Keirin — Japanese Olympic Cycling Sport

Keirin has an interesting history. It began in 1948 in Japan. After WWII, the Japanese government was trying to raise more money in order to rebuild their destroyed country. One of the ways they went about doing just that was legalizing betting on Keirin.

In Japan, Keirin is one of the few sports on which you can legally bet — the other betting sports being: horse racing, motorcycle racing, and power boat racing. The government’s plan to raise gambling tax revenue by introducing this sport worked spectacularly. Each year the Japanese government raises around $11 million from taxes on Keirin.

How Does It Work?

Firstly, we need to make something clear here. In this article, we’re talking about Japanese Keirin, rather than the popular sport featured in the Olympic Games. Even though the two are very similar, there are still some key differences.

Keirin races usually begin with the riders parading towards the starting line, giving the traditional Japanese bow as they position their bikes on the starting line. Every rider has a unique color and number.

A shot of a gun sounds off the beginning of the race, and the riders start by leaving their starting blocks and forming up behind the pacer, who is also a Keirin bicyclist wearing a striped purple and orange suit.

As the race goes on, the pacer leaves the track when there are one or two laps remaining, although it varies with every race. With about one and a half laps remaining, the referees will start hitting a gong or a bell, faster and faster as the Keirin riders enter the final lap.

Keirin velodromes are oval in shape and divided into six areas: The homestretch and the backstretch, and the four corners.

Every race is diligently monitored by the referees. Two of which are positioned in the towers along the backstretch, while others are there to watch over the homestretch area in a control room using special cameras

When the race is done, a referee can signal potential rule violations by waving a red flag, judges then examine the various videos of the race and determine whether a violation has occurred. Once the finishing order is complete, the race is then declared official, and the bets are processed.

Keirin bicycles are strictly regulated, and every single piece of the bicycle must from a government-approved list of parts.

A Rich Tradition, And A Lucrative Career Path

Not many people know that Japanese track cyclists are paid much more handsomely than their European counterparts. The best Keirin riders can earn up to $2 million per year. However, becoming a professional is a long and arduous path.

Most Keirin rider starts his career at the Keirin School. This institution is incredibly tough to get in, with an admission rate of about 10%. Its 14-hour per day training program is a challenge, to say the least. In addition to the physical, the school also teaches potential Keirin riders the rules and regulations of this government-run sport, what is allowed and what isn’t, what their role in this whole thing is, and how to give the people a show.

Since Keirin is a gambling sport, and a popular one at that, the young riders are taught to respect that and to always try their best, since every time they race, a lot of money is riding (pun intended) on them.

Even if the potential rider successfully graduates from the school, the Keirin association (a government body) still needs to approve his membership.

A Couple More Interesting Facts

There’s also female Keirin, it was re-introduced in 2012, as an attempt by the government to bring in a younger audience. Female Keirin has a couple of different rules, especially when concerning the build of the bikes.

The sport also features a grading system for both the riders and the events. The rank of the rider is indicated by the color of his/her shorts and stars.


Keirin is truly a fascinating sport for any bicycle fan, and we hope it will continue growing in popularity in the West.

Even though sometimes, jokingly, the sport is called horse racing but with humans, we feel that it offers something truly unique and worth of your time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *