Take the Express Lane

Track Cycling: Trexlertown, Pennsylvania

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
Lehigh Valley Velodrome

Race day at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome

It was as a member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic skeet-shooting team at the Mexico City Games that millionaire magazine publisher Bob Rodale caught his first glimpse of a velodrome. "What a beautiful sport cycling is," he would tell a reporter. "Almost like a dance." Eight years later, still charmed, Rodale became a patron of the sport by financing the construction of the country's tenth velodrome, in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, not far from his Rodale Press headquarters. He commissioned the 333.33-meter track with extra-wide lanes and long turns, and laid its surface with Chem-Comp, faster stuff than traditional concrete—making it the most innovative velodrome in the country. Track cycling, in which riders on brakeless, single-gear bicycles careen around a steeply banked oval at upwards of 30 miles per hour, experienced its heyday in the early decades of the 20th century; the country went from having hundreds of wooden velodromes to none by the end of World War II. Since then it hasn't exactly been a mainstream sport—perhaps in part because, to slow down, you have to apply backward pressure on the pedals or risk running headfirst into a wall. Even so, the day the Lehigh Valley Velodrome opened, 100 cyclists showed up to ride.

In 1976, T-Town's speed course became a training ground for international Olympic track cyclists en route to the Montreal Summer Games. Today there are 20 such tracks in the United States, but Lehigh continues to nurture a disproportionate number of cycling champions—1988 Olympian Dave Lettieri and 1992 Olympian James Carney started out here—thanks largely to a free-for-the-public cycling program sponsored by local chemical company Air Products. The current buzz centers around T-Town native Marty Nothstein, 29, the silver medalist in the 1996 Olympic match sprint (a three-lap cat-and-mouse event that ends in a neck-whipping burst of speed) who's considered to be a shoo-in for the U.S. team in Sydney.

T-town's Olympic spirit will hit its peak this June, when the velodrome is scheduled to host a pre-Sydney sprint camp for top riders from New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and the U.S. Nearly the whole town turns out to watch pro-level racers—including local hero Nothstein—spin their bikes around the 28-degree banks. But this is an equal-opportunity course, and the excitement extends beyond elite athletes: Licensed U.S. Cycling Federation track riders can race T-Town themselves on Fridays, and neophytes can sign up for free, three-weekend-long clinics offered throughout the summer. Cyclists who discover they prefer road over track can join one of the many local training rides put on by the Lehigh Valley Wheelmen's Association—enough two-wheeling to give recreational riders gold-medal fever.

The Dirt: Trexlertown is located eight miles west of Allentown, just off Pennsylvania 78 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike—an hour from Philadelphia and 90 minutes from N.Y.C. Check out the velodrome's Web site, www.lvvelo.org, for schedules and fees (610-967-7587).


VITALS: $761; 888-482-4537; www.gtbicycles.com
WEIGHT: 3.4 pounds frame, 19.2 pounds complete
FRAME: Chrome-moly steel
FORK: Chrome-moly steel
COMPONENT HIGHLIGHTS: Super-smooth Suzue hubs
THE RIDE: GT's patented Triple Triangle design, which overlaps the seatstays with the seat tube (creating the third triangle), results in one of one of the stiffest production frames on the market. That's exactly what you want in a track bike, since velodromes have roller-rink-smooth surfaces and there's no need for your frame to have a forgiving ride. And considering the size of the average track cyclist's quads, the stiffer the bike, the better. The GTB-1 is the vélocipède de rigueur of both aspiring track racers and the baddest of Big Apple bike messengers, who dig its spartan componentry. No brakes, no shifters—no way some thief is going to successfully make off with this bike.


VITALS: $1,400 (frame only); 541-535-4516
WEIGHT: 4 pounds
FRAME: The choicest steel cuts from Reynolds or Columbus
FORK: Chrome-moly steel
THE RIDE: Master welder and spray-paint artist John Slawta, who lives in Ashland, Oregon, configures your choice of high-end tubing to take advantage of your strengths. Are you the muscle-bound type inclined to bursts of out-of-the-saddle sprinting? Ask Slawta to build the main frame from Reynolds 853 tubing, which is heavier and stiffer than the other options and so won't noodle around under your efforts. More of a finesse rider? Slawta will likely recommend a lighter frame crafted from Dedacciai Uno tubing. Regardless, rest assured that your frame won't come apart at the seams: Slawta joins the tubes by means of the classic art of fillet-brazing, a time-consuming process that ensures foolproof bonds. When the metalwork is complete, Slawta hand-paints his masterpiece, ensuring your new bike, like Slawta himself, is one of a kind. —ANDREW JUSKAITIS