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Roller Racing

By Brad Quartuccio

Like many things “bicycle,” others have been there before. Roller racing is an old school sideshow that emerges here and there, each with a different flair suited to the era. We’re talking about a little know part of cyclesport that dates back to at least the 1920’s, and likely further. While current setups sport laptops and projectors, one must admit the belt-driven, clock-like mechanical beasts of old have a certain elegance to them.

Yet another thing current urban cycling culture owes to the bike messenger scene of the 90’s is the resurgence of roller racing. Back at the ’99 Cycle Messenger World Championships in Zurich, a couple of trainers and cyclecomputers set the ball rolling. The “Goldsprints” term was coined and it shortly thereafter crossed the pond to, you guessed it, New York City.

The premise is simple; head to head indoor stationary bicycle racing. An all out sprint, a test of spin not power. Rollers offer very little rolling resistance, and no air resistance allowing one to spin out of huge gears on the way to the finish. The USCF has rules and gearing limits (99.1 gear inches) for “official” racing, but that’s pretty well for the birds even if it does lend some legitimacy to it all. Typically, track bikes with identical gearing, tires and rollers are used, with fork stands added to the rollers for safety. The bar isn’t the place to learn how to ride rollers unsupported, let alone race on them.

With the help of some computer nerds and a projector, a timing system is within reach albeit the hardest part of the setup to get together. Events themselves are up to the organizer – bracketed sprints are typical, and no matter the length brutal.

Short sprints of 250m are anything but when you’re the one doing the pedaling, but are otherwise pretty ideal for fostering crowd participation. Not even the legendary climbs of the Grand Tours allow the spectators such close access to the racers. Literally in your face, a roar of encouragement to turn those pedals even faster. Right up on top of you. The racing itself is an anaerobic effort that only hits you once you’re done. A heart-throbbing, teeth-gritting experience of spinning past the pain, and faster than the other guy.

For 15 seconds or so, it can transport any rider to the realm of heightened glory and defeat that only comes with an all-out effort in front of a rowdy, engaged audience. Then its over, on to the next pair, one moves up in the brackets another falls off and so on until a nightly winner is crowned.

Goldsprints are not a substitute for anything, only an addition to the cycling experience. The social interaction is unparalleled in other competition. From screaming spectator to racer and back again in a blink of an eye.