August 27, 2013- As cyclists, we've all heard the term 'velo' or 'velodrome' at some point, but what the heck does it mean? Velo is simply the French word for bicycle.
According to Wikipedia, the first practically used bicycle was developed by German Baron Karl von Drais, a civil servant to the Grand Duke of Baden in Germany. He patented this design in 1818, which was the first commercially successful two-wheeled, steerable, human-propelled machine, commonly called a 'velocipede'. The word 'velocipede' from the Latin for swift (velocity) and ped (foot).
Madison Square Garden in New York City was leased by P.T. Barnum in 1871 for circus and other performances and was modified to include a velodrome... an oval bicycle track with banked curves. The bank, lets the cyclists reach high speeds while helping to keep the bicycles relatively perpendicular to the riding surface and helping them to keep from 'flying' off the track. This is just like the way today's freeway ramps and tight curves are banked to help keep high speed cars in place.
In the early 1900s, bicycle racing was one of the biggest sports in the country. Races testing speed and endurance drew huge crowds, with the top riders among the sports stars of their day. The bike races at Madison Square Garden were all the rage. A velodrome circuit flourished around the country, with the best racers earning $100,000 to $150,000 a year at a time when carpenters were lucky to make $5,000. Madison Square Garden was the most important bicycle racing track in the United States.
In modern velodrome racing, the bicycles have no brakes and usually employ a single fixed rear gear, or cog, that does not freewheel. This helps maximize speed, reduces weight, and avoids sudden braking. Olympic and World Championship velodromes must measure 250 meters (820 ft) in track length and some events may be held in velodromes that measure up to 500 meters (1,640 ft). Riders traveling through the turns at racing speed can exceed 53 mph.
Today, there are about 40 or so velodromes in the United States, including one in Queens, N.Y., Asheville, NC, Portland, OR, Detroit, MI, and Kenosha, WA.
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