Cycling’s diversity never ceases to disappoint as there is such a range of bicycles and environments that you can cycle. I have ridden all shapes and sizes of bikes in a myriad of environments but today was a new experience.
15 minutes into a taster session at a Velodrome and I was banked over with another rider a foot beneath me and despite my raging heart rate and tried legs I had to keep pedalling. Specially designed for racing I was aboard a single speed fixie bike on a fast flowing banked wooden track that has three distinct race lines. Professionally, like most sports, it commands a rare physical strength coupled with a dynamic thorough structured strategy. Today was just for fun and making apparent to amateurs as to why people spend years blasting around in circles. Professionals hit speeds in excess of 50mph but today we were focusing on staying upright.
As the pedals move with the back wheel you cannot stop pedalling, even if you wanted to, when the back wheel is moving. On the banked track you are committed to a certain expenditure of energy as if your momentum or speed wains you drop down to the bottom of the track (in races into another rider). You quickly become part of a moving organism (like being on a motorway) and therefore you movements have to be mindful and smooth throughout. This track commands a variety of skills and expertise above and beyond recreational cycling but at its core is simple.
At first glance the track is a daunting prospect however the initial nervous energy transforms into physical energy as within minutes of steadily gaining speed and momentum you are riding on the banks of the track playing with physics. I was surprised as to how much speed had to be carried to enlist enough G-force to stay stuck to the wall. Pushing harder through my pedal stroke and keeping my eyes fixed focused on the black line it all began to fall into place.
Despite the perfuse sweating and panting the track characteristic encourages continued effort. With a pulsating rhythm between the flat and banked parts of the track it is a constant effort but not overwhelming. The instructor then gave us clearance to cycle along the higher part of the track along the blue line.
This was my favourite line on the track (despite being for ‘relief cyclists) . As you travel from the flat of the track to the bank section you are effectively pedalling uphill. This is exaggerated on the higher parts of the track. Therefore running up to the bank you push as hard as you dare to maintain momentum. The pay off is in the exit of the corner as despite having travelled further than a rider on the black or red line you are given a boost as for a short time you are travelling downhill with the momentum of your initial effort on-board. This momentum is then carried onto the next bank and acts, as long as you can keep pedalling, as an ever-increasing momentum of building speed until you reach your fitness threshold.
I was riding with eight others and therefore hitting traffic and slowing other riders was inevitable. This added another complexity to the proceedings. Planning overtakes is essential as you have to take the wider line. Not only do you have to push harder up a steeper part of the track but you are also travelling further. ‘Gasing out’ mid corner is not an option because either you will drop back causing trouble for riders behind you or at worse lose speed and therefore come to the lower part of the track hitting the rider you are trying to overtake. It has to be planned carefully knowing full well you have the power to make the entire corner.
At this point the amount information and learning that I was able to do was reaching its pinnacle. Fortunately there was little ego on the track and people gave way and made it easy as possible for everyone to pass as needed. Nevertheless your attention is focused and unwavering to the point when all you are focused on is keeping a tyre on a coloured line – very satisfying.
Adding to the simplicity of proceedings were the bicycles themselves. No brakes, gears or advance technology these bikes felt solid. One of hundreds available they were standard hire bikes for the track. With direct feedback and an extreme riding position they are focus built machines. I had no issue at all with my bike and enjoyed the feeling of riding a fixie. With my feet strapped in (I was wearing trainers) I was even more connected and engaged with the riding. The south side of this particular track had splintered from years of people crashing on it. It was able to be ridden but each imperfection was transferred through the handlebars. With a steady but flexible grip the bike moved underneath me and found its own way.
Unfortunately I do not have a Velodrome near me (a sentence a lot of people can say) and therefore will not be going regularly to ride. However it was defiantly an experience that I would want to repeat and will be going again in the future. It is surprisingly easy to master the basics as long as you can already ride a bicycle. It was a sixty-minute session but like any intense exercise you are counting down to that hour opposed to thinking you have been short changed. If you can ride a bike you can ride a Velodrome and I encourage you to do so.