Places that Matter

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Kissena Velodrome

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Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
A cyclists' track built in the 1960s and active today
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Place Matters Profile

Built in 1963 in Kissena Park, the Kissena Velodrome helped revive New York City's role as a major bicycle racing center. After falling into disrepair, the track was renovated by the Department of Parks and Recreation in 2004 and it continues to be an important site for cyclists from the city, region, and beyond.

When John Campo, the angel of Kissena Velodrome, first drew our attention to his beloved oval bicycle racing track, the track lay in near ruins. Forty years of off-and-on maintenance and decades of urban disinvestment had left the track -- and many other of the city's great recreational facilities -- floundering for care. Home-grown efforts had kept the track going, but now John and his friends were on the verge of a break-through. The City had agreed to renovate the track, and in April 2004, a new Kissena Velodrome unveiled itself to the biking world.

Resurrecting Racing in New York

The Kissena Velodrome is the only track built for cycling in the city, and the only velodrome around for hundreds of miles. Sized at a very respectable 400 meters, surfaced with asphalt, like all velodromes it has two long sections called "straights." The straights are linked by curved sections at each end and the turns are "banked" (or curved), much like an auto race track. Whipping around those four turns at 30 to 40 miles an hour packed tight in a group of other racers requires skill and care -- even with Kissena's rather gentle banking and the help of centrifugal force. Before the track's recent renovation, determined cyclists had to maneuver in packs over large bumps in the turns as well as gaping cracks in the asphalt, sprouting weeds in the cracks, and low hanging vegetation at the top of the bank, not to mention the occasional person, dog, ringed neck grouse, all- terrain vehicle -- and once even police in pursuit of a robber -- who popped out of the woods to find themselves in the middle of a race.

Things got very bad at Kissena in the years before renovation. Racers complained of a large speed bump at turn four that sent riders airborne if they took the turn at high speed. The first riders to arrive on any given day couldn't just mount their bikes and take off. First they had to clear the track of junk that had shown up the night before. On more than one occasion riders encountered abandoned and burnt car hulks in the middle of the track.