Love Letter to a Velodrome – Brenda Croell

Love Letter to a Velodrome

Words and photos (black and white) by Brenda Croell,  Introduction and photos (color) by Spencer Harding

I had heard much lore about the NSC velodrome over the years leading up to me spending last summer in Minneapolis.  It is truly a spectacle in physicality and community alike. Until you have taken a lap on those old boards you don’t truly understand what it takes to drop into those turns every Thursday night.  After just a few months in this community, I was brought to tears as we left the velodrome to move to Arizona, Brenda and I literally drove our fully packed truck to the velodrome for one last night of racing. I lack the words to describe my sorrow imagining how everyone in this community will feel when this place is torn down next summer.

We met on a cold Saturday in April. Winter had worn on you, rotted your core. My job, along with other volunteers, was to strengthen your weak points; a job you would reciprocate months later. You creaked and moaned as we pulled up your boards to expose your insides. Afzalia had become endangered and so we patched you with lesser wood. Rotten next to the new, but “well-loved” was the word I chose to use when talking about you to friends and family.

Summer meant I spent every Thursday I could spare with you. My body leading up to that day reacted as it does before a first date: sleepless nights, unbridled giddiness, overthinking, and trying on my skinsuit countless times. Instead of butterflies in my stomach, my lower region decided to nervously poop for 24 hours leading up to our meeting. Was this love?

Once a week for three months, my weaknesses were unapologetically put on display. Dark truths of my life that I had done well to ignore were spoken so clearly from an inanimate and seemingly voiceless object. “Eat more. Or you will not be able to ride.” And so I ate because being away from you meant my body would wither. “Leave him and be free.” And so I left because the three hours I spent with you were more joyful than the past three years of my life. I always thought it was a cliche when I overheard folks saying bicycles changed their life. But there I was, truly living on two wheels without brakes and without fear, speaking a sentence over and over that had never felt comfortable coming from my mouth: “I am strong.” What was supposed to be a casual hobby quickly turned into therapy while my competition soon became family.

Unfortunately, your time is coming to an end. And I can’t save you the way you have saved me and countless others. The space you occupied, which was dedicated to bikes and their humans, will ironically become a place for cars to park. Your soft green grass once littered with grandma quilts that were occupied by sweaty bodies of exhaustion and elation will turn to hard concrete. Silence will replace the sounds of rumbling boards, cheers from dedicated fans, and ridiculous infield dance parties. The bright lights will go dark and no longer illuminate faces of determination and defeat. We’ve seen this finale before. Dorais. Olympic. Stone Mountain. Fallowfield. Meadowbank. Dieppe. Your name will be added to the long list on a Wikipedia page titled “Velodromes No Longer in Use,” followed by a short description that does your story no justice.

I started this relationship knowing there was an expiration date, and that awareness has not softened the heartbreak. I refuse to accept that the only narrative told of you will be two sentences, one of them including the word “demolished.” You deserve better than that because you are magic incarnate. Each board possessing the ability to not just call out my fragileness, but also my strengths. The pieces of you that will stay with myself and others, outside of the literal splinters under our skin, are in the form of lifelong friends and a passion to preserve the freedom and power we all felt pedaling in circles at the NSC Velodrome.

The NSC Velodrome in Blaine, Minnesota is being torn down after the 2019 season. It has hosted countless Thursday Night Light competitions, Fixed Gear Classic, Track Cycling Championships, and Olympic Trials. One of the largest WTF fields in the country called the boards home, and numerous racers from around the country were able to experience riding what can only be described as a wooden roller coaster. The track community in Minneapolis is currently working hard to contact legislators to find a location and funding for an indoor cycling center that will not only benefit athletes but the community as well through youth job training programs and a variety of learn-to-ride cycling classes for children and adults.   

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Follow Brenda on Instagram and follow Spencer on Instagram

 

  • Jeffrey Frane

    Beautiful. Words, photos, everything…

  • Monique Lara

    Loveliest love letter written to a Velodrome. Hope I can bear witness to its resilience before it is torn down. Thanks for sharing Brenda! <3

    -Monique

  • ol’grumpy

    Damn y’all. This one got me. A beautiful love letter to a time, place and group of people.

  • Tiana Johnson

    My ❤

  • George T Rosselle

    Girls, bikes, and a board track velodrome. Too bad the story has a sad ending. I hope it can be rewritten soon with word of a new track being built. I reckon we better appreciate the velodrome we still have in the Atlanta area.

    • Jared Jerome

      You boys should count yourselves lucky :)

    • Bil Thorne

      They’re trying to get the new track built *in* Minneapolis. The suburb of Blaine isnt exactly bike friendly so this will be a lot easier to get to for the bike folks who dont own cars.

      Especially for me because it’ll be two blocks away.

  • Awesome piece you two. I loved afternoons at Kissena when I lived in New York.

  • Anna’s skinsuit is so damn good!!!

  • Lovely piece and photos. Initially I thought it must be about the velodrome I used to race on namely Meadowbank in Edinburgh Scotland as the light and the grass next to the cote d’azure were just like Meadowbank. Meadowbank was torn down this year, I managed to grab pieces of the black and blue lines before they had finished pulling it down. A bit of history has gone as it’s where Sir Chris Hoy started, a great shame but least he now has an indoor velodrome named after him in Glasgow now.

  • Great piece!

  • Max G.

    This is indeed very sad news indeed. I spent countless hours up there in the middle of nowhere (Blaine, MN) watching races on a that beautiful wooden replica of the Olympic Velodrome from 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Portland’s

    Circuit d’Alpenrose located in the hills and forest has a way better location, but NSC Velodrome is prettier. Plain and Simple.
    https://flic.kr/p/5odrwA
    The only drawback to the whole experience was its location. Yeah, in the middle of nowhere. A few years ago I attended an event (a sort of a fundraiser for a new, covered velodrome in the Twin Cities) during which drawings of the new, indoors velodrome facility were presented and I was appalled by its boxy, flat, and unimaginative design. I spoke to the event organizers and was appalled that many were not familiar with Lee Valley Velo Park in London, it’s graceful lines and shapes. Instead, an office building with a pista-track was offered. Location was not known. And then they dropped the bombshell: NSC Velodrome is old and about to close.
    That really saddened me. I hoped that it was only a rumor and that the Twin Cites are going to preserve that beautiful monument to one the purest forms of bicycle racing, the track. But to no avail. This is going to be a HUGE loss for the cycling community in the Twin Cities. Sad indeed.
    https://flic.kr/p/fM3Wgf

  • Locke Hassett

    The amount of time I’ve spent changing flats far exceeds the time I’ve spent on a track bike. I’ve never been to a velodrome. But reading this made it feel real to me too. Beautiful words, gorgeous photos. Thank you.

    • spencer harding

      if there was ever a time to ride one, next summer would be it.

  • SloRide1

    There is a strong push to get a ‘drome in Tucson. Welcome and join us!

    • Thisisntreally Mike

      fuck I already want to move to Tucson! A velodrome would be the icing on the cake.

  • This is my favourite article I’ve ever seen on this site. Thanks so much for sharing Brenda.

  • AngryBikeWrench

    I’m sure if I knew the whole story, I’d understand, but from my limited perspective, I just don’t understand how a venue that hosts so much passion couldn’t succeed.