Chicago’s rich heritage of track racing dates back to the 1800s. Over these past 120 years, Chicago was home to one of the most decorated bicycle racers in history. Chicago also has boasted dozens of velodromes; some of which hosted world championships, Olympic tryouts, countless popular “six-day” races, and attracted crowds in the thousands.
Today, the city of Chicago is home to exactly one velodrome. And unless it can be saved, we will have none.
The survival of this velodrome, formerly known as the Chicago Velo Campus, is dependent on a grassroots effort spearheaded by the South Chicago Velodrome Association.
With Marcus Moore, owner of Yojimbo’s Garage bike shop, at the helm, the organization hopes to raise enough money to purchase the 166 meter velodrome and enter an agreement with the property developer McCaffery Interests to keep the structure at 8615 S Burley Avenue.
If successful, the Association plans to organize a crew of volunteers and launch an ambitious 10-year plan encompassing a wide variety of community-driven programs. Naturally, the centerpiece of these programs will be track racing and training. But if long-term goals are met, the array of programs could also include a “fix-to-own” bicycle repair initiative for at-risk youth, a club racing series for area high school students, and internships allowing college students and young adults to hone skills as cycling coaches and race officials. Additional space on the property could eventually be allocated for amenities like a BMX park, and the high school club racing program could one day be expanded to include other disciplines such as mountain bike racing.
Perhaps the most ambitious of these long-term project ideas is be a multimedia program enabling up-and-coming video producers, cameramen, writers, on-air talent, etc. to use the action on the track as a basis to develop skills as broadcasters and journalists, ultimately creating ESPN-style coverage of the racing. This would not only enable the program participants to enter the job market armed with top-quality portfolios, it would help make the racing more accessible to the public.
As ambitious as these long-term projects may seem, the most ambitious project of all is merely saving the track itself, a task that needs to be completed in a decidedly short-term time frame; over the next several weeks.
Moore says keeping the track from being torn down is well worth rallying the cycling public.
“It’s a playground for bicycles,” Moore, a former track racer and bicycle messenger, said. “It feels like you’re riding on a roller coaster. There’s nothing else like it.”
Having personally ridden and competed on this track, my opinion is that until you try it, it’s hard to truly understand all the fun you’re missing. The steep banked turns take some getting used to, but once you’re acclimated to it, riding in a pack at full race pace, it feels like you’re flying...or in a real-life video game.
And, in my opinion, the track’s potential appeal could be much broader than merely traditional track racing. For example, I suspect that if rules and etiquette were established, the track also could provide an incredible venue for triathletes and road cyclists to get a killer workout, hammering their way through structured intervals and training miles without needing to worry about cars, pedestrians and potholes. And as an added benefit, opening up the track to a wider range of riders would make the track more financially sustainable.
Moore said the organization needs to raise $150,000 to purchase the track, which is owned by V-Worldwide, a Michigan-based designer and builder of Olympic-caliber velodromes.
To help accomplish this, the Association has set up a gofundme.com campaign. Moore said that if the fundraising goals are not met, as a non-profit organization, the Association must (by law) donate the funds they do manage to receive to another organization with a similar mission. In other words, if the velodrome can’t be saved, Moore said donations will go toward a different (but equally-worthy) bike-related cause.
Needless to say, Moore hopes that is not the outcome.
“Chicago was world known for track racing at the turn of the century, and Chicago continues to be known as a strong cycling community,” Moore said. “But losing infrastructure that is cycling specific has a very negative impact on our future. Before this velodrome was built, Chicago hadn’t had one in almost 50 years. If Chicago doesn’t hold onto this velodrome, it may be another 30-to-40 years before we get another chance.”
Vist the South Chicago Velodrome Association's Facebook page to learn more.
Visit http://www.gofundme.com/nk8dvg to contribute to the gofundme campaign.
About the Author
Brett Ratner (firstname.lastname@example.org) began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell. His goals for 2015 are to complete the Lumberjack 100 mountain bike race as well as a 600 kilometer brevet.