It is 06.30 and we’re awake. Weekends are not for lie-ins when you’re a cyclist, are they? We’re off to the Lee Valley Velopark for a track cycling taster session. We’re both excited, but I’m pretty nervous. I’ve wanted to try track cycling for so long now and I really don’t want to suck at it!
We’re going to be updating this as the morning goes on… Now, time to make some coffee and dig out the skinsuit…
08:45 – Lee Valley Velopark
After a surprisingly painless journey around the North Circular, we’ve arrived. You can park for 4 hours for free if you’re cycling which is handy for us as the journey by public transport is veeeery long…
A word of advice: although the velodrome has a cafe, it is only open from 10am. If you arrive in need of sustenance like us, it’s a five minute walk to the Unity Kitchen cafe. The pain au chocolat are out of this world…
09:30 – Trackside
Fortified with coffee and croissants, we make our way to the track. It all feels vaguely shambolic: the signage isn’t great, and nothing seems brilliantly organised. A slightly stern chap gives us a form to sign, supplies us with our hire shoes (surprisingly comfortable Lake shoes fitted with Keo cleats) and finds us appropriate bikes (which are Condor). The saddles are disappointing – there are three styles, none of which are remotely the right shape for me – but not to worry. For an hour my undercarriage can survive…
As we can’t take anything to the track with us we can’t show you any photos of this part unfortunately. No phones, watches, keys – pockets must be completely empty.
We were expecting a pretty small group for a track cycling taster session but there are 15 of us, which throws me slightly. I’m nervous anyway, and a big group of newbies makes me more so. More people to make mistakes and cause accidents. (Not that I have trust issues!)
10:00 – on the track
We’re being taught by Nicky. He gets us all lined up for a prep talk. We’re instructed to always look before moving onto the track; to never stop pedalling; and to keep our hands either on top of the bars or in the drops. We’re sent on our way, pushing off from the barrier onto the flat blue track. I’m so nervous I’m trembling: everything feels so alien. I haven’t ridden a fixed gear before and it’s quite unnerving.
We do two gentle laps on the blue safety strip and then we move out to the Côte d’Azur. Each time I pass Nicky he tells me to go faster. I don’t feel like I’m going slowly, but I must be. I step it up.
We’re instructed to move over to the black line. Wow: from the seating areas that still look pretty flat, but it isn’t. It’s surprisingly steep even down there and the importance of keeping the speed up hits us all. Go faster, feel safer. It’s not often you can say that.
Finally, we’re up between the red and blue lines. I don’t know what speed we’re doing, and it probably isn’t all that fast really; but boy, it sure feels fast! My mouth is getting dry and if truth be told, I’m clinging on for dear life thinking it’s just a terrifying experience. But, touch wood, I haven’t fallen off yet.
Nicky brings us back to a stop. Any questions? No. But I’d like to go and puke now, please, I think. I’m not a quitter though, so when he tells us we’re going to start overtaking and we can go above the blue line I gird my loins. I don’t think I want to do this… But I will. The golden rule here? LOOK BEFORE YOU MOVE. And if you want to overtake? Holler “STAY!” at the rider you’re passing.
It’s amazing how little you can hear when you’re on the track. The air whistling past your ears drowns everything out.
We set off again and I think how badly I need to work on my upper body strength – I find pushing off from the barrier really quite difficult!
We start getting the speed up. For now I’m not interested in overtaking so I stick to the area between the red and blue lines and just work on keeping the speed up and not throwing up. I haven’t forgotten to pedal yet, thank goodness; but this saddle is seriously uncomfortable. I have a go at shuffling. That was a mistake; you really can’t move around on the saddle when your feet must be constantly turning. I make a mental note to not try that again…
Although I didn’t really plan to start overtaking, my confidence does start to build and I shout “stay!” – which feels weirdly rude! But nobody is offended. I put the pedal to the metal and accelerate. It really is quite fun when you’re going fast.
Several fast laps in and my mouth is dry, and my undercarriage is sore. I check over my shoulder and ease down the track towards the safety area. It takes so long to slow down safely on these bikes, it’s nuts. Not having brakes is SO strange. I finally pull over to the barrier and ease myself off the bike. My hands are like claws from holding on so tight and I’m parched, but exhilarated! The nerves have almost gone now and I’m properly enjoying myself.
After a couple of minutes, Nicky asks me if I’m going to do a bit more before the session ends.
Go on, then.
I climb back on and set off, and manage to get up as high as the white Lee Valley sign on the track.
It’s really nerve wracking when riders ahead of you aren’t going fast enough – it’s SO important to keep the speed up on those incredibly steep banks. Faster, faster!
Then, before we know it, it’s time to stop. I must admit, I’m pretty knackered – it was an energetic session!
Rarely have I been so nervous about anything. I found it really quite terrifying – surprisingly so considering I’m quite a risk taker. But the fact that it’s quite a big group, that you’re relying on other people to ride safely, and that you can’t stop, makes it quite a scary experience – for me, at any rate! But, I loved it! I feel really exhilarated and I’m already thinking about going for accreditation. I need to overcome my fear of moving my hands from the top of the bars to the drops, though.
If you’re interested in giving it a go, I’d definitely recommend it. Just keep pedalling and don’t slow down!