Track cycling is a bicycle racing sport usually held on specially-built banked tracks or velodromes (but many events are held at older velodromes where the track banking is relatively shallow) using track bicycles.
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.
Many individuals enjoy the freedom of a fixed gear bike for regular transportation and have adapted the track bike as a commuter tool as well a lighter, easier to fix alternative to the traditional geared bicycle.
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, he 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. Recumbent bicycles can actually be ridden faster, but are banned from UCI competition. The International Human-Powered Vehicle Association is a separate organisation that runs recumbent races, including the human-powered speed record.
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 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, elimination 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 or for a fixed period of time. The most famous of these is the hour record, which involves simply riding as far as possible in 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, Major Taylor, 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).