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Health, Science, Environment

Bumpy velodrome causes bad vibrations

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 30, 2013 - Neatly stashed away off the interchange between I-70 and Kingshighway is a piece of St. Louis many have forgotten or never known about.

The Penrose Park Velodrome, unique to Missouri and one of only 27 nationwide, is an oval cycling arena featuring banked corners and some frightfully fast action.

It was built in 1962 and designed by Olympic cyclist Frank Burlando. In its opening year, the velodrome hosted the U.S. national cycling championships. After weathering and time had taken their toll on the track’s surface, the track was resurfaced in 1984 and refinished in 2005.

That surface is key to the velodrome’s future.

Riders knuckle down in a wheel-to-wheel dogfights cornering at mesmerizing speeds no more than a few inches apart. Track bikes possess only one gear opposed to the usual 20 or 30 on a standard bike. They’re also rigged without brakes; a quick peel-off up the embankment being the trick to slowing down.

Cyclists at Penrose, however, have to contend with another hazard on “Mr. Bumpy Face,” as the track is commonly known. The velodrome has joined fallen into disrepair; the track’s asphalt surface is uneven, full of cracks and in desperate need of maintenance.

In an effort to restore it to former glory, a steering committee set up by local enthusiasts and track riders was formed to help raise awareness and $750,000 to relay the track.

The rest, it is hoped, will be funded by St. Louis.

Robert Mayfield, a member of the steering committee and track cycling enthusiast noted that bond issue money has been designated for parks, and specific allocations are still being made. “We’ve petitioned to our ward and it’s currently on a list of projects; we’re just waiting to see how much money they’ll decide to contribute.”

Resurfacing the track, however, is by no means the committee’s only plans for the velodrome. The committee looks to expand the velodrome to include bathrooms, lighting, restrooms, a concessions stand and many more general amenities.

Their inclusion to what is now a bare-bones facility may help to bring in larger crowds and sustain the growing support for track cycling in St. Louis.

“We are seeing a great increase in youth coming out to use the track, and we hope that upgrading the facilities will help support our youth racing program,” Mayfield said. “It’s a multi-faceted approach that we hope can incorporate as many people as possible; we have women, children, juniors, all ages and sizes.”

Mayfield hopes that the expansion could also build on the popular Thursday night races  that are held May through August.

“We’re looking to add an additional night a week where people can come down and race as well as having a go on the weekends.”

Restoring the velodrome would also help raise a piece of forgotten history.

The city’s first velodrome was in Forest Park. Built in 1934 as part of a WPA project, the ¼ mile tack was on the corner of Oakland Avenue and Kingshighway. Though never really considered a first-class racing venue, the track did host at least four major cycling events. It was eventually torn up to make room for the expansion of Highway 40.

The current track is now rated in the fifth (slowest) category for velodromes. To go up in speed rankings, refurbishing is necessary.

Read more

Ambitious master plan unveiled for St. Louis’ Penrose Park velodrome | NextSTL

Velodrome website

Dale Hart is a Beacon intern.

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