Try the Track project brings cycling to recreational athletes

With no breaks and G-force speeds, the sport of track cycling kicks biking into high gear. But with a limited number of velodromes in Canada, it has long been out of reach for even the most adventurous of recreational athletes — until now.

This summer, Waterloo researcher Luke Potwarka will lead a unique project designed to leverage the legacy of the 2015 Pan Am Games and bring track cycling to athletes across the Greater Toronto Area.

Leveraging a legacy

Milton velodrome wooden cycling track.

Run in partnership with the Town of Milton, the project is part of a strategic plan to ensure that the new $56 million velodrome, constructed specifically to host Pan Am and Parapan Am cycling events, is used to its full potential long after the international competitors have headed home.

“From Athens to Beijing, there are many examples of mega sporting venues standing empty after the original event,” said Potwarka, a professor in Recreation and Leisure Studies.  “We are going to make sure that doesn’t happen in Milton. But to do that, we have to work for it, plan for it and promote it.”

The new 1500-seat velodrome may already have a head start on its legacy — it is one of only two in North America that meets international standards. For the first time, members of the national track cycling team will not have to travel to the United States to train.

“From the outset, the Town of Milton has planned for this facility to operate under two key principles of legacy: a world class cycling facility for Canadian athletes and a community recreation facility for the public. Our goal is to work diligently on both of these fronts to ensure maximum utilization,” said Jennifer Reynolds, Director of Community Services for the Town of Milton and an alumna of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences. 

Try the track

Luke Potwarka in front of cycling track.To kick start the project for the community, Potwarka will be handing out free try-the-track vouchers to randomly selected spectators after cycling competitions at the velodrome.  He will be collecting survey data on each recipient, including spectator experiences, previous cycling habits, and personality trait information.

“It takes an inspired person to take up track cycling,” said Potwarka. “Our goal is to not only see if on-site promotional initiatives work in this context, but also to improve our understanding of conditions and mechanisms that may influence new sport participation in the wake of a mega sport event.”

The two-hour try the track sessions will be offered by instructors from the Town of Milton and include both in-class and on-track components.

“You don’t get too many chances to study sport participation starting at zero,” said Potwarka. “For the first time we can get base line data, because very few people have been able to take up track cycling recreationally in our region. Until now, there just hasn’t been access.”

Potwarka hopes the Pan Am events will inspire members of the public to not just try track cycling, but eventually become members of the facility.

“We hope to learn more about the longer-term experiences of people that enter into this new sporting world,” he said. “What better time to engage people about a new sport opportunity than right after witnessing an inspiring event?”