Last year, for Paul’s birthday, I bought us tickets to do a velodrome “taster” session at Lee Valley in London. We’d watched a fair bit of the world championship track cycling earlier in the year, and also been to the London Six day event in October.
At the time, I thought nothing of it. Just something different to do, a bit of a “fun” date (triathete’s type of fun, obviously!). In December, I went for coffee with my club mate and awesome cyclist Kate Allan. She rides for Drag2Zero, and had recently been to the velodrome for an aero testing session. She told me how she’d taken a tumble on one of the corners and badly friction-burnt her side, wrecking her aero skinsuit in the process. Although self-confessed queen of going in a straight line (but pants at bike handling skills), having a semi-pro cyclist tell me this meant come the taster session day the nerves were kicking in!
After we’d gotten our track bikes and I’d had the piss sufficiently taken out of me for being given essentially a child’s bike with toe cages (who wears Look cleats?!), we entered the track and had our session briefing. There are a few differences between road/MTB and track bikes, the main two being that there are no gears and no brakes. Therefore you have to keep pedaling at all times, and slowing down takes a while! You essentially keep your legs spinning but put some resistance against the pedals as they come through the top of the pedal-stroke.
Sounded simple enough – a few goes around the flat and cote d’azure to get used the bikes and build up some speed, and then at the session holder’s say-so we were to steer up onto the wooden track, progressing up to the red line when we gathered enough momentum and confidence. Simples!
So off we went, P ahead of me and both of us “representin’ ” in our yellow BTS jerseys 🙂 First few laps on the flat were easy. Now for the proper bit… A couple of laps of the cote d’azure later and the signal was given. I confidently moved up to the wood and felt good… until I hit the corner. No matter how hard I pedaled I could not seem to stay up on the wooden track. I don’t have much patience at the best of times, and I get extremely irritated when I can’t do something well (Virgo perfectionist much?), and combined with the whole not being able to stop quickly I was getting more and more panicked at the prospect of crashing into a fellow beginner.
The session holder brought us back to a standstill and came over to me to ask if I was OK. My face must have been a picture! I explained I was nervous and couldn’t seem to stay up, and his answer was an unhelpful “try to stay on the wood above the black line because it’s actually easier than lower down”. Great advice when I can’t even stay on the wood!! Thankfully being being analytically minded and a good observationalist, P was able to work out that I was steering into the corners and this was causing me to drop down to the cote every time. So I was under strict instruction to hold my line into the corners and let momentum take me round.
Off we went again, et voila! Not only did I stay on the wood, I could then lay some actual power down and overtake some of the boys 🙂 The next 40 minutes turned into a threshold workout session, and I even made it above the blue line and onto the advertising logos at the top of the track, whoop! I may not be the most powerful cyclist yet, but all this cyclo-cross has improved my bike handling skills and ability for explosive efforts.
So all in all we had a great track date, once I got my shit together! I would highly recommend trying a taster session if you’re at all into cycling and fancy branching out to test different skills. Just remember to hold your line around the corners!!