As far as I have seen, track cycling is only done anti-clockwise/counter-clockwise/with only left turns, yet looking through what I can find (in a non exhaustive search) I cannot find any mention of this in the rules and regulations, is there a rule or regulations stating that track cycling must be anticlockwise or is it just convention? Or have I missed some clockwise track riding anywhere?

For clarification, by track cycling I am referring to riding round a velodrome

  • 8
    It's different between the northern and southern hemisphere. (Please check the date on that article before you take it too seriously...) May 31, 2016 at 22:15
  • Saw that while trying to find any regulations earlier XD
    – Drsparta92
    May 31, 2016 at 22:17
  • Dunno - Some guesses... More riders are right handed than left handed, therefore 6 day racing handoff was done with the slowing rider hauling the new rider along with their stronger hand. The bike's transmission is on the right side, and therefore ends up on the uphill-side of the track ?
    – Criggie
    Jun 1, 2016 at 0:16
  • 1
    From the UCI rules and regulations: "3.2.043 A rider may not challenge or pass on the left an opponent riding in the sprinters’ lane. If the leading rider leaves the sprinters’ lane and his opponent attempts to pass to his left, he may not return to that lane unless he still has a clear cycle - length lead. 3.2.044 A rider passing on the right of his opponent, who is in the sprinters’ lane, may not crowd him or cause him suddenly to reduce speed. "
    – R. Chung
    Jun 1, 2016 at 1:26
  • 1
    Most likely they started going counter clockwise and maintained it (similar things happen in track and other racing (though in F1, there are a few CCW tracks in a mostly CW set)). People are used to it as well.
    – Batman
    Jun 1, 2016 at 1:45

3 Answers 3


The UK National Cycling Centre FAQ (PDF) says:

Why do the riders go anti clockwise?

The Chariots in Roman times raced this way round, and athletic races and most other sports have followed in the same direction.

The Straight Dope says:

How do these things get started? I've gotten several letters asking why races are "always" counterclockwise, and I notice my fellow toiler, Omni magazine game czar Scot Morris, has written a lengthy treatise on the subject. Scot came up with the following list of counterclockwise phenomena: the Indianapolis 500 and other auto races, track and field events, Roller Derby, indoor bicycle races, horse races, speed skating, merry-go-rounds and other carnival rides, revolving doors, the chariot race in Ben-Hur, the customary flow of people around an ice-skating rink, the usual direction in which people spin Hula Hoops, the base runners in baseball, cable-operated model airplanes, and tornadoes and hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere. ...

On the theory that there might be some dark link to our primeval past, Morris asked several distinguished anthropologists, but no luck. He morosely concludes, "the bias toward moving our whole bodies in counterclockwise cycles undoubtedly can be traced back to the right-handedness of our species and of every human society yet discovered, but how the one led to the other is unclear."

I didn't find it in the general UCI track rules, but it's in the track rules (PDF) of the UCI's World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland:

  1. All riders must ride in an anticlockwise direction.
  • 1
    Ah so it's all Ben Hur's fault!
    – andy256
    Jun 3, 2016 at 20:52
  • Blame the Romans! Good work for finding citations for your statements.
    – Criggie
    Jun 3, 2016 at 21:46
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    From watching a few horse races I'll note that the horses pass in front of spectators going left to right. This somehow seems "right" to people who are used to, eg, left-to-write writing. Jul 27, 2016 at 0:31
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    Man, that is an underwhelming conclusion from Morris - he's 100% certain that the directionality of most races is linked to handedness, but has no support as to how or why that's the case. May 16, 2019 at 19:53

Short answer - noone knows for sure.

This question is a more specific dupe of https://sports.stackexchange.com/questions/1000/are-all-oval-track-races-done-counter-clockwise-if-so-why

I'd consider human physiology as the cause - somewhere between 70% and 95% of grown humans prefer their right-hand. And noone knows why either.

Citations: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141215-why-are-most-of-us-right-handed and http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-are-more-people-right/

There's a theory that right-handedness is related to the heart's location on the left side of the chest, which encourages the person to protect their left side. From that, turning left on the shortest line keeps the heart away from anyone passing on the right hand side.

In short, noone knows why we develop a right/left bias and whether handedness relates to race track direction.

  • As a comment, I personally know that a widdershins stairwell feels strange, bizzarre and wrong. That's a stairwell where you turn left to go down and right while going up. Conventional stairwells are build turn right while going down.
    – Criggie
    Jul 26, 2016 at 20:19
  • That's actually the preferred orientation of stairs in medieval castles. A stairwell that curves left as you go down gives the defender an advantage, as he can swing his sword with his right hand along with the curve of the wall, while an attacker has to contend with the central pillar while wielding a sword in his right hand. May 16, 2019 at 19:55

Right lane drivers when taking a round-about by bike or car on the road do it counter-clockwise. I guess it was more natural for them to define it like this.

  • 1
    Do you have a reference? Historically it's been more common for road rules to follow bicycle habits than vice versa, at least for early rules. SE works much better with research rather than speculation and opinion for questions like this that have factual answers.
    – Móż
    Jun 3, 2016 at 12:08
  • It is a fact (and no speculation) that bike (drivers) or car (drivers) take the round-about counter-clockwise. I don't mean that the rules are made for bikes or cars, I didn't try to say from where the rules come from. In this way each country for sure has its own historical excuses to do so. Nothing to do with the question. Now about the question: Why is track cycling done counter-clockwise? Because the rulers wrote it like this. Why did they do so? I try to guess, yes, I am not inside of the ruler's head and in the rules you cannot find any rule-justification, just the rule itself.
    – juagicre
    Jun 3, 2016 at 12:17
  • @juagicre The link with roundabouts is completely unsubstantiated, though. It might well be written down somewhere why it was chosen for velodromes to be ridden counterclockwise; at any rate, there is a factual answer to this question, even if no one here knows it. Jun 3, 2016 at 12:30
  • I doubt the road rules had any effect on cycling habits on a velodrome. Cycles were plentiful, before automobiles were common enough to require regulation.
    – Criggie
    Jun 3, 2016 at 13:18
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    According to Wikipedia, the first velodromes were built after the first traffic circle, but I'm not certain how consistent traffic rules were in 1777, so it's hard to say what influence they had on velodrome direction. Also, the earliest velodromes seem to be British which would have lead to a clockwise rotation around the track based on your theory.
    – FreeMan
    Jun 3, 2016 at 14:42

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