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Friday Nights Are Biking Nights at Rochester Hills Velodrome

It's a rare gem of the city, that curvy oval track inside Bloomer Park.

The isn’t the only place to get a good riding workout.

A mass of area cyclists have taken on another challenge: the at .

Instead of mountain biking or road biking, participants use track bicycles to race around the 200-meter wooden, oval-shaped Velodrome with 44-degree sloped curves. Track bikes are single-speed bikes without cables, brakes and without the ability to coast. The bike simply moves as fast as the rider is pushing the pedals.

According to race director and Velodrome designer Dale Hughes, the Velodrome is one of only 22 nationwide, and there are only two others similar to it in the United States.

'Almost hypnotic'

The Velodrome, which was built 10 years ago, is open to both kids and adults with training opportunities for both. Training at the Velodrome takes place May through October since it is an outdoor track.

Carolyn Wells of Rochester Hills said her two boys Matthew, 11, and Douglas, 9, decided to start learning the trade two summers ago. Wells saw how much her boys enjoyed it and decided to take it up herself.  

“My boys are better athletes because they train here,” Wells said. “There are just so many people that participate here, too; it’s very exciting.”

Wells has been biking the Velodrome since last summer, but said the hardest thing for her was overcoming the visual of the oval.

“It ends up being almost hypnotic when you’re out there,” Wells said. “And it’s a smooth ride.”

Racetrack talent

Both Hughes and Wells noted that many successful track cyclers have trained at the Velodrome, including two-time World Champion Tom O’Rourke, 77, and 14-year-old Zoe Reeves, a U.S. National Champion.

“The goal of our group when we first tried to get this thing going was to help give some opportunities to young riders,” Hughes said. “We’ve had riders go on to be in the Olympics, gone on to be world champions and go to Europe to ride.”

Nick Laughton, 42, from Oakland Township has been using the track since it opened and races on a weekly basis. He grew up in England and was used to track-racing over there, where it is a big sport, so it was a natural progression for him to continue.

“It’s fun, fast racing,” Laughton said. “This is a pretty unique facility - it’s laid back and people are very friendly.”

Lansing resident Brian Crosby, 24, makes the weekly drive to the Velodrome because he grew up track racing in Minnesota. Crosby currently attends Michigan State University, so uses the Rochester Hills course as his home track now. He has been riding for the past 10 years and even tried to make a go of it professionally in Europe.

“This kind of biking is very fast; not a lot of waiting around,” Crosby said. “It’s exciting, tactical, social and fun for spectators to watch.”

Friday night (bike) lights

The highlight of the summer is the Friday night NAS-TRACK races that start in June and run through the end of July. Community members can listen to live music and watch as riders zip around the track racking up points for their team. Hughes said it might take a few trips to catch on to the scoring, but the races are enjoyable to watch nonetheless.

According to Hughes, the Friday night races, which start at 7:30 p.m., typically bring five to 10 teams out to ride, with two people making up each team. There are a variety of races that take place throughout the evening including a miss-and-out, one-mile sprint and the main event, which is known as the Madison.

For the miss-and-out a group of 10 to 15 riders starts out on the track and for every lap the last rider is taken out of the race, which continues until there is one left riding in front of the pack.

The Madison is a lengthy relay-type event where teammates are interchanged every couple of laps.

To keep things even more interesting on race nights, Hughes pairs up the racing partners.

“I try to make it the most competitive race we can make it. Sometimes the strongest rider will be paired up with the weakest rider of the elite,” Hughes said. “That way it is more fun for the riders and more fun for the fans.”

How to participate

Though Hughes is happy with the number of riders they currently have training and racing, he would like to see more people out on the tracks giving the sport a try.

Every new rider gets a free day of training and bike rental to see if they enjoy the experience. If riders decide to continue cycling at the Velodrome, there is a daily riding fee of $15 and daily rental fee of $10. Or, cyclists can choose to purchase the annual riding pass for $125.

Kids 18 and under have free track time, coaching and equipment rental at all times. Everyone is trained by volunteer coaches, including Hughes. For more information on The International Velodrome, and to view the training schedule, visit www.velodromeatbloomerpark.com

Tonight's race event begins at 7:30. Admission is free, though there is a $5 per vehicle fee to enter Bloomer Park.

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