Last weekend I had my first experience of riding on a velodrome. It was also my first time on a fixed gear bike. A few people at my wife’s work had organised a two hour introductory session at Newport Velodrome and I was invited along. I was however forewarned that several of them were as nutty as me about bikes and that I would be given a good run for my money.
The velodrome hires bikes, although if you don’t have the correct cleats you have to use flat pedals with toe clips. We had the track to ourselves and a cycling coach to take us through the basics. Despite being eager to just thrash it around the boards, we spent a little time getting used to riding fixed-gear without brakes before taking on the sloping circuit. In hindsight this was probably wise as our group had a couple of falls. These were nothing too serious and our coach even instructed us to point and laugh as we cycled past. We duly obliged.
Once we all had a feel for the bikes we worked our way onto the black racing line and then up onto the higher red & blue lines which required a steady speed to be maintained. On the corners the track banks to a very steep angle so any loss of momentum could result in a sideways collapse followed by a splinter or two in the backside. It was a little unnerving at first, feeling like I should be trying to lean up into the bend. But after a few laps I just followed the lines on the floor and tried to concentrate on speed and form, rather than wiping out.
Then it was time for a few games. First, riding in two pace lines on opposite sides of the track with individuals sprinting to catch the group in front. Then a 500 metre time trial where our fastest rider completed the two laps in an impressive 36 seconds. Impressive until we heard that the Under 14 club riders can match this, but from a standing start. I managed 38 seconds and magnanimously blamed the toe clips.
And finally we participated in a staggered-start endurance race where you were out if caught from behind. I fared a little better in this, probably thanks to the endless miles I churn out each week while commuting. However I think I must have ridden about two kilometres at full gas, to the point where I couldn’t differentiate between the straights and the corners and my whole world became a narrow, rushing wooden tunnel containing just a single black line. I think it was the sour taste of swallowing a bit of sick that unfortunately brought me back to reality.
It was a really enjoyable evening with some decent coaching and a healthy dose of competitiveness. The feeling of speed produced a real adrenalin rush which was a world away from the potholes, traffic lights, rain and cars I am now back to riding through.