Kids Guide to Track Cycling

Kicking off the cycling events at this year’s Commonwealth Games is the Track Cycling & Para Track, running from 29th July-1st August. With its myriad events and confusing terminology Track can be one of the most confusing cycling events. But with a little bit of knowledge it can also be one of the most exciting. 

We’ve put together an easy-to-understand guide to Track to open up a world of exciting racing. 

kids Guide to Track Cycling

There’s a confusing range of track cycling events – Madison, Keirin, Sprint, Pursuit – and we’re here to help you and your child understand the rules and what you should be looking out for as you cheer the riders on. 

Where does track cycling take place?

Track cycling takes place in a velodrome, which is a specially designed building just for cycle racing.  The track is 250 metres long and made of wooden boards and has very steep sides.   

Is the Commonwealth Games velodrome in Birmingham? 

Confusingly, the velodrome being used for the Commonwealth Games 2022 is in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which is in London!  Birmingham doesn’t have it’s own velodrome, so they are using the one that was built for the London 2012 Olympics instead.  

What bike is ridden in track cycling?

The cyclists use a fixed gear track bike with no brakes or gears.  

Track bikes are very different to the type of bike most people ride as you can’t suddenly stop pedalling and let the bike move along without your help.  If the wheels are turning so do the pedals.

If you suddenly stop pedalling a track bike then your legs will get hit by the pedals as they move round which can be very painful. 

How do you brake on a track bike?

You don’t brake on a track bike as you do on most other types of bike – they don’t even have brake levers!

To stop a track bike the rider has to pedal more slowly and apply pressure backwards onto the pedal to try and slow down.

This is why you don’t see any riders suddenly stopping (unless they crash) and they carry on riding round the track gradually slowing down once the race is over. 

Keirin (the one with the Motorbike!)

The Keirin is one of the most iconic races at the Velodrome, as it has a little motorbike which starts the riders off. 

Translating literally as “racing cycle”, the Keirin was invented in Japan, where it is hugely popular. There is even a Keirin school where young cyclists train for 15 hours a day to become the fastest bike riders.

The race begins behind a motorbike (called a Derny Bike) which starts at a speed of 30km/h and increases to 50km/h over three laps of the velodrome.

After these first three laps, the Derny Bike pulls over and the racing begins, with riders sprinting for three more laps in a race to be first over the finish line reaching speeds of 70km/h.

Speed, strength and tactics all combine in this exciting sprint event.

How long is a Keirin race?

6 laps- first 3 with a motorbike to control the speed. 

What are the rules of the Keirin?

Keirin riders must not overtake the pacemaker motorbike (Derny Bike) until it pulls off the track.  

How do you win a Keirin race?

Qualify for the finals in the heats, then first across the line wins!

Did you know…?

Keirin is one of only four sports you can legally bet on in Japan.

What to look out for:

A bike with a motor (aka the Derny Bike)

The last three laps of the race really heating up once the Derny Bike leaves the track

Kids guide to the Madison

Track Madison

What are the rules of the Madison cycle race?

The Madison is a relay event with two riders in each team.

Sixteen teams compete at once so there are thirty-two riders on the track at once and it gets very busy!

One rider in the Madison team races whilst the other slows down. The two riders can swap roles at any time by touching and can often be seen pushing or ‘hand-slinging’ the other rider forwards to get a boost.

There are sprints every ten laps where riders gain points for being first over the line and the last sprint is worth double points.

If a rider gains a lap on the rest of the riders then they are awarded 20 points, but if a rider is lapped by the main bunch of riders they lose 20 points.

How do you win the Madison?

Get the most points!

Did you know…?

The Madison is named after Madison Square Gardens in New York where the first cycle relay race took place in 1891.
Early Madison races went on for up to 6 days, sometimes 24 hours a day, with one team member riding for hours at a time whilst the other rider slept!

What to watch out for in the Madison:

Teams ‘hand-slinging’ each other forwards to get a boost.
Riders gaining a lap worth 20 points!

Omnium cycle racing

Track Omnium

What is the Omnium?

The Omnium combines 4 events on the same day and tests the skills and fitness of riders over a variety of styles of racing.

The races are:
Scratch Race – This is a race over 10km for men and 7.5 km for women – the first person over the line is the winner.
Tempo race – This is the same distance as the Scratch race but after 5 laps riders get one point each lap for crossing the line in first place. 20 points can also be gained by lapping the field. The winner is the rider with the most points.
Elimination Race – Every two laps the last rider across the line is eliminated.
Points Race – Racers carry their points from the previous races into this final event, with additional points available for sprints and lapping the field.

How do you win the Omnium?

The rider with the most points at the end of the four events is the winner!

What happens if there’s a tie in the number of points at the end of all 4 races in the Omnium?

The rider who positioned highest in the final “Points Race” is the winner.

Did you know…?

“Omnium” is a Latin word meaning “of all” and is the ultimate test of all round track cycling ability – both sprinting and endurance.

What to watch out for in the Omnium?

Riders getting eliminated.

A rider ‘lapping the field’.

Huge sprints to the finish line every lap.

Sprint cycle track racing

Track Sprint

What is the track cycling sprint?

A simple three lap race – the shortest of all the races at the velodrome.

Strangely, these races often start at a walking pace, as riders try to force each other to make a move or get away from them.

These “cat and mouse” tactics sometimes mean the riders even stop moving by doing a ‘track stand’.

Once a rider starts a sprint the race happens very quickly and riders reach speeds of up to 70km/h!

There are heats in which riders qualify for more races and eventually the final.

This is one of the most exciting track events to watch!

What are the rules of the cycling Track Sprint?

You must not roll backwards!  

The first round heats are called a “flying 200 metre time trial” – the riders ride around the track for several warm up laps and then sprint in the last 200m.

The results from this are used to “seed” the riders into the next round, with the fastest rider racing against the slowest.

From the quarter-finals the riders race 3 times against each other so need to win at least 2 of the 3 races to go through to the next round.

How do you win the cycling track sprint?

First to finish 3 laps of the track. Best of three races.

Have a go: How long can you track stand for on your bike?

What to watch out for:

A rider reaching the very top of the velodrome track.

The longest track stand of the day.

Drafting (where a rider tucks in behind another to save energy).

Team Pursuit

Team Pursuit

What is the Team Pursuit?

Two teams of four cyclists start on opposite sides of the track. Both teams start riding at the same time.

The riders in each team cycle very close to each other (in a bunch) as they cover the 4000m (4km) distance.

They take turns at the front to share the effort of pushing through the air.

When the front rider has done their turn they ride up the steep banking to slow down and then rejoin the back of the team!

How do you win the Team Pursuit?

The fastest time wins, with the clock stopping when the third rider crosses the line. Alternatively, if one team catches up with the other they win.

Extra rules: In the first round there are two teams on the track but they are racing against the clock, rather than each other. The fastest teams across all the heats go through to the next round.

What to look for in the Team Pursuit:

Riders wheels touching! or nearly touching.

Riding up to the top of the banking to slow down.

One team catching the other.

Team Sprint at the velodrome

Team Sprint

What is the Team Sprint?

Two teams line up on opposite sides of the track and start at the same time.

Each rider must lead for one lap, after which they pull off to the side and let the others continue.

The last rider then sprints for the finish on the final lap, with the fastest time being the winner.

Although only one team member crosses the finish line, the whole team plays a part in making it happen.

In a draw, the time over the last lap decides the winner.

How do you win the Team Sprint?

The fastest time wins!

What to watch out for in the Team Sprint:

Drafting (tucking behind a team member)

Riders pulling off to the side at the end of their lap

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