Here at Hubjub we have always been about fixed gear riding on the road (okay, and a little rough stuff) but always in the background has been the track racing scene. Not only was yesterdays track equipment the original source of frames and accessories for the street messenger, even with todays surplus of designed-for-the-street fixie frames and parts the track scene naturally casts a long shadow over the urban fixed wheel scene.
So naturally as part of Hubjub’s continued focus on professional development of its staff it was arranged for Drew and I to have a beginners course at Wales National Velodrome, on the outskirts of Newport. This is an excellent way to experience the thrill of riding on the track and, should one wish, to becoming a fully fledged track racer. The course is accredited and aims to give students the skills to ride safely on any track.
The first thing we notice on arriving at the velodrome is the size of it. In a country where most facilities relating to cycling are somewhat Micky-Mouse, the size and quality of the building was somewhat intimidating when we first parked up after nearly two hour drive from Mid Wales. This track is the adopted home of Welsh Cycling after all. This sense was reinforced as we went in and tried to find our way around the bustling corridors and rooms. But suitably attired and having collected our loaner bikes (Dolan Pre-Cursor) from the busy bike garage we made our way to the track itself.
Now again, we realised that we were actually going to take to the boards of the track. It bears repeating what an impressive and complex piece of architecture a Velodrome is. Newport has 250m circuit of smooth Siberian pine with complex curve geometry to keeps the bikes where they belong. Combined with the rest of the structure, seating, and all the supporting facilities, and also taking into account the running costs in terms of staff and heating and all the rest, this is a serious and long term commitment to cycling.
So now it was time to meet the coach and the rest of the students. Part of the pre-session nerves had been over how strong the other riders were and how the course would be pitched. Would we be totally outclassed? Fortunately there was a very wide range of age and experience on the course and we started to feel much more relaxed. The instructor was an amicable fellow called Brian, who had a long experience of velodrome riding and ha witnessed most types of crash (and was forthcoming in saying he had taken part in his share!). Therefore he was keen to ensure none of his students wipe out. The tuition was very supportive but it was quite clear there was to be no messing about.
First of all we rode about in the blue area inside the track (mainly, I suspect, to allow non fixed riders to get used to the bikes). Next it was onto the Cote D’azure (the shallow banked pale blue band on the very inside of the track proper - a kind of slip road onto the track) Then we were split into two groups and got to ride about on the boards proper - first the black then red lines and finally go right up the banking.
The next two exercises were all about getting used to the skills of swapping from front to back and then finally, as one big group, tightening up into line-astern formation. I have it on authority from Noel, our photographer for the night, that the coach was beaming with pride as the class of about 15 went round in single file each close on the wheel in front. Nobody on the course got left behind and I can recommend that any rider with reasonable fitness should have no problem enjoying the course.
The best bit for me was the experience of lifting my gaze from the immediate line in front and shifting my focus to the broader sensations of going round the velodrome. We have all seen track racing on telly of course, but this conveys none of the aesthetic appeal of simply riding round the velodrome. To see and feel the curves coming past as the track guides you always left, to convert some speed into potential energy by coasting up the track or back again by diving back down, and to move so smoothly and swiftly through the large enclosed space of the velodrome, are to experience flight like sensations.
We look forward to our next session where we will hone our track sense to cope better with the other riders. And hopefully get to ride even faster! Why not see some of our track goodies HERE