The first velodrome was built around 1870 in Brighton, England. The word velodrome derives from velocipede (Latin: fast foot), which is the term used to describe any human-powered land vehicle with one or more wheels; and drome, from the Latin dromus meaning racecourse.
There are thousands of velodromes in the world, both indoor and outdoor, located everywhere from Europe to Tahiti which vary in shape, size and materials used - inexpensive tracks are usually made out of concrete, tarmac or even cinder, while world class tracks tend to be made out of timber or synthetics; but to be considered an Olympic or World Championship velodrome the track must be 250m, consisting of two steeply banked semi-circular bends connected by two straight stretches. The banks aim to match the natural lean of the bicycle through the curve, so that the bikes stay more or less perpendicular (i.e. at 90°) to the track even when curving at speeds of 50+ mph.
Track bikes have only one gear and no brakes, adding both to the thrill and the danger of the sport. The International Cycling Union (UCI, French acronym) controls all aspects of track bike specifications. Speed is arguably the goal and attraction of track cycling but strategy plays a large part. In fact some races, such as the sprint, tend to start very slowly with bicyclists vying for the optimum position, as explained by Gold medalist Victoria Pendleton. Track racing requires superior athletic ability and strength in order to reach and maintain the speeds necessary to essentially fling oneself around the track. Team and individual track racing require different skill sets and strategies. Needless to say, all forms of the sport require intensive training.
Useful to Know About Track Racing at the Olympic Games
Also of Interest
A brief history of bicycles through World War II.
This article was originally published in July 2012, and has been updated for the
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