On what was clearly a perfect August evening, the Corner Seat ventured out to Trexlertown (affectionately known as T-Town in cycling circles) this past Friday for what was billed as Tandemonium! The Velodrome, more properly known as the Valley Preferred Cycling Center played host to a series of competitions as part of the World Series of Cycling. Tandem cyclists as well as men’s and women’s singles competed in a series of qualifiers culminating with final points standings earning the purse and/or medaling in their respective categories.
This trip to the Velodrome was a first, after many years of proclaiming I would someday get there. I am ashamed to admit that during my past tenure at the Rodale publishing company I squandered untold opportunities and countless free tickets to the Velodrome; never once venturing to the late Bob Rodale’s dream made real. It took a group of women on quad skates to lure me with their siren’s song.
What greeted me upon arrival to the Velodrome was a pristine well-run facility. Clean, fresh and buzzing with activity, we were parked amongst the arriving athletes. Bikes were unloaded from roof racks, family members in tow carrying wheels and the assorted accoutrements necessary to engage in the sport of professional cycling.
Entering the Velodrome one is greeted by a pleasant concourse bustling with music, food and informational displays. It was here the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls were stationed, front and center under a canopy, promoting their upcoming bout, meeting their fans and answering questions from the curious.
The rollergirls had more up their sleeve than just the usual public appearance. I observed that some were wearing their quads. Perhaps a skating demo on the concourse? I overheard mention of Swoop, the Philadelphia Eagles mascot and there were whispers that the girls would be involved in some on track activities featuring the visiting bird from Philly.
The Tandemonium event coincided with the opening night of an annual favorite of the Corner Seat, MusikFest. The Velodrome provided their own open air musical touch by showcasing the sounds of up and coming alt/punk band Every Friday. Every Friday is a refreshingly tight band of young musicians who exude enthusiasm and a love for performing. The passing crowd appreciated their musicianship and many gathered around to enjoy the music for a bit before heading in to their seats.
I learned that Every Friday recently completed their first CD release and initial demand was so intense, there were no copies available for sale at the Velodrome as originally planned. T-shirts were available, and I will have to make a plan of picking one up the next opportunity I get to see them perform.
Every Friday’s motto is a simple and true one, ‘Everything’s better with a band!’ They are right, everything is better with a band as talented as Every Friday. Look for them to perform at an event near you.
The rollergirls were as impressed as I was with Every Friday and are in the process of booking them as halftime entertainment for a future bout. If you are interested in learning more about Every Friday visit their official website at: www.everyfriday.webs.com or follow them on Twitter by going to: @everyfriday01
After enjoying the music it was time to take our places inside the Velodrome proper and capture the action. As a novice to professional cycling I won’t pretend to have vast knowledge of the sport, but I did learn several fascinating factoids.
Most amazing to me is that track cycles do not employ brakes. This also strikes fear in my mortal heart. On many a biking adventure my handbrakes have been my best friend, slowing me from certain downhill peril on back country terra not-so-firma.
As frightening as the thought of no brakes may be, the reason for the lack of them is actually a safety feature according to the race day magazine distributed at the gates. Since the racers travel extremely close together in the pack, someone braking unexpectedly could cause a major catastrophe. Other factors dictating brakeless cycles include frame rigidity and geometric limitations specific to track cycle design specifications.
Gearing is a single fixed gear, there’s no shifting or coasting, the pedals are in motion as long as the bike is moving. Fixed gear bikes are considerably lighter and more aerodynamic since there is no derailleur, additional sprockets or shift mechanism. A novice attempting to ride a fixed gear bike would find it quite difficult, as it is ingrained to coast once desired speed is reached. Try it sometime if you have an opportunity and you will see firsthand.
Tandem bikes are unique as well; notable are the heavier tires and additional spokes on the wheels. Tandem bikes also employ starters who actually give the riders a push in order for them to go along their way. Starters must not venture over the starting line at any time when sending off the riders otherwise the team could suffer a disqualification.
The Velodrome is a 333 meter 28 degree banked track with a smooth concrete surface, this combined with the aerodynamic efficiency of the cycles and the elite caliber athletes enable them to reach blur inducing speeds.
We were mindful of this as we moved about the center area taking photographs from the manicured grassy expanse. With nothing separating us at times from the riders hurtling around the track; we knew we wouldn’t stand a chance if an on track disaster were to occur nearby. Fortunately for the riders and us, the evening was accident free, but the potential risk was worth the reward of seeing and capturing this thrilling sport up close.
A little more than half way through the evening’s cycling excitement; the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls were poised to take center stage. The rollergirls got a taste of the banked track derby of yore by taking a lap around the Velodrome.
To the further delight of the 2,000 spectators in attendance, the rollergirls challenged Swoop, the Philadelphia Eagles mascot to a race. With Swoop on a three-wheeled bicycle reminiscent of what your grandmother might have ridden, he took off in hot pursuit of rollergirl Kathleen Turner Overdrive. KTO started off strong and maintained the lead 3 quarters of the way around the track. Swoop started nipping at her heels and was poised to pluck the victory away from her when a little “fowl play” occurred after other members of the rollergirls interceded on KTO’s behalf.
Later in the evening Swoop made a second appearance riding an ATV quad around the track with a large Philadelphia Eagles flag adorning the back atop a green LED illuminated flagpole. Following his exhibition he posed for photo opportunities along the concourse with the members of the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls and fans.
The racing then continued, culminating with the headline event of the night, the Tandemonium! Tandemonium is a 15 lap scratch race pitting endurance athletes against sprinters. An exciting race ensued with the victory going to the team of Bill Elliston and Ray Ignosh in an edge of your seat final lap pass of the Kiwi/Aussie duo Ashley and Repacholi who had held the lead much of the way.
Final thoughts and facility notes; the Velodrome is most assuredly a jewel in the Lehigh Valley. It is efficiently run with an incredibly friendly and accommodating staff. Food options are refreshingly healthy and modestly priced for a sporting arena. It was the only major sporting facility I have visited where the line for healthy treats and beverages were far longer than the line for beer.
I would like to thank Megan Werley, Business Manager of the Valley Preferred Cycling Center and the entire staff for granting us complete access and making us feel welcomed in T-Town.
A final thanks to the person who retrieved our lost iPhone and turned it in to staff. I had it back in hand within 5 minutes of departing the track and returning to search for it. The Velodrome is a class act on all counts; great well-behaved fans, tremendous athletes, and superb staff. Regardless if you are a cycling devotee, a trip to T-Town should be on your short list.
All slideshow images courtesy of the Corner Seat’s senior photographer Ruth Rohrer
Tickets to upcoming events at the Velodrome can be purchased either online, via telephone or at the box office. Tickets are only $5 for general admission which includes bleacher seating and standing areas along the track’s perimeter wall. Finish Line seating is $8. For additional information on ticketing please visit: http://www.thevelodrome.com/buy-tickets/
For additional Velodrome information including re-caps, final standings and race schedules visit: www.thevelodrome.com
Singles races were conducted in omnium format. For a great overview of the scoring and rules visit Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnium
Visit the official website of the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls for tickets and public appearance schedule: www.lehighvalleyrollergirls.com