When Track Cycling was as American as Baseball
It may surprise you to learn that track cycling was once a leading American sport. In the pre-WWII era, as Babe Ruth was cracking curved balls into left field, America’s winter sport of choice wasn’t basketball. That hadn’t been invented yet. It was track racing. Velodromes, such as the one in Madison Square Gardens, were jam-packed with spectators. They came to bet on a dangerous race format know as the 6-day race. Daredevil riders rode without food, water, or sleep for six days straight. Long since sanitized by the advent of relay teams, it still lives on as a “Madison” style race throughout the world.
After World War II, the sport began to fade into a whisper. But, the cycling community is growing in recent years. American track racing may once again regain its former glory, provided we build the proper facilities. You can’t very well participate in track cycling without a track.
I think you know where I’m taking this story. Baseball. A whisper. Building a sports facility for the nostalgic ghost of an American pastime. Okay so maybe I saw “Field of Dreams” recently and I’m connecting those two dots, what of it? It’s a neat little connection so just watch the clip:
Discovering the IVBP
I can’t remember how I heard of the International Velodrome at Bloomer Park. It was the summer of ‘15 and I was whittling it away at my grandparents’ house North of Detroit. I don’t remember how I heard of it, but I remember when I decided to find it. I found Bloomer Park on a map and told my grandpa I would have to bow out early from painting the white trim on his barn. I told grandma I’d be late for supper and hopped on my bike.
It was an old Shogun chromoly bike that I had converted to a fixed gear. Stripped of shifters and brakes, it had only one gear and no coasting. It had a black much-too-large-for-me frame with its gold chain and yellow-rimmed tires. It somehow reminded me of an American Gothic aesthetic. I christened it the Annabelle Lee.
I rode South on a local bike trail and then cut through some neighborhood side streets. Double-checking the map, I found the park entrance. At the back of the parking lot, a paved path led into the woods. There was something almost mystical about my discovery of the IVBP. The foliage surroundings, the quietness of the evening, and the dark tunnel that took me under the track and into the center of the ring of boards. The tunnel looked like a storm drain pipe and I could hear the periodic rattle of riders circling on the velodrome above my head.
The Thrill of the Boards
Dale Hughes, the man behind this velodrome and several others throughout the world, pointed out that my bike was not built properly for the track. I signed a release form and paid a one-time fee and he led me over to a shipping container full of track bikes. I picked out my size and, after a quick lesson on the apron, I was cleared to ride on the track.
It was a thrilling experience. As an exclusively road cyclist, riding around in an oval for hours on end hardly seems preferable to the open and winding road. But there was something about the bank of the track, the feel of the boards beneath my tires, and a single endless black line that beckoned that I find its end. I was hooked and rode as the concave shadows of the banked sides of the track folded across further across my path. I watch the elongated grey form of a telephone post inch, lap by lap, further down the boards. I came back as often as I could. I even raced in an event for the fun of it.
Where’s the Nearest Velodrome?
Virginia has a thriving cycling community. Home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are many trails and country roads throughout the state to make for excellent bike conditions. The same year I rode on the velodrome in Bloomer Park, Richmond hosted the UCI Worlds Championship. Racing in those events was Virginia’s very own Ben King (who recently won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana). Being that I have lived in Virginia for 5 years and am currently residing in Richmond, I can attest that the bike community as strong as anywhere I’ve been.
And yet, the nearest velodromes are 300 miles North or 300 miles South of Richmond. There are none in the entire state of Virginia and none in the sprawling metropolis of Washington D.C. Richmond is a dead zone for track cycling.
How Do We Start?
This past summer, I saw a video about the Lexus Velodrome on Facebook. It had a bunch of comments from cyclists asking why Richmond didn’t have a velodrome of their own.
So, I got in contact with Dale Hughes and asked him what it would take to build a velodrome in Richmond.
This is what he said:
“Christian: Here is what I’d suggest, and it is how we got both Bloomer and the Cleveland velodrome’s funded. Get a piece of paper – write your name on it and pledge $1,000. Then get 99 others to do the same. No money is collected until land is secured and contract to build is signed… You will now be taken very seriously when you go to city, state, etc. and tell them you will give them the $100,000. Obviously, it takes much more than that to build it but now they know you have REAL COMMUNITY SUPPORT.”
The big point to note here is that the success of this project does not depend on the money. It depends on real community support. If you live in Richmond and would like to join me in building the Richmond Velodrome please fill out this form or join the Facebook group.
The purpose of gathering your information is to notify you of upcoming interest meetings where we will discuss the logistics of building the RVA Velodrome.
Thank you for your support of this project. I believe, if done wisely, this project will succeed. Native Richmonders have reminded me of the debacle that was SportsQuest. However far this project goes, I want to commit to focusing on building a velodrome in a doable, manageable, and successful way. For an idea of how important efficiency is to me, you can read a previous blog post about my commitment to doing more with less.