By the end of 2018, metro Detroit is set to have more dedicated bicycle lanes and paths than New York City, San Francisco or Los Angeles. It will also be home to one of only two permanent indoor cycling velodromes in the country.
At the center of the bicycle revolution is Rochester Hills resident Dale Hughes, who has designed and/or constructed more than 20 velodromes around the world, including the International Velodrome at Rochester Hills’ Bloomer Park as well as the Indoor Multi Sport Complex featuring a world class velodrome at Tolan Playfield in Detroit. Set to open by the end of the year, the $4 million facility in Detroit is being constructed without tax funds through the non-profit Detroit Fitness Foundation, of which Hughes serves as executive director, and an angel donor from metro Detroit.
"It will be the second velodrome in Michigan and one of about 25 in the United States," Hughes said of the cycling tracks. "Most of them are old, going back a good 30 or 40 years."
That was until Hughes started designing and building velodromes on a regular basis, beginning with a 250-meter track in Atlanta, Georgia, which was built for the 1996 Olympic Games. Since then, he has built velodromes for the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games; the 2015 Pam Am Games in Toronto; the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India; and national training facilities in Israel, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and other countries, as well as tracks in Santa Rosa, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland and other places.
Yet for all of his work creating velodromes, Hughes didn't initially get interested in cycling until after graduating from Oakland University with a business degree and deciding to open a local bicycle shop.
"I was born in Highland Park, then moved to the farmland of Rochester and went to Rochester High and Oakland University," he said. "I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I visited my sister in Germany and discovered cycling. I asked my dad to loan me $9,000, which is how much I knew he had, and another friend did the same and we opened a bike shop."
A few years later, Hughes met Wolverine Sports Club cycling coach Mike Walden, who had trained Olympic-winning cyclists. Walden suggested Hughes work on building a velodrome. Hughes partnered with a friend and built a portable velodrome as he toured around the country for events. While the track was stolen in 1981 when someone drove off with the trucks and trailers used to transport the velodrome, he started up again in 1995 after getting a call from the U.S. Olympic committee to construct a track for the summer games in Atlanta.
"We had it in three trailers and trucks. We thought it was secure, but they drove off with it," Hughes said about the lost track. "It wasn't insured. We kept looking for six years for boarded up houses with Schwinn logos on it because they were one of the sponsors."
With his newest endeavor as executive director of the Detroit Fitness Foundation, Hughes hopes to attract international athletes while promoting fitness in the city. The new position means less time away from home building new velodromes.
"They aren't just building the tracks, but huge buildings... in Kazakhstan, they created a whole new city out of a little hamlet," he said. "I'll also never deal with Kazakhstan again because you're basically dealing with the Russian mafia. I had some not fun situations."
Photo: Jean Lannen