PIST6: The Thrills of Japanese Keirin Track Bike Racing for a Different Crowd
The free onsite parking at the velodrome, recently completed in October 2021, was a pleasant welcome. The PIST6 competition and Tipstar Dome itself are both still very much in their launch phases and the enthusiastic support staff that welcomed us into the facility and track-racing world of PIST6 set a very positive first impression.
As the competition is working hard on drawing a physical crowd, entry was free of charge today with the only drawback being that there wouldn't be any of the PIST6 dancers, lazer shows or other entertainment between races. Entry to Tipstar Dome starts at ¥2000 for an adult general admission ticket and increases from there for premium Recaro seating, box seats or VIP rooms.
The dome has a rough capacity of 2000 spectators but on the Saturday we attended in April there would’ve been only 100 max. Most of the crowd appeared to be Chiba locals wanting to take a peek at the new stadium, casually watch one or two rounds of bike races and maybe grab a bite to eat before heading off.
If you've ever been to a JKA (NJS) Keirin racing track or any sporting stadium in Japan, Tipstar Dome will come as quite a shock to the system. Food from their signature restaurant Orange & Pizza that’s been curated for Instagram, Airstream food trucks, a dedicated craft beer bar, designer PIST6 merchandise, free wifi (still rather unusual for Japan), cash-free transactions only and completely non-smoking.
So, What exactly is PIST6? According to the glossy brochures we received on entry, PIST6 is marketed as ‘The world's fastest high-speed track bike competition where six cyclists go head-to-head around a 250 metre course for six laps with the first cyclist across the finishing line declared the winner.’
The starting position for each rider is decided by a lottery system and the race commences on the referee's gun. The first lap is paced at around 30 km/h and the order of the competitors is fixed until the second lap. On the third lap, the pacer bike’s speed increases to about 50 km/h and when the pacer comes off on the fourth lap the race is on. The winner is decided based on the order the riders cross the finish line on the sixth and final lap.
The fundamental rules of PIST6 are pretty straight forward:
No overtaking the pace bike (derny bike) until the vehicle exits the course.
No contact using your body or bicycle.
Unless a safe distance can be maintained, riders must not insert themselves between other competing riders.
It is prohibited for one competing rider to support another to victory.
Riders who fall before reaching the finish line will be disqualified.
The extravagant lead up to each PIST6 race isn’t dissimilar to the grandeur surrounding a boxing title fight. Commentary over the loudspeakers was all in English and each rider's statistics were displayed on the stadium screen in an easy to comprehend manner. Rider attributes were presented in a format similar to a character in a video game, with each competitor ranked out of a possible score of 100 for speed, power, stamina, technique and mental ability. The top tier riders fall into the prestigious SS racing class.
Unlike the NJS Keirin that has riders belting around the track on highly regulated chromoly track bikes from the likes of Kalavinka, Vivalo, Level and other Japanese handmade bike builders, PIST6 riders are all sporting carbon track bikes and disc wheels with the latest advancements in aerodynamics. Track bikes from Look, Bridgestone, Argon 18, Fuji, BMC and Boma were all on show sporting flash aero wheels from Mavic, Miche, Campagnolo and Araya.
So why does Japan need another keirin track racing league… well PIST6, like the JKA, appears to be chasing the lucrative gambling dollar. Money can be placed on PIST6 races by creating a TIPSTAR user account and downloading the Tipstar app. The app and betting system has been engineered for ‘beginners to easily understand the betting systems and have the best chance of walking away with money in their pockets’. If you’ve gambled at a JKA / NJS race track you’d understand that the betting systems aren't the simplest for those new to the sport or to gambling in general.
There are six systems of betting in PIST6, placing money on a single rider of your choice being the easiest method. I chose not to download the app on this occasion but I may give it a shot at a future date as races are broadcast live and bets can be placed from the comfort of your sofa.
There's no denying that PIST6 is vying for women, families and particularly the younger ‘hip’ crowd with its highly polished facilities, entertainment, food and accessible betting application. The established JKA Keirin on the other hand is quite the contrast with its classic steel bikes, ¥100 entry, cheap no frills comfort food, smokey corridors and disgruntled punters hurling verbal abuse at underperforming riders as they limp across the finishing line.
From my day out at Tipstar Dome in Chiba today and from having attended numerous Japan Keirin Association (NJS) race meets in Kawasaki and Tachikawa I can say that both competitions definitely have their charms. I’ll no doubt be back to Tipstar Dome for a future visit and wish PIST6 all the best in drawing the crowds it deserves.