Professional cycling (競輪, keirin ) began as a betting sport in Japan in 1948, and has since become very popular there. In 1957, the Nihon Jitensha Shinkōkai (NJS; also known in English as the Japanese Keirin Association) was founded to establish a uniform system of standards for the sport in Japan. Today keirin racing is regulated by the JKA Foundation.
It has since become a Japanese social institution attended by around 57 million spectators every year. It is also Japan’s most popular sanctioned betting sport. As a result of the parimutuel gambling that surrounds keirin racing in Japan, a strict system of standards was developed for bicycles and repair tools. There are currently 50 velodromes in operation that hold races where annually bets are placed amounting to over ¥1.5 trillion($15 billion) . Since so much money is at stake, the Nihon Jitensha Shinkōkai (Japanese Bicycle Association or NJS) - now under the JKA Foundation - requires that all keirin racers in Japan ride and use equipment that meets their standards. All riders use very similar bicycles, so that no rider will have any advantage or disadvantage based on equipment. In addition, all riders must pass strict licensing requirements.
In regard to public perception, Keirin compares most closely with greyhound or horse racing in the West. There are seven different types of bets, combinations of the placing of two or three racers. The background of each rider, his blood type, astrological sign, thigh measurements in addition to starting position and seasonal form are a few factors taken into account when placing a bet. The racers typically do not compete as international medal contenders for this event, largely due to the fact that the Japanese Keirin circuit is much more lucrative and prestigious for the Japanese than world championships and even the Olympics.
So, you want to become a professional Keirin racer? According to Gen Kogure: you will need to compete for entrance into the Japan Keirin School. If you can ride a kilometer in under one minute and fifteen seconds, and if you have no Yakuza (Japanese mafia) ancestor, then you’re eligible for admission. If you make it in with the 10 percent of applicants who are accepted, then you’ll undergo a strict 15-hours per day training regime. Those who pass the graduation exams, and are approved by the Nihon Jitensha Shinkokai (NJS) become eligible for professional Keirin races in Japan.
Koichi Nakano (中野 浩一, Nakano Kōichi ) is the all-time winning cyclist on the Japan Professional Keirin circuit. One of the first Japanese keirin athletes to compete outside of his native country, Nakano holds the best record as a track cyclist at the UCI Track World Championships with a record of ten consecutive professional Sprint World Track Cycling Championship wins from 1977-86 against mostly western European pro track cyclists, although he never won the Keirin World Championship. At that time, many leading sprint riders were from the Eastern bloc countries and competed in separate "amateur" events.
Keirin has become a globally recognized measure of strategy and strength on the velodrome and is now an integral part of every national and international track racing event. Furthermore, urban centers around the world are filling up with imported, retired or damaged NJS Keirin bicycle frames which spend the rest of their days rolling around cities as brakeless means of transportation. (i.e. Fixed-gear bikes)