Thursday, January 8, 2015

Giordana Veldrome and Rock Hill Outdoor Center

We ended our tour of South Carolina's Olde English District in Rock Hill at the city's 250-acre outdoor recreational center. The area includes a new scenic Riverwalk for walkers and joggers along the Catawba River, mountain biking trails, a BMX/Supercross track, and velodrome. There is also canoe/kayak access to the Catawba River and open space.

In my eyes, the Giordana Velodrome is the shining star. I felt I was walking into an Olympic Stadium. I would never have expected such an amazing world-class facility in a suburban area like Rock Hill.  Clearly the city officials had a terrific idea and didn't hold back.

Although talk began back in 2002, the velodrome wasn't completed until 2012. It was built at the cost of $5 million with what I heard referred to as "innovative financing."  No property tax or general fund money went toward the project.  While five million may seem like a lot of money for biking, what a sound investment it was. Not only can residents come and ride but the center draws numerous events and national and international championships. Those events bring overnight visitors who need lodging and dining in addition to giving Rock Hill a name on the map.   

Cyclist on the Rock Hill Velodrome
"From our perspective, we believe investments in recreational amenities will serve as a catalyst for the overall development," said John Taylor, operations supervisor for the city's Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.

Thad Fischer, cycling coordinator for the velodrome, gave us a tour and explained the building process. "Once the workers started pouring concrete, it became a continuous, 7 day a week project. Twenty-four dedicated workers poured concrete by hand using painstaking detail to create a perfect 250-meter, 42-degreed banked oval track. They worked an entire day to pour one inch of concrete in 24 expanses. Over 200 tons of steel rebar were also used."
Giordana Velodrome in Rock Hill, SC

The stadium is capable of hosting national and Olympic caliber events and can seat 800 spectators. The facility also has an overhead judging station.

"Because it's a velodrome and has a steep embankment, it takes a certain level of confidence and skill to do it," said Thad.  'Cycling is a lifestyle... But the velodrome is not all about competition. ...It's a vehicle to take adults and children down a really good road."

The velodrome's programming targets all levels, including:

Bikes at the Velodrome

• "Kids on the Track": Designed for ages 6 through 14. Children learn track basics on the infield. Advanced riders move to the banked track. The class is free.

• "Giordana Try the Track": Directed at the beginning cyclist. The staff introduces track-riding and safety. The program is a stepping stone to the more structured programs. It can accommodate two people per day and is free.

• "Track Basics": This program is required for all cyclists who don't have extensive track-riding experience, or have taken the other programs. It discusses track rules and safe techniques. Experienced riders must also complete this 8-hour class, which costs $20.

Bikes for the track's introductory programs will be provided. The bikes used on velodromes have no brakes and use a single, fixed rear gear. This helps increase speed while reducing weight.

While I wish I were a good enough biker to try out the velodrome, I was happy to watch a lone cyclist put in some practice time.

Next we moved on the Novant Health BMX/Supercross Track which had just opened after three years of construction and a cost of $7 million.  I thought I was watching Evil Knievel flying on his motorcycle when I saw a young boy take off down the steep embankment and literally jettison himself and his bike over the track.  Awesome! 

BMX bike rider on the Rock Hill Course

The facility features an 8-meter elite supercross start hill, 5-meter amateur start hill, pump track, instruction and community events, and programs for all ages and skill levels.

Rock Hill has done it again, building the first Olympic-caliber BMX training facility open to the general public on the U. S. East Coast.

Rock Hill, population 69,000, truly seems like a grand community. I think I would like living there.  

Watch my video of a BMX biker going down the Supercross start hill.

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