What is a velodrome?

A velodrome is an oval cycling track with two steeply banked curves and flatter straightaways. It can be any length, but is usually designed so a kilometre can be divided into an easy-to-calculate number of laps: 166 m (six laps), 200 m (five laps), 250 m (four laps) and so on. Tracks can be indoor or outdoor, and can be as short as 125 m and as long as 500m (or, rarely, even longer), and are made out of wood, concrete or asphalt.

Indoor tracks are typically made of wood and are 250 m or less (there are some longer indoor tracks, but they are rare).

What is a velodrome for?

A velodrome is used for track cycling. This was the first cycling discipline in the Olympic program, dating back to 1896, and has since been joined by road, mountain bike and BMX.

There are many forms of track cycling competition for every type of athlete over distances ranging from 200 m to many kilometres.

But track cycling is much more than competition: It is a way to stay fit, to have fun, to teach skills, to initiate young athletes to sport and to develop Olympic champions.

What’s so special about track cycling?

Track is the best avenue to teach cyclists how to ride, train and race because it is in a contained, controlled venue. A cyclist’s progress is easy to see and to measure, and as a result the athlete learns quickly what type of training delivers results. Every successful cycling nation has a strong track program, and in recent years countries that have heavily invested in track – such as Australia and Great Britain – have been rewarded by outstanding results outside track cycling. For instance, 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and 23-time Tour stage winner Mark Cavendish both first tasted international success as part of the British track program.

In Canada, many of the legends of the sport got their start in track cycling, including Jocelyn Lovell, Alex Stieda, Steve Bauer, Clara Hughes and, from Ottawa, Gord Fraser. Most of these cyclists raced in an era of rudimentary training and outdoor velodromes. Since then, track cycling has evolved into a winter sport, and indoor tracks are a basic requirement for international success – particularly given Canada’s climate.

Canada is about to get a world-class indoor track for the 2015 Pan American Games. This will be a huge impetus for future Canadian success and represents a great opportunity for the whole country to feed up-and-coming athletes into the national team programs. But without a velodrome Ottawa will be left behind.

How fast can you go?

Properly built tracks are designed for speeds of up to 85 km/h.

Is it safe?

Track cycling is very safe if the velodrome is built properly and the riders know their basic skills.

Kids as young as nine years old use the Forest City Velodrome in London, which has 55-degree bankings. The geometry of the track guides the cyclists through the curves and, because everyone’s moving in the same direction, if someone falls it might result in a few scrapes but it’s unlikely to cause a collision.

Of course, just as you wouldn’t throw a novice skater into an NHL scrimmage, it’s best not to have rookie riders on the track at the same time as elite racers are doing a workout, but that’s why tracks are reserved for different groups at different times.

The biggest advantages of a track is the riders are always under supervision, they don’t have to deal with traffic and help is always nearby. This is a bonus for young riders because the kids and coaches can focus on their workout without worrying about cars on the road, while the parents relax knowing their kids are safe.

Where are there other velodromes in Canada?

There are seven velodromes in Canada: Two indoor and five outdoor. None of these tracks are suitable for world cup or world championship competition. That will change with the new international-standard, indoor, wood, 250m track in Milton, Ont., due to open in the fall of 2014.

Victoria: Outdoor concrete 333m
Burnaby: Indoor wood 200m

Edmonton: Outdoor concrete 333m
Calgary: Outdoor concrete 400m

Forest City Velodrome (London): Indoor wood 138m

Bromont: Outdoor wood 250m

New Brunswick:
Dieppe: Outdoor wood 250m

Who is involved in the Ottawa Velodrome Project?

The Ottawa Velodrome Project is not-for-profit corporation with the mission to determine the feasibility of building an indoor velodrome in Ottawa and, if it’s judged feasible, to build it. This group had its first formal meeting in November 2012.

There is a large group of people from across the region involved in the project. The corporate officers are:

– Doug Corner: Organizer of the Preston Street Criterium
– Peter Tregunno: President of the Ottawa Bicycle Club
– Kris Westwood: Former national team director

The OVP board members have not yet been chosen, but will represent all sectors of the Ottawa cycling community (clubs, organizers, athletes, development coaches, recreational riders, retailers) and relevant non-cycling expertise (business, marketing, communications, construction, commercial development).

What is the Ottawa Velodrome Project doing?

To begin with, the Ottawa Velodrome Project is studying the feasibility of an indoor velodrome in Ottawa. That means we are studying the business models from other tracks – both the successful ones and the ones that have failed – as well as talking to business leaders, developers, politicians and, of course, cyclists.

From the success of the nearest indoor velodrome in London, we believe an Ottawa facility can be built and thrive. But each location is unique, and we must explore all aspects of this project before proceeding.

Once we’ve found a business model that can succeed, we will move ahead with building a track.

What do we hope to build?

Our objective is to create an indoor velodrome in the Ottawa area that will be a development facility. We expect it will prove feasible to build a track that is somewhat smaller than Milton, between 166m and 200m per lap, with seating for roughly 500 spectators.

A track of this size would be ideal for initiating cyclists to track and bringing them all the way up to the elite level. It would also be suitable for fitness riding for recreational cyclists, training sessions for clubs and competitions up to the international level. The only restriction on a smaller track is it would not be allowed to host a World Cup or World Championship.

Why now?

Since the 1976 Olympic Velodrome in Montreal was demolished in 1989, Canada has lacked a world-class indoor velodrome. In contrast, Great Britain has five; Australia has six; the United States, New Zealand, Mexico, Colombia, Poland, Lithuania and Belarus all each have at least one.

This is about to change with the opening of the Pan American Games track in Milton, Ont., in the fall of 2014. This permanent facility will host the Canadian national team programs, meaning athletes will no longer have to move outside Canada to the closest track in Los Angeles.

The Milton Velodrome will be the top of the Canadian track cycling pyramid, but the base of the pyramid needs to be as broad as possible. An Ottawa velodrome will play a key role as an incubator of talent.

Where will the track be built, and how much will it cost?

We have not yet chosen a location for the Ottawa velodrome. It could be built in an existing building like the Forest City Velodrome in London, Ont.; in an inflatable dome like the Burnaby Velodrome in B.C.; or in a dedicated building like the Milton Velodrome.

Each option has its advantages and disadvantages and, of course, a wide range of costs, from the hundreds of thousands of dollars (London) to tens of millions (Milton). We are building an initial business plan that does not rely on public sector funding; once that’s in place we will approach all three levels of government for support.

What will the Ottawa facility look like?

There are many concepts for a velodrome, but we believe it would need to accommodate a wide range of activities.

Facilities could include other sports venues, a physiotherapy studio, fitness facilities, retail outlets, restaurants and office space. The track infield itself could be used for special events such as conventions, small trade shows and banquets.

An appropriate combination of these activities would ensure the long-term viability of a velodrome.

Will anybody be able to use the Ottawa velodrome?

Anybody who can ride a bike will be able to use the Ottawa Velodrome. The backbone of any successful track is its recreational fitness programs, and Ottawa will be no exception. In London, kids as young as nine years old can tackle the 55-degree banking. We expect the Ottawa track will be even easier to ride.

How much will it cost to ride the track?

Annual membership and daily costs to use the Ottawa Velodrome will be determined as part of the business plan. They will be competitive with other sports programs in the Ottawa region.

Will the Ottawa velodrome be successful?

We believe an Ottawa velodrome will be a success.

There are a huge number of cyclists in the Ottawa region, and many active cycling clubs. As we have seen in London, the main source of revenue will come from recreational riding sessions and learn-to-ride sessions. These activities will help support talent identification, development and high-performance programs.

The Ottawa Bicycle Club already has more than 100 young cyclists in its youth development program, and many of these athletes travel regularly to London to ride the track there. In fact, Rob Good, the London velodrome organizer, told us that the OBC is the single biggest club user of his track. A velodrome in Ottawa, he said, would be 10 times as successful as the London facility.

How can you help?

We cannot realize this project without support. Any offers of help will be gratefully received – whether it’s a donation, an offer of services, time, ideas or a commitment to use the track when it’s built.

If you want to contribute, please contact Doug Corner at info@bikeraceottawa.com.

Please note that we are working to set up a donation scheme that will offer charitable receipts through the Sport IS Development fund. Once this is ready, we will make a public announcement.