Trying track cycling – a velodrome taster

I RODE A BIKE WITH NO BRAKES! And I did not fall off, crash, or generally damage myself. And I sort of want to do it again. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about track cycling. I was lucky enough recently to take a trip out of the office down to Herne Hill Velodrome . Considering I lived in Tooting for two years, I am actually now quite ashamed that I never made it down. And I definitely think that if I was still in Tooting, I would go again.

My parents bought me and my sister a track experience at the Lee Valley Velodrome for Christmas. My dad went a few years ago (ironically, we bought him this as a Christmas present also…) and I had popped along to watch and remember thinking it looked fun – and he had a whale of a time. I think my mum was secretly a bit disappointed that I was giving it a go before using the voucher (and my sister is annoyed because she thinks I now have a headstart and will be better than her) but I could hardly say no.

If you’ve been to either of these velodromes – or seen a picture – you’ll know they are a little different. Herne Hill has been around for decades, and is the last remaining venue from the 1948 Olympics (where apparently, their scheduling was’t too great, meaning that the final races had to be lit with car headlights and the photo finish impossible to see!)

It has an inner circumference of 450m, maxing out around 30 degrees in steepness, whereas your typical Olympic standard velodrome is only 250m, with a max gradient of around 45 degrees. Herne Hill has had stars such as Anquetil, Coppi & Tommy Simpson (I was one of the few people fangirling when we were told this) and is an incredible place, having been maintained and saved from destruction, and is now a key part of the London cycling community. There is an incredible history and they are rightly proud of it – the recently rebuilt clubhouse is full of photos from bygone eras, and has local club jerseys adorning the walls. It’s also where Sir Bradley himself first started racing.

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If you know the people I work with, you’ll know we have several cyclists and LOTS of sporty, competitive people. But it seemed that track cycling was giving a few people the heebie jeebies before the session, and I think a lot of that was down to a) knowing there were no brakes and b) the banking. However, skipping to after – I genuinely haven’t found anyone who didn’t enjoy it. The good thing about track cycling is that there was flexibility to do what you wanted. If you wanted to keep going round at the bottom of the track at your own speed, go for it. If you want to pretend you’re in the Olympics, go for it. Just be safe, respect the rules, and listen to what you’re told.

Firstly, the bike. It has one gear, no brakes, and we were in toe cages (ugh…I felt like a child again)

Gloves, helmets, long sleeves are all key (unsuprising really) Lean your bike against the railing, get in, toe-caged rather than clipped (eek) in and hold on for balance! (Track cycling means you have to pay attention or you fall over) To start, you basically just check for traffic, use the rail to propel yourself forwards, start pedalling and off you go. AND DON’T STOP PEDALLING.

You can’t freewheel (don’t try it) and you brake by resisting against the pedals and slowing down your cadence. And then grabbing hold of the railing again, ensuring you are going slow enough to avoid pulling your arm out of its socket. This was a mildly terrifying concept to get right seeing as I had zero idea how long it would actually take me to slow down. But you suss it out pretty quickly.

The team of coaches were great, and basically gave us a selection of different tasks and activities.

  1. Getting used to the bike – cycle round in a circle, don’t fall off, get used to slowing and stopping and holding onto the rail again at a sensible speed so you don’t fling yourself around and dislocate a shoulder. MAKE SURE YOU ALWAYS LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER!
  2. Ride the lines – there are several coloured lines around the track. The aim here was simple – ride one on the white, one on the red, one on the “ghost line” (basically a faded line) and then one between the ghost line and the top of the track. It is surprisingly easy to go high up and no, you don’t slide your way back down, you don’t really feel like you’re about to topple over and yes, it is easier and less scary than it might first appear. The more you pedal, the easier it is.
  3. Make a shape – ride along the white line on the straights, before hitting the bend hard and riding up at the top. Check your line and drop back down to the white for the back straight. Repeat!
  4. Play the animal game. Basically ride in a line, with the distance of a named animal in between you and the rider in front. We started with elephants, then ended up with very dubious rabbits. There was also a lot of discussion about whether it was a labrador or a chihuahua when we were told “dog”. Riding that close together is quite hard, particularly when you are worried about the lack of brakes.
  5. Team pursuit style. One long line, and at each end, the first person peels off, goes up the bank and then drops back in at the end. This definitely challenges your ability to maintain consistent speed relative to the others in your group! It also challenges your ability to pay attention and listen to when you are told to stop (except secretly we just wanted to keep going for another lap)
  6. Pairs changeover. Ride in a line of pairs – then the front pair peel off to the top, keep riding and drop back in on the end. Again, challenging your ability to maintain speed relative to the others!

It was a great experience – we were then informed we had done our taster session and therefore would be welcome at other sessions, and then could move towards becoming accredited. I was particularly interested when i found out that they ran ladies-only sessions, as well as the ASSOSLDN women’s track league.

Seriously, give @HHVWomen a follow on Instagram, they’ve got workshops, training, ladies night and all sorts! Again, as I said, I wish I still lived in Tooting as unfortunately it’s just that bit too far for me to go.

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The Women’s Race Workshops are back again this year and better than ever! Each session will focus on an event which features in that month’s @assos_ldn Women’s League, so if you’re unsure or need to brush up, they’re the perfect opportunity to learn or practice skills, techniques and tactics before each race. 🚴🏻‍♀️ The workshops will be held on Sundays during the regular 5-7pm Women’s Session (£10 for adults; £8 for Special Friends of HH; £5 for eligible youths). 🚴🏻‍♀️ Fire up your diary and get the dates locked. Even if you’re not racing they’re still great fun! 🚴🏻‍♀️ #womencycling #womeninsport #trackcycling #womenwhoride #ridelikeagirl #fixedgear #hhvwomen #thisgirlcan #velodrome #fixie #hhvwomensleague #trackbike #assos #assosldnwomensleague #bikeracing #cycling #hernehillvelodrome #hernehill #london 📸 @arpadernyesphotography

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Unfortunately, we then had to go and do some actual work. Booooooo.

But, it’s made me think more about what I want to get from cycling, including some interesting discussions now about crit racing over the summer…very much looking forwards to my trip to Lee Valley!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cyclists. Don’t be d*cks. (and no, I don’t mean ducks)

A couple of weeks ago cyclist Charlie Alliston was charged with “wanton and furious driving” after hitting and killing a pedestrian who stepped out in front of him whilst he was riding a bike with no front break. The whole situation was enormously unfortunate; he should absolutely have had two breaks on his bike (it’s the law!), but to be killed by a bike travelling at 14mph is statistically very unlikely (this article in The Guardian does the maths), so Kim Briggs was extraordinarily unlucky.

Now, the whys and wherefores of this story have been hotly debated in the bear pits of online tabloid comments sections for weeks, so I have no intention of trying to single-handedly put the issue to bed or trivialising what is a thoroughly tragic event. But I do think we should acknowledge that this has done nothing to help the image of cyclists in the eyes of the media, motorists of pedestrians. It’s important that they know, notwithstanding Alliston’s questionable behaviour and words, we are not all terrible people.

So, in an effort to curb the ever growing us-vs-them mindset, these are my rules of thumb, from one cyclist to others, so we don’t come across as total c**ckwombles.

  1. Make sure your breaks work / actually have breaks

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Race report – Herts summer tri, Stanborough Lakes

So, time to fess up – I actually haven’t done a triathlon in nearly two years. Not since Hever Castle. I mean, I’ve done duathlons a plenty, runs a plenty, lots of open water swimming and lots of cycling. But not so much “putting them together” – so, I decided I wanted to get a couple in this season, and the first was last weekend.

The Herts triathlon is run by Active Training World (who organise a lot of races in my local area) – it’s held at Stanborough Park in Welwyn, which was a peachy 32 minute drive from home. Which is nice when you have to leave before 6am. YAWN. Did the usual night before “frantically googling triathlon packing lists to check I don’t forget anything” and set my alarm for 5.30. Obviously then spent the drive there worrying I had forgotten something vital, plagued by stories of people who forget things like cycling shoes and helmets. Continue reading

People who shouldn’t be allowed on cycle superhighways in London…

London has been a hive of bike lane related activity recently and I have to say, it’s made a difference now that things are finally up and running and the roadworks are out of the way. I regularly use the now (nearly!) fully segregated lanes that have been built into CS7  and its offshoots (that’s the main drag from Clapham to the City), especially around Stockwell and on Blackfriars Road, and I have to say, for someone who was fed up of weaving in and out of traffic and getting everywhere at a snail’s pace, I now don’t have to! It’s also made it a heck of a lot safer for less confident riders and as long as people use them properly, they will (hopefully) continue to flourish and encourage more people to get on their bikes.

But as with all these things, there are people who still don’t use them correctly and it is time for me to have a bit of a rant about who should get out of my bike lane! Continue reading

Moving back in with your parents…

So, I’ve just moved back in with my parents for a currently unknown period of time – and it’s something I am TOTALLY fine with!  I get on pretty well with my family and we do a lot together, so I decided to put together a list of the pros and cons, particularly from a training, activity and nutrition point of view. 

So here goes! (PS mum I promise I will do my washing and unstack the dishwasher and not leave trainers in every room of the house…)

-1 no more cycling to work. Can’t really do this any more. No unfolded bikes on London Midland and there is NO WAY I am leaving my bike at Euston overnight (plus that would be a grim cycle right through central London). Therefore less automatic bike fitness, more frustration for me of having to take the tube (because it’s too hot and people WALK TOO FLIPPING SLOWLY) and also $$$$$

+1 much nicer cycling at the weekends without having to battle round the Wandsworth gyratory to get anywhere. Plus a new chain gang (well the old ones are back)

+1 onsite bike mechanic. Thanks Dad. Now when things break I don’t have to guess or try and fix it by Facetime.

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Cycling safely in London

As you will know, both myself and Kate are keen cycle commuters and have been for a while. We’ve already written some bits and pieces that can help you out but these mainly focused on clothing, sneaky ways of keeping your hair neat and not forgetting essential items….but something we didn’t touch on was the actual cycling part.

I constantly promote cycling to work left right and centre, and the first question I always get asked is ‘but isn’t it really dangerous to cycle in London?’ And my response? It can be dangerous if you make it dangerous. Yes, statistically there are more cycling accidents and deaths in London compared to some other European cities, but part of my point is that (shock horror) cyclists can be and (frequently are) to blame……

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Bonus Tips for the Cycling Commuter

Recently Katie’s been tempting you all with delicious morsels of advice on commuting to work by bike / by foot / via the gym – so I thought I would add a couple of tidbits from my own experiences in the world of London’s superhighways to this smorgasbord of tips and tricks… Okay, I’ll leave the grossly extended food analogy now. And possibly make a snack before continuing to write.

 

  1. Indulge in a liquid breakfast

Okay, so my morning generally starts between 6.30 – 7am, depending on what time I need to get into the office. Not being much of a breakfast eater at the best of times, the idea of stomaching actual food at this hour (especially before a 40min bike ride) fills me horror. Enter, my juicer – my pride and joy – and his wee sidekick, blender. Although I really struggle to force down a couple of slices toast without feeling a bit on the queasy side 20 minutes into my cycle, I seem to be able to knock back a freshly squeezed juice or smoothie without any associated nausea – hooray! Continue reading