Posts Tagged ‘old Madison Square Garden’

The racing sport that once thrilled New York

June 11, 2012

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:]