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Benny Joseph Becomes First Indian Red Hook Crit Racer

Photo by Stefanie Fritzen

Benny is a bike shop owner from India, who first fell in love with fixed gear riding after building up his own retro commuter back in 2014. 

After honing his skills on the bustling streets of Bangalore, Benny soon got a hunger to race. But there was only one problem - there weren't, and still aren't, any fixed gear crit races in India.

Benny first came to our attention a couple of years back after we heard how he'd started entering road crits on his fixie. He didn't care that it's not 'the done thing', or that his bike would make the race harder for him. He just wanted to race.

Last year, we caught up with the the 31-year-old as he competed in his first official fixed gear race in Germany.

And this year, the boundary breaker took things to the next level, by making the pilgrimage to Red Hook Crit (RHC) Milan - and becoming the first ever Indian national to compete in the legendary fixed gear event.

We caught up with Benny shortly after his race and asked him some questions...

Photo by Francis Cade

Hey Benny, congrats on completing the race! When and how did you get into cycling?

Thanks! So I've been cycling since 2014. I bought myself a Motobecane from the 70’s. After a few internet searches I discovered that people were turning these bikes into fixed gear builds. The minimalist look of the bike was love at first sight for me. The bike had no brakes, no lock ring, and no pedal/foot retention. It worked. I used it to commute on. 

What's it like riding in Bangalore?

The bike racing scene is small but growing. Bangalore is bustling. It has India's most active cycling base, be it your casual cyclist or your hardcore national/international level racer. People associate riding in India with a death wish. As a commuter it's got every element of the road rash playbook. I love it! When it comes to training we mostly hit the open highways and quieter village roads. Smooth tarmac accompanied by the belligerent cow or villager is normal. This is my perspective of riding in Bangalore down south. The experience changes as you move around the country, be it up north in the mountains of the Himalayas or the coasts along Goa. It is a unique and beautiful experience to ride your bike in India.

Photo by Stefanie Fritzen

Why Red Hook Crit? 

Searching the web for fixed gear videos led me to footage from the early days of Red Hook Crit Brooklyn. I didn't quite understand what a crit was all about or what bike racing was all about, except that those bikes looked super hot! Doing Red Hook Crit was not just a tick off the bucket list, it was for the experience. It's something else. I'm all about riding bikes fast. In the fixed gear world, this [RHC] is the top step. You're in top gear. FULL GAS! I had to come here.

What challenges have you faced?

Arghh.. Visa problems, financial burdens, equipment hassles and most importantly fitness. When you're self employed in a niche business where profit is a far fetched idea, convincing the visa officer that you're financially fit and not an immigration risk is a battle by itself. Thanks to my folks, friends and my sponsors the hurdles are not that high. I used to be the guy who never raised a finger when it came to sports and to motivate myself to wake up early and train was a huge task.

Photo by Stefanie Fritzen

What did you learn from riding RHC?

TRAIN, TRAIN & TRAIN! RHC ain't a bunch of kids racing across the block anymore. We're talking World Tour, Continental division, former & current track champs, retired pros/semi pros taking part and pushing the competition to a whole new level. It's getting legit. I know where I stand (way back in the class!), and I know where I want to be. Now it's matter of working towards it

What're your next goals?

I have a couple of goals that I'd hope to achieve in the next few years. Number one being to get Indian cycling the attention it deserves. We have a bunch of emerging talent. We've got fantastic locations to ride your bike. India needs to be up on the cycling map. As a business owner I'd really love to see our brand Life Behind Bars (LBB) grow. On a personal level I just want to do more racing. I'm aiming to compete for the Indian nationals next year in addition to a solid season of fixed gear racing.

Photo by Stefanie Fritzen

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?

Stay off the bong!

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