Old School #597: Jamming Tool

Old School #597: Jamming Tool

You know you’re an Old School Cyclist when you still have your Jamming Tool.

If you already know about Madison racing, you’re welcome to skip down past the indented text. If not, here’s the Cliff Notes version, cribbed from Wikipedia and whatever could be easily located with a cursory Google search. Just like your college term papers. (If you were a grad student, feel free to substitute “cribbed from primary sources cited at the bottom of Wikipedia articles.” Don’t ask me how I know this.)

The madison is a team event on the track named after the first Madison Square Garden and known as the “American race” in French (course à l’américaine) and in Italian and Spanish as Americana.

Riders race in teams of two, with each team member riding an indeterminate number of laps, handing over (exchanging) to the other member, resting at the bottom of the track (where they have to keep moving) or the top (where they’re supposed to), and then coming back to the race to be exchanged. Only one of the team is racing at any given time, and the replacement rider has to be touched before he (or, less often, she) can take over. The touch can also be a push, often on the shorts, or one rider hurling the other into the race by a hand-sling.

The team decides the length of each rider’s turn. Originally riders took stints of a couple of hours or more, and the resting rider went off for a sleep or a meal. That was easier in early six-day races because hours could pass without riders attacking. As races became more intensive, both riders from each team began riding on the track at the same time—one going fast on the short line (around the bottom of the track), and the other idling higher up until his turn came to take over. Modern six-day races last less than 12 hours per day, and the madison is now only a featured part, so staying on the track throughout is more feasible.

The aim is to ride more laps than any other team. Tied positions are split by sprint points which, as the name suggests, are awarded for placings in a series of sprints at intervals during the race.

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Because of the opportunity for riders to rest between efforts, madison racing tends to be both exceptionally fast for riders and exceptionally fun for spectators. This is doubtlessly why the UCI refused to have madison events at the Track Worlds until 1995, and it wasn’t an Olympic event until 2000-2008 for men and not at all for women. Because fast and exciting is the last thing we’d want to see in track racing.

jamming_featureHere in ‘Muhrica, before we had the umbrella organization USA Cycling we had just the USCF; before that (prior to 1975 and since 1920 or 21, depending on how you count it) we had the ABLA.

As cleverly foreshadowed a couple of paragraphs ago (The touch can also be a push, often on the shorts), the USCF mandated the exchanges be made from the riders’ shorts only. Which is to say, despite the fact that riders had successfully used them in madisons for the best part of a century, the USCF outlawed arm slings. Because rider safety. Which is to say, because they were complete idiots putting the riders’ safety first.

Which brings us to jamming tools. And about time, too.

Racers were quick to realize that a push on the shorts was not nearly as effective as a sling from the shorts, and the jamming tool was born.

The name’s origin is subject to some speculation. At least one observer claims it comes from those ultimate hard men, riders on the six-day circuit back when it was 24 hours a day, six days a week, who called a series or program of races a jam.

Whatever its etymology, a jamming tool was a cylinder somewhere on the order of 6×1.5-2”, generally located in the leg of a rider’s shorts near the lower back, sewn into place, and made of just about anything.

A wooden dowel padded in foam and wrapped in duct tape could be a jamming tool. Or a roll of cloth from an old t-shirt wrapped in duct tape. Or even a piece of PVC tubing with a BMX grip over it and wrapped in duct tape. You can see a pattern start to develop here. Apparently, there were no commercially made jamming tools, but if there had been, they’d be wrapped in duct tape too.

As time went by, some manufacturers, including Assos, made reinforced madison shorts with an integrated pocket for the jamming tool. Commercially made madison shorts became a relatively pricey innovation that soon paid for itself in trackside peer-envy value.

Jamming_tools2Eventually the USCF came to its senses and, in a rare flicker of common sense, re-legalized arm slings, which (more or less) instantly consigned both madison shorts and jamming tools to a box in back of the closet next to your old issues of Winning magazine, outdated team jerseys, and all those old punctured tubulars you’ve been “aging” since a Frenchman last won the Tour.

But get a bunch of Old Schoolers together, feed them a few beers, and eventually they’ll start talking about old-time track racing and, inevitably, madisons. And sure as the sun rises in the east, some besotted quinquagenarian smartypants will come out with the old quip, “is that a jamming tool in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”

And everyone will laugh as though they’d never heard that one before.

Note: Of course it goes without saying that no RKP reader would ever stoop so low as to indulge in this sort of puerile humor.

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1 comment

  1. Touriste-Routier

    What a great read! Yes, why make track racing interesting for spectators by introducing tactics and spectacle? 😉 Of course these decisions are made by the same people who believe that criteriums should merely be exhibition races.

    I still have my Assos Madison shorts (reinforced for grabbing, and with an integrated jamming tool pocket) and a jamming tool (made of only cloth & tape; why risk falling on something hard and ungiving?). Although I learned to ride madisons via hand sling, we were also taught how to do butt slings with and without a jamming tool. Butt slings proved to be a great plan b if the expected exchange didn’t go as planned.

    Where they were most useful was at the Fonthill Velodrome, a 125m board track in Ontario, Canada built by former 6-Day pro Peter Junek. Butt slings were the norm there, as the track was too small for hand slings with more than a few teams racing at a time. Having proper Madison shorts was much better than placing the jamming tool in a road jersey pocket, as many racers at Fonthill did. Of course by this time, new Madison shorts were an endangered species, if not outright extinct.

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