At its best, cycling is a magnificent and inspiring sport that brings out the beauty of human resilience through competition. It’s also super easy to make fun of, with its far-fetched failed doping schemes and armies of spandex-clad weekend warriors descending on crits and coffee shops.
Which is where Thrillhouse Cycling (THC, yes, like that THC) steps in. Through a steady stream of Simpsons-based cycling memes, the anonymous creator (or creators?) of THC is taking on the industry, the pros and the weekend warriors from the inside. Or, at least, from behind the safe veil of anonymity afforded by the internet age (“Ooh, they have the internet on computers now“).
I caught up with Thrillhouse’s mysterious creator a year after the account’s first post to talk about Cat 3 racing purgatory, the Golden Era of the Simpsons, and which pro cyclist would make the best Simpsons character.
Canadian Cycling Magazine: Cat 3 racers tend to be the whipping boys of cycling memes. Not just Thrillhouse, they’re the butt of jokes across the internet. Why do they get singled out so often?
Thrillhouse Cycling: “I think it’s because they have to put so much work into being a Cat 3 and aspiring to be a slightly better version of themselves as a Cat 2—which is also totally meaningless and arbitrary. And once you’re a Cat 3 for more than 2 years, you’re probably never going to upgrade. So it’s this looming sense of potential purgatory and desperate self-important, where you’re stuck a Cat 3 for the rest of your life—better than the Cat 4s, sure, but just not quite as cool as your Cat 2 overlords. So, doomed to purgatory, you have to construct an identity for yourself as a Cat 3—usually through exhaustive Instagram race reports and training updates that no one will read.
You’re kind of the Troy McClure of cycling as an infinite Cat 3. You’re good, but not that good, and the older you get, the more people you’ll see rising through the ranks more successfully and quickly than you ever could. You’re not a has-been, but you never QUITE made it either.
CCM: “You’re always getting passed by junior racers…”
THC “Exactly, you can just watch yourself age because there’s a new fleet of junior racers coming out every year, and you’re reminded of the cold hard shell of the grave as time goes on.”
CCM: You’ve been Cat 3 at local races yourself. How much of what we see in Thrillhouse is you, and how much of it is what you’ve witnessed?
THC: “A bit of both. When you’re around a community of people long enough – I’ve worked in and around bike shops since I was a young human – things change but nothing really changes that much. You see the same soon-to-be-forgotten “innovations” from bike companies, and the same kind of character archetypes repeat over and over and … nothing really changes.
CCM: So everything changes, but nothing changes. Sounds a bit like the Simpsons.
THC. “A little bit, yeah, Thrillhouse only focuses on a certain span of the Simpsons, because the seasons get so bad after Season 12. So it’s this process of rethinking and recontextualizing jokes and scenes that we’ve known for twenty something years to make fun of an element of cycling that everyone’s tapped into. I’d say it’s an exercise in post-modernity or something, but that’s a pretty half-baked thought right now.
CCM: So what is the range of seasons that THC sticks to? This “Golden Era” of Simpsons?
THC: Season 1 is pretty rough. Season 3 is probably the earliest that’s worth checking out, but there are some gems in Season 2. The bulk of our content hovers in the Season 3 to 9 range. Occasionally a Season 10 or 11 bit will make it in there, and as time goes on, we’ll be scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to satiate humanity’s need for quality content at low low prices.
CCM: Is there an equivalent Golden Era of cycling? Or are you still waiting for that?
THC: Ha! Oh god. That’s a contentious question that I’m sure to be feathered and tarred for answering. I’m a sucker for the mid to late 90s thing. Climbing medallions. No helmets. Massive, hideous alien-like Rudy Project glasses as far as the eye can see. That’s probably a nostalgia thing, having grown up watching cycling coverage occasionally on the now defunct Outdoor Life Network, and starting my own riding career (hah!) at around that time.
CCM: Those line up nearly perfectly in terms of what age you would have been at the time, both in mid to late-90’s. Do you think that has anything to do with it?
THC: Hmm, yeah, I was absolutely obsessed with The Simpsons at that time, but was also getting introduced to cycling at that very time—just dicking around on mountain bikes and stuff, not racing or anything. My older siblings introduced me to cycling and we would all watch the Tour around that era. I guess that syncs up pretty well. They both occupy similarly deep, dark areas of my psyche—the tenuous foundations of the broken person that I am.
CCM: Does that apply to your fans as well? Or do they span a wider demographic?
THC: I think so—that 25-35 range. I get a lot of responses that say “Oh I say that quote at my shop all the time and these got dang Gen Zs just don’t get it!”
CCM: At the end of 2018, Thrillhouse broke through the screen into the real virtual world with the Born to Runner Up: Krusty Klassic: A pre-Festive 500 Strava challenge to ride your second longest ride of the year. What made you want to do that? Will we see more contests in the future?
THC: Well it was a way to get people engaged, and it just kind of snowballed. But it’s also amazing to see the weird things people will do when you promise them a sticker or a pair of socks or something. Some lunatic rode like 350 km almost for nothing at all (Ed. In December. And his last name was Skinner, so he was born to runner up). We haven’t done much since, but some weirdly big things are coming up for 2020, which is probably no secret at this point—ThrillTeam Racing!
CCM: Have you ever been to Springfield.
THC: I haven’t, no. Have you? I think there’s like, 25 of them.
(Ed: There’s 33 Springfields, in 25 states. Five in Wisconsin alone.)
CCM: Pop Quiz time.
Which Pro Cyclist would make the best Simpson character?
THC: Taylor Phinney as Sidewshow Bob. with the hair, he kind of looks like him. And Phinney has that mystique, he’s kind of like a millennial Sideshow Bob. Though Chris Froome could be Mr. Burns just on aesthetics alone.
CCM: What Simpsons Character would make the best pro cyclist ?
THC: There’s a discipline to Ned Flanders. He goes to bed early, he eats well, he eats his damn vegetables. He’d probably be a really boring cyclist to watch, but he’d be a quite good one—irritatingly friendly and supportive and competent. The kind of racer you want to hate, but have no real reason to. And he was in spandex that one time.
CCM: What Simpsons character is most likely to be a life-long Cat 3 racer?
THC: Probably Principal Skinner! A totally uninteresting human with a strict sense of principles that kind of get him nowhere. He’s disciplined, his mother doesn’t let him drink or drive through tunnels, and he’s full of PTSD-fuelled rage. He would also be the guy riding some super nice bike from like 2008. Because, after all—it’s the children who are wrong.
CCM: Do you have a favourite Simpsons episode?
*Audible exasperation. Much humming and hawing, and various indecipherable noises.
“… It changes all the time. The Burns’s Casino – I think it’s called “$pringfield.” I think it has my favourite Thrillhouse joke in it—but any early episodes that are heavy on Mr. Burns are hard to beat. Just the antiquated language, the voice acting, the old-timey kind of rough animation. It’s all so beautiful and still so funny, and I remember as a kid I just could not believe how funny and strange it was.
CCM: Finally, why remain anonymous – who are you afraid of reprisal from?
THC: Well, as time marches on, the guise of anonymity is fading a bit. I replaced my Strava name to just Thrillhouse Cycling, and my bike is absolutely plastered with Thrillhouse stickers and bidons. So, anyone involved—and that’s important, Thrillhouse is not a totally solo project!—gets recognized pretty quick here in… wherever it is I choose to live.
And with ThrillTeam starting up next year, we will literally have Thrillhouse kits out there in the world (and probably on the podium at some point).
We’ll have to see what happens next! Bizarrely enough, a lot is coming up in 2020, and we’re releasing new swag and stickers and bottles and other stuff all the time that people are pretty in to. Reviewing stuff through the lens of Simpsons has been a slice, too, so it’s fun to see it all grow and shift into something strange and possibly terrifying and distressing to the world. But, either way, it’s fun to make people laugh, and it’s fun to put years of wasted space in my brain devoted to Simpsons and cycling put to some kind of use.