The land of misfit bikers

Velo-27

Koochella has been a major contributor toward fundraising efforts to maintain the velodrome // Photo by Aaron Davidson

As of November 2014, the National Sports Center, which operates the velodrome as well as hosts Minnesota United FC pro soccer matches and the popular Schwan’s USA CUP International Youth Soccer Tournament, didn’t have any repair money in its budget allocated to the track that operates at an annual loss of about $45,000. Without annual upkeep, the 25-year-old track was showing its age.

“At the end of the season last year there was an issue with the structure,” explains racer Lilah Guertin, who is also Koochella’s event coordinator. “It was made with Afzelia wood, which is a type of mahogany. The wood was only supposed to last for 20 years. This is the 26th year.”

So Koochella banded together with the community and advocacy group, Friends of Velodrome Racing in Minnesota, and raised around $115,000. A supporting fundraiser with Fulton Brewery alone helped raise over $5,600 in just two hours. Despite the money, Schwinn says the future of the velodrome was never clear. “The NSC kept having meetings saying we were closed,” she says, noting how one large barrier was the initial $6,000 needed for a repair strategy. “Friends of Velodrome Racing and Koochella just kept raising money anyway and kept moving forward. If we had waited for permission for that this would not have happened at all.”

Velo-18

The velodrome track, now 26 years old, is made from Afzelia wood and was only supposed to last for 20 years // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Velo-20

“[I] threw myself into it like a part-time job for a while,” Anna Schwinn said of her efforts to save the track. She cited two motivators that kept her going: how social the experience of racing at the velodrome is and how the track prepares racers for all other racing formats. // Photo by Aaron Davidson

The money raised proved to be enough to keep the track—originally planned to close before last year’s spring season—open for five more seasons. “[I] threw myself into it like a part-time job for a while,” Schwinn says of saving the track. She cited two motivators that kept her going: how social the experience of racing at the velodrome is and how the track prepares racers for all other racing formats.

By the time the track’s five years are up, Koochella and Minnesota’s other racing teams may have a new venue to race in. Their sights are set on northeast Minneapolis’ Shoreham Yards site. A move to northeast Minneapolis makes sense for the bike racing community. The neighborhood is a mecca for craft beer and food, and is dedicated to promoting flair, creativity, artistry, and expression—all things that would help an activity built on days-long events and an appreciation of intense revelry thrive.

But obtaining an indoor velodrome, which would have 55-degree walls and run 200 meters, will be an uphill battle. To make the dream a reality, racers will need to lobby the state government. “It’s going to be ludicrously expensive,” Schwinn laughs. “We definitely need state support for it.”

If the Northeast venue does come to fruition, the site will also be used for concerts and possibly to host BMX racing, providing the Twin Cities another place to congregate for entertainment. If it doesn’t happen, however, there are other options. Portable tracks exist, and there’s always the option to travel to Chicago to race. There’s also the possibility of putting up a smaller, less expensive track that would cost the same as the repairs currently cost at the track in Blaine. “There are options, but we’d have to be creative,” Schwinn says. “As long as our community remains active and we can grow it and grow excitement for it, we will find a way.”

Finding a way to keep growing her team—and sport—will take time and effort, but Schwinn says she’s ready. “We’re looking at starting franchises, basically,” she says. “We can’t take everyone on our team, but we can support other people and give them the tools to start their own teams. We’re really trying to put together leaders in our community.”

When asked if the extra work is worth it, Schwinn doesn’t hesitate. “It’s totally worth it,” she says. “You see women grow in so many different ways and turn into badasses, too. We want to make sure women’s cycling explodes here.”

Schwinn says she wants her team’s brand to mimic the reality of velodrome racing: you’re unable to hide and you can’t—won’t—slow down. With the possibility of a new track motivating them as well as the increasing success of their team, Koochella will keep pedaling along—misfits and all.

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