Keirin: Part 2 - Road Cycling UK

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Keirin: Part 2

Japanese Keirin

School trip

Less than 24 hours after experiencing my first keirin
tournament I was on a bullet train heading across
Japan, destination the world famous, but highly
guarded and secretive keirin school. It had taken
months of work, vetting and applications to earn the
honour of visiting the school, so it was a rare

Driving through rain storms and clouds we drove into
the hills beneath the fabled Mount Fuji, passing a
great big amusement park before finally reaching the
school. I’d figured on my visit being a waste of time
– after all rain stops play as far as track racing is
concerned, but I was about to find out that this
ruling excluded Japanese Keirin racing, and training.
Unless there is snow on the track then the students,
or racers, train, and train hard!

The whole thing was mind blowing, and hard to take in.
The campus covers a huge expanse in the hills, There
are 3 different velodromes – all different lengths, a
road circuit, and a straight line sprint road, with a
steep hill at the end of it – ridden at full whack on
fixed wheel (after a 200m sprint), and designed to
build strength. On top of this there was a huge
“spinning” style gym, a massive mirrored roller riding
room, a huge gymnasium, laboratories, class rooms,
mechanical work shops, as well as dorms, offices and
dining rooms. It was like a cross between a full blown
university and an army camp.

Every year the school accepts 75 students, aged
between 17-29. There are over 1000 applicants each
year, and the criteria and selection is based on ;
firstly being able to ride a kilometre in under 1.10,
a flying 200 meters in under 12,8, and then passing
various academic exams – which I am informed is often
the stumbling block for most of the “physical” riders.
As much emphasis is put on the academic side as on the
physical, hence they even make space for 5 none
cycling students each year – those with great academic
qualifications who can make a certain minimum height
in a squat jump. The only other exceptions to the
standard rule are those with Olympic or world cycling
championship medals.

The students spend a whole year at the school, and
their days are split between physical and academic
training. they all live in small dorm rooms, are
allowed one personal photo on their desks, get up at
6.30 am and go to bed at It really is boot camp
with added discipline. As well as basic education, the
riders are educated in the art and theory of keirin
racing – and of gambling. Graduation takes place after
achieving set cycling standards, passing exams, and
ultimately an interview – to assess mentale and
temperament, few fail the procedure, and those that do
have the opportunity to re-enter the school the
following year. Mobile phones are banned here, and
weekend passes earned by the top students.

My escorted tour of this place was truly strange but
fascinating. It was hurling down, yet the riders were
leaving the roller room and lining up regimentally for
their afternoon track session. I was allowed to look
around for a while, I even climbed the tower above the
roller room, used by the coaches to administer their
commands. A few riders pedalled away on the rollers,
having their positions scoured by one of the 12 camp
bike coaches. Meantime the others pounded the tracks
outside, splashing through the rains and reacting to
every megaphone demand of the coaches. A couple of
others affixed a rear brake to their bikes and headed
out for a torturous road session, it was the kind of
discipline that would break all but the most
determined, and would have little place in many a
western country, yet it worked.

My visit was drawing to a close, but not before a tour
of the testing laboratories. I was shown everything,
including the results of the foreign keirin riders,
and was shown just how basic some of their techniques
were; “Barbarians!” was how the coach described them,
with a huge appreciative grin.

I left the school with a book thick manual, all
precisely translated into English, it really had been
a privilege, and the whole sport is fascinating, like
nothing else in cycle sport, and if you ever get the
chance to sample it the grab it with both hands, and a
betting slip.

The ranking system

Both keirin racers and events are ranked, and
competitions take place on a graded basis, almost like
a football league – with those riders in the middle of
the rankings being able to compete in both higher and
lower grade events in order to increase their

There are S 1,2,and 3 grades and A 1 and 2 grades,
with the S class being the highest category. When a
rider leaves the keirin school he starts on the bottom
A 3 rung, and points earned in the races determine his
ranking, these rankings are re-evaluated twice a year
and the classes determined then.

There are six categories of tournament; with higher
ranked riders competing in the G1,2 and 3 series,
while the lower graded S class racers compete in the F
1,2 and 3 series events, and there is also the end of
season GP, which is the main event of the year.
Events take places over periods of 3-4 days with
anything from 8-14 sessions (races) per day – rain or

There are almost 4000 registered keirin racers in
japan, the oldest of which is 59 years old, and in the
lowest category.


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