Not to be confused with Kirin (disambiguation).
Keirin (ケイリン)

Keirin in Colwood, British Columbia, July 2006.
Highest governing body Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and JKA Foundation (Japanese Regulating Body)
Year Originated 1948 in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Japan
Type Track cycling
Olympic 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016

Keirin (競輪 / ケイリン, [keiɽiɴ]) "racing wheels" is a form of motor-paced cycle racing in which track cyclists sprint for victory following a speed-controlled start behind a motorized or non-motorized pacer. It was developed in Japan around 1948 for gambling purposes and became an official event at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Races are about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) long: 8 laps on a 250 m (270 yd) track, 6 laps on a 333 m (364 yd) track, 5 laps on a 400 m (440 yd) track. Lots are drawn to determine starting positions for the sprint riders behind the pacer, which is usually a motorcycle, but can be a derny, electric bicycle or tandem bicycle. Riders must remain behind the pacer for a predetermined number of laps. Initially it makes circuits at about 25 km/h (16 mph), gradually increasing to about 50 km/h (31 mph). The pacer usually leaves the track approximately 600–700 m (660–770 yd) before the end. The winner's finishing speed is around 70 km/h (43 mph).

Competition keirin races are often conducted over several rounds with one final. Sometimes eliminated cyclists get the opportunity to try again in the repechages.

World championships

Keirin has been a UCI men's World Championship event since 1980 and a UCI women's World Championship event since 2002. Danny Clark of Australia and Li Na of China were the first UCI world champions. The 2013 men's and women's world champions are Jason Kenny and Becky James of the United Kingdom.


Olympics Men's Champion
2000  Florian Rousseau (FRA)
2004  Ryan Bayley (AUS)
2008  Chris Hoy (GBR)
2012  Chris Hoy (GBR)
2016  Jason Kenny (GBR)
Olympics Women's Champion
2012  Victoria Pendleton (GBR)
2016  Elis Ligtlee (NED)

Keirin made its debut at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney[1] as a men's event, after being admitted into the Olympics in December 1996. The women's event was added for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

A BBC News investigation, reported in July 2008, found evidence that following admission into the Olympics, the Union Cycliste Internationale required (in writing) the Japan Keirin Association to support UCI projects in "material terms"; over a period of time the association subsequently gave US$3 million to UCI in consideration of "the excellent relationship the UCI has with representatives of the Olympic movement".[2] Four members of the governing body were later arrested in Tokyo.

Keirin in Japan

The entrance and grandstand at the Iwaki-Taira Velodrome in Iwaki, Fukushima.
Start of a race at Tachikawa Velodrome in Tokyo. Riders start from the blocks and pace up to speed behind the pacer, wearing purple and orange. A referee observes the start in the tower to the right.
During a race at Omiya Velodrome in Saitama, the nine racers form a line behind the pacer as they go around a corner.
Racers sprinting to the finish line in the last lap of a race at the Ōmiya Velodrome.

Professional cycling (競輪 keirin) began as a betting sport in Japan in 1948, and has since become very popular there. In 1957, the Nihon Jitensha Shinkōkai (NJS; also known in English as the Japanese Keirin Association) was founded to establish a uniform system of standards for the sport in Japan. Today keirin racing is regulated by the JKA Foundation. In 2011, the sum of bets placed on keirin races exceeded ¥600 billion (approximately US$5 billion), and the number of attendees in the races was approximately 4.9 million people.[3]

Aspiring professional keirin riders in Japan compete for entrance into the Japan Keirin School. The 10 percent of applicants who are accepted then undergo a strict 15-hours-per-day training regimen. Those who pass the graduation exams, and are approved by the NJS become eligible for professional keirin races in Japan.

Japanese races for women were reintroduced in July 2012, under the title of Girl's Keirin. Women were previously permitted to participate from 1949 until 1964. Like the men, the women must also undergo a strict training regimen at the Keirin School.

Champions from Japan

Koichi Nakano (中野 浩一 Nakano Kōichi) was one of the first Japanese keirin athletes to compete outside of his native country, Nakano holds the best matched sprint record as a track cyclist at the UCI Track World Championships with a record of ten consecutive professional Sprint World Track Cycling Championship wins from 1977–86 against mostly western European pro track cyclists, although he never won the Keirin World Championship. At that time, many leading sprint riders were from the Eastern bloc countries and competed in separate "amateur" events.

Katsuaki Matsumoto (born 1928) is the all-time professional keirin athlete with the most wins - 1341 - over his career (he retired in 1981 at the age of 53).

The current Keirin Grand Prix champion (winner of the 2015 Grand Prix) is Kohta Asai (浅井 康太 Asai Kōta).[4]

Typical race

Keirin races in Japan begin with the cyclists parading to the starting blocks, bowing as they enter the track and again as they position their bikes for the start of the race. Every participant is assigned a number and a colour for identification and betting purposes.

At the sound of the gun, the cyclists leave their starting blocks and attempt to gain position behind the pacer, a keirin bicyclist wearing purple with orange stripes. As the pace quickens, the pacer will usually depart the track with between one and two laps remaining, but the actual location where the pacer leaves varies with every race.

With 1 12 laps remaining, officials begin sounding a bell or gong, increasing in frequency until the bicyclists come around to begin the final lap of the race.

The race is monitored by four referees, each located in a tower next to one of the four turns (referred to as corners). After every race, each referee will wave either a white or red flag. A white flag indicates that no infractions occurred in that area. A red flag, however, signals a possible infraction and launches an inquiry into the race. Judges then examine video of the race and then decide if a participant committed a rules violation; if so, the rider is disqualified and retires from the remainder of the meet.

Keirin ovals are divided into specific areas: The two straightaways (homestretch and backstretch), the four turns (corners), and two locations called the "center", referring to the area between corners 1 and 2 (1 center) and corners 3 and 4 (2 center).


There are a total of six ranks that competitors can obtain in Japanese keirin racing. SS is the highest rank, followed by S1, S2, A1, A2 and A3. All new keirin graduates begin their careers with an A3 rank and work their way up by competing in keirin events.

The color of the shorts worn by each keirin competitor indicates rank. Those in A-class (A1, A2, A3) wear black shorts with a green stripe and white stars. S-class competitors (S1 and S2) wear a red stripe instead of a green stripe. Those in the elite SS class wear red shorts with a black stripe, white stars and special insignia. Introduced in 2007, the SS ranking is assigned by the NJS every December to the top nine Keirin athletes.[5] These nine compete in that year's Keirin Grand Prix and retain their rank until the following December.


The distance of each race depends on gender and rank. For men, distances for those ranked A3 are at 1,600 meters, while all others compete at 2,000 meters. The finals of some of the top graded events are run at a longer distance of 2,400 meters. The season-ending Keirin Grand Prix is held at 2,800 meters.

All events for women are currently run at 1,600 meters. There are usually small variances in distance based on the size of the track.

Race grades

A race meeting at any given keirin velodrome in Japan is assigned a grade. The highest graded events are GP, GI (G1), GII (G2) and GIII (G3), reserved only for S-class riders. Underneath those are FI (F1) events, which are open to both S-class and A-class riders. The lowest graded events, FII (F2), are reserved for A-class riders.

The GP grade designation is reserved for the Keirin Grand Prix, a three-day meet held at the end of December for the year's top keirin competitors. The meet ultimately concludes with the Grand Prix race itself, which determines the annual Keirin racing champion.

As of December 2008, the nine competitors for the Keirin Grand Prix race are determined in the following order of priority:[6]

Also part of the Grand Prix meet is the Young Grand Prix, which is open to the best of those that have begun competing in Keirin within the last three years; it is the only Keirin race of the year in which both S-class and A-class compete in the same race. A new addition to the meet in 2012 was the Girls' Grand Prix for the sport's top female competitors.

Another prestigious event on the annual keirin racing calendar is the GI Japan Championship. Held every March over a period of six days, it is the longest single race meeting of the year.

Each of the keirin velodromes are generally permitted to host one event per year of either GI, GII or GIII designation. The remaining events at each track consist of a combination of FI and FII races for a total of approximately 70 race days per year. On average there is one GI or GII event every month and one GIII meeting per week on the annual calendar.

Top events for 2015

Month Grade Event Host Venue Winner
February GI 30th Yomiuri Shinbun Cup All-Japan Selection Keirin
Shizuoka Velodrome, Shizuoka
Yoshihito Yamazaki (山崎 芳仁 Yamazaki Yoshihito)
March GI 68th Japan Keirin Championship
Keiokaku Velodrome, Tokyo
Yuudai Nitta (新田 祐大 Nitta Yuudai)
April GII 31th Kyodo News Service Cup
Hōfu Velodrome, Yamaguchi Yuichiro Kamiyama (神山 雄一郎 Kamiyama Yuuichirō)
June GI 66th Prince Takamatsu Memorial Keirin Cup
Kishiwada Velodrome, Osaka Toyoki Takeda (武田 豊樹 Takeda Toyoki)
July GI 24th Prince Tomohito / World Championships Commemoration Tournament
Yahiko Velodrome, Niigata Takumi Sonoda (園田 匠 Sonoda Takumi)
August GII 11th Summer Night Festival
Hakodate Velodrome, Hokkaido Tatsunori Kondo (近藤 龍徳 Kondō Tatsunori)
September GI 58th All-Star Keirin
Matsudo Velodrome, Chiba Prefecture Yuudai Nitta (新田 祐大 Nitta Yuudai)
November GI 57th Asahi Shinbun Cup Keirin Festival
Kokura Velodrome, Fukuoka Toyoki Takeda (武田 豊樹 Takeda Toyoki)
December GP Keirin Grand Prix 2015
Keiokaku Velodrome, Tokyo Kohta Asai (浅井 康太 Asai Kōta)
December GII Young Grand Prix
Same as Keirin Grand Prix Taisei Noguchi (野口 大誠 Noguchi Taisei)
December FII Girls' Grand Prix
Same as Keirin Grand Prix Yuuka Kobayashi (小林 優香 Kobayashi Yuuka)

Race schedule

Keirin velodromes follow the same basic schedule of races when conducting a race meeting. On the first day of competition, the better keirin competitors are assigned to races of higher caliber, while others are assigned to low-caliber races. Keirin racers are guaranteed to compete on each day of the meeting unless they are disqualified from a race or retire from the meet for any reason - in which case alternate competitors are called up to fill in the lower-caliber races.

Below is a schedule of races conducted during a typical three-day FI event (open to both S-class and A-class riders).[7]

Day 1

After six races, S-class riders compete:

Day 2

S-class riders then compete to advance:

Day 3


Mikashima Chaintug With NJS Stamp

As a result of the parimutuel gambling that surrounds keirin racing in Japan, a strict system of standards was developed for bicycles and repair tools. The Nihon Jitensha Shinkōkai (Japanese Bicycle Association or NJS) - now under the JKA Foundation - requires that all keirin racers in Japan ride and use equipment that meets their standards. All riders use very similar bicycles, so that no rider will have any advantage or disadvantage based on equipment. In addition, all riders must pass strict licensing requirements.

Those who wish to race in Japan must attend the Japan Bicycle Racing School where they learn the necessary rules, etiquette, and skills. The school typically accepts only 10% of applicants. Those who pass final examination must still be approved by the Japan Keirin Association.[8]

All bicycles and equipment must be built within strict guidelines set by the NJS, by a certified builder using NJS-approved materials. The products are then stamped by NJS and only equipment bearing this stamp may be used. Exceptions to this are a very limited set of equipment including carbon wheels, tires, stems and saddles used in Girls' Keirin, which can be used without NJS certification.[9] The NJS standard is to ensure that no rider will have any advantage or disadvantage based on equipment and does not necessarily relate to quality or standard of manufacture.[10][11] For example, 36 spoke wheels are allowed but not 32, although 32 spoke wheels are typically lighter, and frames must be built by a very limited number of approved builders.

Since its beginning, the bicycle frames used in Keirin races have been made from chromoly steel. Exceptions to this are frames used in Girls' Keirin, and Keirin Evolution races, where the frames used are made from carbon-fiber. Manufacturers of the frames used in Girls' Keirin are Boma, Bridgestone, Gan Well, Kalavinka, Bomber, and MBK.[9] Participants in Keirin Evolution races may use any NJS, UCI or JCF approved carbon frame and components.[12]

NJS approved equipment often sells for more than comparable equipment because of its specific use, build requirements, and limited manufacturers.[10] Popular manufacturers include Nagasawa, 3Rensho, Makino, Kalavinka, Level, Bridgestone, Panasonic, Samson, Shimano, Nitto, Hatta, MKS, Kashimax, and Sugino. Because the NJS's main objective is supporting the Japanese cycling market, its bureaucracy is notoriously critical of foreign manufacturers attempting to enter the Japanese market. The Italian cycling equipment manufacturer Campagnolo has, though, received NJS certification.[11]

NJS-approved equipment is not required for keirin races outside Japan.


Bets that can be made on Keirin races include, but are not limited to:

Some wagers cannot be placed if there are a smaller number of competitors in the race.

During major race meets, some jackpot wagers are offered:

The money bet into the Dokanto wagers can carry over if there are no winning tickets, even to subsequent race meets at another velodrome in the country.

In extraordinary circumstances, races have been declared no-contests, forcing velodromes to refund millions of yen in bets. Such results are generally known as a failure (不成立 fuseiritsu). A race at Shizuoka velodrome on January 2, 2008 was declared a failure when the back wheel of the pacer's bicycle nicked the bicycle of an actual competitor, causing him to fall.[15] In a race at Iwaki-Taira Velodrome on December 14, 2008, separate infractions resulted in the disqualification of the entire field; all but one of the competitors were handed a one-year suspension by the velodrome after the race.[16][17] The suspensions were lifted four months later.

See also


  1. "Cycling Track Equipment and History". Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  2. "Cycling cash linked to Olympics". BBC News. 2008-07-27. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  3. "競輪を巡る最近の状況について" (PDF) (in Japanese). Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
  4. "KEIRINグランプリ2014(GP)". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2016-01-25.
  5. "Cyclists" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2013-01-28.
  6. "『KEIRINグランプリ08【GP】』出場予定選手の決定について". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2008-12-09.
  7. "平成24年7月(平成24年6月30日節初日)からFI開催のレース数が変更となります" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2013-01-28.
  8. "History of Keirin Racing". Keirin Cycle Culture. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
  9. 1 2 "Girls' Keirin Equipment".
  10. 1 2 Gordan Wilson, David (2004-04-01). Bicycling Science. The MIT Press; 3 edition. ISBN 978-0-262-73154-6.
  11. 1 2 Fritz, Yokota (2006-11-21). "NJS: Nihon Jitensha Sinkokai". Retrieved 2009-10-30.
  12. "Keirin Evolution outline".
  13. "Dokanto! 4 two(ドカント フォートゥー)とは?". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2013-01-28.
  14. "Dokanto! 7 (ドカント セブン)とは?". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2013-01-28.
  15. "Race Results: Shizuoka - Race 9 - January 2, 2008". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2008-12-29.
  16. "Race Results: Iwaki-Taira - Race 10 - December 14, 2008". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2008-12-29.
  17. "いわき平競輪で9人全員失格... 前代未聞の珍事ナゼ?". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2008-12-29.
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