Track cyclists in London, Ont., are overjoyed that their beloved velodrome is staying open after they relentlessly rallied and raised funds to make sure the city’s only indoor track didn’t close down.
The Forest City Velodrome reopened its doors on Wellington Road South on Oct. 30 after closing in the spring due to challenges in negotiating a new lease, which affected the non-profit facility’s ability to get corporate sponsorships.
“We needed this place to stay open so we’ve got a new board of directors and we’ve got the financial means to stay open for a while,” said Albert Devries, a volunteer instructor at the velodrome.
“It’s a great place to come to learn how to ride and it’s such a unique thing. [When it reopened] there was a lot of excitement and just the feeling of, ‘We can do this again.'”‘
The velodrome first opened in 2005 in the former London Ice House building, which used to be home to the London Knights. At the time, it was Canada’s first indoor speed-cycling track and is now one of four in the country, according to co-founder Rob Good.
“I was part of the group that came to the property owner and in a matter of two-and-half to three minutes, we sold the idea that having a velodrome in London would be a good idea and almost 20 years later, we’re still racing,” said Good.
“It was just a couple of guys with the idea of starting a track and now look at us, we have a whole bunch of members,” said Devries. “Track bikes were a new thing in stores then and now there’s track bikes everywhere. I’m really encouraged and looking forward to the future.”
‘Nothing like it in the world’
When the track shut down in the spring of 2023, more than 100 people showed up to a public meeting to find ways to keep the association going, which included volunteers like Devries devoting their time to teach lessons, host more recreational and high performance rides, and fundraising events.
The facility has been used by people of all ages, ranging from a place used by hobbyists looking to stay fit during the cold months, to being a training ground for athletes like Olympian Joseph Veloce and Nick Wammes, who now competes in track cycling for Team Canada.
Reilly Pargeter, 20, spent his childhood training at the velodrome, first getting on a bike at the age of nine. The skills he acquired took him to Europe for two summers where he raced with professional road cyclists.
Finding out that the velodrome shut down was really hard, he said.
“[The velodrome] is very special to me,” he said. “I’ve been here for so long, so it’s definitely been part of my routine year after year, and there’s nothing like it in the world.”
“I usually like to spend my winters here training. It’s a great place to keep the fitness up. I was definitely excited when it reopened because I never thought I’d see it close, but I was happy to see it come back to life.”
Many members have assumed new leadership roles at the velodrome since its return in the fall, but an important highlight for Dervries is the sense of community and newfound friendships cyclists form on the track.