A Need for Speed

The youngest members are 10 years old, the oldest is 25. The boys meet
every week and organise their matches on race-grounds that they built
without permission. They don’t really know who owns the ground they are
riding on (the university, estates co-op, the city). Their clubs have
no authorities or resources, the league rules aren’t written down
anywhere. After a whole season of rivalry they gain nothing but the
title of ‘champion’.

When asked about speedrower, students from Toru_ are at a loss. On the
contrary, the locals have no problem understanding either the English
word ‘speedway’ or its Polish derivative ‘speedrower’ (cycle speedway).
In the towns like Rybnik, Gniezno, Czestochowa or Bydgoszcz, the boys’
support for their local speedway club is greater than their fascination
for football.
In speedrower, you ride on bicycles which have no lights, bags, gears
or… brakes. In Torun there’s only one driver – "Zaba" ("The Frog"),
one of the best in Poland – who will have a big, professional bike made
from a special light alloy next year. The rest use either BMX or
customised Wigry-3 (in a pre-computer times the most popular First
Communion present in Poland). The changes made include mounting one
special gear, strengthening the frame (this only partially succeeds in
preventing breakage), and also sticking on some stickers with adverts
from the sponsors of their favourite speedway riders.

About 10 years ago, city leagues were founded in Poland. They still
exist in some Polish cities and towns (e.g. Bydgoszcz, Rawicz, Torun,
Wroclaw). The one from Torun consists of 7 teams (among them: MKS
Gagarina, RKS Rybaki and Bydgoska Speedrower Team).

Most of the town league boys (pictured here) live near to Bydgoskie
Przedmiescie – a district with a reputation similar to that of Praga in
Warsaw. They’re no angels at all. Behind the little graffiti-covered
building, a little boy is smoking and his older friends are discussing
chemical improvement of their body-building. During the short session
they didn’t watch their language, fought several times (with girls,
too), and spat at each other (not only verbally). Just after that, they
were nice and helpful. Fine boys, more of them will end up in jail than
at the university.

Despite their lack of organisation, the leagues work just
fine. Team captains are responsible for the ground maintenance. The
teams cannot afford real starting machines so they signal the start by
releasing the rubber strip manually. The race-tracks have no limiting
walls, so sometimes their unwillingness to give way leaves the players
far out on the grass. The referees are chosen from the host team. As
for financial aid, the city council doesn’t support the speedroverclubs
– with team"boards" which could be easily accused of spending their
funds on Pokemons. On the other hand, the boards wouldn’t know which
door in which building to knock on to ask for help. They don’t seem
abandoned – they just don’t feel any need for help.

It looks different in the country league. The country league’s
organisers are members of the Polish Speedrower Association, whose
active members include referees, former players, fans, and non-playing
members. In Leszno, Pi_a, Zielona and Góra they collect or even just
give money to their clubs. Thanks to these sponsors, boys from MIPO
Bydgoszcz have visited England; others have travelled throughout

Speedrower activists, like the coaches of the local one-man-staff sport
clubs, are often more like social workers than managers. Yet, their
official words cause sadness: about the first year of the Polish league
(1995) they said, that "the contest still hadn’t reached a proper
level". However, they didn’t mean lack of will to fight or experience
among the competitors, or excessive differences between them. The
problem was that "there weren’t any referees at matches, there were no
boards, no active members".

Speedrower still isn’t very popular in Poland, and the activists
complain about lack of interest from the media. They believe their
chance may lie in joining the structures of the Polish Bicycle
Institutionalisation of the sport would mean better organization,
financial and logistical help, and health insurance for the players. It
would also mean licences, boards, chairmen, formal requirements,
reports. This changes the motivation.The elimination of competitions,
travelling, money, good relations with coaches then becomes
predominant. The victory itself is losing its significance. This
process is both sad and unavoidable.

On the other hand, the players haven’t noticed a difference between the
league, in which they have to take care of everything and are
completely independent, and the one that is looking towards the adult
institutions. The contrast is not really so visible. The boys from the
neighbourhood draw up the match programs, use the rules in a
professional way (e.g. the last one in a race doesn’t finish it with
"defect" in order to take the symbolical point away from the opponent),
they celebrate the same rituals as their semi-professional colleagues,
and, if they are good enough, they race in the country league, which is
actually still amateur.

During the Grand Prix Challenge, you can find students and high school
pupils. Dirty language is not allowed, an ambulance is waiting in case
of accidents, and there is a bar, serving cakes and sausages. The
winners’ smiles and the sadness in eyes of the defeated remain the same
in any league.

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