My First: Track Ride

This article was originally published in the June 2014 edition of London Cyclist

 

At long last mere mortals can tread the hallowed boards of the Olympic velodrome, so we sent along Tom Bogdanowicz for a taster session

Look then move. Look then move.” The coaches’ key message came loud and clear as I awaited nervously for my first chance to ride in the tyre tracks of Chris Hoy and Laura Trott at the Lee Valley velodrome. Moments later I understood the reason for the message as a rider swooped past just above me on a banked section of the smooth wooden track.

The experience was not unlike watching someone flapping their arms and suddenly taking off right next to you. I might have stopped in shock if it wasn’t for the fact that I was clipped into a fixed-wheel bike whose pedals just kept spinning. My turn to swoop down would come next.

In case any of us first-timers thought track cycling was as easy as riding a bike, we were firmly told track cycling is the ‘black ski run’ of the cycling world and has to be approached with caution. To avoid mishaps you have to understand and follow track etiquette and that was what we would learn in our ‘taster’ session at the world famous velodrome.

If you haven’t yet been to the Olympic velodrome, it’s a must-see not just for cyclists but for anyone who appreciates beautiful architecture. Cleverly designed by Hopkins Architects to reflect the speed and elliptical motion of the riders inside, it all but floats above the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. When filled with enthusiastic spectators at track meetings, it generates an intense noise that helped spur British riders to a bag of medals at London 2012. During regular training it is almost eerily quiet, with only the whirr of pedals to disturb the air.

On the up and up

Newbies on taster sessions are initially asked if they have ridden a fixed-wheel bike before. If you haven’t, you get to ride several circuits of the wide, flat, so-called ‘safety zone’ on the inside of the track to get used to the fact that you have no brake levers and the pedals keep turning unless you push backwards on them. Step two is to move up to the Cote D’Azur (blue coast), a light blue strip that is slightly banked.

This is where it starts to get exciting. As I picked up speed I felt a cool breeze as I circled the arena — would I really have the courage to rise up the banks and fly? The coach said ‘move up to the black line.’ As I followed the instruction the tyres started to squeal on the slight change of banking angle. I feared the worst but somehow the wheels stayed glued to the track.

I realised I had to keep up the pace to stay upright, or rather up but at a slight angle. The pace picked up again and ten novices were racing round on the black to red section at the bottom of the track banking.

It was disconcerting to have experienced riders, on their weekly training stint, fly past above you but you quickly got used to the fact that they didn’t suddenly drop down from the sky on top of you.

We were instructed to come back in to the safety zone to prepare for our next challenge:

‘lumps and bumps.’ The banked track enables riders to gain speed as they drop down from the top of the track to the bottom, overtaking rivals and powering on to victory. We were to get a taste of that elevation-based acceleration. The task was to go high on the straight then swoop down as you came in to the bends.

Riding the ‘lumps and bumps’

I’d only been on track for 15 minutes and I was hooked. Up and swoop down, up and swoop down. Below me I could see riders who were travelling more slowly at the bottom of the banking. The only catch was that I really had to put in the welly and I was beginning to feel the strain in my chest. My fellow trainees, men and women, old and young, were all up to the challenge. Robert, our coach, assured me that he had had senior citizens, who hadn’t been on a bike for 17 years, get up on the banking in their first taster session.

We were called in just as I was getting confident and going higher and steeper on the the lumps and bumps. On your way back to the safety zone you have to look to your inside in case someone is charging along below you. I didn’t cause a collision but I did get a caution for not looking properly. I now understand what can happen as a whole peloton of riders juggles and squeezes for position at high speeds on the track.

Our final task was to be a team pursuit. In for a penny in for a pound, I thought. The trick was for the first rider in each team to peel off up the banking and then swoop back down after his team had passed under him.

We got up to speed and the first rider peeled off above me. One more rider and I’d get my chance to fly back in similar style. Sadly, however, the clock ran out and we were called in before I got the opportunity to embarrass myself. I’ll save that for my next session.

 

BECOME THE NEXT TRACK STAR

WHERE: Lee Valley Velopark, Stratford

BOOKING: you have to become a member

of the Velopark to book a session. Join for free at www.visitleevalley.org.uk. You then choose your preferred session (booking available for up to six weeks ahead for adults; evening and weekend sessions sell out quickly). An initial ‘taster’ session, with coaching, bike hire and helmet costs £30 for 1 hour. For full accreditation you need to undertake 3 more coaching sessions, then you can book regular training sessions for £16 a session (bike hire is an extra £10)

TIMES: adult sessions run from 9am to 7.30pm (all week except Fridays). Young persons sessions run between 4pm and 6.15pm (Mon/Tues/Sat/Sun)

BIKE HIRE: track, road and mountain bikes are available in all sizes for £10 per session

EQUIPMENT: you’ll feel more comfortable in Lycra if you own it, but ordinary sports clothes are allowed. If you have cycle shoes with Look bindings they will fit the clipless pedals on hire bikes, or regular trainers will work with straps that are provided. Look-compatible shoes can be hired for £6

USING YOUR OWN BIKE: accredited

riders can bring their own (coach approved) track bikes which have to meet cleanliness standards to prevent damage to the track. This can mean driving or carrying the bike to the velodrome

CLUB RIDERS: several cycling clubs have already established regular sessions at the velodrome. After you’ve paid your initial membership fee, these sessions are cheaper than regular prices. School kids in groups are offered sessions at under £5 per hour

ROAD, BMX, MOUNTAIN BIKE: if you don’t fancy the track, the Velopark also offers a one-mile road circuit, five-mile mountain bike track and a 390m BMX track (no jumping required). All taster sessions cost £15 including helmet and bike hire

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Stratford mainline/international railways, plus Overground, Underground, DLR and buses

BIKE: Off-road routes to the Velopark via Victoria Park, Hertford and Union Canal/Regent’s Canal, Lea Valley towpath. There’s also an off-road path from Ruckholt Road

CYCLE PARKING: 200 (non-supervised) spaces outside the Velodrome