There’s no doubt about it, track cycling is an incredibly exciting spectator sport – the thrill of watching super-human cyclists whopping round a velodrome, their high speed skill and quick thinking, wheels so close it makes you wince, there is nothing else quite like a track race!
So who would have thought that any of us can spin round the same tracks that have seen Hoy, Kenny, Clancy, Varnish, Trott and Pendleton (to name but a few giants of track cycling over recent years) ride to numerous victories. Okay, so a little perspective may be in order at this point:
- you won’t be doing anywhere near that speed (probably)
- you won’t be racing (at least not straightaway)
- you may not even make it up the bank (the pros make it look so easy)
But wouldn’t you just love to have a go! If you’re lucky enough to live within reach of one of the UK’s five indoor velodromes you can book a taster session. If you get the bug and want to race, you’ll need to become accredited by completing a formal training course.
What to wear
Normal cycling kit is the best option, avoid loose or flapping clothing and a couple of layers on your top half will help protect from cuts and grazes. Cycling gloves are also advisable for the same reason. Helmets are obligatory and can be hired from the venue, along with clip-in shoes. Clear or lightly tinted glasses are also useful to wear.
What you’ll be riding
A fixie! No brakes, no gears, it’s going to be fun! Bikes are available to hire at the velodromes.
What to expect
Taster sessions will vary from one venue to the next, but they generally last for an hour and a coach will make sure you know how to pedal smoothly and stop safely. You’ll start out on the flat to familiarise yourself with the technique and then progress further up on the boards. The focus throughout is controlled riding and building confidence.
Where to go
Here’s the low down on indoor velodromes, but there are also a number of outdoor velodromes around the UK that also offer taster and accreditation sessions.
Lee Valley VeloPark, London
The ‘Pringle’ was built for the 2012 Olympic Games and it was here that Team GB won seven golds, one silver and one bronze medal – a legendary performance. For £35, including bike and helmet hire, you’ll be able to experience riding on the world’s fastest indoor track.
National Cycling Centre, Manchester
The UK’s first indoor Olympic track, this world-class venue opened in 1994. The centre has a very busy timetable, including family taster sessions where children as young as nine can have a go! Session prices vary but a one-hour taster includes bike and helmet hire.
Wales National Velodrome, Newport
Home to Welsh Cycling, Newport hosts national and international competitions. There are a wide range of sessions and courses, from lunchtime drop-ins to 3- and 4-week courses and corporate afternoons. The track taster is just £15, including bike and helmet rental plus a free pair of gloves, and sessions are restricted to a maximum of 10 riders.
Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, Glasgow
A 1-hour introduction to track cycling costs just £10.80, including bike, helmet and cleats. There are then three other sessions, during which you will develop the necessary skills to become accredited if you want to take your training further, attend drop-in sessions or enter races.
Derby Arena’s taster sessions cost £13.90 for one hour, including bike, helmet and glove hire. This is the UK’s newest velodrome and is similar in style to Manchester.
Calshot Velodrome, Southampton
Located within an old aircraft hangar, Calshot isn’t quite as high-tech as other velodromes and offers a national standard track – but it’s no less fun to ride. A 1.5-hour introductory session, with bike, helmet and shoes included, costs £28. Or you could do a 4-hour weekend session (costing £55), which should see you progress to group riding and team pursuit drills.
And if you’d rather just sit back and watch…Why not grab some tickets for the Revolution Series instead! There are still four more rounds coming up, in November and January, in London, Glasgow and Manchester. The afternoon and evening sessions are packed with races and the opportunity to see some of cycling’s leading lights competing as well as the HOY Future Stars, young riders who may one day become household names.