DETROIT - An indoor cycling track in Detroit is expected to draw bike riders from other cold-weather states and across the U.S. while giving inner-city youth the opportunity to participate for free in the fast-moving and growing sport.
The Lexus Velodrome, which will have its grand opening Monday, is in an inflatable, climate-controlled dome a few miles north of a new professional hockey and basketball arena and close to a site proposed for a professional soccer stadium.
It joins a training facility in Colorado Springs and a venue in Los Angeles as the only indoor velodromes in the U.S.
“It is great to have an indoor training resource in the winter time,” said Joan Hanscom, 50, a competitive cyclist from Colorado Springs. “Otherwise, if you’re looking to be fit and ready for your spring racing season you’re really limited to riding a trainer in your house or in a gym and that’s not as much fun.”
The velodrome diversifies Detroit’s sports offerings and continues to push the story of the city’s turnaround, said Kris Smith, Detroit Sports Commission director.
Bicycling is gaining popularity in the Motor City. A $21 million project linking 20 miles of walking, running and biking paths was completed in 2016. The city also is looking to add protected bike lanes along some of its busier streets.
An organization that rents out bikes surpassed 100,000 rides in about five months last year.
“It’s very important to understand who is riding the bikes now ... millennials who are looking to be more active, do more things, get out of their cars and go for a bike ride,” Smith said.
A weekly ride called Slow Roll Detroit often attracts 3,000 or more cyclists on Monday evenings during the summer. Another annual event draws even more riders on tours of the city, while a cyclocross race and the inaugural Detroit Cycling Championship also were held last year.
Those and other events “could potentially put Detroit on the international map for cycling events,” Smith added.
An anonymous donor with a penchant for cycling put up $5 million for Detroit’s velodrome project, said Dale Hughes, who designed and built it. He also runs the nonprofit Detroit Fitness Foundation which operates the velodrome.
Hughes, 68, declined to name the donor who contacted him about 2½ years ago.
“I said ‘where do you want to build this’ and he said ‘Detroit,’” Hughes said. “He grew up in Metro Detroit and wanted to give back to the city by doing something special for the kids of Detroit.”
The velodrome offers “a lot of potential for kids in Detroit who don’t have as many opportunities,” Hughes said. “If they are willing to sweat a little bit, I think we can turn out some champions.”
The city owns the land, but the foundation has a 12-year concessions license and operating agreement.
No taxpayer money was used in the building or for its operations, Hughes said. Operations will be paid through user fees, donations, events and corporate sponsorships, like the one with Lexus. Programs will be free for children and teens.
Only specially designed direct-drive bikes can be used on the wooden, tenth-of-a-mile oval track, which has steep banks that allow riders to maintain speeds that can top 40 mph during competitions.
Hughes has designed and built about two dozen velodromes around the globe. Locally, he’s also built an outdoor track in Rochester Hills, north of Detroit.
T.J. Hill first cycled on a velodrome in 1952. On Thursday, he pedaled around the Lexus Velodrome track.
“My fingers don’t like the cold weather,” said Hill, 85, who lives in suburban Detroit. “I’ve cycled quite a bit in the cold weather and just suffered. I’m going to cycle more now (in the winter) that I can come here.”
Other cities, like Minneapolis, also are considering indoor velodromes, said Bob Williams, velodrome director at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota.
“Anywhere in the United States it’s a big deal,” Williams added. “Indoors is really the way things have to go for speed events. Even in good climates it’s too windy or too hot to establish high speed and make it convenient for training.”
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