Imagine riding a bike with no gears and no brakes on a 36 degree banked concrete track at speeds upwards of 45 miles per hour. Thrilling? That’s track cycling. A mix of speed and technique that’s equally as exciting to watch as it is to try. If you’re a cycling fan and you haven’t been to the Dick Lane Velodrome, you’re missing out on the opportunity to polish your cycling skills on the track, and to watch pro cyclists at the annual pro race series.
Track cycling has been around since the 1870s, and has been in almost every modern Olympic Games. While this is more of a European sport, the United States has 29 velodromes, and Atlanta is home to one of them. The Dick Lane Velodrome was inspired by a group of Atlanta locals who visited the Munich Olympics in 1972. In 1974, the track was constructed in East Point, and since has become both a training and racing facility. Looking to get involved in the track cycling community? Here’s how.
Take a Certification Class to Ride the Velodrome
The beginner program is a series of four classes that teaches you the fundamentals of riding the track, the rules, and the techniques of track cycling. Don’t let “beginner” title deter you; most everyone that takes this program is a cyclist. In fact, participants are asked to bring shoes and pedals to each lesson. You must complete the certification classes if you want to compete in track cycling races.
In a way, you feel giddy as a kid when you begin pedaling around the track. You’ll start riding on the apron, the flat section at the base of the track. This allows you to get a feel for your bike and assess the layout of the track. Dick Lane Velodrome is banked at 36 degrees, meaning the higher up you go, the more of an angle you’ll be riding. On most tracks, four laps equal one kilometer, but Dick Lane Velodrome is longer—five laps equal one mile.
As you move from the apron to the sprinter’s lane, try not to white-knuckle the handlebars and breathe. While the angle on the turn is a constant grade, you rise higher off the ground relative to the apron of the track, making the bank feel steeper than it actually is. This is where official track racing takes place. The trick to cycling on a velodrome’s banked track is to maintain speed and lean into the turn. Contrary to what your nervous system tells you, the faster you pedal, the less intimidating your ride will be.
The more you practice, the more familiar you become with track cycling.
“Track cycling really helps you to become a more tactical, well-rounded rider,” says Rob Evans, director of operations for the velodrome and a former pro cyclist who competes in road and track cycling. “You learn strategies that can be transitioned into road cycling.”
Watching the Pros
Track cycling is one of the more interesting cycling races to watch. Spectators can see the entire track from the stadium seating, giving a view of every tactic or attack from the racers. The pro race series draws track cyclists from around the southeast for a series of three races.
The final race in the series is August 29, the Velodrome Cup.
This “international omnium” is the best chance to see several different types of track cycling races that are popular in the Olympic games. The omnium is a series of events where riders compete for points; and since the total points from all events determines the final standings, many racers will compete in up to six of the races.
Some of the events you can expect to see are: Elimination Race: It’s survival of the fittest. Each lap, the rider who crosses the line last is eliminated.
Individual Pursuit: Two riders start on opposite sides of the track to compete for the fastest time (4k for men, 3k for women.) If one rider is lapped, they automatically lose.
Keirin: This Olympic event originated in Japan, where 6-8 riders compete in a fast-paced 2k sprint led by a moped called the Derny. Silly as the velodrome’s bright orange moped looks with a group of cyclists drafting behind, the Derny increases the speed from 30k per hour to 50k per hour. When it pulls off the track after 1,400 meters, the riders finish the last lap in an all-out sprint.
Admission to the pro race series at Dick Lane Velodrome is $5 for the general public. Additional races can be found on the calendar . Make an evening of the races; you can bring your own cooler with food and drinks, or for select races, food trucks are on-site.