Welcome to a sport involving bikes with no gears or brakes, fantastic speeds and some seriously steep banking. Contrary to the belief among some that track racing is an utterly terrifying experience altogether, it really is a great side of cycling to master – and nowhere near as hard as you may think.
Track racing is both the simplest and the most complicated form cycle racing in existence. The bikes are really simple and some of the racing is pretty simple too – pursuits and sprints are pure man against man, first across the line wins. However, races like the Madison, Points Race and the Devil are super complicated and the tactics involved in even simple races like the sprints can be fairly baffling as well.
Following the success of Great Britain riders at the World Track Championships, and the Olympics, the popularity of track racing for both riders and spectators has really risen in the UK.
Training or racing on an indoor track can be a very effective way of maintaining and developing power over the winter. You can eliminate the hassle of gale force winds, getting drenched and rapidly decreasing daylight hours. And although it’s great fun to get caked in mud sometimes, it can be easier to find motivation to train indoors.
Track cycling can all be a bit daunting on first impressions and it’s not helped by all the myths surrounding the sport. There are all sorts of common fears associated with this discipline like pedalling too slowly and taking a long slide down the banking, forgetting to pedal all together (which with a fixed wheel isn’t the best idea!) or getting dizzy after going round in all those circles. But, turn up at a velodrome and you’ll have plenty of seasoned ‘trackies’ around to convince you that riding the boards is ‘just like riding a bike!’
Track bikes have a single fixed gear and no freewheel mechanism like other bikes, so you have to remember to keep pedalling at all times. However you quickly get used to it and even if you do forget you’ll probably only get a slight kick which will remind you to swiftly start pedalling again! The use of a fixed wheel and the banking will allow you to speed up and slow down effectively without breaks. When riders are tightly packed together in a race environment it would be dangerous to start slamming on breaks so, instead, easing off on the pedals or moving up the track will subtly decrease your speed and allow you to ride closely to the wheels of other riders.
One thing that is noticeable about track riders is their smooth pedalling action and their tendency to adopt a high cadence. When you’ve only got one gear available, it’s most sensible to use a fairly small gear that you can accelerate quickly rather than a big gear that is slow to accelerate but more efficient aerobically.
There are various outdoor tracks dotted around the country, all with varying lengths and gradients of banking, view a full list here. Throughout the summer there are various racing leagues and training sessions held at these. The main three indoor tracks are located in Newport, Manchester and Calshot.
Obviously very few people are willing to invest in a dedicated track bike just for a taster session so most tracks have a fleet of track bikes for beginners to use. They’ll normally come with clips and straps on the pedals but most tracks are happy for riders to bring their own pedals. There are plenty of opportunities to drop in and have a go all year round.
Drop in sessions allow you to ride at your own pace and level under the watchful eye of a coach. There are also league meetings for when you feel confident enough to start racing.Manchester
Manchester velodrome is home to the Great Britain track team, and has famously hosted the Commonwealth Games. This world class banked track is available to all abilities of riders all year round. There are all sorts of opportunities for beginners as well as those with more experience. For more information visit www.manchestervelodrome.com.
And for a fantastic spectator experience get along to one of this years’ Revolution meetings and watch world class racing action from the best international cycling talent.Newport
This Welsh track is the latest addition to our set of indoor velodromes and is pretty much the same to ride as Manchester in terms of length and banking. The sports centre boasts great facilities including qualified coaches, sports science and fitness areas, changing rooms, free parking and hire bikes. For more information on training and drop in sessions visit www.cyclewales.org.ukCalshot
This short and steep indoor velodrome is located near Southampton and again caters for all riding abilities.
You’ll hear all sorts of Chinese whispers about this track, which although is the steepest banked track in Britain, is remarkably easy
to ride- and above all is great fun! Most of us will walk into Calshot for the first time and feel that in order to stay upright on your bike, on this ‘wall of death’ like velodrome, you’ll have to defy the laws of gravity. Just standing in the middle of the 143m long track can be pretty overwhelming but after a few laps round any apprehension will be rapidly replaced by the fantastic feeling of flying round at great speeds. For more information visit www.calshot.com/cycle
Track racing leagues are usually split into A and B categories to cater for a mixed field of riders. It’s possible to enter most league meetings on the day but you’ll need a British Cycling Licence to race.
Track leagues which run throughout the off-season are a great way to keep racing over the winter.
For more information on the Calshot league, call Sue or Tim Knight on 023 9264 2226 or email: [email protected]
For Newport visit www.cyclewales.org.uk
For Manchester go to www.manchestervelodrome.com