15 Seconds To Nowhere: Goldsprints Bring Bikes To The Bar

Mar 12, 2014

Two cyclists walk into a bar. Then they get on stationary bikes and pedal like crazy.

It's a form of racing called goldsprints, and it's a social event as much as it is an athletic competition. Ingredients for a goldsprints event are simple: Two bikes, front wheels removed, set into a metal frame. The back wheels go on rollers. Add a little music and an emcee, and you've got yourself a sporting good time.

At Mad Dashes, a recent goldsprints event at ArtsRiot in Burlington, the master of ceremonies was Hunt Manley. Manley works at Budnitz Bicycles, and brought goldsprints to town a few years ago. The sport originated in Europe, and has spread to bars in most major U.S. cities.

A goldsprint is a short sprint – 250 meters. That's .15 miles. Since the riders aren't actually going anywhere, a computer program tracks their progress. A giant screen shows who's in the lead – the crowd can see it, but the riders can't.

And after 15 seconds, it's over. Waiting for your turn? Have a $3 Switchback while Matt Boulanger sets up the next race.

"These events are typically held in bars," says Boulanger, a senior planner for the Town of Williston and a three-season bike commuter. "Goldsprints racing and consumption of alcohol have gone more or less in hand in hand."

Anything to beat the winter blues, right? Note the trashcan in front of the bikes, in case you overdo it.

"Most people who are seriously training won't see it as serious training," Boulanger says. "It's more for fun and to see how fast you are against your friends and that kind of thing."

Working the mic between races, calling time and handing out prizes, Hunt Manley embodies the goldsprints spirit: high intensity ("Here we go: Five hundred meters of fury!") balanced perfectly with extreme informality ("We've got a special prize package for this first ladies' race ... I know getting up here isn't the easiest thing.").

And Manley hits the perfect tone for the crowd, which is decidedly mixed –  serious racers, hobbyists, curious first-timers and one woman who can only be described as a mom. Racing attire is consistent, though: street clothes and sneakers, or winter boots.

"This is like the most ridiculous sport I've ever seen," says Eric Newbury, who rides with the cycling team at the University of Vermont. "I've never been to this before and I walk in and people are just flailing on these bikes. It's not really what you'd do if you were racing in a road race, but it's kind of fun to do because everyone wants to do it at heart."

This is also Corey Burdick's first time.

"It was tougher than it looks," she says after a race. "I mean, they said it was only 15 seconds, but it feels a lot longer.

Burdick is a runner, not a cyclist – but she still leaves with a prize, like everyone else. Old Spokes Home water bottles, Switchback beer cozies, artisan coffee from Maglianero Café. The grand prize? A nice, warm helmet for winter riding – of the outdoor sort.