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Introduction to Track Cycling
25 Apr, 2007

Now that we have an indoor velodrome gracing New Zealand, it’s time to educate the masses about track racing and encourage people to pluck up the courage to give it a go!  This will be the first installment of two articles on an introduction to track racing, where we will cover everything from types of velodromes, types of bikes and types of races that are held on the track. 



There is a wide variety of velodromes – ranging from 200 metres with steep bankings, to 500 meters long, outdoor, flat concrete tracks.

Olympic standard velodromes need to be 250 metres long, covered and made of wood.  There is quite an art to building a wooden track (hence the cost) as they need to be hard, straight and hold their shape as they age, not to mention getting all correct degrees and angles (the standard for newly build velodromes is a 44 degree banking dropping to 15 degrees on the straights).   Like good wine, wooden tracks get better as they age and the wood hardens….so we can expect the Invercargill Track to get faster and faster!

The wood used for modern tracks is usually Baltic Pine from Finland, with a 250m track using 60kms of planks which measure 40mm x 40mm x 6m, and these are held together by about 360,000 nails.  A labour intensive process!

Temperature inside the velodrome makes a huge difference to the ‘speed’ of the track.  Most top international venues have a heating system installed to ensure the correct temperature and humidity is reached for racing, so that the potential for World Record breaking rides is the best it can be! 

The infield of the track is where the riders warm up and warm down before the start and finish of races, and also where team support staff operate from (coaches, managers, mechanics, masseurs).  Further, the race officials, timers and the press are usually present inside the track.

In New Zealand we have three ‘olympic size’ velodromes – the concrete 250m velodrome in Mosgiel, Dunedin, the wooden 250m velodrome in Wanganui and the newly built indoor wooden velodrome in Invercargill.  Most other cities and even small towns have some kind of concrete track.



Track bikes have no brakes, gears or freewheel (therefore, if the back wheel is turning, so are the pedals).  So how do you stop?  By pushing back on the moving pedals until you come to a standstill!

Tubular tyres are usually used on the track (one piece systems that are glued onto the rim) and they hold a huge amount of pressure – often over 200 psi.

The same shoe and pedal system as used on the road can be used on the track, however sprinters often use a strap system as well to ensure they can’t pull out of the pedals when they are exerting massive force through the shoe and pedal system.

Skinsuits are standard dress – skin tight and aero dynamic without impeding pedaling.  There is nothing stopping you from wearing standard cycling shorts and top though!

Standard road helmets are compulsory on the track, although there are all sorts of track specific styles available.  For individually timed events or the teams pursuit, specialist aero helmets are used to create the utmost aero-dynamic position.

Gloves are essential protection, particularly for bunch races such as the points and scratch and all the sprinting events!

Track wheels are often specific to the track, and standard road skewers are not allowed.  There is nothing stopping you putting an allen key skewer in your front road wheel, but obviously the back wheel needs a different axle to accommodate the single gear, non free-wheel set up. 

Disc wheels are often used on the track for aerodynamic reasons.  Front discs are used only indoors as a slight breeze can blow the front disc around and make it hard to control.  Three to five spoked front wheels are often used as they have most of the aero-dynamic advantages of discs without the instability problem.

Stay tuned for the next installment on the riddle of different types of track races………





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