A cycling track is called a velodrome. The United States has over 25 velodromes scattered around the country; some in pristine condition and others run-down and neglected. No matter where you go, a soccer field is a soccer field, but not all velodromes are the same. Sure, they all are oval and have some degree of banking, but the size, surface and ambiance varies drastically. Some are extremely short and compact with very steep banking; it takes mere seconds to get around them often leaving riders disoriented and dizzy during long efforts. Others are long, cigar shaped, shallow tracks with huge grassy infields; it takes closer to thirty seconds to get around them. Some velodromes are indoors, some outdoors, some wood, others concrete. Describing them sounds a bit like the start to a Dr. Seuss book.
The differences between them may seem inconsequential at first, but when cyclists prepare to compete on a new track for the first time, they have to take all of the differences into account. Races are generally a standard length; so on short tracks riders do more laps than long tracks. Riders also consider other things like the direction the wind most often blows across the track, if they can use the steepness of the banking to gain momentum and how slow they can ride on the banking of a particular track.
To demonstrate some of the differences, I'll share with you three of the many velodromes I've had the opportunity to race on during my cycling career.
Washing Bowl Velodrome, Kenosha, Wisconsin
I got my start in track racing at the Washington Bowl Velodrome in Kenosha, Wisconsin, It is a 333 meter, asphalt track with some bumps and personality. Knowing how to take the bumps is definitely a home town advantage. The steepest portion of the banking is only 22 degrees, so it is a beginner friendly track. Its racing nights are well attended and they have a great kids racing program.
My favorite thing is the big hill surrounding the velodrome that made for perfect spectator seating and my least favorite thing is all the mosquitoes.
- A couple years ago it doubled for a swimming pool when the nearby creek overflowed and flooded it. I have a news paper clipping of it more than half filled with water. So, if you go to check it out, you may want to pack your arm floaties.
National Sports Center Velodrome, Blaine, Minnesota
The first wood track I ever raced on was the 250 meter, outdoor, National Sports Center velodrome in Blaine Minnesota. It took me a while to get comfortable on its steep 43 degree banking. After riding on outdoor asphalt and concrete velodromes, riding on a wood one feels absolutely amazing. The surface is so smooth that it almost offers the same sensation as skating on ice.
My favorite thing is how fast the track is on a still day and my least favorite is the fact that the track had no apron. Generally tracks have a flat section called an apron at the bottom of the track, but that's not the case on this velodrome.
- I have a little sliver of the Blaine track in a jar in my memory box; I was sick enough to keep it when they pulled it out of my arm after I crashed there. You don't get much road rash when you crash on a wood track, but you sure do get splinters.
ADT Event Center, Carson, California
I ended my professional cycling career training and racing on the ADT Event Center Track in Carson, California. It is the only indoor, 250 meter, wood, climate-controlled velodrome in the United States. All elite World Championships and Olympic Games are now required to be held at an indoor velodrome like the ADT Center, so it was a great place to prepare.
- My favorite thing about the track is not having to contend with any wind, and my least favorite is the lack of available public track time.
- I always found it ironic that when we finally got a world class velodrome in the United States, it didn't have a bathroom built in the infield. Racers have to go outside the velodrome and use a porta-potty or go all the way through the stands to the public bathrooms. For a girl who gets really nervous before races and has to use the bathroom a lot, it was a bit of an inconvenience.
Despite all there unique nuances and personality, all the tracks have one thing in common: they host the fastest paced, most intense and spectator-friendly bike racing. I encourage you to find a velodrome near you and check it out, either as a spectator or a rider. It's a great activity for you and your child to do together.
Erin Mirabella represented the United States in track cycling at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, where she placed 4th in the points race. The 2006 recipient of the prestigious Jack Kelly Fair Play Award for sportsmanship, Erin has used her experiences as an Olympic athlete to create a series of children's books, The Barnsville Sports Squad. The newest book in the series, Shawn Sheep The Soccer Star, was released July, 2008. Erin lives with her husband Chris, their son Micah and daughter Lindsey in Colorado.