Velodrome Track-Bike Racing

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“My bike has no brakes and just one gear. But I’m pedaling with all I’ve got, tucked and spinning, breathing hard. Hands clenched on drop bars. Wheels humming. Thighs screaming. Knuckles literally white.”

Thus starts my story in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, where I investigate track-bike racing at the NSC Velodrome in Blaine, Minn., a 250-meter oval of weathered afzelia wood.

I’d never ridden a banked track before, but I clipped into my pedals after 15 minutes of verbal instruction, staying low on the track for the first few loops. The track was intimidating for the initial laps. When a rider passed me, he would be literally 10 to 15 feet above, body leaning a long way off-axis overhead.

But in 20 minutes I was cruising, cranking as hard as I could consistently go around. The faster I went, the easier the velodrome rode. A blast!

Here are a few images I took after trying my hand at the track. . .

The velodrome’s banks are pitched at 43 degrees, which creates long, sweeping curves impossible to complete without speed.

But velodrome competitors, called track-bike racers, employ inertia, speed and centrifugal force to stick to the off-kilter curves like little cars on a Hot Wheels track.

Interest in track-bike racing has accelerated in recent years, as stars such as Lance Armstrong draw more attention to competitive cycling and urban bike couriers and commuters popularize single-speed, fixed-gear bikes.

A good night brings 200 spectators to watch from bleachers above the track, eyes following the NASCAR-like action of a dozen or more riders in a pack, pedaling, swooping, passing, drafting wheel-to-wheel for a rest, then jockeying for position as the finish line nears.

A typical race night at the NSC Velodrome sees about 60 riders competing in multiple events, some up to 80 laps long.



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