Tomorrow: 2013 Velodrome Season Opens

For us San Diegans living the good life, the end of winter doesn’t always signify a whole lot. Sure there’s less chance of rain, you might put on sunscreen more often or find more excuses to head to the beach; but the San Diego good life is pretty much good year round. Come down to Morley field in Balboa park after the beginning of April, though, and you’re in for a treat that’s distinctly seasonal.

If you’ve ever watched the Summer Olympics and seen bicyclists racing on a banked track indoors, you’ve had some exposure to the sport of velodrome racing. The track runs in a circle, banks on the corners so riders can take the turns at high speed, and all the bikes are fixed gear single speed. This takes all the action and excitement of a race and puts it all within easy view as racers fly at speeds well over 30 miles per hour around a track 333 meters in length.

San Diego boasts one of California’s four velodromes – outdoors in beautiful Balboa park. Rows of bleachers line the side of the track with the start/finish line, and on any Tuesday during the racing season there are always fans enjoying the spectacle. Tuesday nights are special at San Diego’s Velodrome. There is racing on Friday nights and sometimes important races occur on Saturdays; but Tuesday Night Racing is for the fans.

The sign of Spring in San Diego. Photo: Jinna from Thomas Bike Shop

I remember the first time I went to Tuesday night racing at the track. After drinking in the spectacle of the track all laid out under the lights, the infield full of racers preparing their bikes and doing some warm ups; we walked to a small opening in the chain link fence surrounding the bleachers and velodrome. The inside of the fence had dozens of bicycles lined up against it in all shapes colors and types. I had never seen such a diverse crowd of people all on bikes. As we sat down I noticed that the couple next to me were pouring plastic cups full from a carafe and had a little snack plate of cheese and crackers between them.

The races started and I didn’t really understand what was going on. The friend I was with explained some to me, so I started to be able to follow the strategies and excitement. A few of our neighbors on the bleachers chimed in helpfully. Then the announcer called out that whoever was first over the line on the next lap would be awarded a single can of PBR. That’s my kind of race.

There is real competition going on as well as tall boy prizes. Some notable figures in cycling feature prominently at the track races Tuesday night. Shaun Wallace has ridden for Great Britain’s Olympic cycling team and is present almost every Tuesday – usually wearing a very distinctive green Guinness cycling outfit (kit). And San Diego should take special pride in being home to Sarah Hammer (Temecula), one of the USA’s top female athletes and arguably a top female cyclist. Last season I was lucky enough to be at the track on the Tuesday before the Olympics when she decided to take a taste of her home turf velodrome before winning two silver medals. She was hard to miss on the track racing in the Stars and Stripes – I cheered as loud as I could for her.

Watching the racing is great, especially with those two in the field of competition, but the crowd of fans is great, too. I’m halfway ashamed to admit it, but I have missed entire races before because I got caught up in chatting with friends and folks. There’s a lot of good people showing up for these good times, and sometimes the races take on more of a background entertainment for some.

Woodstock Mud laying down the jams at TNR (Tuesday Night Races). Photo: Jamie Rogers

Did I mention the live music? Because, in addition to being outdoors with free entertainment in the form of races, Tuesday night racing tends to feature a band playing for the crowd. Sometimes two! I’ve seen a lone gal on a banjo singing and strumming some bluegrass; and a quartet of heavily bearded skinny guys singing Nordic death metal. There’s an tamale stand and recycling bins (please help keep our Velodrome awesome!). There’s a lot going into making racing at the velodrome such an excellent spectator experience. Racers, organizers, volunteers, donations, etc. Please come down and enjoy the show – its a rare and wonderful seasonal treat here in San Diego!

The schedule for tomorrow night has been posted at the San Diego Velodrome website. Hope to see you there!

This was written by Chris O’Brien who says that “the coolest bicycle is the one that’s ridden”