19 August 2016

How Did They Stay On Track?

I have ridden on two velodromes in my life:  Kissena and "T-town".  The first time I rode Kissena, which is just a few kilometers from where I live, it more closely resembled some trails I rode in Vermont than any other track.  Another rider, who was a bit of a tinkerer, quipped that it was inspiring him to design the world's first dual-suspension track bike.  The Lehigh Valley Velodrome--commonly called "Trexlertown" or "T-town", today known as the Valley Preferred Cycling Center--was like a mirror by comparison.

Riding on both tracks gave me butterflies in my stomach, along with an adrenaline rush.  I don't know how fast I rode (Somehow, I don't think Chris Boardman or Francois Pervis had anything to fear!) but I know I was riding faster than I ever did on a road or trail--without even trying!  and at angles I couldn't even imagine myself reclining or sitting!  It was probably as close as I ever came to defying gravity.

One thing you have to remember when you're on a velodrome--or any time you ride a fixed-gear bike:  Keep pedaling!   If you stop, you'll fall off--and, if others are riding on the 'drome, into their path. 

I have never ridden a high-wheeler ("penny farthing").  But I imagine that the same principle holds true:  After all, if the wheel is moving, so are the pedals.  I also imagine that if you suddenly stop pedaling, the resulting fall could be even nastier than the tumble from a modern track bike.

Perhaps one day I will ride a high-wheeler.  But I simply cannot imagine riding it on the track.  I wonder how these guys did it:


  1. i loved riding track, although as a racer i stunk. It was said that track is racing for working stiffs with limited training time- short races that don't overtax one's body. i rode the tracks at Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook,IL and Kenosha's Washington Park. Northbrook's track is long (1/4 mile)and not too steeply banked, Kenosha's is shorter and steeper. i particularly loved Kenosha for its enthusiastic fans on the hillside cheering on their hometown clubs. In the 80's a series of races were held at the Milwaukee area's Brown Deer track- more like a dinner plate than a bowl- it had a 86" gear restriction IIRC as there was essentially no banking! It was not unknown that in the last lap, many riders actually rode off over the last turn and around through the park to reenter the track to finish! i don't know if Brown Deer track still exists. i had heard that Kissena was basically unridable for years- i hope that has been remedied.

  2. Sadly very few road engineers understand how wheeled vehicles go round corners, I know because I asked the chief road engineer just before he retired after fifty years building roads and he did not have a clue!

    On any banked curve there will be a speed at which you can take your hands off the bars and sail round. I encounter many roads where the strong camber goes the wrong way and it is like effectively going round faster than you actually are as the tyres have to grip much harder, on two wheels this is much more dangerous as your lean angle is greater than it need be.

    Now I know that you want to work it out so here goes

    Example problems
    1. Calculate the maximum speed at which a bike can travel on a frictionless banked track of radius 75 m if the angle of banking with the horizontal is 25degrees. (g = 9.8 ms-2)
    Using: tanq= v2/rg v2 = rgtanθ = 75x9.8xtan25 = 343
    Giving maximum speed (v) = 18.5 ms-1.

    2. Calculate the angle of banking needed on a test track of radius 200m if the bike is to travel round at 120 mph (54.54 ms-1) without coming off the track. (g = 9.8 ms-2)
    Using: tanθ= v2/rg tanθ = 54.542/[200x9.8] = 1.518
    Therefore: Angle of banking (q) = 56.6o

    That last example must be a pedal assist bike!

  3. Mike--Kissena is in much better shape than it was when I first rode it. I like your observations about track racing. Many of us did indeed go to the track after work or school or whatever other obligations we had, and got as good a workout as we could in the little time we had.

    Coline--You and I have lamented the fact that most people who build roads never get anywhere near a bicycle. No doubt things would be better if they did. Can you imagine, though, what roads would be like if their builders rode on a velodrome?