150 Years of Cycling in Crystal Palace!

No other venue has such a longstanding and ongoing sporting heritage for cycling like Crystal Palace!  2019 marks 150 years of cycle racing at Crystal Palace! With the first cycle races reported in France in 1868, the grounds of The Crystal Palace became the London’s first home of cycle racing in 1869… and a tradition still proudly ongoing in Crystal Palace Park today with grassroots and elite Crystal Palace Crits, Crystal Palace Triathlon and the London Youth Games (LYG)... all ongoing at Crystal Palace today!

Crystal Palace has seen many cycle tracks within the grounds, with it’s first dedicated cycle track opening in October 1880,  and soon replaced in September 1896.  This second track used a new cement (faced with a new anti-slip composition) on the straights, with 8ft high wooden banked ends, “30ft. wide in the straights, 25ft. wide in the commencing bend and 28ft. in the finishing curve” to reduce bunching.   A new grandstand followed with the Dunlop Company  established a team of pacers, with a purpose built workshop besides the track.   South London’s proud tradition for cycling was also shared with the iconic Herne Hill Velodrome (opened 1891) that was the 1948 Olympic cycling venue, and today also provides also vital grassroots facility to the local community and cycling clubs.

In the last centenary, the Palace saw Festival of Cycling events and cycle races.  1904 Crystal Palace hosted England’s 1st Track Cycling World Championships, and in 1973 the Palace was the UK’s first home to the World’s Cycle-Cross Championships (video here).  In 2007 Marc Cavendish was the fastest lap around the Tour of Britain Prologue Time Trial of 2m 27.61s over the 2.5km course (following the original motor racing circuit).  This was the first ever Prologue time trial for the Tour of Britain.  Today, the Crystal Palace Summer Criterium Series (Crits) continues taking place on Tuesday evenings over the summer, and the annual Crystal Palace league Triathlon (the only closed road event in London).

Crystal Palace is sporting heritage for more sports than any other venue in England from cycling to motor racing, from athletics to swimming.  For a quick pictorial recap click here !

The Start of Crystal Palace Crits!

There are different accounts of the first road, and closed road, cycle racing in the UK. In these early years these new human powered machines competed in a “velocipede race” .  Like the Bicycle Race by Liverpool Velocipede Club  in March 1869.

On Monday 5th April 1869:  A velocipede race came off at the Crystal Palace on Monday. The race was one mile… Two preliminary heats were run, for each of which five gentlemen came to the post with their bycycles…prizes awarded in the following order, viz.: —Messrs. Moret, Michaux, and Charausonnay.   Reported: Oxford Times – Saturday 10 April 1869

(c) The British Newspaper Archive

Reported in Athletic News Wednesday 06 October 1880, a dedicated Crystal Palace cycle track is opened:

The new cycle track opened 26th September 1896, reported in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News…

Crystal Palace has since seen many records, and many legends of cycling, passed and present, including the likes of Sir Bradley Wiggins and many many others as part or CP Crits or LYG.  London-born cyclist Tao Geoghegan Hart was crowned the winner of the Giro d’Italia in 2020, trained at Crystal Palace Park as a youngster.

24 hours cycle record of 616 miles 340 yards, of 1897 by M Cordang set at Crystal Palace

Historic cycle racing and tracks at Crystal Palace:

CP Crits today… is stronger than ever… every Tuesday evening in the summer at Crystal Palace…


And Crystal Palace Tri is London’s premiere closed road Tri event, attracting 8 to 80 years olds and always over subscribed due its popularity in London!

Help on facts and research from Norwood Society, CP Crits, Dulwich ParagonsCrystal Palace Foundation, and Veteran-Cycle Club –Cycling History No7 “The Crystal Palace – A history of cycle racing from 1869”.