Track Cycling: Bikes with No Brakes

Local Cyclist Maddie Godby Headed for Tokyo Olympics

Do you watch track cycling? If you don’t, cyclist Maddie Godby thinks you should.

“Track cycling is like NASCAR. It’s superfast,” she said. “The bikes don’t have brakes. It’s on a 45-degree, banked velodrome. So, there’s a lot of high speed. There’s really epic crashes. It is really fun to watch.”

Godby should know: She happens to be one of the top track cyclists in the world and will represent the United States in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo next month. 

Humble Beginnings

Godby grew up in Boulder County, Colorado – northwest of Denver.

“I kind of grew up on a bike,” she said. “I didn’t really enjoy it.”

Her family had always been involved in cycling. Other family members raced. But Godby had always gravitated more toward team sports until she made the varsity lacrosse team in high school. The coach said she needed to choose between lacrosse and cycling.  

She chose cycling.

At age 17, she joined a junior team out of Boulder and raced one year of street tracks and road races. Then, the team set up a day at the Colorado Springs velodrome. Godby has been a track sprinter ever since!

Ten Years

It’s been a decade since that first spin around a velodrome.

As part of the USA national team, she has earned medals at events around the world. Godby holds the flying 200m, standing 250m and team sprint national records and is a 17-time national champion.

This year, the United States has qualified to have a competitor in two track sprint events at the Tokyo Olympics: individual track sprint and keirin. Godby will be the only woman representing Team USA in both events. 

Track sprint features two competitors at a time on the track. The winner moves on, whittling down the field much like an NCAA bracket until two remain. International keirin, meanwhile, puts six racers onto the oval at once.


Godby’s strongest race is the keirin, which originated in Japan in 1948 as a betting sport to help replenish coffers after World War II. International keirin made its debut at the 2000 Summer Olympics for men and 2012 for women. Godby hopes to represent the United States in Tokyo in 2021.

She was the first American woman to be invited to race Japanese keirin as an international rider. She attended a school in Japan in 2019, passed exams and became licensed as a keirin rider before competing.  

Traditional Japanese races last three days and because betting is permitted, these events are highly regulated. Competitors arrive a day early and have four days with no devices – no contact with the outside world. But on the track? It’s a contact sport.

International keirin, conversely, prohibits contact and some of the rules are slightly different. But the idea is the same: competitors use brakeless, fixed-gear bicycles to ride just under a mile at high speeds.

“To speed up, you have to pedal faster,” Godby said. “To slow down, you have to pedal slower. If you just stop, the wheel will stop and the bike will kind of buck you off like a horse.”

Riders stay behind the pacer, typically a motorcycle, for the first part of the race. The pacer gradually increases to 31 mph by its final circuit, then leaves the track as the riders sprint to the finish at speeds often exceeding 40 mph.

Finding Balance

Godby moved to Colorado Springs about eight years ago due in large part to its sprawling Olympics infrastructure. Colorado Springs is home to 24 Olympic sports, including USA Cycling.

Godby trains year-round for her races, but that’s not all she does.

She completed her undergraduate degree in health promotion at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and now is working toward her master’s degree in public health. How does she do it?

“It’s definitely not easy,” she said. “You learn to balance a little better.”

Website: https://usacycling.org/athlete/maddie-godby
Facebook + Instagram @usacycling + @olympiccityusa

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