Lexus Velodrome

The Exhilaration of track cycling in the Lexus Velodrome

By: Christine Hughes  March 01, 2020

The Detroit Fitness Foundation is able to work towards its mission daily as the overseer of the Lexus Velodrome, a 64,000 multi sport complex located in the heart of Detroit at I-75 and Mack Avenue. Though to many, the velodrome is more than a place to ride bikes. It’s a place for everyone to feel at home. The atmosphere at the Lexus Velodrome is described to be “positive" and has “good energy”.

In 2019, more than 3.5 million viewers watched the livestream videos of the American Cycling League’s (ACL) coverage of the track cycling races at Lexus Velodrome. That’s 3.5 million people watching bike racing. On a board track. In Detroit. Whaaaat? How? Who?

Driven by the creator of the Lexus Velodrome and ACL Chairman Dale Hughes, the goal of all this livestreaming is as multi-faceted as the cycling venue that generates it. “Our facility doesn’t have a huge capacity so butts in seats is not our goal. Our videos – that’s how we are gaining traction and we are reaching an audience that we knew was out there, waiting for this kind of show and now, tuning in regularly.”

What kind of show? Approximately 2 hours of unedited, outrageous cycle racing with memorable announcing dialogue, close finishes and unimaginable moves. It’s that kind of show. More on that in a minute.

First some background. The Lexus Velodrome is a 64,000 square foot complex in Detroit, prominently displayed on the region’s busiest expressway and in plain view of the city’s commuting population and its visitors. A now familiar site to drivers, the big white air structure houses the only bicycle track of its kind in North America – a 166m oval with 50 degree banking. It surrounds an infield outfitted with 20 suites featuring big screen monitors, adjoining flex space with 35 tables and chairs and the SpokeEasy Lounge, serving up adult beverages and energy drinks. You probably still don’t get the picture, but let’s just say when the vibe ramps up it’s intimate, enthusiastic, rivals any other sports bar and surpasses most track cycling experiences you’ll ever have, at least in this hemisphere.

So back to the show. It is part and parcel of the Lexus Velodrome race watching experience, in person or livestream. And except for following a basic schedule, it is unscripted. It starts at 7:15 pm, every race night, when viewers are introduced to a couple of racers during the Pre Race Mash Up. Jon Hughes runs the conversation, cajoling words out of typically quiet Detroit kids, or redirecting animus among competitors. He could be talking with 9-year-old Coleman Cameron, a surprising little dynamo; or someone more sedate - England’s Stephen Bradbury or not so subtle but genuinely endearing Kyle Perry. There are Aussies, New Zealanders, Canadians, Brits, Germans and a Detroiter or two, all with a bit of a story to tell AND all with one thing in common – they love to track cycling at the Lexus Velodrome.

The racing is, of course, what completes the picture. By decree of the recently formed American Cycling League and permitted by USA Cycling, the focus of the competition is the Madison, the two-person team race thriller that produces action almost every minute the race is in progress. This keeps the announcer – Jon Hughes who has created something of his own big persona with his booming, guttural voice – busy all race long. “Coming in Hot” and “High Exchange” are at the tip of his tongue. While he calls the race he also knows when to pause, just a bit, so an unexpected move can be as the racer intended -- unexpected.

“From the announcing stand I can really see the race unfold, I know what it is happening before the racers do. It is a challenging balance – sharing what you know with the in-house and the viewing audience but not sharing too much so the race is uncompromised,” says the Voice of the Lexus Velodrome. “Bottom line, my job is to inform the audience. Every time we are livestreaming it is a teaching moment and a chance to generate excitement for the sport we all love.”

It is working. With the numbers moving up every week, the American Cycling League is pushing its content everywhere. The video is accurate, dead on and reality TV, thanks to the skills of the ACL’s videographer Alex Burnside and crew.

“When we first started doing this our viewers were local, statewide, maybe across the country,” says Dale Hughes. “Now we’ve got cycling fans viewing from Thailand, Japan, Europe, Canada…everywhere.”

Long term that gives the ACL an opportunity to continue to popularize AND monetize a product that is the most-ignored on the airways – bicycle racing.

“We think we’ve got the most exciting component to the most exciting sport on the planet,” ruminates Hughes. “Put 16 super fit athletes on a crazy, tilted venue and watch them go fast and faster, sometimes one handed, always without brakes. Who does that?”

The American Cycling League at the Lexus Velodrome, with That Show – that’s who.

Next up. How did the Lexus Velodrome go from nothing to amazing in two short years.