Cycle Speedway: full-contact bicycle racing

by Raymond Parker on March 19, 2012

in Autobiography, Cycling, History, Racing

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Cycle Speedway, 1950s

When I was a petulant pre-teen, prowling the streets of Wednesfield, England, Boy Scouts and the bicycle were my salvation, and no doubt a relief to my poor parents.

Even before I bought my own road “racing bike,” a series of hand-me-downs, and hybrids cobbled together from parts found in my granddad’s shed, kept me busy if not always out of trouble.

One of those “Heinz 57” bikes I used for Cycle Speedway—the pedal-powered equivalent of motorbike track racing, run on a short oval.

Speedway bicycles traditionally have a single freewheel and no brakes. We equipped them with swept-back “cowhorn” handlebars, for leverage, and to better elbow opponents out of the way.

Like their motorized counterparts, races feature four bikes over four laps. The action is intense: a frantic, anaerobic burst of pedalling from a standing start, jostling for position into crowded corners, followed by another mad dash along the straightaway. Crashes happen.

Speedway tracks—both bicycle and motorbike—are common in Europe and races draw large crowds. It’s a perfect spectator sport.

My introduction took place on the same site where I learned to light camp fires and tie knots: a rough patch of untended ground attached to St. Gregory’s Church (now, I see on Google Streetview, green and manicured).

As you’ll see in the embedded video, my hometown still produces top competitors. What began after WW II as a lark on old bikes, with events run on bomb sites, now attracts purpose-built machines, established tracks, and international competitions.

British Cycle Speedway Final, 2011

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I must credit Twitter follower @tokyobybike for reminding me of this crazy cousin of cycling by posting a link to British Cycling’s Cycle Speedway webpage.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Scott May 20, 2012 at 11:56 am

I’m looking all over the place for this sport in Canada. It seemed to me that Paris and Welland ONTARIO had something going on but all the links that I find are broken. I’d love to watch this and try it for myself. Do you have any idea if I would be able to find this somewhere in the Southern Ontario corridor?



Raymond Parker May 20, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Unfortunately, Scott, I have no idea where you’d find an equivalent in Ontario, or anywhere else in NA that I’m aware of.

The sport, though it has flourished in the UK, particularly around my birthplace in the Midlands, does not seem to have caught on anywhere else.

Incidentally, if it’s any indication of the sport’s obscurity, though this page doesn’t get much traffic, a Google search returns it close to the top.

There is a hub for UK news, called Spokesman-Online

Your interest says to me it’s a sport that could become popular if more people knew about it.

There’s a project for you, Scott! Keep us posted.


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