As a amateur adult athlete I have tried a number of events over the years including short and long distance triathlons, road running races, ultramarathon trail races, and even obstacle races. Still, one style of racing that always looked amazing was track cycling.
Track cycling is an olympic sport but otherwise is not super popular in the US. In large part that is because there are less than 2 dozen tracks in the US. Thankfully though, one of those Velodromes is near me in Southern California and is surprisingly easy to get access to!
Videos From The Velo Sports Velodrome
Here are two short videos showing more of the track and riding. While it may not look fast in the video, or steep, I can guarantee when you walk in it feels steeper. And when pedaling around the corners it feels way faster! The whole session was loads of fun, I highly recommend checking it out if you live close and have a chance.
Overview of the Sample Session in Carson
The Velo Sports Center, in Carson California, is the future site of the 2028 LA Olympics. It is also the training ground for USA Cycling. Each Velodrome is built to different length and angles, and while there are standards there is a much larger variety than when compared to a pure running track. The Velo Sports Center track is all indoors and measures the World Championship or Olympic standard, which makes it a standardized 250 meter oval.
But, how steep are the sides of a Velodrome? This varies with the site, but the standard for Olympics and World Championships is a 45 degree angle. Pictures do not do the angles justice, and even with the knowledge that it was 45 degrees, my first thought upon walking into the track was “Whoa, that is steep!”
Trying Out The Carson California Velodrome As A First Time Rider
To encourage new riders to get involved, the Carson Velodrome makes it easy to get on the track. I was shocked when I reached out and was offered a one hour sample session at just $25. Not only that, the track has their own fleet of bikes that you can use and they waived the fee for the sample. They also have toe cages but I opted to bring my own pedals and shoes.
After checking in I walked the track area to get some pictures, then changed into some cycling gear and went with Marco (who was managing the track that day) to screw on my pedals. We waited for the member riders to finish their session than opened the gate, walked across the track, and got started.
What Is It Like To Ride an Indoor Cycling Track?
Marco first had me clip in and do a neutral lap on the apron. The apron is the flat interior blue part of the track, this let me get used to the fixie style bike and let him ensure I could stop in the designated area when I finished a lap.
After validating I wasn’t going to fall instantly on a bike, Marco gave me direction to do a lap and move up the track on the straight away but return to the lower line (the sprinters line) to trial my first curve.
Admittedly the first time hitting the curve felt a bit odd. I was expecting to have to lean and turn the bike, but the angle of the track already suggests the direction so there is very minimal steering to just maintain a line around the curve. Slowly I worked my way around a few laps, working higher and higher up the bank.
On full sprinted laps, on the lower side of the track, the force of being pushed into the turn was noticeable. It felt somewhat like a roller coaster, but a steel one that is very steady.
I was able to get a few timed laps in, just to set a baseline and understand when I see races how impressive their speed is. As an individual the only option was a time trial, since I could not get the benefit of a team draft.
On a flying start (rolling over the start line after already getting up to speed) I was able to knock out a 1km effort in right around 80 seconds, which is about 27-28MPH. To put that in context, the track record is 61 seconds or around 36 MPH.
How Much Does Riding On A Velodrome Cost?
Each Velodrome will cost a different amount, but in the US the ones that I have found all work hard to make riding accessible. The popularity of track cycling is lower in the US compared to Europe, and these sites recognize that the only way they will stay in business is to maintain the sport in some form. This is difficult when the cost of cycling is so high.
If you want to get on a Velodrome, look to see if there is one nearby and reach out. A handful of the tracks have the same setup of the Carson track, with a small fleet of track bikes you can ride so you do not have to supply your own.
All told my day at the track cost $25, and resulted in a private hour on the track. The track was open for members in the hour before I rode, and the hour after I rode the USA Cycling team had the facility.
Regular riding will run you a bit more. Each track requires some sort of certification before riding in a larger group, for obvious safety reasons. The idea of an untrained rider zipping between a rider going 30 MPH on a fixed gear bike will not result in good news. Still, if you are into cycling there is a good chance you are used to the expense of maintaining gear, and access to the track is relatively accessible given the other costs.
Can I Ride On A Velodrome or Indoor Bike Track?
While the sport of track riding is still not popular, it still has it’s moments. In part this is because track cycling is still an Olympic medal sport. This means that every four years a host of new fans are drawn in, even if temporarily, thanks to the marketing and scale of Olympics coverage.
With the appearance and mention of an Olympic velodrome on major networks and in social media comes interest overall into track cycling. Many viewers, who also own a bike or are casual cyclists, will wonder what the feeling is like of riding on the steep banked turns of a velodrome. Luckily, many tracks will welcome newcomers, the biggest issue is finding a Velodrome that is near where you live.
In the US, USA Cycling maintains a list of Velodromes around the country. As of 2023 there were only 21 total Velodromes listed, including both indoor and outdoor facilities.
The biggest thing to know about track cycling equipment is safety. Track bikes themselves are not like road bikes, and knowing how to handle them is critical. The main and obvious feature to highlight is that track bikes are fixed gear. This means that there is no free wheeling when riding on the track, if your wheels are spinning than your pedals are moving to.
At Velo Sports they had a series of bikes in various sizes that could be used for samples and light training. The gear ratio on them was manageable as a novice cyclists, but if you look at some of the bikes of top sprinters you will see a massive front chain ring. This is simply due to physics and driven by personal preference of pedaling cadence.
Since your feet MUST be moving when your wheels are it is possible to do some math and understand what cadence you will be riding at across various speeds.
Fleet bikes at the Carson track were simple, with a basic drop bar handle and single gear. Even still, a quick internet search suggests that the Look bikes are around $1800 so having rental or fleet access is great. If you do have a bike there is an option for onsite storage in bike lockers, but on my visit Marco noted that the waitlist to get a locker was upwards of 2 years!
You can put aero bars on a track bike, or otherwise change the cockpit, which happens often for the longer time trial. Riding a one hour race, trying to log maximum distance in 60 minutes, is going to require a much different setup than a sprinter wants when trying to be the first across the line on a given lap!