Get into: Track Cycling

With six indoor velodromes in the UK find out how to give track cycling a go this winter. Read more articles like this in Totally Active Magazine.

If you’re a cyclist, you can’t fail to have been inspired by the sensational success of the Great Britain’s cyclist this year, including standout performances from Team Sky’s Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas and the sensational Vuelta performance from Simon Yates. As the nights draw in and the temperature drops, avoid the temptation to hang up your bike for the winter and instead discover the exhilarating world of track cycling. Riding the boards should be on the must-do list for all cyclists, there’s nothing to beat the sensation of speed of swooping down 40 degree plus banking or the thrill of riding wheel to wheel in a bunch at 60 kph. It’s definitely a lot more fun than grinding out sessions on the turbo and will undoubtably improve your performance on the road. Be warned though, it’s highly addictive.

The bike

Track bikes are incredibly simple with only one fixed gear and no brakes. The lack of brakes actually makes riding and racing on the track safer as no-one can suddenly slow down or stop. A fixed gear means that there’s no freewheel mechanism so, if the wheels are going round, your legs have to also. Riders change their gear depending on the race or session they’re doing by swapping over sprockets or chainrings. Selecting the right gear is all part of the tactics of track racing and can really make the difference between winning and losing.


Dolan Pre Cursa

Due to their simplicity, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a decent track bike. Dolan Bikes are probably the UK’s best known manufacturer of track bikes and their Pre Cursa is a bike with proven credentials. Used by velodromes throughout Europe, including the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, as their hire bikes, durability and reliability are second to none. The alloy frame, although billed as a starter frame, has proven itself in high level competition and is definitely worthy of upgrades as you get into the sport.

Why do it?

Apart from the fact that it’s great fun, there are a number of reasons why you should give track cycling a go.

The high cadences required to spin the fixed gear are brilliant for building leg speed and developing a smooth and efficient pedal stroke. You can always spot a track cyclist on the road because of their silky smooth pedal stroke.

You’ll work on sprinting and high end efforts and, with other riders around you, will push harder than you’ll ever manage on the turbo or out on the road on your own. Also, for amateur riders with limited training time, it’s essential to maintain some intensity during the winter and the track is ideal for this.

It’s great for working on bike handling skills, observation and your ability to ride in a bunch. These are crucial if you want to try road racing and, with more triathlons and duathlons becoming draft legal, essential for multi-sport athletes too. Even if you only ride sportives, good bunch riding skills will save you energy and time.


How to try it?

All indoor tracks offer public taster sessions where you can usually hire a bike and, with instruction from a coach, take your first few laps around the track. To progress you then have to work through an accreditation system.

The exact accreditation process will differ slightly from venue to venue but the end result of making you a safe and competent rider will be the same. Once you have passed your accreditation, you’ll be able to take part in SQT (Structured Quality Training) sessions.

Gaining accreditation takes time but is a thorough and exacting process for a reason. You have to be safe on the track. You’ll be sharing the track with up to forty riders in an SQT and they and the coach have to be confident that you know what you’re doing. Also, in the event of an accident, the track may be held responsible for your actions if it’s shown that you weren’t sufficiently trained.

Be patient and, even though working through the accreditation process might not deliver the high octane and high intensity workouts you want, you’ll be learning invaluable bike handling, bunch riding and observation skills.

Expect to take at least a couple of months of regular sessions to become accredited. You’ll find you’ll progress much faster if you listen to the coach and take on board all of their feedback. Leave your ego at the door. Just because you’re an experienced rider on the road or a super strong triathlete, it doesn’t make you a great track rider.

1.National Cycling Centre

2. Newport Velodrome
Newport, South Wales

3. Calshot Velodrome
Calshot Activity Centre, nr Southampton

4. Lee Valley VeloPark
Lee Valley, East London

5. Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome
Emirates Arena, Glasgow

6. Derby Arena

Get ready for it

For your first few taster sessions most tracks will be able to hire you a bike. Make sure you take the following though:

Helmet: There will be hire helmets available but it’s far more pleasant to wear your own. If you’ve got a mountain biking style peak on it, this will have to be removed.

Glasses: It can be hot and dry on a track and especially irritating on the eyes if you wear contact lenses. Glasses are a good idea but with clear or yellow lenses, not dark.

Shoes: Most tracks will let you use your own shoes with the hire bikes as long as your cleats are compatible, they will not let you swap pedals over though. Check before you go and hire if necessary.

Track mitts: Tracks mitts are essential and usually compulsory. You shouldn’t be falling off but, if you are unfortunate enough to take a spill, you’ll be thankful of the protection.

Jersey and under vest: Most tracks require you to wear two layers on top, usually a regular short sleeved cycling jersey and a base t-shirt/vest underneath.

Water bottle: It’ll be hot so don’t forget your water bottle. There will be somewhere for you to leave it in the track centre.

If you ride regularly on the road you’ll be plenty fit enough for a taster session. As you work through your accreditation, you’ll build track specific fitness along with the essential skills. A typical taster session will last an hour and, once accredited, SQT sessions are usually two hours. You’re not circling round the track for the whole time though. You’ll do a series of drills, efforts and mock races that each typically last 15-20 minutes. In between you’ll get 5-10 minute rests that are a great chance to grab a drink and an energy gel.

Once you’ve got your accreditation and gained experience doing regular SQT’s, you will then be able to progress onto discipline specific SQT’s such as sprint sessions, endurance event focussed mock racing and sessions where you’re paced by a small motorbike known as a derny. The next step will be to pin a number on and do some racing. All tracks will have track leagues, which normally offer weekly race nights for riders of all levels. You’ll take part in a number of different races over the course of an evening, testing your fitness, skills and tactics.

Like triathlon, there are also age-group or Masters events that you can take part in. British National Masters takes place at Newport in early July each year You can compete at the World Masters (see box-out below) and the League of Veteran Cyclists (LVRC) offer a number of events for riders over forty

World Masters 2016

Since 1995 there has been a UCI Masters Track World Championships. Apart from 2007-2009, when it took place in Australia, its home has been Manchester. However, in 2017, it will be heading to Los Angeles for two years. Not knowing if I’d be able to make a trip to the States, the pressure was on at this year’s championships to see if I could get myself a stripy jersey. I’d raced at the World Masters in 2014, picking up a few top ten places but, breaking my leg in July 2015, had missed that year’s event and was off my bike for four months. My rehab went well but I wasn’t quite ready for National Masters in July so I entered the Worlds not really knowing what I’d be able to achieve. My form for the Individual Pursuit and the bunch events was okay but, without a solid winter base in my legs because of the injury, I had doubts over my endurance.

I jumped therefore at the chance to join a Team Pursuit team, especially one that had a real chance of a medal. We had just a few weeks to come together as a team but, at our last training session, completed two rides under World’s Best time. It’d been a while since I’d taken part in a team event and I’d forgotten the not letting your teammates down additional nerves on race day. As I waited in the gate for the pips to count down I was ridiculously nervous but fortunately, it all went to plan. In qualification we were fastest and took two seconds off the World’s Best time. It was then a long and agonising wait for the final. Even though we had ridden six seconds faster than the US team we’d be up against, all it would take is a touch of a wheel or a mistimed change, easy when you’re riding at 60 kph plus and right on your limit. In the end though we nailed it, took another second off the World’s Best and I got my hands on a coveted stripy jumper.

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This article is a feature piece first published 23rd December 2016 in Totally Active, a completely interactive online magazine written by active people for active people. Totally Active are on a mission to push endurance to its limits, to help readers achieve their potential, whatever the sport or activity. Totally Active have brought some of the world’s foremost endurance, performance, nutrition and fitness experts together in a publication which informs and inspires readers to go to the edge, to break boundaries, and to succeed. Read more articles like this at Totally Active today.