When it is wet and cold outside the thought of riding where the weather can’t hurt you and there are no hills or headwinds must sound appealing. Why not try track cycling this winter.
In the past the pro riders would turn to the Velodrome over winter months to earn a bit of cash and keep the legs turning, building souplesse for the next season. Merckx, Maertens, Anquteil and Moser were regulars on the Six Day race scene which this year has seen a resurgence. I was lucky enough to witness the most successful British double act since Ant and Dec, Sir Bradley Wiggins and (not Sir yet) Mark Cavendish win on the boards of Ghent’s Kuipke Velodrome last weekend.
The Ghent track is just 166m long compared to London’s 250m which is now the standard length. This is the same size as the first indoor track I ever rode on, Calshot in the New Forest. One of my wife’s very generous “let’s see if this will kill him” birthday presents, a taster sessions for complete beginners. The shorter track means even steeper banking that looked almost vertical. Everyone was a novice on the track but within 20 minutes we were all lapping successfully around the boards. The challenge was not going too high up the banking as the faster you go the more the forces send you higher. With no computer on the bike it seems really fast and you feel like Sir Chris Hoy powering out of the turn onto the short straights.
My next track experience was at the other end of the scale at Dulwich’s Herne Hill velodrome, the home of the 1948 Olympic track racing and recently restored. This outdoor track is concrete and 450m long so there turns are nowhere near as steep and the straights are long even so you need to work pretty hard especially as one on them is always a head wind. Again I joined a beginner’s session on a Saturday morning. For £9 you get to hire a bike and be coached for 2 hours by a team of knowledgeable and friendly coaches from the local VC Londres club. There was a fair mix of experienced cyclists, complete novices and fixed wheel riding hipsters when I did it but again everyone enjoyed it and learned the basics of riding safely on the track. After this you can join in the structured intermediate training sessions that mix drills and races for a solid 2 hour work out.
While I am never likely to race the boards in front of a large crowd like a World Cup or Six Day I was lucky enough to take part in a race at the Revolution track meet at Manchester. In my previous life we were sponsoring one of the races that night and had taken a group of people up for an afternoon track session with Geraint Thomas and Alex Dowsett. Those deemed most capable were then staggered around the track based on their flying lap times with Alex Dowsett starting from the finishing line. The race was over 4 laps with first across the line the winner, simple. I was on the opposite side of the track so had a 125m head start and only 875m to hold it. The feeling of riding on the track with a full house of 4000 people cheering is amazing. I remember thinking that 3.5 laps seemed a long way and just as I overtook the last rider ahead of me on the back straight a blur of Black and Blue came past me and stole my glory. Clearly Alex had not read the script or the sponsorship agreement but never mind.
With the reopening of the Lee Valley Velodrome post Olympics we now have a couple of excellent options for track riding and racing close to home. For the London Velodrome you need to complete a four stage accreditation to use the track for other sessions or tracks races. Details on these can be found here, https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk/en/content/cms/london2012/velo-park/track/track-accreditation/
Herne Hill start their Novice sessions again in March. They have intermediate sessions every Saturday at 11am and over 40’s and women intermediates sessions Wednesday 8:30 – 10am throughout the year. Being an outdoor track these are weather dependent but the new track surface is good in light rain and dries quickly. They also do lots of youth sessions and I know that the Southborough Wheelers juniors have track time booked throughout the winter.
You don’t need to invest in a track bike when you are starting as all Velodromes have hire bikes you can use for your session. London has the excellent Condor Lavaro bikes which is what I used to ride at Herne hill . There is not much to a track bikes so they don’t need to break the bank. The Condor Lavaro alloy frameset is just £499 and with no gears or brakes to fit you can get a nice track bikes for under £1000. There is something very beautiful in the simplicity of a track bike. Paired back to the basics they are elegant and classic. If you get into it then you’ll definitely want your own bike as you can get your position dialed in and get an advantage on anyone on the hire bikes. Most tracks allow you to hire a hook for your track bike so you can leave it there.
Give Olly a shout to discuss track bike build options – firstname.lastname@example.org