them didn’t want to pay the $60 annual fee that USA Cycling charges to be able to race at the races that Encino Velodrome offered at the time.”
This situation led to the establishment of the Ride the Black Line Summer Series—beginning in June and held every other Wednesday at 7 pm, the series encompasses six races over three months and allows racers outside the USAC circuit to feed their competitive urges.
“Some people tell me—people who are 60-plus, who are still riding at the track—they tell me they haven’t seen racing at the track like this in 30 years,” Menzies says. “It feels good to get things moving again because sometimes you can find an old picture of Encino Velodrome from the early ‘90s or the early ‘70s and there’s literally people lining the track, all spectators, watching the action, and you don’t really see much of that anymore at most tracks.”
While track bikes have evolved into high-tech mechanical marvels, the sport has ironically experienced significant attrition since the days when thousands of spectators poured in to Madison Square Garden to watch Major Taylor lap the field, having lost participants and spectators to the vast array of younger cycling sports.
“Polo is awesome for all the good times that you have and sportsmanship; cyclocross is great for all the beer and and costumes; road riding is great because it just looks epic—when you conquer a mountain, that’s really cool—on track it’s a different thing. It’s a little more abstract,” Menzies says. “There’s only so many times you can watch someone go around in a circle, but the way that it gets cool is when you’re actually on the track racing and you’re trying to tell yourself to go a little bit faster, a little bit harder. There’s like a mountain to be conquered like on the road but it’s actually inside your body.”
One of Menzies’ goals as president is to get more school programs involved with Encino Velodrome. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of youth under 18 have participated in the free juniors program over the years.
“The youth program has been going on a long time,” Avchen says. “No idea when it actually started, but after the ‘84 Olympics there was an organization called the AAF, or Amateur Athletic Foundation. The Youth program was partially funded by the AAF for many years.”
The AAF, now called LA84, was established from the landmark surplus of the 1984 Olympic Games. Receiving 40 percent of the surplus, Los Angeles had over $90 million dollars to invest in athletic programs. The velodrome was one of numerous grant recipients. Although the track no longer receives funding from LA84, Avchen and Shibata continue to run the program every week.
We will take a beginner on any Thursday,” Avchen says of the program’s open-to-all format. “Usually I have Henry teach brand new riders the ropes while I work with the more experienced kids. We have had kids go through the program and go to the Olympics, become National Champions, race in Europe and win many many State Championships.”
Being the little fish in a big pond—track racing and cycling in general in Southern California—has its benefits. While it might not be in the most convenient location, as an environment it’s incredibly accessible to novice track riders.
“Encino Velodrome is amazing for the people,” says Tim McGee, who came from a background in bike polo and, at first, didn’t like all the rules associated with track cycling. “My first impression was, ‘This is crazy.’ I had to learn about paceline and stuff; then they told me that there’s a keirin race, that you could bump people and stuff like that. Then I got really interested.
“I’ve learned a lot of things. Life lessons, mostly. It’s a whole ‘nother sport where you have to commit to something—take care of your body. Plus all the people I’m around in cycling—there’s a ton of good people in cycling! I was surprised at all the stuff they know and all the stuff you can learn from them.” In the time since he began coming to the track, McGee has won three state track titles and earned a set of coveted Wolfpack Hustle dog tags in the 2012 Drag Race.
“This place means a lot to me,” McGee says. “It’s like a part of my family now. It took care of me when I first started and I plan on giving my input on things to teach other riders because I learned a lot and I went far with it.”
For more information on races, training and open sessions at the Encino Velodrome, visit www.encinovelodrome.org.