Cycle Speedway – The Whats, Whys and Hows

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(This is the first in a series of daily posts on various aspects of the sport of cycle speedway based on interviews with riders and volunteers at Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club and an interview with Graham Elliott, Chair of the Cycle Speedway Commission, in which he talks about the future of the sport. Each subsequent post will be added above and can be accessed individually via the menu on the right hand side)

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17 MAY 2015 - IPSWICH, GBR - Matt Hill (right) of Ipswich Eagles manages to stay upright as Mark Boaler (left) of Horspath Hammers falls during their Elite League fixture at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain (PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) (NIGEL FARROW/COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW : www.nigelfarrow.com)

(PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

17 MAY 2015 – IPSWICH, GBR – Matt Hill (right) of Ipswich Eagles manages to stay upright as Mark Boaler (left) of Horspath Hammers falls during their Elite League fixture at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain.

With riders racing shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, wheel to wheel, on bikes with a single gear and no brakes, and with hardly enough prize money if any at even the top level to cover the entry costs for an event, cycle speedway is a universe apart from the recently raced Tour de France.

So what attracts competitors to a sport that most people have never heard of or when mentioned instantly think of motorcycle speedway ?

Talk to riders for a few moments about their sport and their passion and enthusiasm is quickly apparent. “I love racing push bikes and I like the fact you can get stuck into this, I like a bit of argy bargy. I used to play rugby at school so I like contact sports,” says Great Britain squad member Adam Peck. “I’ve been racing since I was nine years old so we’re looking at twenty one years now. I had a go at karate first but discovered I was no good at that, found I was half tidy at riding round in circles so stuck with that and its been with me ever since.”

Peck’s Ipswich team mate Josh Brooke left the sport for a couple of years but came back in his early twenties. Younger brothers and sisters follow their older siblings onto the track, in some cases learning how to ride a bike there, and parents having seen the enjoyment their children get from racing also become enthusiastic riders. Les Stevens at East London Cycle Speedway Club, now in his sixties, has been racing for over 50 years and still competes against riders a third of his age in the regional league.

21 JUN 2015 - LONDON, GBR - Charlie Rumbold (right) of Ipswich Eagles attempts to fend off a challenge from Les Stevens of East London during their South East League One cycle speedway fixture at Canning Town Recreation Ground in London, Great Britain (PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) (NIGEL FARROW/COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW : www.nigelfarrow.com)

(PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

21 JUN 2015 – LONDON, GBR – Charlie Rumbold (right) of Ipswich Eagles attempts to fend off a challenge from Les Stevens of East London during their South East League One cycle speedway fixture at Canning Town Recreation Ground in London, Great Britain.

The sport has changed little in that time with differences mainly down to a desire to standardise the rules. Fixtures consist of four riders contesting four lap heats over a seventy to ninety meter track from a standing start though the number of heats and laps may be less for the youngest competitors. Points are then awarded depending on finishing positions with four points for first place down to one for fourth.

Racing is divided into team, where two riders from each team line up alternately on the starting grid and are allowed to assist each other in an attempt to secure maximum seven points, and individual where tactics are determined on the strengths of the opposition with cooperation between riders banned.

At the top level heats will last a little over forty seconds but may be stopped due to infringements and re-run several times before a result is finally obtained so requiring good anaerobic fitness. Even with no stoppages the ability to recover quickly from the previous race is essential with the need to be able to race again after a few heats off the track or for those occasions when the schedule requires a riders to race back to back heats.

The cycle speedway season runs from March to October with some clubs organising indoor racing before the national indoor championships at the beginning of each year. With British winter weather making training on the track impractical some riders will swap their cycle speedway bikes for mountain bikes, road bikes or gym bikes and use weights in the gym in order to keep fitness levels up and to continue developing not just their leg muscles but also their upper body and core strength.

Training outdoors then starts again late February or early March as soon as the track is dry enough to allow racing.

31 MAR 2015 - IPSWICH, GBR - Ashley Hill (right) waits beside Dan Knights (left) to start the next drill during an Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club training session at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Great Britain (PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) (NIGEL FARROW/COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW : www.nigelfarrow.com)

(PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

31 MAR 2015 – IPSWICH, GBR – Ashley Hill (right) waits beside Dan Knights (left) to start the next drill during an Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club training session at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Great Britain.

Made popular after the end of the Second World War when riders would hurl themselves on their bikes along tracks carved through the remains of bombed buildings, the sport spread across the country with teams springing up not only in cities and towns but villages as well. Over time the rubble strewn tracks were replaced by purpose built ones with a shale covering. However one of the biggest obstacles in establishing new clubs both in the UK and abroad is the cost of building a track.

Over the years the numbers of riders and clubs have fallen both in the UK and abroad and international competition is mainly between Great Britain, Australia and Poland.

There are however signs that the sport is finding admirers in new locations. A pocket of racing exists in the USA in Edenton in North Carolina started by children wishing to emulate their stock car racing heroes as opposed to those in motorcycle speedway; Japan has seen an increase in interest in the sport in recent years and the new track being built in Auckland, New Zealand is being considered as host for the 2017 World Championships.

30 JUN 2015 - IPSWICH, GBR - Riders lean into a bend during an Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club training session at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain (PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) (NIGEL FARROW/COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW : www.nigelfarrow.com)

(PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

30 JUN 2015 – IPSWICH, GBR – Riders lean into a bend during an Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club training session at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain.



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