The racing sport that once thrilled New York

Bike racing is mostly an outdoors activity now, and it doesn’t have the most thrilling rep.

But from the 1890s to the 1920s, an amped-up indoor version of the sport was one of the most popular attractions in the city.

Grueling races were held in huge indoor tracks. Madison Square Garden (left, in 1928), then on 26th Street and Madison Avenue, was an early venue.

Cyclists would pedal at top speed on oval wooden tracks, sometimes for days, resulting in spectacular, NASCAR-like crashes.

Newspapers printed racing results—when they weren’t decrying the brutality of the sport.

“An athletic contest in which the participants ‘go queer’ in their heads, and strain their powers until their faces become hideous with the tortures that rack them, is not sport, it is brutality,” opined The New York Times in 1897.

But fans loved the drama, and racing arenas called velodromes popped up.

The New York Velodrome (above) was built on Broadway and 225th Street in 1921, seating 16,000 fans.

The Coney Island Velodrome (left) also opened in the 1920s, hosted 10,000 fans, who watched racers fly along 45-degree banked corners.

So what sank the sport? It took a huge hit in the Depression. In the 1930s, both New York tracks burned down, and indoor cycling never recovered.

Today, there is one velodrome left in New York, built in 1962: in Kissena Park in Queens.

[Top photo: NYPL Digital Collection; middle: myinwood.net]

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5 Responses to “The racing sport that once thrilled New York”

  1. The racing sport that once thrilled New York « Ephemeral New York | news update for you life Says:

    [...] more: The racing sport that once thrilled New York « Ephemeral New York « Ducati 1000 Sport Classic – Inspiring Motorcycles | Kawasaki Ninja … [...]

  2. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    This is great. My grandfather, an Italian immigrant who had never seen a bicycle in Calabria, was amazed by bicycles. He occasionally mentioned the bicycle races in Coney Island. He must have been talking about the ones at the Coney Island Velodrome. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Three wheeler Says:

    That must be why there is a subway stop at 225 St. and Broadway.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Those races at Coney Island and the other velodromes were rough and bloody. Today we’ve replaced them with hockey.

  5. TARA RENEE Says:

    Velodrome coming to Brooklyn?

    http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local/new_york&id=8760463

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