South Chicago Velodrome moves closer to agreement

The South Chicago Velodrome Association is attempting to reach an agreement to expand the velo campus in a sport that has been declining in popularity since the 18th century. (Photo courtesy of South Chicago Velodrome Association)
The South Chicago Velodrome Association is attempting to reach an agreement to expand the velo campus in a sport that has been declining in popularity since the 18th century. (Photo courtesy of South Chicago Velodrome Association)

On Chicago’s Near North Side there is a brick and mortar building with a homemade sign that says “Yojimbo’s Garage,” stenciled in blue paint. Cemented in the sidewalk directly next to the building are two bike racks. Their chipped black paint and adorning stickers are a testament to their use.

Upon walking up to the red double doors, there is a knocker with a sticker underneath that reads “Knock loudly.” The knock is usually answered by Marcus Moore.

Yojimbo’s Garage is built with bikes. They are the foundation that supports everything. Bikes line the walls and hang on stands everywhere one looks. Where there are not bikes, there are parts, jerseys, caps, tools, wheels, tires and a pair of cats that love to slink through it all. These bikes may be the foundation, but Moore is the glue holding them all together. He will not only sell you the tool, but he will show you the best way to use it as well.

However, this is not all he does. Moore is the president of the South Chicago Velodrome Association (SCVA). Through this he advocates the benefits of bike facilities, especially on the South Side, which lacks facilities of this sort.

The South Chicago Velodrome Association is trying to expand the opportunities on the South Side of Chicago for prospective bikers. (Photo courtesy of South Chicago Velodrome Association)
The South Chicago Velodrome Association is trying to expand the opportunities on the South Side of Chicago for prospective bikers. (Photo courtesy of South Chicago Velodrome Association)

After bicycles became accessible in the late 1800s, Chicago was home to a cycling craze. Dozens of velodromes were in the city until the World War II caused the sport to die out. At its peak, track racing pulled bigger crowds than baseball. Six-day races—races that lasted 144 hours, where teams of two men would take shifts racing for six days drew massive amounts of spectators. Today, only one velodrome struggles to survive and the SCVA is trying to save it.

Moore described the historic track.

“On the surface it’s a unique facility, or somewhat unique facility. Small velodrome. Which of course is a bicycle race track. Oval. About a tenth of a mile, kind of short for a velodrome. On the shorter end but shorter means more maintainable as far as costs go,” he said. Moore has a vision of what the track could be one day.

The idea came from speaking with younger customers that came into his shop.

“A lot of high schoolers have been riding fixed-gear bikes out on the street. Fixed gears are obviously designed for the velodrome. If there is an opportunity or a route for them where they can go to a velodrome, learn from some coaches that know how to teach kid, and learn how to ride a track bike a little bit better, learn the different respect, the different type of etiquette”

Not only could kids learn from the track but they could also have fun in a safe environment.

The South Chicago Velodrome could allow kids to “have an arena to go balls out and maybe get a little of that out of their system and maybe not drive other people crazy on the streets as much. Just a small percentage of them will be affected that way but that makes a difference,” Moore said. He hopes to create a school or park district-organized league that could serve a wider portion of the city.

“After a couple of years we can show that model to the governor especially the mountain bike and bike polo aspects of that model and then propose that the school districts throughout the state have bicycle sports programs as a thing. So there’s the potential of that,” he said. “The velodrome is sort of a focal point for the young kids these days so we could use that as a way to get a city league started.”

Beyond the numerous benefits to children and students, the velodrome would offer various clinics. These clinics would offer track certification, as well as beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of instruction.

Moore also sees opportunities for local colleges such as DePaul to partner with SCVA. Cycling is an amazing spectacle. Professionals reach speeds of over 50 mph and maneuver through minuscule spaces. There are spectacular crashes and awe-inspiring achievements. This spectacle could offer film students a subject engage with.

Sponsored races, BMX facilities and added equipment for lifters and racers are all in the vision for a new velo campus. (Photo courtesy of South Chicago Velodrome Association)
Sponsored races, BMX facilities and added equipment for lifters and racers are all in the vision for a new velo campus. (Photo courtesy of South Chicago Velodrome Association)

The demand for content of this niche sport is present around the world.

“We hope to reach more spectators. Engage more fans. Ultimately we’d like to have all that video stuff going on the internet. We’d like to have it edited, mixed, live streaming, have personalities that can interview racers, do op-ed pieces, sponsored pieces equipment reviews, crash reels, comedy pieces (and) historical pieces,” Moore said.

SCVA’s project spans more than just cycling facilities. The property would have ample space for gardens, art installations or even honeybee hives. Moore would hold some kind of public poll to determine exactly what all the space could be used for.

One mother came to Moore with concerns about her son and his friends. They enjoy riding BMX bikes, but are always kicked out of skate parks by the skaters. In the future, the campus could provide BMX facilities to provide for those needs as well.

The velo campus would be ideal for the cyclists as well. The infield would have weight lifting equipment for sprint racers. Trailers would provide changing facilities, classrooms, or even space for volunteer masseuses to offer their services. 

The deadline to reach an agreement on the contract is approaching, and SCVA is very close to reaching their goal. There have already been pledges and donations in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. These contributions, along with the continuous flow of small donations, are keeping Moore very optimistic. 

“Cyclists are all types of people so we could find volunteers for just about anything. And that’s one reason why I think this is going to survive and thrive.”