Friday, January 2, 2009

My Introduction To Track Cycling

Me At The Track

One of my resolutions for the new year is to train hard for the next bike racing season and hopefully kick some ass. In that interest I have tipped my toes into the exciting world of fixed gear bicycle riding, long after nearly everyone else I know already has.

There are a variety of reasons to try fixed gear riding, probably the most popular now being having something color coordinated to ride down the street in tight jeans, but for more on that you should be reading Bike Snob NYC. I wanted to try something new and work on my form and cadence. Since a fixed gear bike cannot coast, it forces you to smooth out your pedal stroke or you will start bobbing around in a rather silly fashion. All track bikes are fixed gear, and as I mentioned after watching the national track championships at the ADT Center, I wanted to try some velodrome riding for my self. If you are still wondering what a fixed gear bike is, the resources Sheldon Brown left for us are always a great place to learn about bikes.

One of the gifts Meghan, my loving girlfriend who reads my mind, gave me for Christmas was to sign me up for the December beginners class at the Encino Velodrome and a book on the subject of track cycling. She knew I had been itching to try some track riding and I just got the bike for it. So we went out to the track and I got to learn all about going fast in circles on steep embankments. The once a month beginner class at Encino is a great way to get introduced to the sport, and for those who need bikes, affordable track bike rentals are available in various sizes. By the end of the class I felt very confident riding on the track and the proper track etiquette.

For fun at the end we were all paired up, according to how fast we could do a 200 meter sprint, for pursuit races. In a pursuit, 2 riders start on opposite sides of the track and ride the same direction for a set distance, 3 laps in our instance, and the first to cross their respective starting line on the last lap wins. I won my pursuit by a small margin after making a come back in the last lap after trailing slightly. It was pretty intense going around that last turn at full speed and seeing my competitor in the corner of my eye making his dash for the finish.

The Rails

Track riding is fun, and a great work out. The measurable distances on the track make a good way to do intervals and measure progress, and there is nothing quite like going full steam through a turn with the forces of the angled surface pushing you through the curve.

So if you want a good intro to track riding that is a little less expensive and less intimidating then the indoor Olympic spec track at the ADT Center, Ken Avchen's beginner class at the Encino Velodrome is a great deal and I'm sure they could use the money with their shoe string budget and mostly volunteer labor. Many velodromes in the U.S. that were once popular attractions have faded or died but some survive thanks passionate track riders and coaches who keep the sport alive.

Encino Velodrome Bicycle Racing

I find it interesting though that while track bike racing has faded from popularity most places in the country, two of the cities going through cycling commuting renaissances are looking into new velodrome facilities, Portland Oregan exploring the idea and Boulder Colorado's new track just opened. It seems the best hope for track cycling as a sport in the U.S. is a greater use and appreciation of bicycles generally. It will take some kind of new interest in the sport if we want to stand a chance against the British dream team led by the shark like Victoria Pendleton and the hulk legs of Chris Hoy. Come on America, 2012, lets represent at the velodrome!

Update:
Chicago in it's Olympic bid preparations was considering a temporary velodrome but is now considering building a permanent facility, which would make it the only other facility besides our own ADT Center that would be up to spec to host international competition. [Hipster Nascar]

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