The Major Taylor Velodrome Turns 40 This Summer

Bicyclists on the Major Taylor Velodrome
Photo by Tony Valainis

PAVING THE WAY. The Major Taylor Velodrome was the city’s first structure built with public money and named after an African-American. As a teenager here in the early 20th century, Marshall “Major” Taylor began a cycling career that led to a world championship. Although he faced relentless racism at the time, he is now embraced by his hometown, with a new mural of him on Washington Street and a current exhibit at the Indiana State Museum.

LET’S BACKPEDAL A BIT. Opened on July 15, 1982 (back when Indianapolis was building its brand as the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World”), the velodrome was constructed for the U.S. Olympic Festival. It would later host the 1987 Pan American Games’ cycling events and other competitions, and is one of fewer than 30 velodromes operating in the U.S. today. “It was an international destination in track cycling when it was built,” says Michael Kubancsek, director of cycling operations for Marian University. “National teams and Olympic teams would train here, so there is a long history of high-level cycling.”

A map of the Major Taylor Velodrome
❶ Major Taylor Velodrome ❷ BMX Track ❸ Skate Park ❹ Parking

MORE THAN MARIAN. Marian University’s cycling team is one of the best in the country, and famously calls the Indy Cycloplex—the name of the larger campus of facilities that includes the velodrome—home. But people from the community train there alongside the collegiate champions. Indy Cycloplex rents a fleet of bikes for anyone who wants to give it a try. 

GET YOUR FIXIE. They’re not just any bikes, though. All bikes on the velodrome are the fixed-gear variety, and you have the option of bringing your own pedals. What’s more, “Track 101” is required beforehand. The program, developed by Ken Hart, who has been riding there since opening day 40 years ago, teaches track cycling basics. The cost is $50 for adults and $25 for students, and it comes with a bike rental.

YOU’LL NEED THE TRAINING. BANK ON IT. The velodrome track tilts as much as 28 degrees in the curves, which adds to the speed but also the danger. Hart’s course teaches riders how to use the embankments to their advantage, beginning at the top of them and speeding down at rates more than 40 mph.

FUN À LA KART. The velodrome features an extra-wide apron, or flat track, between the embankment and the infield, thanks to the ESPN2 go-kart racing series that was popular in the 1990s. Danica Patrick even raced go-karts there as a teenager, 10 years before she would be the first woman to lead laps at the Indy 500. Today, the apron is used for inline skating and a local Special Olympics cycling team.

THURSDAY-NIGHT LIGHTS. From May through September, the Major Taylor Racing League hosts three sets of races for novice, intermediate, and pro riders every Thursday night. Although track cycling is a niche sport, John Hoopingarner, who has been announcing the events since 2013, makes each race fun and easy to follow. It’s free, and racers aren’t compensated, so bring some cash and pass the hat so winners go home with more than just bragging rights.

LIFE IN THE FAST LANE. One of the popular cyclists in those races is Richard Carson, who grew up at Indy Cycloplex’s skate park and got his start in cycling as a bike carrier downtown. Like Major Taylor years ago, Carson is often the only Black rider in the field. “Being out there now and knowing the legacy he left—it’s cool to make my own way in this sport,” he says. “Even when I don’t win, it’s still rewarding to get out there and go hard.”

A panoramic view of the Major Taylor Velodrome
Photo by Todd Urban