Can the Underground Crit survive?

As the Underground Crit nears its four-year anniversary in April, the popular Phoenix ride is facing an uncertain future.

With new development and construction vehicles crowding the course, founder Tim Fleming says he’ll shut down the weekly ride if it becomes too dangerous.Tim Fleming Underground Crit construction

“It’s heartbreaking,” Fleming said of the rapid pace of development around the 0.8 mile loop near Seventh Street and Deer Valley Road. “We have gone from no cars for three and a half years to two to five cars coming on the course while we ride,” Fleming said. “It’s still way safer compared to doing group rides in traffic, but if traffic becomes busier out there as new businesses open, it’s not worth taking the risk.”

Property owners already nixed Fleming’s plan for the fourth annual 2015 Not So Underground Crit race, and Fleming is looking for a new location. Options include a go-kart track and another course in north Phoenix.

But Fleming is particularly nostalgic about the Tuesday night ride, which has become a staple for many Valley cyclists. It has attracted up to 140 riders and featured local pros like USA National Pro Road Champion Eric Marcotte and USA National Points Leader Travis McCabe. Both are with Team Smartstop.

An avid road and mountain biker and self-professed cookie addict, Fleming is so dedicated to the “UC” he has only missed six of the weekly rides in the last four years.

The UC is broken into two rides: the B ride for recreational cyclists looking for fitness and fun and the A ride is typically for more advanced racers.

“The ‘B’ riders are the ones who really make this ride a success,” Fleming said. “ ‘A’ riders come and go as they have coaches and schedules. The ride has always survived due to those ‘B’ riders, who have become very fast over the years.”

Fleming started the UC in 2011 when he and few pals began riding the paved loop, then on vacant land. They staged a race at the site and Fleming realized the loop would make a perfect training course. The economic downturn kept the area vacant for years.

The first UC ride attracted 17 cyclists. Fleming began collecting emails of riders as attendance grew and he eventually built up a list of more than 1,000 cyclists. He now uses social media and a website,, to spread the word.

There have been Halloween UC rides with riders in costume and other special events.

For Fleming, the most memorable UC was a memorial ride in honor of rider John Lunney’s son who tragically died in a car accident.

“John has been a UC rider for a long time and we wanted to do something for him and his wife to show we cared,” Fleming recalled. “We rode neutral the entire night and we rode backwards on the course.  Cyclists stick together through thick and thin.”

While Fleming is looking for new course for the annual “Not So Underground Crit,” he has no plan B for the weekly UC ride.

Long-time riders bemoan the possible loss of the UC. They say the UC is not just a ride but a weekly social hour and a good way to deal with work-week stress.

“It’s something I look forward to every week,” said Richard Murray, who started riding the UC with Fleming four years ago. “It’s sad. I’m going to miss it.”
His wife, Cheri Murray, also has been a regular for nearly four years.
“I will definitely miss it,” she said. “It’s just a fun way to spend the night and you get exercise.”
Richard added, “I know Tim will find something.”


Michael Murphy