Walk into McFadden's pub on a Monday night and you'll find them, a roomful of cycling freaks mixing it up, talking about "peddling rhythm," record times, and anodized aluminum. They're here for the RI VeloSprints roller racing derby, an indoor stationary cycling competition organized by the US Open Cycling Foundation, and their nervous energy is playing havoc with the fragile barroom ecosystem of the weeknight drunk.
Here are bike messengers, enthusiasts, spinners and weekenders, some of them wearing spandex cycling jerseys and those little caps with the upturned brims, all without a hint of irony.
These people are intense and they're having intense discussions over plates of intense, pub-style appetizers like deep-fried mozzarella sticks and buffalo tenders — not the sort of thing I would eat before an all-out, 500-meter sprint, but like I said, these people are cut from tougher cloth. Some of these people dodge RIPTA trolleys for kicks, and no one's going to tell them they can't have a little pre-race snack. Or a beer. Or a Ketel One greyhound.
After all, roller racing is the casual Friday of the cycling-freak calendar, and these people love to watch a good old-fashioned meltdown. If something can be done, it should be overdone and if that means somebody passes out from overexertion, suffers a stroke or pukes his guts out, then so be it. Some of these maniacs want to see vomit so bad they can taste it. The euphemistically named "suggestion" buckets placed alongside each bike ensure that the vomiting, when it comes, is spectator-friendly.
"We put those out in case somebody, you know, needed to purge, but it hasn't happened," said Foundation Director Richard Durishin. "I can't lie, it's sort of disappointing. I already made T-shirts that say 'I Made a Suggestion.'"
Several innocent bystanders have already been roped into participating and the organizers are clearly hoping for a "suggestion" from this contingent. They're the ones "going anaerobic" in polo shirts and rolled up jeans, peddling like hell, their faces red as thermometer bulbs. These poor bastards will crash and burn before the guys in Team Cinzano jerseys break a sweat.
The night usually begins with inter-divisional match-ups, in this immediate case a "race" between two guys in street clothes. Durishin cues the race music and the riders mount up. In case you were wondering, there are no "exercise bikes" in roller racing; participants pedal real bikes on metal rollers. The rollers are hooked up to a timing device that plots the riders' progress, in real time, on a computer screen.
There is a manic, almost frenzied countdown and they're off, peddling as fast as they can for less than half a minute. In the end, "Warren C." beats "Justin H." by 4.86 seconds, which is, in this sort of competition, a decisive margin. A fine race. But the vomit buckets, to everyone's profound disappointment, remain dry this night.
Of course, booze and puke isn't all she wrote; the VeloSprints derby is a fundraiser for the US Open Cycling Foundation's Cycle-for-Health initiative. Last year, Foundation volunteers visited 21 Ocean State elementary schools, spreading the word about cycling's health benefits. This spring they hope to visit another 80 schools.
There's just one more race in the winter season, so get a move on if you're interested. You can register online at BikeReg.com, or just show up at McFadden's on March 29 at 6:30 pm. Full participation costs $25, but one-night fees are only $10.
Pregnant women, diabetics and people with chronic gastrointestinal disorders stand to win a T-shirt.