Chicago Velo Campus

When you take Lake Shore Drive in Chicago all the way south, the Drive ends and you follow a zigzag route to continue on US-41 through the far South Side toward the Indiana border.

About ten days ago I was near the South Chicago YMCA for a couple of interviews, and I drove by what used to be a vacant lot and saw this:

This temporary structure is a velodrome — a bicycle racing track. It is the opening gambit in the development of the Chicago Velo Campus, an ambitious vision of economic development that centers around the bicycle.

I pulled in hoping to meet the developer, but instead I met Caleb Koch (or maybe it’s Kaleb Koch), a velodrome cycling champion who was waiting for his opportunity to try out the track. Age 16, Caleb is the USA Cycling Junior Champion and is right now on his way to represent the United States at the 2011 UCI Juniors Track World Championships in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 17-21. With his father Richard he was asked to visit the temporary velodrome where Caleb would give it a test run while workers put finishing touches on the structure.Caleb Koch

At a steep fifty degrees, the angle of the curves in this 144-meter velodrome are intimidating to just about anyone who cannot reliably ride a bike over 40 miles per hour. According to Caleb, you need to ride at least 20-some mph just to remain vertical on the bike, while 40+ mph is typical racing speed. This is steeper than an Olympic-size velodrome with a 250-meter track and 45-degree curves.

There are only about 25 velodromes in the entire United States, making this track an unusual rarity anywhere, but perhaps especially on the South Side. The others nearby in the Midwest are in Northbrook, Kenosha and Indianapolis, but they are lower-angled velodromes.

In a couple of days Caleb will race on a 330-meter track in Moscow with a 48-degree banking, much closer in slope to the temporary Chicago Velo Campus velodrome. The Moscow track is almost twice as long as the Chicago velodrome, but the banks are similar.

The steeper the corners, the higher the G force experienced by the rider — making it more fun for the racer.

A century ago velodrome racing was more popular than baseball, probably because it is vastly more exciting than baseball and did not have the benefit of the organizational structure that professional baseball now has.

I wish Caleb luck and success in Moscow.

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