It is pretty much obligatory for every provider of goldsprints equipment and events to dedicate some portion of their web presence to the history of roller racing and goldsprints. This is ours, and it's very much a work in progress. There's a lot of great information to start with on Wikipedia and I'll be working from those same sources and then doing additional research to fill in as time allows. One thing I've noticed is that there's a lot of word-for-word repetition of the story of roller racing/ goldsprints. My hope is to write a narrative here that is different, more informative, and more fun to read than what's out there already.
Almost as soon as there were bicycles, there were methods contrived to ride them in place, and as soon as there were ways to ride bikes in place, there were stationary races. The recorded history of roller racing appears to coalesce around two time periods: 1890-1915, and the postwar era of the 1950's. Roller racing certainly happened after that, (and continues to happen) but the stories tend to be of dusty mechanical roller rigs on their last legs or of heroic restorations of that equipment.
EArly mechanical racing: 1890-1930
Around 1900, roller racing as depicted in the photo above was part of a pretty diverse landscape of cycling competition. One of those mustachioed gentlemen is "Mile-a Minute Murphy," who gained the moniker in 1899 by riding a bicycle a mile in 57.8 seconds on a boarded-up section of railroad track in the draft of a locomotive. Murphy was confident he'd be up to the task, as he had already ridden a mile in 37 seconds on stationary rollers.
Back to that photo above for a minute, though. What is the "Tribune Blue Streak" named on the base of the "clock face" of the roller setup? I used to assume it was the name of the racing rig and that maybe the Tribune was a newspaper of some sort that sponsored the races, but "Tribune Blue Streak" actually refers to the bicycles themselves, and I am guessing that this rig was used to promote them. Murphy is also on a "Blue Streak" in the photo above where he's riding behind the train. And, you can actually see a "Blue Streak" in person here in Vermont, at the lovely Old Spokes Home bicycle shop, who of course also play a role in the history of Vermont Goldsprints!
Mechanical racing 1945- present
Roller racing had a bit of a resurgence after World War II, mostly in England, where exhibition races could be found in ballrooms and theaters around the country.
There have also been a couple of setups that were mechanically connected to little cyclists on a model track:
Early Computerized Racing- 1992 to Present
Just as roller racing coincided with the invention of the bicycle, computerized methods of tracking racer time and distance emerged almost as soon as there were consumer-available computers that could support them. In the early 1990's, Al Kreitler (of Kreitler Rollers fame) commissioned "Roller Fusion," a DOS-based program that could be used to time racers. By 1993, the Century Road Club Association was using this program, along with Kreitler rollers, to hold races as part of their programming.
Why is it called Goldsprints?
The history of the term "goldsprints" began in 1997 or 1999 (depending on who you ask) in Zurich, Switzerland. According to this article, Adrian Weber, owner of Turbinen Braeu in the city, founded a modern roller racing series and named it after Gold Sprint, one of the beers produced (to this day, as of 2015) by the brewery. Here's a video of a Gold Sprint race in Zurich in 1999:
Note that in this video, we are still seeing a mechanical setup, and oddly, the riders are facing away from the audience and toward the dials. But this is the first stuff that was called "Goldsprints."
Kreitler racing Rollers, Opensprints, and GoldsprintsFX
Many, many outfits offering goldsprints these days utilize a standard setup: purpose built Opensprints Kreiter rollers, hall effect sensors, an Arduino box and a software program called GoldsprintsFX. This is what Vermont Goldsprints uses as well.
While two-up racing using Opensprints rollers and sensors and the GoldsprintsFx visualization program is certainly the most common setup these days, there is certainly more that can be done with the stationary racing concept. One relatively new project is this fantastic eight-up rig produced in Ghent, Belgium (of course!):
With a digital track and timing, this is a sweet setup that gets more racers going at once while presenting an engaging visual display for spectators.