Cycle Speedway invades North Carolina

By David Boerner

What do you get when you combine flattrack motorcycle racing, oversized BMX bikes with no brakes. and a very short, oval, hard-packed dirt track? Cycle speedway.

First, do yourself a favor: go to YouTube and type in “cycle speedway.” See what I’m saying? Cycle speedway took off in post-World War II Britain when tracks were cleared from the rubble to mimic the sport of motor speedway (vaguely similar to flat track motorcycle racing) on ramshackle bikes. The sport is now managed by British Cycling. World Championships and European Championships alternate every year, according to Poole Cycle Speedway Club Manager Pete Barnes. The sport is popular in the U.K., Poland, Australia, the Netherlands, and elsewhere.

A typical race releases four racers onto a flat, 70-90 meter shale track (a typical velodrome is 250m). The racers jockey for position into the first left-hand U-turn and duke it out for just four laps. It’s an actionpacked sport that’s extremely spectatorfriendly. The bikes used resemble track bikes, but with 26” wheels with knobby tires, cruiser bars, a freewheel with a gear ratio of about 32/18, and no brakes. Despite being almost unknown here in the States, the 2011 Cycle Speedway World Championships will be held April 17th-25th in Edenton, North Carolina.

Wait. Why is the World Championship of a somewhat obscure cycle sport from Europe, that no one in America has ever heard of, happening in a small town in North Carolina? Well, it all started twenty years ago, when 2011 World Championships organizer Brian White was eight years old. According to White, he and his friends started racing bikes in a front yard, emulating the stock car racing they loved. They got older and faster, and started racing on quiet streets, setting up a schedule and a series.

When White was 13, he and his friends went to the homeowners’ association with a request to build a track. One of the board members had land he wasn’t using and offered the kids some space. They collected donations from the community to help clear the land and build a track that looked like a mini-stock car track. The kids started calling their sport “cycle speedway,” and created a website in 2001.

“We really thought we were the only Cycle Speedway out there,” White said. Shortly afterward, they were contacted by then-British National Cycle Speedway Chairman Rod Witham. Witham told White that Cycle Speedway was well-established in Britain, and that it was also based on a motor sport, and expressed interest in checking out Edenton’s track.

In 2002, three-time World Champion Dave Hemsley and fellow Brit Rob Jones flew to Edenton to check out the scene. Hemsley reported back to Pete Barnes (then Cycle Speedway Federation Chairman), who sent a group of fifteen riders to Edenton later that year.

“Our track was almost twice as long as the international standard,” White said. “We realized pretty quick that we could either get on board with the international standards and try to grow this thing, or keep doing our thing and not really get any further.” So the Edenton Cycle Speedway crew found a new location and built two tracks: one to international standards and one to their old “Edenton standards.” In 2003, Edenton sent a group of juniors to the Junior World Championship in Poland.

In 2007, they sent a contingent of Americans to the Worlds in England, and White represented Edenton in a bid for the 2011 World Championships. Edenton got Worlds, and here we are today, weeks away from the biggest cycling event you’ve never heard of.

For more info, go to Edenton Cycle Speedway’s website: uscyclespeedway.com.

Editor’s note: This article appears in Issue #10. If you haven’t already, please consider purchasing a subscription to help keep this great content rolling your way. Thanks!

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