Broken Bell CX and the Schist Show at PAPERtrail Bike Cafe

Broken Bell Cyclocross returned to PAPERtrail Bike Cafe in Wissahickon Valley Park last fall as part of a weekend-long event, the Schist Show, powerfully signaling the strength of Philadelphia's cycling community.

Broken Bell CX and the Schist Show at PAPERtrail Bike Cafe
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Justin Durner, a Philly-based cyclist and photographer, expertly filmed and produced the video above, perfectly conveying the spirit of Broken Bell. You don't want to miss it. Give it a watch and be sure to check out more of Justin's stunning work on his site.

Knobby tires on road-style bikes appear alongside cooling air and turning leaves each autumn, marking the arrival of one of cycling's most anticipated seasons. Cyclocross is one of the wackier cycling disciplines. Riders will expect to frequently dismount and carry their bikes over obstacles while completing laps of a twisting multi-surface course with punishing climbs, muddy descents, and the occasional hand-up of a beer can. Cross is the ultimate spectator sport, too. There's constant action as the race field stretches out. During the course of a 40-60 minute race, the audience will cheer and heckle riders as they pass over and over looking more bruised and beaten with each lap.

Broken Bell Cyclocross returned for its second edition on October 28, 2023, hosted by PAPERtrail Bike Cafe alongside schist outcroppings exposed by Paper Mill Run in Historic Rittenhouse Town. The race is the main event for the shop's three-day Schist Show festival, which owner Paul Daniels describes as a "community celebration of gravel cycling, mountain biking, and outdoor adventure." Beyond the Broken Bell race, the Schist Show festival featured a Friday night film screening of Rad, Saturday morning 'Dirt Demos' and 'Out Sessions,' and a Sunday morning season finale of PAPERtrail's Gravel Espresso group ride.

'Dirt Demos' offered a chance to test out products from Rodeo Labs, Salsa, and Specialized. 'Out Sessions' included a coffee ride with Keystone Bicycle Co, a mech check with professional race mechanic Marzhel Pinto, a papermaking and printing workshop with Marisha Simons, a pub ride hosted by Yards Brewing, and a suspension tune with the pros at Keswick Cycle. Food and drinks were available all day from The Tricycle and Yards Brewing.

Schist Show is driven by an uncommon spirit of collaboration and unity that powerfully signals the strength of Philadelphia's cycling community.

Another 'Out Session,' Smiles & Miles, was hosted by Linette Messina, a professional photographer, fiber street artist, and founder of the Philadelphia Gravel Collective. She led riders into Wissahickon Valley Park where she gave tips on how to shoot the perfect bike photo before snapping portraits of each of the riders with their rigs.

The final 'Out Session' was led by Candice Votava, a multi-discipline rider who races on the Philly Bike Expo team. Before the races kicked off, Candice led a cyclocross clinic demonstrating efficient mounting and dismounting, cornering technique, and bike-handling skills. Candice's first three cross races in 2019 were on a borrowed gravel bike and she saw this clinic as a chance "to give back and create some opportunities for people to learn about racing."

Anyone with a bike was welcome to test ride the course. It started with a wide gravel straightaway along the creek punctuated by a short, steep climb to the barn housing the bike shop. Riders would ascend a six-stair set before looping behind the barn and through the woods atop the hill. A steep and turning descent led to another climb, another descent, more twists, more turns. A series of obstacles that could be bunny hopped were installed right in front of the spectators, where hilarity ensued.

Broken Bell Cyclocross is not a USAC or UCI sanctioned race - meaning a license isn't required to enter any of the various heats and the emphasis is all on just having a really fun time. No points, no politics, just pedaling.

I asked Alex Molander to share thoughts on his race and his response sums it up impeccably: "Absolute banger of an event. My first time attempting to race cross was a humbling experience to say the least - the wet grass and rogue chestnuts provided ample opportunities to eat shit. Nonetheless, I made it through - rubber side down - fueled by the electric energy of the crowd. Am I going to go sign up for the cyclocross World Cup? Probably not. But will I continue to participate in all silly Philly cycling events? Absolutely! 10/10."

Shout out to the crew that came down from Bethlehem representing Action Wheels Bike Shop and Hoff Cycles and all landed on the podium. The opportunity of weekly CX races at Fifth Street Cross in Emmaus clearly paid off. That's teammate Jakob Wellner pictured above, front flipping over an obstacle. No sweat, he still pulled off a victory in the Category 3/4/5 race.

Across the night's race fields, prizes awarded to the top finishers included beer from Yards, Wrap G shades from Goodr, and an official Schist Show poster designed locally by Brian Biggs and printed locally by Marisha Simons.

The party wrapped up with a non-competitive fun ride complete with Halloween costumes. Across the night's events, nearly 50 registered riders took the course. Cross has a huge presence in the region and there have been some wild events in Philly over the years. But Broken Bell is the only CX event happening in the city limits right now. With such a wide range of community support, an all-day lineup of awesome events, and a course curated perfectly to suit racers and spectators in one of Philly's most beautiful natural landscapes, Broken Bell and Shist Show is a must-do event.

In the meantime, follow PAPERtrail Bike Cafe and be sure to drop by the shop next time you're in the Wissahickon for your bike and caffeine needs. Gravel Espresso, a 17 mile no-drop gravel ride featuring an epic climb up Port Royal Avenue, starts up again for the season this week and will run every Wednesday from the shop at 6pm until November.

Designed by Brian Biggs for PAPERtrail Bike Cafe.