Today I had my first experience on a fixed wheel bike as well as cycling around and around the velodrome at Lee Valley. At the beginning I was very nervous as in hand shaking, extremely tense and perhaps a little bit sweaty because I am a bit of a scaredy-cat. However we had a lovely coach who walked through the whole experience with us and by the end I was flying (well I thought so).
The session I joined was called a Taster Session and it’s £40 for adults and £30 for juniors for a full hour. The centre provides bikes and helmets in the price but we brought our own helmets. Cycling shoes are not included in the price but optional to hire at £7 (so you can wear trainers if you wish and the bike will have toe clips instead). If you do have your own cycling shoes the bikes can only use those with Look Keo Cleats, luckily for me. The session also asks that you have your shoulders covered and bring gloves/mitts. There were 12 of us in the group and we were all novices to fixies and the velodrome and in general there is a maximum of 16 people in a group.
Fixed wheel bikes what’s the deal?
There are no gears, which means the bike is very light.
The pedals and wheels are connected so that when one moves so does the other, so in short: Don’t stop pedaling.
There are no brakes! SAY WHAT? I know it sounds daunting but it’s fine, I promise.The session started with a briefing and then we clipped into our bikes and held the handrail for dear life. The first half of the session was about getting used to just pedaling without stopping and having no brakes, so we rode around the apron or the safety/flat for a few laps. Now you’re probably wondering how on earth do you stop? Basically you put resistance into your turns and that pretty much slows the bike down completely. Then you need to get near to the handrail again to keep yourself up to come to a full stop.
After the coach was happy with how we were handling the bike it was time to move onto the track. As it is with road cycling it is just as important on the track to always look over your shoulder to ensure the path is clear. We started on the thick light blue line called the cote d’azur and moved to the drop bars. Once we were ready it was time to go up to the black line, this line is 250m in length and is 20cm above the cote d’azur. Next was the red line which is 70cm above the black line and lastly the blue line which looks so high when you’re on the apron but once you’re up there it really doesn’t feel as high.
Once we had covered all the lines the last 15-20 mins was a free ride. After I felt I was in my stride it was time to go right to the top and I felt like I was speeding along. It’s really important to keep your speed up around the track and put some real pressure into your turns when you’re going round the corners as this is where it is steepest. Keeping the pressure will keep you on your line rather than slipping back down the track. I have to admit I was rather red faced by the end as you are constantly sprinting round the track and being my first time I was still rather tense and probably using up too much energy on getting myself to the end. However by the end I was ecstatic and wanting more…..
Lee Valley does accreditation sessions (4 altogether) where you learn about group riding, track gradients, bike handing and the use of the lines which means you can then join track leagues. After my ironman70.3 this might have to be my goal over the winter. I will keep you updated.
Other velodromes in the UK include Derby, Glasgow (Chris Hoy Velodrome), Newport and Manchester. We also have outdoor velodromes which include Herne Hill, Bournemouth, Preston Park, Welwyn, Halesowen and Reading.
So go on and find your nearest track!