Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Riding the Velodrome Boards

With the continuing success of the British Track cycling team at the London 2012 Olympics, expect to see Velodromes across the UK being booked up for taster sessions of cyclists keen to give the boards a go.

I first did a taster session a year or so ago and didn't particularly enjoy it. A couple of reasons, 1) the track was very busy so it was difficult to build up confidence on the fixed wheel bike 2) without that confidence going above the blue line (halfway up the track) seemed daunting. I came away from that day feeling I had unfinished business.

A couple of weekends ago, I got a chance to go back to the velodrome to ride in support of paralympian Simon Richardson MBE who continues to recover from a terrible road collision which nearly ended his life a year or so ago. A number of fundraisers have been arranged across multiple velodromes to raise money for the Air Ambulance Service.

Lines indicate various levels to go up to on the track
The Manchester Velodrome had been booked exclusively for two hours with a coach, so this was my chance to go back to the track and resolve that confidence issue.

If you've never been to The National Cycling centre in Manchester, it's worth a visit, there's always people on the track and you may get to see Team GB members in a practice session, it's free to walk in and watch. One thing that will strike you is the sheer steepness of the track banking, at around 42 degrees and twenty feet high it looks like a wall of death at a fun fair!

You'll also immediately notice the humidity inside the velodrome, deliberately kept at that level for optimal track air pressure. I hired one of the Dolan track bikes for the session, it's reasonable at £10.00, shoes are £4.00 if you need them.

The bikes have Look cleats on them, so if you ride Look on your road bike you can take your usual shoes, a helmet is mandatory for all riders.

Getting Going 

Having got my bike sorted and with a quick briefing from the coach on track etiquette it was time to get going. Riders on the day were a mixture of novices to very experienced with their own track bikes with top end Mavic wheels - nice.

As I set off on some warm up laps, I was immediately reminded of the steepness of the banking. Initially you are asked to keep at the bottom of the track, which was fine for me, to familiarise yourself with riding a fixed gear bike. A fixed wheel bike can't freewheel and has no brakes, so it's important you keep pedalling at all times even when slowing or stopping. To stop, you apply backward pressure to the pedals whilst rubbing off speed in the centre of the track.

Up You Go! 

Having done fifteen or twenty laps, you're called in and then asked to move further up the track. This was it - crunch time. The feeling of the banking is that you're bike is going to fall from under you and you're going to slide down, the trick is to look ahead, don't lean into the turn and pedal hard into and through the turn.

42 degree banking needs speed to ride through
The first bank time takes a bit of nerve as you're head is telling you not to do it, I got caught behind a slower rider going into my first turn so had no choice but to go hard and go high to overtake them, it was a split second decision and my heart was pounding as I flew round the banking.

In hindsight, that was probably the best outcome for me as it meant I came onto the back straight above the blue line and had no chance to bottle it. Riders were below me and I was carrying a lot of speed so I went into the next bend high and all of a sudden I had found the technique and - more importantly - my confidence.

As the session elapsed I really began to enjoy the boards, I knew I would. I wanted to go right up to the top, which I managed and it was exhilarating whooshing out of the top of the banking and dropping down onto the straight.

Finishing off the session, we did some flying laps and I managed to set the third fastest time, 0.2 seconds off the fastest lap, so with some better technique and more practice I should do better next time.

One thing was for sure, being able to pedal at high cadence is an absolute necessity for velodrome riding. I pedal at around 95-100 rpm most training rides now, so felt quite comfortable when it went up to 120ish on the flying laps.

Driving home I resolved to ride my single speed bike more, get back on another session as soon as possible and maybe do a track accreditation. You get a new found respect and understanding of just how fast, how strong and how fit the Team GB riders are. Bring on Rio 2016.

A final word of thanks to Chris Keller-Jackson of Crankphoto who generously provided the photography on the day and Graham Hewson of Team Midland Racing for all his organisational work in getting the event together.

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