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Getting Started

By DH, 02/17/15, 12:00PM MST


Getting Started

If you feel the need, the NEED for SPEED, track racing is for you! Velodrome racing is among the most exciting bicycle racing around, for both riders and spectators. Riders speed in excess of 30 mph in points races, stand still ("track stand") during one-on-one match sprints, and throw each other around in Madisons! Track racing can be very physical, with riders going shoulder to shoulder in full sprints to the finish! This makes for exciting and spectator-friendly racing, because everyone can see all of the action.

And, by the way, there are NO BRAKES!

Here are some thoughts, facts, and quotes about track racing:The turns are banked on velodromes, allowing for greater control and speed by the riders. Shorter tracks typically have steeper banking. Although it would seem that it would be impossible for anyone to ride on such steep banking, the centrifugal force of the rider going through the turn at speed "sticks" her wheels to the track in the turn. Just as in a roller coaster, the g-forces are noticable to riders, and are part of the rush of track racing!

Track bikes use a fixed gear, a single cog driven by the chain that is driven by the cranks and the chainring. There is no freewheel (as on a regular bike) to allow coasting. You turn the crank, the chain turns the wheel. You will quickly learn not to stop pedaling! The cogs can be removed and changed, depending upon racing conditions and situations.

Everyone is always pedaling. Riders slow down by slowing the pedaling motion, making them "heavier". Because none of the bikes have brakes, everyone slows down about the same by slowing down their pedaling.

Track bikes also differ from their road counterparts in some other ways. Track frames have slightly steeper angles, and the bottom bracket is a bit higher to prevent the pedals from striking the banked track. The handlebars are lower, and narrower. This makes a bike that is designed for responsiveness. There are also special track bikes for pursuit and kilo events - these often have a longer wheel base than general track bikes in order to get the rider into a more aerodynamic position. Although you see clipless pedals used in mass-start events, shoe straps are often used by the stronger sprinters and standing-start riders to prevent the tremendous forces generated by the rider from pulling their shoes out of the pedals!

Track tires are usually tubulars ("sew-ups") for their light weight and responsiveness. Wheels are held in with nuts and not quick releases, which are not allowed in mass-start track events.

You will probably see more aero wheels on the track than in road events, especially in the time-trial events. Aerodynamics plays a significant role in track racing. Front and back disks are not uncommon. Most mass-start track bikes don't use aero wheels, however.

Getting involved in velodrome racing can take many different forms, from actual racing (ages 10-60+) to volunteering to officiating -- and a whole lot more. Some activities are attached to glory and some completely unknown, but whatever level of involvement you want, it's available.

Track enthusiasts have a difficult time understanding why track is not as popular in the media as road racing. It had to be an oversight. Spectating is much more exciting at a velodrome, and the variety of races in a competition can keep things very exciting!

There's something unique and special about track racing and its enthusiasts which is not the same in other kinds of bicycle racing. Track racers are the elite, the fine artists of the sport. Specialization, simplicity and the confined space demand a fine-tuned excellence from each athlete.

Velodrome racing is like wine - there are a million subtleties in each event that can't be appreciated at first. Understanding deepens with time, each season a higher plateau.

It helps to have a knowledgeable person fill in some of the details at first. The inside tidbits are only accessible through those who have been around for a while.

The track is an excellent training ground for bicycle riders. Training on the velodrome complements road racing because it gives a different structure to workouts, especially concentration on technical skills. There are dangers on the road which are not found on the track. Aside from accidents and road hazards, some people just don't seem to want to share the road with others. Track racing is also very complementary to other sport disciplines such as speedskating.

To many cyclists, track racing is still considered the purest form of cycling and has certainly been around for as long as road cycling. With the steep banked walls of the modern velodrome offering excellent close-ups of the action, it is a fantastic spectator sport and particularly popular in Europe and Australia, with a recent resurgence in the UK.

The Six Day racing program conducted throughout the European winter is given prominence, as this is the epitome of professional track racing in Europe, but remains a mystery to many cyclists in English-speaking countries, even though it was once a major spectator sport in the USA, Britain and Australia.