Circling—or cycling—the track at F1’s famous Circuit of the Americas

AUSTIN, Texas—As we rolled our road bikes toward the entryway, the friend who convinced me to do this shared a conversation he had earlier in the day: “When I said we were biking at Circuit of the Americas tonight, the first thing Mike asked was if that first turn is as steep as it looks on TV. Time to find out.”

I don’t follow Formula 1. I don’t follow NASCAR. But I do live in Austin, Texas, and I regularly ride a bike. So the concept of Bike Night at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA)—an event series where this famed US racetrack invites local cyclists out on Tuesday nights to try two wheels where four usually roam—seemed cool enough. A June evening in Central Texas easily exceeds 90° F, even before you consider humidity or proximity to asphalt. But what harm could some casual riding on a fancy car circuit do? I could taste the postgame Kölsch before l took my bike off the rack.

Then, of course, came Turn 1. Whoa. Quickly, I learned why COTA’s starting stunner lives in racing infamy. It doesn’t look that bad when you’re peering down from the Observation Deck, but on the ground, this 133-foot climb at the start of the 3.4-mile track really sets a tone for every lap. That tone: COTA will kick your butt. 

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