Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Track racing is also done on grass tracks marked out on flat sportsfields. Such events are particularly common during the summer in Scotland at Highland Games gatherings, but there are also regular summer events in England.
Track cycle design
Bicycles used for track cycling are specially designed for the purpose. Unlike bicycles used for road riding, they lack multiple gears and brakes, having a single 'fixed gear' ratio and no freewheeling mechanism. Tyres and wheels are narrow, with the tyres generally inflated to pressures well beyond those used in road cycling in an effort to minimise the "rolling resistance" caused by friction. (For grass-track events, the tyres would have 'knobs' intended to minimise the potential for skidding.)
The design of track frames is usually very specific to its use. Frames intended for sprinting are generally made as light as possible, while those made for general racing or longer events are made as aerodynamic as possible. Frame materials are wide-ranging, including steel (the traditional material for track bikes), aluminum, carbon fibre, or titanium, with carbon fibre being the most common on the professional or elite level. Additionally, the geometry of a track frame differs from that of a road frame, and many frames are designed for specific track events (an omnium frame refers to one that is designed for general track racing). Those attributes common to most track frames include a higher bottom bracket for additional cornering clearance, steeper seat tube for a more forward and aerodynamic position, steeper head tube for more responsive steering, and greater fork rake for more stable steering at high speeds.
Since track cyclists are unable to switch gears during the course of a race, the choice of gear ratio is very important. At its basic level, a change in gearing is a trade-off of acceleration versus top-end speed. A lower ratio allows quicker acceleration, or 'jump.' This can be crucially important in races where getting a gap on an opponent can make or break the event. On the other hand, a big gear makes it easier to sustain a higher top-end, which is paramount in pursuiting/time trialing, but also important in standard scratch/points races in which the pace will be high.
Ideally, in a mass-start race, the cyclist will find a ratio that balances these two requirements. Without a good jump he risks being gapped by opponents when they jump; without a good high end he'll find himself unable to get around his opponents when the pace stays high.
In order to achieve both top-end speed and jump, track cyclists develop very high leg speed. This allows them to go faster with a smaller gear.
The bicycles are designed to reduce aerodynamic drag caused by the machine itself and the rider's racing position. Handlebars can differ signficantly from the familiar drop bars found on road bicycles. Often riders will use triathlon bars designed to allow the rider to extend their arms in front of their body which leans forward almost to the horizontal so as to present the minimum frontal area and thus reducing drag. These triathlon bars or 'aerobars' are often bolted on to traditional drop bars or more aerodynamic bull horn bars.
Formats of track cycle races are also heavily influenced by aerodynamics. If one rider closely follows, "drafts" or "slipstreams" another, because the leading rider pushes air around themselves, any rider closely following has to push out less air than the lead rider and thus can travel at the same speed while expending less effort. This fact has led to a variety of racing styles that allow clever riders or teams to exploit this tactical advantage, as well as formats that simply test strength, speed and endurance.
During the early 1990s in individual pursuit events, some riders adopted a straight-armed Superman-like position with their arms fully extended, but this position was subsequently outlawed by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the sport's ruling body (based in Switzerland). Recumbent bicycles can actually be ridden faster, but are banned from competition.
Track cycling is particularly popular in Europe, notably Belgium, France and Germany where it is often used as off-season training by road racers (professional six-day 'Madison' events were often entered by two-man teams comprising a leading road racer and a track specialist).
Track racing reached a peak of popularity in the 1930s in the United States, when six-day relay races were held in Madison Square Garden in New York. The word "Madison" is still used to describe a relay cycling race.
Some of the most common race formats include:
- Individual pursuit
- Team pursuit
- Track time trial
- Points race
- Miss and Out or 'Devil Take the Hindmost'
- Motor-paced events, such as Keirin racing - cyclists draft behind a derny, sometimes using specialized track bikes called stayers
In addition to regular track racing, tracks are also the venue for many cycling records. These are over either a fixed distance a fixed period of time. The most famous of these is the hour record, which is simply riding as far as possible in the course of one hour. The history of the hour record is replete with exploits by some of the greatest names in cycling from both road and track racing (including, among others, Henri Desgrange, Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, and Francesco Moser ). Originally, attempts were made at velodromes with reputations for being fast (such as the Vigorelli in Milan). More recently, attempts have moved to high-altitude locations, such as Mexico City, where the thinner air results in lower aerodynamic drag, which more than offsets the added difficulty of breathing. Innovations in equipment and the rider's position on the bike have also led to dramatic improvements in the hour record, but have also been a source of controversy (see Graeme Obree).
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