Track cycling was my favourite sport to follow at the Olympic Games. The skill, speed and strategy as Laura Trott and Jason Kenny whizzed around the Velodrome last summer was a thrilling experience to watch.
However, I must admit I was quite happy to remain as a spectator and leave track cycling to the pros. The idea of riding a fixed-gear bike with no brakes around a steep track was an intimidating prospect. That was until I was invited to put the Fitbit Ionic through its paces at the Lee Valley Velodrome. With promises of being in the safe hands of double Olympic silver medallist Becky James and several British Cycling coaches, I nervously agreed to the challenge.
Arriving at the venue early and full of anticipation, I was greeted by the awe-inspiring structure. I walked into the centre of the arena and looked around at the smooth wooden oval which towered above me. The gradient of the banked sections seemed impossibly steep, already I doubted my ability to ride this curved beast.
All of the kit was provided- shoes, gloves, helmet and of course, the Condor track bike. I immediately noticed the light weight of the bike and the lack of brakes and gears. We made our way onto the infield for a safety briefing and introduction. Our coaches explained the various areas of the track:
Safety Zone or Apron- not technically part of the track, this is the dark blue flat area where you start and stop riding.
Cote D’Azur- the lowest section of the track painted light blue, this is where you join the track and pick up speed before moving up the boards.
Black Line or Datum Line- this is 20cm above the Cote D’Azur and is the shortest and distance around the track (250m).
Red Line or Sprinter’s Line- this is 70cm above the black line. The space in between the black and red lines is called the pole lane. During the last 200m of a race, once the cyclist in the front has entered the pole lane, they are not allowed to leave it.
Blue Line or Stayer’s Line- this is the highest line on the track and is used in Madison races.
I was horrified to find that we needed to mount the bikes and clip in whilst holding onto the railing for support, then push off and start riding. We rolled away and rode a few laps in the safety zone, getting used to the bikes. I expected to fall over immediately, but thankfully I stayed upright! I was shaking all over I tried to relax my body as I knew the tension would result in the bike twitching.
As a road cyclist, it’s natural to want to slow down into bends but the opposite applies on the track- you need to maintain speed. Unlike a road bike which allows you to coast, a track bike’s pedals constantly turn so you will be thrown off if you stop pedalling. To come to a stop, you gradually reduce speed by resisting the pedal strokes. When you have slowed down enough, move in and grab the railing to steady yourself.
We were given some more tracking cycling tips by Becky and the coaches:
- Always ride anti-clockwise.
- Keep your eyes focused ahead.
- Hands are to be positioned on the drops or on the tops of the handlebars. There aren’t any hoods to hold on to!
- Don’t try to steer around the bends, follow the line and lean your bodyweight into the curves.
- The gradient is the same all the way around the track. If you can ride on the black line, then you can ride higher up the track.
- Never overtake on the inside of another rider.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t overcome my fears enough to give track cycling a proper go. I didn’t progress much further than riding around the safety zone! Every time I edged over towards the Cote d’Azur, I backed out and decided against it. Feeling frustrated and embarrassed, I took a break to watch the others fly around the track. They were naturals and had picked up some serious speed working their way high up the banking. The other riders finished the session with a time trial- a flying lap of the track. There were some impressive times with everyone showing a competitive edge.
Becky was incredibly patient and supportive of us novice track riders. I asked her how she originally got into track cycling. She replied that she was introduced to it by a cycling friend and absolutely loved it from that first ride. I admired her confidence and ability to embrace such an intimidating form of cycling.
We were presented with a medal and certificate- very undeserved as I hadn’t really achieved much! I would like to attempt track cycling again in future. I understand that it is all about confidence and I’d allowed anxiety to get the better of me.
The aim of the morning was really to try out the Fitbit Ionic. We used the workout mode to track elapsed time, calories and heart rate whilst we cycled around the velodrome. My heart rate was through the roof just through fear alone! Unfortunately, this mode doesn’t use GPS, so we were unable to track our speed- it would have been interesting to see how fast (or slow) I was riding. There are so many new features and functions on the new smartwatch, the Fitbit has really come a long way from its original form as a pedometer.
Have you ever tried track cycling? Have you seen the new Fitbit Ionic?