George Garner 2021 Club of the Year

Meet 2021 Track Club of the Year: George Garner Cyclery

By: Jim Rutberg  March 24, 2022

The story of the George Garner Cyclery Track Team is more about the spirit of community-based cycling programs than about winning championships. The 2021 USA Cycling Club of the Year is really a just a handful of friends who stay connected to the community and each other through time on the track.

A Community Velodrome

The George Garner Cyclery Team is based in Northbrook, Illinois, home of the Ed Rudolph Velodrome. Nestled in the corner of Meadowhill Park in the northern suburbs of Chicago, the velodrome has been a hub for community racing for more than 50 years.

As velodromes go, it is remarkably accessible. When it’s not reserved for training or racing, the track is open to the public. And the track itself is both accommodating for beginners and challenging for experienced riders. The banking is only 18-degrees, compared to the 45-degree banking of the 250-meter VELO Sports Center track in Carson, California. On the other hand, it is a 382-meter velodrome with gentle corners and a wide infield that features a soccer field.

Jason Garner, one of the founding members of the George Garner Cyclery Track Team, says racers accustomed to the Ed Rudolph Velodrome must make significant adjustments when traveling to race events like National Championships on other tracks. “Your mind plays tricks on you. You train on Northbrook and it’s shallow, but you get used to it. Then you go out to [Velo Sports Center] and it feels like you’re looking at a wall. But after a few days you get accustomed to that and coming back home the Ed Rudolph Velodrome feels like racing on the road.”

Teammate Robbie Higgins, who finished on the podium in two races at the 2021 Masters Track National Championships, added, “We’ve also mistimed things. You think you have more time because we’re used to a longer track. If you’re used to making something happen with a lap or a lap and half to go, you have to adjust when you go to a smaller track.”

Grassroots Programming

The location and accessibility of the Ed Rudolph Velodrome makes it particularly conducive for training and weekly racing. In 2022, the track plans to host 17 Thursday Night racing sessions, which routinely draw around 200 riders. The velodrome maintains a fleet of loaner track bikes and has a history of hosting a youth development program two nights a week.

With two velodromes less than 50 miles apart, racers can compete on Tuesday nights at the Washington Park Velodrome in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Thursday nights at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook, Illinois.

The Garner Cup

George Garner Sr. was a pioneering retailer in the cycling industry. He worked in bike shops before joining the Marines during World War II. After the war, he opened his first shop in 1947 and went on to become Schwinn’s number one dealer for 17 years in a row. His innovations for retailing, selling, and servicing bicycles inspired the development of Schwinn’s Sales and Management School in 1964. During his decades of service in the cycling community, Garner Sr. raised and contributed funds to restore and resurface the Ed Rudolph Velodrome twice, as well as the Encino Velodrome in Encino, CA.

The George Garner Cyclery has been a long-time supporter of the velodrome in Northbrook. The team, run by his son, Jason Garner, sponsors an annual Keirin competition at the track. The Keirin was one of George Garner Sr.’s favorite events, and winners of the annual Garner Cup get their names inscribed on a perennial trophy displayed in the Cyclery’s Northbrook location.

Friendship, Fun, and Fitness

“I think the track is where we all met and became friends”, said Jason Garner. “We were racing together, and then occasionally training together, and then Robbie would talk us into going on some road racing adventure and it grew from there. For us it’s not so much about results. You know, we’re all middle aged – with the exception of my 10-year-old who is just getting into riding – so we’re looking more for friendship and fun. Having the regular schedule makes it easy to get together at least one night a week despite our own busy lives.”

Looking to the future, Jason Garner and teammate Jeff Whiteman now have children old enough to get involved in the velodrome’s junior programming. The team is looking to get more involved in the junior cycling scene and use their experience to help the next generation enjoy training and racing on the track.