Inspired to try out track cycling but aren’t sure where to start? Rosina is a regular visitor to Lee Valley VeloPark, so we asked her to tell us about her experience.
Lee Valley VeloPark is one of my favourite places to spend time. You are surrounded by bikes, and people (adults and children alike) riding bikes. All ages, all abilities, and on every kind of bike you can imagine.
I’ve been coming here for almost two years, so I was thrilled when I was asked to ride around and write about this indoor velodrome at Stratford. It was used for the 2012 Olympics and there are photos from the Olympic and Paralympic games all over the walls, so it’s easy to imagine what the atmosphere must have been like then.
The track area itself is a hive of activity, with riders going around the velodrome under the watchful eye of the coaches standing trackside, whilst balance bike sessions for kids happen in the centre.
At other times of the day there are women only sessions and tandem sessions for those with disabilities. There really is something available for everyone of all ages and abilities to try – even complete beginners who might at first be nervous to give it a go.
The first thing anyone should know about riding on the track is that the bikes have no brakes and only one gear. Also, you can’t stop pedalling and the track banks at up to 42 degrees through the corners. If that sounds scary then, believe me, it’s not! It is actually very easy and very, very fun. The coaches are experienced, friendly and there to help you no matter what your level, so they’ll soon get even the most timid cyclist riding around with confidence.
This time I booked onto a ‘Women’s and Over 40s’ session. Everyone in the session had some experience of track riding so we were quickly up onto the track and away, sweeping round the corners and keeping in a nice tight line. Although every session is different depending on your ability, some of the drills the coaches might go through are:
- Half lap changes: The group rides single file, and every half lap the front rider swings up the banking whilst the rest of the group ride underneath, before the rider then joins the back of the group
- Pair changes: Like half lap changes, but the group rides in two lines side by side. The front pair swings up one after the other, and then joins the back of the group
- Half lap gains: Riding in two groups half a lap apart; the rider at the front of each group rides on ahead, eventually catching the back of the next group for a well earned rest
- Lumps and bumps: The coach blows their whistle once, twice or three times, which corresponds to the the red line, blue line or the very top of the track. Riders move between these three positions depending on the number of whistle-blows. You could find yourself riding from the very top to the very bottom in a fraction of a second!
Depending on the session, after between one and two hours of riding round in circles, it’s time to recover with a shower and a visit to the aptly named 42 Degrees café. Overlooking the track at the steepest part, it’s the perfect place to see where you’ve been riding and watch the next session. You can also go into the velodrome for free to sit and watch the riding, if you’d rather spectate than take part.
You get an amazing sense of achievement from riding on the Lee Valley velodrome and if you do go I’m sure you’ll see why I keep coming back again and again.
About Lee Valley VeloPark
At Lee Valley VeloPark you can try out four kinds of cycling in one place: track cycling, road racing, BMX or mountain biking.
Whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned racer, everyone is welcome to take part. And you don’t need to bring a bike – you can hire everything you need there.
Live south of the river?
You could try out the track at the historic Herne Hill Velodrome instead. Built in 1891, the outdoor 450 metre cycle track was the 1948 Olympic cycling venue.
The velodrome holds regular inductions for new starters, with bikes are available to hire for free. You don’t need cycling shoes – all bikes are fitted with toe-clips and straps.