Introduction to track cycling
Track cycling up to the modern day
Track cycling has become one of the most keenly followed sports in the Olympic program. With top speeds on the track in excess of 40mph (64kph) track cycling is one of the fastest sports in the Olympic Games and a great spectacle for those watching.
Racing at top level usually takes place on specially-built banked tracks or velodromes, but track races can also take place on tracks where the banking is relatively shallow, non-existent, or even on flat grass tracks.
What distinguishes track bikes from the bike that you might use to commute to work or use for that leisurely Sunday cycle ride is the fact that a proper track bike has no gears or brakes. They have a single ‘fixed gear’ and there is no freewheeling mechanism meaning that you can’t just take a breather and stop pedaling.
Track cycling can be about the individual or the team and, depending on the event, can be a test of speed, endurance and tactics. Cyclists will generally be either sprinters or endurance riders, but rarely both. A sprinter will focus on raw sprinting power over a short number of laps whereas endurance riders prepare for longer events.
Origins of track cycling
Track cycling dates back as far as the 1880s and has been part of the Olympic program since the first modern Games in Athens in 1896. It has featured in every Games apart from Stockholm in 1912. The first women’s track events were introduced in Seoul 1988.
Although the length of the track has varied over the years, all major events these days take place on a 250m (273yd) one-lap track. The majority of tracks are constructed from wood strips which can cause severe splinters should a cyclist come off and end up sliding across the steeply banked track (it’s a 42 degree slope to be exact).
There are a number of track cycling event categories including: Individual sprint, Track time trial, Individual pursuit, Team pursuit, Olympic sprint, Points race,Madison, Keirin and Omnium. Changes to the Olympic program have seen men's and women's individual pursuit and points race, and men's Madison removed. Team sprint, Team pursuit and Keirin have been added, as has Omnium (a six discipline event) which has been introduced for both men and women.
Track cycling has a particularly good following in Europe, notably in the UK, Belgium, France and Germany but also is keenly followed in Japan and Australia.