With less than three weeks til Wolfpack Hustle’s second installment of the 2013 Unified Title Race Series: The CVC CTR CRIT, the pressure is on. Add Champion Red Bull Athlete Austin Horse, into the mix, and things get uncomfortable for series favorites like decorated 2 time Dog Tag holder Craig Streit!
I chatted with Austin as he was passing through Los Angeles to launch a new company called Spinlister,a peer to peer bike rental company going bi-coastal. Austin tells me Spinlister, of which he is one of three partners, is “a departure for me as I’m parlaying my bike world knowledge, expertise and connections into a tech job.”
Born in Orange County, California, raised in Houston, Texas, Austin moved to New York City to be closer to his extended family. He’s been working as a bike messenger for the last eight years and also works with a group in NY called, Time’s Up (an environmental direct action group). They operate two bike co-ops in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Austin began racing In January 2005, the year NYC hosted the 13th Annual Cycle Messenger World Championships: “For much of the spring, there was a lot of energy being put into that. It was difficult to be riding your bike around the city and not be exposed to others preparing for the event. At this time, Time’s Up headquarters was in the same building that the World Championships headquarters was based out of so I really couldn’t avoid it. And that was when I did my first Alley Cat, getting really lost, and then later that year, I began to win a few.”
“I felt racing was something I excelled at and thought, now I’m going to apply myself to this and it’s been wonderful,” he says with a smile, humbly adding, “I’ve won a lot of races.”
Austin’s resume is a laundry list of alley cat races and tours spanning the United States and the World: Japan, China, most of Europe, Mexico, Canada. He was the stunt double for Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the 2012 movie, Premium Rush, he beat a Mercedes-Benz from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Brooklyn and prefers traveling with his Brooklyn Machine Works’ track bike.
Austin tells me that 2008 was the first year he visited LA… with a bike. Racing the Blade Runner Alley Cat and the Velo City Tour at the Encino Velodrome, enjoying LA Bike Culture’s hospitality and FUN with a kickass place to crash and a day of play at the Bike Film Festival’s after party outside Orange 20. He also participated in the Burrito Project and rode the weekly Monday night Wolfpack Hustle bike ride.
Austin Horse on Wolfpack Hustle:
“I really liked that in 2008 there were different types of people riding the Hustle ride. There were roadies, fixes, t-shirts, spandex – it was a big mix. And it was nice that everyone would regroup. I liked the vibe. It was an exploration of LA. You’re going really fast, you’re covering a lot of ground, you’re seeing parts of the city that you would think aren’t really worth going to visit because to drive there is a drag. The distance is kind of daunting and you’re thinking, “Oh my god, fifty miles!” But really when you’re going fast on a road bike, fifty miles is nothing. If to ride is your agenda, then to cover this ground is part of the experience. Every time I come back to the east side of LA I try to make the ride.”
Cycling in NYC vs. LA:
“The seasonality is definitely more pronounced in New York because Los Angeles enjoys year round ridable weather. To the LA person you can hop on a bike in February and probably be okay. Whereas in NY to be that person who gets on a bike in February, you have to plan it, you have to be prepared and you have to be committed. I do feel that a broader pool embrace the Bike Scene in LA closely. Whereas in NY the pool of people who embrace it is limited by the hardship of it. In NY, You are always going to have your seasonal riders, “Woohoo! It’s awesome!” But their bike sits in their closet for four months. In LA, that same type of person would be more likely to not leave their bike in the closet for four months and to make it more of year long part of their identity.
“The other difference is that a lot of the streets you’ll be riding on in LA there’s a greater disparity between the cyclists speed and the car’s speed. That’s where I don’t like riding, when I’m going twenty and a car’s speeding fifty. That’s alarming, right? And if it’s close to you then it’s really brutal. When I’m riding in NY and I’m going twenty-five and the cars are going twenty or thirty and I’m passing them, it’s more typical in NY that I’ll be passing cars that are just poking along or stuck. And so, actually, it’s safer because the driver’s are reacting to you instead of in LA where you’re reacting to them. So, that’s probably the most challenging thing to LA and unnerving to all cyclists, cars are going to be passing you much faster.”
Biking in Los Angeles:
“At one point, on the Blade Runner Alley cat in 2008, we had to go to a bikini bar. So, I run in wearing my helmet looking for the person that’s going to sign my manifest, but to no avail. And then, some young lady in a bikini comes up to me saying, “Oh! You guys are bike riders! I love riding bikes!” It was the first time that an attractive woman had ever talked to me because I was wearing a bike helmet,” Austin laughs, “Actually, maybe, it still hasn’t happened again. But that was my wake up about how cool LA is.”
On Bike Helmets:
“When I’m biking for practical reasons it doesn’t seem like it should be the sort of thing where you need a helmet to safeguard myself because this is just a routine part of my life and I treat it like that and I’m as careful as I would be doing other routine parts of my life. Like walking down the stairs. When I’m racing or riding recreation-ally, then it’s a different story because at that point the bike is no longer a tool, it’s a toy. And so, if I’m on a toy there’s no excuse for wrecking myself.”
Favorite type of race:
“I love a good alley cat. I love riding in traffic. I love the adventure and the discovery of it. I love the unexpected challenges that arise and having to overcome them. However, when they’re not organized well, they’re not nearly as much fun as a mediocre road or mountain bike race. There is sort of a standard that those are always going to be at, that is to be expected, but the fun of an alley cat can exceed those because there is no format for an alley cat. A good organizer can really shine and when that happens it’s awesome. But I like feeling my tires slip around so, dirt stuff is cool.”
On Going Pro and being coached:
“No. I’m thirty. It’s just not an option. When I was in my teens doing mountain bike races, I was like, ‘Oh! What’s up with the pro stuff? Looks like I have to do EPO (Performance Enhancing Drugs), I don’t want to do that. In the nineties, the racing sport seemed like it was stuck in that and wasn’t going to change any time soon. Also, going pro is a huge amount of work and a commitment. God bless everybody who dedicates their life to the full amount that they need to excel on the ultimate level of the professional racing circuit cause I don’t think it’s worth it for me. That being said, I just started getting coached for the first time ever. It’s nice and fun, it’s good to have structure. I always felt weird about it before or maybe it was a trust thing, an uncertainty about the whole situation. But I’m really looking forward to working with Aram and Ramsey at Pro Cycling Coaches, they run the Predator Cycling team where I will race cross for them this fall.”
Favorite race moment:
“We were riding from Berlin to a town just over the border in Poland and it happened to be this one racer’s hometown and he was the only messenger in that town. He was really psyched that the global messenger community was going to visit his town and he wanted to celebrate by having a race offering the winner a frame. As we leave Berlin, I’m thinking that I don’t want to do this, I just want to have fun and see the countryside, because the rides between the cities are not meant to be raced, they’re just a good, solid cruise. It’s like 400 to 500 miles in five days and basically one road to get there and you’re just making ground. Behind us, there were these huge thunder clouds and they’re pushing this wind and the tale wind is amazing! And a couple of guys went for a breakaway and it’s fun to chase things, so I chase them down. And Lucas Brunelle actually went with me and we rode with them and they were in floppy shoes and fixed gears, so they peeled off, but we kept pushing it. Lucas says, “The people behind us are too strong, we’re not going to make it.” And I’m like, “I’m not even racing, I’m just enjoying this.” Apparently, we had been out of sight of everyone behind us for a long time, so Lucas Brunelle and I ending up winning it together. It was amazing! It was an 85 mile dual-solo breakaway!”
It was this race that inspired Austin to start The East Coast Messenger Stage Race, an event Austin directs; held this year from September 8th through the 14th, from D.C. to Boston: teams of four, with a suggested donation. He commits to covering the riders housing, basically, racers get a floor, maybe a couch if they’re lucky and he carries their bags from city to city, but otherwise they have to get there themselves…. on a bike.
Another favorite race moment:
“Me and about eight other people rode from Barcelona to Madrid for the European Championships and in four days we covered 800 kilometers. The route we took was really out of the way as we went across all these mountain ranges. It was probably the last long ride I’ve ever done on a brake-less fixed gear and it was just such a…. it was cool. It was groovy. It all felt pretty save but it was really different and exciting. We went through parts of Spain that looked like they were from fifty years ago, riding past castles and stop in these little towns just to fill up our water bottles in fountains. At one point, I had a paper map and what I thought would be a town to fill up in turned out to be just a crossroads. So, we’re out of water and it’s super hot and I continued to be out of water, out of water, with no options. Just when it was really bad, I stopped at the ruble of an old house with an apricot tree growing outside where the kitchen window would have been so I ate bunch of wild apricots and was okay to keep going.”
What does Austin Horse do when he’s not cycling?
“Yeah…. I don’t. I mean, I have political interests and i appreciate art and literature. I do cycling advocacy and I work for candidates that are guaranteed to lose.”
Austin is a CAT 1 Mountain Biker, CAT 2 in Cyclocross. This year he’s won Stuper Bowl and Monster Track. He did the Red Hook crit in New York City: “I did okay, I was with the main pack, I tried to take it away with three to go and had a gap for a little while, but then they caught me and I realized I wasn’t going to win the sprint after my attempt.”
What’s next for Austin Horse:
“In late July, there’s a messenger race event in Paris and then I’ll ride form Paris to Switzerland for the World Championships. From Switzerland I’ll visit friends in Germany, the Dutch Open Championships in Holland and then, the Red Hook Crit in Barcelona, Spain.” But, before he crosses the ocean, he’ll be in Los Angeles racing the Historic Wolfpack CVC CTR CRIT!
Thoughts on the upcoming Wolfpack CVC CTR CRIT:
“I hear that one has got some climbing, but I’m pretty good at power climbs. I’ll probably do that fixed. I’m looking forward to not crashing. I hope I ride well. Cause you know how you can ride and just be hanging on and thinking, ‘Oh, Fuck! This fucking hurts!” or you can be racing and making moves and being an agent of action in the race? It’s about mindset. The funnest part about racing is to be making moves in a race. Cause only one person can win, but a lot of people can make moves. That’s the fun of it. Otherwise, we could all just go on a trainer for an hour and compare oxygen levels at the end, right? So, it’s about making moves.”
As we near the end of our conversation, Austin admits, “Riding bikes is something anyone can do, but it’s also something only a few can do really well. In the words of a peer of mine, “It’s all I know.”