Monday, 1 August 2016

19 Jul: A track taster at the Olympic Velodrome

Rupert writes: On 19th July, a group of nine travelled to London to enjoy a session at the Olympic Velodrome in the Lee Valley Olympic park. The velodrome offers "Track Taster" sessions that allow ordinary cyclists to experience riding round the track on a "fixie" bicycle. It was the first time for most of us, but there were a few returning souls. It turned out that we were a bit late for the Rio selection but still a lot of fun was had by all.

Altogether this was a great day out: perfect combination of pleasant off-road cycling and the highlight of the Velodrome taster session. So a big thank you to Richard Broomfield for organising the day and for leading us on a delightful ride down the hidden waterways of old London town. Richard also took all the photos.

We travelled by train, taking our city bikes on the train from Shelford to Tottenham Hale. From there it is an easy 30 minute ride alongside the River Lee to emerge at the Olympic Park. The Velodrome was one of the busier places in an otherwise quiet park. The check-in is very efficient, spoiled only by a surprisingly short supply of cycle parking. But we managed to get most of the bikes parked inside. Then into the maze of passages and tunnels to lock up all the unwanted baggage before emerging into the middle of the track.

Choosing your bike

Ready to start

First impressions: the track is smaller than it looks on the TV, especially the straights which seem very short. But the banking is dauntingly high. We watch the previous group finish their session in impressive style as we collect our bikes (bike hire is included) and make a few adjustments to suit. The bikes are all Condor fixies with the same gearing in a range of sizes. Pedals are Look cleats with the option of toe straps.

Briefing: we are actually paying attention

The session starts with a short briefing. The main message seems to be "keep pedalling" otherwise we are assured dire consequences will follow, with graphic images of bodies flying over the handlebars. And equally important we are told to slow down gently, taking an extra lap if needed. Then we all climb aboard while grabbing the rail to try and perch on the saddle. Here lies the big problem with a fixie: you cannot move the pedals while you are stationary, so it is really hard to get your feet into the clips or straps because at least one of the pedals is guaranteed to be in the wrong position. But with help from the instructor we are all soon ready.

Step 1: step onto the dark blue track

Step 2: Move onto the "Coast" (but with no derny)

Then off on a first few gentle laps of the inner blue track (which is flat) to discover if we can all stop. Everyone is a bit wobbly but we safely get back to the rail for a bit more briefing and some final checks. Then we're off again for a first move up onto the track. It is all single file at this stage - riding in convoy a few bike lengths apart. This is why each session is limited to about 12 riders - when we are spread out the group more-or-less fills the circuit.

Step 3: getting more confident and moving up!

The first few circuits are limited to the light blue strip which is called the "Coast" or "Cote d'Azur". But there's no sign of the Derny yet - we seem quite capable of riding sedately without any help. Then as our confidence builds we are encouraged to start riding faster and move onto the lower part of the track which is the start of the slope. The change in slope is quite abrupt (from flat to about 30 degrees) but no real worry while we are only a foot away from the Coast. But gradually the speeds increase and we move a bit further up the slope where different coloured lines mark out the position.

Some were bolder than others

Everyone seems to get the hang of it at about the same time, so the convoy works just fine with no overtaking needed. After a few minutes of gradual improvement it is back to the rail for final briefing on how to overtake. it's easy really: you overtake on the outside (higher) and call "STAY" to the rider you are passing who should stay in position. Exceptionally you can undertake and call "stay high". So I suppose it is a bit like a club ride if you substitute the word "Hole" for "Stay" and substitute "mild chaos" for "overtaking safely".

To boldy go where Gnome Anne has ridden before

Really, really fast (or possibly a slow shutter speed)

It is now free riding and our speed and confidence increases as we venture further up the bank. it's surprisingly hard work to push the speed up high: given there is no headwind the track quickly demonstrates that the motor is not as powerful as you would like. We get a really quick appreciation of how hard it is to race on this circuit. Riding up the bank costs you precious energy, and slows you down since the lap length becomes much longer, but the slingshot effect as you swoop down is amazing.

It's all over: wind-down time

We only have about 20 minutes of free cycling like this but this turns out to be plenty, as several folk feel the need to ease off for a short breather to recover from each surge of effort. All too soon it is over, with exhilaration and adrenaline competing for attention as we glide to a rest and return the bikes.

Tranquility on the way home

We head home via the Hertford Cut (Hertford Union Canal) to join up with the Regents Canal towpath. The towpath is very busy today with lots of walkers and cyclists so progress is slow. But it doesn't matter: it's an absolute delight to travel through such a pictureque part of London. We ride past a mix of luxury flats and warehouses until the Islington tunnel forces us to finally join the roads. What a transformation: from the tranquil surroundings of the canal to the mayhem of Angel and Pentonville Road. Having made it safely to King's Cross we only have a short wait in the heat for our train back to Cambridge.
Rupert Goodings All photos by Richard Broomfield (using Adrian's phone).

More information about Track Taster sessions at the Lee Valley VeloPark.

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