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What is a Velodrome?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 July 2014
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In the cycling world, there are several categories of racing styles. One of the lesser known styles is track racing, a team or individual event in which competitors ride fixed-gear – or non-coasting -- bicycles with no brakes on an oval track called a velodrome. A velodrome is typically made of wood and has ramped corners to accommodate a racer’s high speed in sharp turns; they may be built as outdoor or indoor tracks.

The velodrome was especially popular in the beginning of the twentieth century as track racing had caught on at the time as a spectator sport. In recent years, track racing and consequently the velodrome have become more obscure, the most popular events being held at the Olympics. There are fewer than thirty velodromes in the United States but they are more numerous throughout Europe and other parts of the world.

A velodrome is typically constructed out of wooden strips. For outdoor tracks, construction materials may vary to counteract exposure to the elements. Concrete and synthetic velodromes have become more common in recent years, but expensive woods that can account for moisture variation in the air are also used. For indoor tracks, pine or other cheaper woods may be used to construct the velodrome since the track will not be exposed to the elements. Much like a car racing track, the velodrome features an infield in the center of the track, which is considered out of bounds during the race.

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The velodrome features banked corners to work with the inertia forces acting upon cyclists as they turn around the track. This allows the cyclists to keep their bicycles perpendicular to the track at high speeds through the turn and carry that force through the straight-aways. This also reduces the likelihood of the bicycle’s tires losing enough contact with the track to keep the bicycle vertical. The corners may be banked upwards of 27 degrees or more to account for a cyclist’s speed in turns.

It is not uncommon to see a velodrome being used for other purposes besides cycling. Human-powered vehicle (HPV) testing and racing is common, as are in-line speed skating events. The velodrome’s size will vary depending on the space in which it is built, and usually the banked turns become steeper as the track gets shorter. A typical velodrome can vary in size between 250 and 500 meters, and the banked corners can range anywhere from 25 degrees to 45 degrees.

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Discuss this Article

whiteplane
Post 4

I've never been on a velodrome but I do ride a fixed gear bike. I love the way it makes me feel connected to the bike. Your feet have to do a revolution almost as frequently as your wheels. You never space out to the experience the way you do on a coasting bike.

Occasionally I wish I had a different kind of bike but that is very rare. Riding a fixie makes me want to ride more often. Its the way bikes were made to be ridden

Ivan83
Post 3

I can remember seeing one of the worst accidents you could ever imagine on a velodrome race I caught on TV once.

There was a big pack of bicycles and they were flying around the track as fast as they could. Everyone had hit their stride. There were two guys up in front and it looked like the second guy clipped the tire of the first guy. The both went over their handle bars and the whole pack of bikes behind them proceeded to run over them and smash into each other.

Just about the entire field went down. It was a horrible tangle of bikes and men. But surprisingly no one was seriously hurt. They all kind of unwound themselves as if this was not a big deal. I guess you have to be tough to ride the velodrome.

ZsaZsa56
Post 2

I live in St. Louis and we have an outdoor velodrome in one of our city parks. It is made of concrete and its actually really fun to ride around even if you are not in a race.

The disappointing thing about it is that it is in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. For lots of good reason people stay out of that park. So that means that the velodrome rarely gets used and it is covered in graffiti. Here is one of the hidden jewels of the city and its basically just been abandoned. I hope that they can clean up that neighborhood and make that park a nice place for all of us to be.

truman12
Post 1

My dad took me to a race at a velodrome when I was probably 8 years old. The image has always stuck out in my mind. I was absolutely amazed by that velodrome.

There is something about the experience that looks so futuristic. The riders in their helmets going around that twisted track looks like something from space.

And there is so much drama during the race. I was not rooting for anyone in particular but I was shouting through the entire race because the leader changed so often.

I have only been able to go to a few velodrome races but I always keep my eye out for them. I wish this sport was more popular.

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