with no brakes, and that was cycling to me — for a long time.”
Murphy and his older brother Kyle — who races on the Lupus team — participated in Portland’s local fixed-gear road racing scene, which included weekly road races in the city’s Mt. Tabor Park neighborhood. The races charged a $5 entry fee, and required riders to have at least a front brake. Eventually, Murphy graduated into the city’s alley cat racing scene, where he participated in unsanctioned messenger events. He dabbled in cyclocross and track racing, but that was as mainstream as Murphy went with his cycling.
By the time he was old enough to enter college, Murphy was firmly committed to cycling’s nontraditional events.
“I never watched the Tour de France,” Murphy says. “My heroes were these legendary bike messengers. I thought they were invincible.”
A move to New York City brought Murphy into road racing, and in 2011 he began racing with the Century Road Club of America, which stages races in Central Park. Murphy also participated in the weekly criterium series in Floyd Bennett Field in southern Brooklyn. The fast, flat-out criteriums were similar to the fixed-gear events, and Murphy quickly made progressed.
During the summer of 2014, he financed a trip to participate in the Cascade Classic and several other NRC events.
Murphy still dabbled in fixed-gear racing. He actually starred in several MASH SF videos alongside his brother, and raced in the Red Hook Criterium’s Brooklyn even in 2012. But the format took a backseat to his ambitions on the road.
On Saturday, Murphy will make his return to fixed gear road racing for the first time since 2012. The Barcelona race is the fourth and final round of the Red Hook Criterium’s 2016 series. Thus far, all three events, have been won by Colin Strickland of the Allez Allez Specialized team.
Like Murphy, Strickland also entered competitive cycling through alley cat races. On the Specialized squad, Strickland is paired with pro road rider Aldo Ilisec.
Murphy has endured a topsy turvy 2016 campaign. He finished 7th place in the time trial at the Tour of the Gila, but otherwise, his stage racing results have been forgettable. Murphy attributed the drop in performance to overtraining and a lack of rest. Earlier this year he endured a tough training camp in Colombia, and raced the Tour of Colombia with Jamis.
“I came back from Colombia and was cracked,” Murphy says. “I was living at altitude for two months — we’ll see how many fast-twitch fibers I have in my legs.”
Murphy does not know whether the road racing will spell success at Red Hook. After all, the fixed-gear racing format is different from pro road racing. But with his background in the sport, Murphy may be the rider to challenge Strickland for the victory.
That is, if Murphy can re-learn his skills on the fixed-gear bicycle.
“The first day back on the [fixed-gear] bike you feel invincible,” Murphy says. “The next day, you feel like crap — like you just used those muscles for the first time in forever.”