26 September 2009

Millenáris Velodrome in Budapest

Millenaris Velodrome Budapest
On a visit to Budapest last week I was taken on a tour of the oldest velodrome in Europe that is still in use. Millenáris in Budapest, from 1896. It was fantastic to hear the entire history of the place from the chap behind the bike above, Péter Tarapcsák. Indeed a storied velodrome. Kristof from KMSZ was my guide and interpreter.

One interesting thing was that in the 1970's and 1980's, there were many different national teams who used the velodrome for training, up to the Olympics in Moscow '80, for example, but also other international competitions.

Western nations had trouble getting visas for most Eastern Bloc countries, but not Hungary. As a result there were many times that Americans, Cubans, East Germans et al were gathered in one place at the height of the Cold War. The mood was festive and sport was prioritised over politics.

The bike above is for racing behind motorbikes. Certain things were lost in translation in the storytelling, but Henry from Workcycles straightened it out:

"It's called "Derny" or "stayer" or "motorpace" racing. The special pacing motorcycle (called a Derny) that the rider would follow on this bike is also used to pace keirin races.

The small front wheel and very strange steering geometry enable the cyclist to draft the pacing motorcycle very closely for maximum aerodynamic advantage... and provide the necessary stability for racing at 80+km/h."

Notice the seat and the handlebars are supported by metal rods. When you're on the high bank at 80km/h, centrifugal forces suck at the frame and the rods prevent the seat and handlebars from tilting under the pressure.

The tyres have a strip of glued fabric that attaches them to the rim. In case of a blowout, the rubber won't fly off even if it's flat.

Millenaris Velodrome Budapest
I returned the next day, where there was a race. My friends kitted me out in a vintage wool jersey from the early 1970's and, because there were professionals on the track warming up, a helmet.

But not just any helmet. One that Eddy Mercyx wore on his legendary head at around the same time, from the velodrome's collection of vintageness. I was given a fancy track bike and went for a few laps, surrounded by professionals, including three Hungarian champions in different disciplines. "Who's THAT schmuck?", I'm sure they were thinking, but they smiled nonetheless.

The Velodrome is on prime real estate in Budapest and hungry property developers have their eye on it. The popularity of the sport is waning in Hungary so few politicians fancy renovating it. So fingers crossed for the survival of the Millenáris.

But what is it that makes velodromes so aesthetic? Or is it just me?

Millenaris Velodrome Budapest Millenaris Velodrome Budapest

Millenaris Velodrome Budapest Millenaris Velodrome Budapest Millenaris Velodrome Budapest

Millenaris Velodrome Budapest Millenaris Velodrome Budapest Millenaris Velodrome Budapest


Just a cyclist said...

Beautiful! I was there last year but its really relieving to know that its still up and running. The mayor of Budapest gave it some status as a historical monument from what I heard, but that can only protect it in the short run.
Would you imagine that it have not been restored since 1977? So they did produce some good quality in the east block...

Some really nice people there, loaned me a bicycle as well as taking the trouble of fitting it correctly.

Those vintage helmets are officially not legal on the track.
I'm really, really jealous of the whole kit they loaned to you!

Just a cyclist said...

Oh, regarding your question of what really makes velodromes so aesthetic, here's a thought: could it be that you're evolving into a hipster?

lagatta à montréal said...

Nah, vélodromes predate hipsters by several generations. I'm very sad that ours was demolished after the 1976 Olympics - its shell has become the Biodome, which is all well and good, but as you can imagine it is important for sport cyclists here to have somewhere to train in the winter months.

Nothing wrong with helmets for sport cycling, true mountain biking or other extreme situations. That has absolutely nothing to do with ordinary people cycling to work, to market or to pick up their children at the daycare centre.

I'm sure the Hungarians also made space for food, wine, beer and music, Cold War or not.

jarvinho said...

I doubt the americans were there prior to the Moscow Olympics, given that they boycotted following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

álvaro said...

I think velodromes are aesthetic because they are raw. I mean, even if, as it's my case, you don't care much for cycling as a sport, you can still appreciate the pureness of track cycling and track bicycles.

Many velodromes in Europe face this sad fate. The Medowbank velodrome in Edinburgh is set to be demolished soon, in spite of an active campaign to save it:

MarkA said...

@ alvaro - the plight of Meadowbank is so sad considering this is the same velodrome where our most successful Olympic cyclist, Sir Chris Hoy, cut his teeth. Where will the next generation of sport cycling stars come from? And this considering Glasgow is the host city of the 2014 Commonwealth Games is a very sad tale indeed.

The London 2012 velodrome is being built just up the road from where I live, which is encouraging, and you can see pictures of it here:


...meanwhile, Herne Hill Velodrome in south London (and the last remaining functioning sports facility from the 1948 Olympic games in London) is continuing it's struggle to retain it's lease and not get gobbled up by hungry developers.... the mind boggles, it really does.