Did you go to the VeloPark to watch the Olympics in 2012? Many people did, and many enjoyed seeing the best of the best pummel the boards to claim Gold.
One of the most wonderful things about Lee Valley VeloPark, however, is that it doesn’t only offer facilities for the elite.
We recently visited the venue, to check out their brand new indoor VeloStudio. We could have just written about the new facility, but whilst we were there, we got one hell of a reminder that there is a lot going on in Stratford for those who love to ride.
As the winter draws closer, floodlit trails, road circuits and indoor cycling is all starting to look a bit more inviting - and Lee Valley VeloPark has all of that and more. Here are the key attractions...
We’ll start with the VeloStudio, since it’s brand new. Sessions are available to book from October, and include Sufferfest Video sets, Women’s Only Virtual Coach workouts, plus fitness and performance testing.
There are also set times when you can book in and train on the bikes to your own schedule, and these are available to book now for £7 an hour.
The studio is inside the velodrome, in a large room right next to the track. Just outside the doors to the darkened training den, you’ll find endless locker storage, changing rooms and showers.
Despite the singular title, there are really two studios – one featuring Wattbike Pro and Trainer bikes, and one with Matrix IC7 Indoor Cycles. Both have a massive screen, sound system and fans, though personally I would always vote for more fans in any training facility.
The Sufferfest, Performance Testing and Wattbike
In zone Wattbike, VeloStudio offer a weekly programme of Sufferfest training videos at £10 a session. If you don’t know about Sufferfest yet, the training video creators offer in-race footage and structured intervals to make indoor training as fun as it can be.
I’ve spent many winter evenings pounding away to Sufferfest, but would certainly welcome the idea of joining with other nutters to do so in a more communal atmosphere.
On a more data driven, scientific level, the Wattbikes will also be available for fitness and performance testing sessions with qualified coaches.
With 40 different data fields, the fully adjustable bikes are great if you want to use the winter to hone in on pedalling technique – with a graph showing you the shape of your pedal stroke, and a constant reminder of your left/right balance. I was pretty shocked to discover I was pretty equal at 49% / 51% - but could certainly do with developing my upstroke when pedalling to better the power I get from each stroke.
Matrix Bikes and More Beginner Friendly 'Coach by Colour'
Not everyone wants to be immersed in a pro race - some of us want a friendlier, less suffer focused workout – and that’s on offer in equal measures for £12 per session.
The Matrix bikes are also fully adjustable and offer a smooth, track like pedalling motion – making them a firm favourite for Dani King. These bikes are hooked up to work with ‘Coach by Colour’ training – a programme where a virtual coach guides riders through a training session.
During the session, you virtually ride a selection of climbs from around the world whilst being gently advised how fast or hard to pedal during each section of the climb.
The cadence you should use, and the resistance, are dictated by the TV screen in front of you. For example, cadence 80 and ‘blue’ would mean you should be pedalling at 80 rpm, and your bike computer screen should be flashing blue, for easy. If it’s red, it means you are working too hard and the resistance needs to be turned down. How hard it thinks you are working is decided by the information you give it at the start of the session, based on your weight, age and exercise hours per week.
If I’m honest - I found the experience a little hard to get to grips with. The problem was that my screen was pretty much constantly on red or yellow – I spent around 20 minutes staring it at with a confused expression trying to get the resistance at the right level, giving me the right colour screen.
This, by the way, is my sweaty/confused face...
Velodrome Assistant Manager John Scripps caught my expression and explained that it had probably miscalculated my fitness based on the data, and that if I wanted to come along on a regular basis I could have a fitness test to determine the correct levels and get the machine matched up to me for future sessions.
Personally – I loved the Sufferfest Wattbike experience, and was a little less keen on the Matrix Bike Coach by Colour. However, I can absolutely understand that has a lot to do with the fact I would choose to Sufferfest it up at home – and I can definitely see that those after a more relaxed experience could really benefit from Coach by Colour.
Lee Valley VeloPark Track
Obviously the track where Team GB won seven Gold medals in ten Olympic events, and 15 Paralympic medals, is going to be a major attraction.
Track riding is a whole new world of cycling – offering a completely different experience to the road that promises to improve your cadence (since you can't stop) and your handling (there’s a lot of corners).
A common misconception is that it’s impossible to just ‘have a go’ at riding on the track, or that you have to be mega fit and experienced.
We were offered a ‘Track Taster’ session – one hour on the track where you can learn the basic skills. You may have to try it to believe me, but you really can go from ‘never ridden the track before’ beginner to ‘right up on the blue’ in less than 60 minutes.
In fact, half of the participants assembled for our taster day had never ridden with cleats before – yet were encouraged to have a go on the track with cycling shoes and Look Keo pedals. Under the guidance of our coach for the hour, they all flourished and were riding on the blue.
I’d ridden on the track twice before, but letting go of the barrier and coasting off onto the blue ‘safety area’ always feels a bit bizarre as you get used to the lack of brakes and gears. However, it took just a couple of laps on the beautiful smooth wood for me to remember how fantastically awesome it feels to swoop the length of the track and hammer around the corners, chasing whoever happens to be in front and fleeing approaching riders behind.
Taster sessions are available to anyone, and cost £35. They’re a great way to give track a go, and I was pleased that the coach gave us a free reign to just play on the boards– pretty much letting us bomb around the track in intervals of 5-10 minutes before calling us in for guidance.
To move on at the velodrome, you do have to go through an accreditation process, which is where things become a bit more serious and skills based. The taster session counts as ‘Stage One’, and at Stage Two accreditation you’ll learn more group riding skills. These are booked up until November, but once you’ve done one you can go to Skills Sessions which are held on a regular basis.
Mountain Bike Trails
Whilst at Lee Valley, I also had a go on the MTB trails - though I haven't got any photos to show. That's probably good as by this point I'd already been on two fitness indoor bikes and spent an hour on the track.
Inside London isn't really the first place you'd think of for some technical MTB practice - but some inventive soul at VeloPark has made sure the mountain bikers are catered for with miles of trails on blue, red and black graded courses.
As a bit of a MTB newbie, I took a hire bike out for a quick smash around the blue and red trails - finding some awesome ridges, technical-but-not-scary rock gardens and proper switchback berms along the way.
Of course - there are moments when you look to your right and realise there is a busy road there, and the venue is never going to even attempt to offer the kind of epic getaway you'd find at a proper trail centre.
However, mountain bikers need short training sessions as well as all-day excursions, and those they can surely get at VeloPark. Blasting around the network of trails provides a good, hard workout, and there are plenty of technical sections to hone your skills, as well as specific coached sessions for those after guidance. All inside London - not bad!
Floodlit Road Track
Lee Valley boasts a 1.6km floodlit road circuit. You can rock up at allotted times and use the track for your own devices for just £5, and this would be great for someone who wants to do a structured training session away from traffic, but not on the turbo trainer.
Lee Valley have been making a little documented, but very hard fought effort to offer sessions for women only, supported by British Cycling’s Breeze Network. On Friday’s from 9.30-12.30, the track is for women’s use only, and those taking part are encouraged to enjoy a free tea or coffee in the café afterwards.
If you’re after more specific skills training, there are also women’s only skills training sessions led by qualified coaches, for just £10.
Finally, the one attraction that I didn't check out in person (a girl only has SO much energy!)
The track was used for the Olympics, but has since been reconfigured to accommodate all abilities. It's still used for pro competition, and features an 8 meter high starting ramp, berm jumps, s-bend transfers, box jumps and rhythm sections.
Of course, we're not all up to making the most of these features - but for those keen to learn there are adult and youth taster sessions, women's only sessions, and the opportunity to pay and ride for just £5.
There you have it- the key attractions you'll find at Lee Valley VeloPark. Of course, we know that for some it's a mega distance away, but it is well worth a visit if you've got a full day.
For those who are local enough to get there on a regular basis, we'd definitely recommend you consider adding some of the activities available to your diary, especially as winter draws in and cosy studios and floodlighting become more and more inviting.