Detroit gives new indoor velodrome a spin

George Hunter

Detroit — The second indoor velodrome in the United States opened its doors Saturday night, giving city kids and seniors a facility where they can ride bicycles and participate in other athletic activities for free.

Several hundred people attended a private preview of the Lexus Velodrome at 601 Mack, just west of Interstate 75, including Detroit resident Alysha McGee, who said she was impressed by the facility, which was bathed in blue and purple lighting.

“The city really stepped outside the box with this,” she said. “It has a European feel to it.”

Bicyclists competed Saturday in exhibition races, exceeding speeds of 40 mph.


The $4 million velodrome and sports complex, which is set to open Jan. 26, features a bicycle track, walking and running track and weight-training area, was paid for by an undisclosed “angel donor” and is operated by the nonprofit Detroit Fitness Foundation, which was formed in 2016.

“Our mission statement is simple: to provide fitness and sporting opportunities for Detroiters, with a focus on kids and seniors,” Detroit Fitness Foundation director Dale Hughes said during the opening ceremony.

“Our goal is to see if we can get some young Detroiter who has never seen a velodrome in his life to make it to the Olympics,” Hughes said.

Kids younger than 18 can ride free, have free use of bikes, helmets and shoes, and free use of the track. Rental equipment is also free for adult Detroit residents, and seniors 65 years old and older will be able to use the walking and running tracks for free during designated hours.

The facility sits on 1.4 acres in the northeast corner of Tolan Playfield, which features basketball courts, walking paths and a climbing hill. Classes will be offered for bicycling, running, walking and skating.

The “jewel” of the facility, Hughes said, is the 1/10-mile long Olympic-style velodrome featuring a pitched track. Bicyclists competed Saturday in exhibition races, exceeding speeds of 40 mph.

Lexus, which in November landed the naming rights for the velodrome, on Saturday unveiled the 2018 LS 500 sedan at the opening.

In addition to funding the velodrome, the donor donated $125,000 for improvements to Tolan Playfield, which is named after Thomas “The Midnight Express” Tolan, a Detroiter and Olympic gold medalist who set records in the 100-yard dash, and Olympic 100- and 200-meter sprints in the 1930s.

The city plans to spend $250,000 to add playground equipment, a picnic shelter, tables, fitness areas, a skateboard ramp and horseshoe pits to Tolan Playfield, along with refurbishing basketball courts.

Hughes has overseen the construction of more than 20 velodromes, including the facility used in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He said the donor required a velodrome be part of the project, although the donor wanted more recreational activities to be offered. The first indoor velodrome in the U.S. is in Los Angeles.

The Detroit Fitness Foundation will operate the facility for six years, with an option to renew the contract with the city for another six years.

Detroit resident Barbara Jean Patton, who attended Saturday’s opening ceremony, said the facility is one more indication the city is making a comeback.

“A few years ago, they were saying ‘last one out of Detroit, turn out the lights,’ ” she said. “Now, it’s a complete turnaround. It’s good to have nice things for the people in this city to enjoy.”

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