Photographs: Adam Scott
Depending on your point of view, track cycling is either about as exhilarating as life on two wheels gets or utterly terrifying. To help move you from the latter camp into the former, we enlisted Phil Wright, track cycling coach at Herne Hill Velodrome, for some essential advice for beginners interested in track cycling.
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Before we get to the tips, however, here’s some key info about Herne Hill Velodrome (HHV). It’s a historic, locally beloved venue that was built in 1891 and hosted the cycling events at the 1948 Olympics – and it’s in danger of closing down. To help save one of the oldest cycling tracks in the world The Big Velofete event is being held on the 15th and 16th June at the velodrome, featuring races, talks, exhibitions, chances for adults and kids to have a go, and other activities to raise money to keep HHV open.
Do go along and check out the velodrome this weekend if you’re in the vicinity, and if you’re game to try cycling around the track, find your nearest venue and then prep with this expert advice from Wright.
If you’re a road cyclist do you need any special kit or equipment for the track?
Yes, you need a track bike for the velodrome rather than a road or hybrid bike. A track bike has one fixed-gear bike and no brakes – the fixed gear means you need to keep pedalling. You can speed up and slow down using either the banking of the velodrome or varying pressure on the pedals. If you are thinking of using your own bike, it is worth noting that some indoor velodromes require minimum crank length and indoor tyres. If you don’t have a bike, don’t worry – any velodrome will have bikes you can hire.
In additional, cycling gloves – mitts – and a helmet are the other bits of equipment you need. If you are used to being clipped into your pedals, check in with the velodrome because some hire bikes will use specific cleat systems. And if you don’t know what I’m on about – no problem! Just come in your trainers and comfy sportswear.
How does riding on the track differ from the road?
It’s far more intense. Most road riders come off the first time saying how much more it took out of them. The fixed gear gives you no rest and the concentration required is greater. But it’s also more thrilling, the banking is exhilarating, riding round in formation with others is wonderfully absorbing and, once you get to a certain level, you get all the excitement of racing.
Is it scary? Should you stay off the higher parts of the track while getting used to it?
Some people are nervous owing to the fixed wheel, strapped in,no brakes thing, but they soon learn that those things combine to make you safer and that fixed wheel is a much more connected way of riding. For me it’s far less scary than bunch riding with braked bikes. And there are very specific rules that keep everyone safe on the track that all the coaches will drum into newcomers.
The banking can be intimidating beforehand but we’re lucky at HHV that our 450m track is less steep than the 250m indoor ones – 34° as opposed to 42° – so first-timers are almost always completely happy at the very top within 15 minutes of the start of their induction session.
What kind of track events can people get involved in if they like it?
All kinds. Herne Hill Velodrome has more racing events than any other track in the country. If you want to race there’s a clear pathway of sessions and assessments that make it possible. And if you don’t want to race you’re welcome to take it to whatever level on that pathway you want.
There are all kinds of training sessions for all kinds of people. I’m a regular at one of our three early morning Veteran Sessions where it’s as much about the coffee and chat afterwards as it is about the riding.
Any other general tips for track beginners?
Heads up, hold your line and don’t forget to keep pedalling… Good advice for track beginners and life generally!