Taking a velodrome taster session? New to track cycling? Not sure what to expect? Total Women’s Cycling talks to Great Britain Para Cycling Team Rider, Helen Scott, to find out what it takes to get out on the track.
Helen Scott is a Team GB Paralympic tandem pilot, winning bronze with teammate Aileen McGlynn in the B Pursuit and silver in the B 1km Time Trial at London 2012. Helen and teammate Sophie Thornhill also won two gold medals for England in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games.
Scott, who trains at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, offers TWC a few tips for first timers to get the most out of track cycling, from what to wear, to how to manage the banking.
1. Arrive early – and bring a drink
To help ensure you’re relaxed and ready to go, arrive early and be ready to go at least ten minutes before the session starts. If you’re late, and miss key bits like the safety briefing, they may not let you get on the track.
Also, make sure you bring a drink – you may be working quite hard. Scott says: “You will feel quite mentally drained after the first session because it is quite different from other sports you may have tried!”
2. Kit – Long sleeves and padded shorts
All velodromes provide bikes, helmets and shoes, though in some case there’s a charge for hire of the latter. Taster session attire, Scott says, can be “interesting”- because the sport is fairly new, many people don’t know what to expect.
“I would always suggest long sleeve sportswear just in case you get any spills, it protects your elbows a bit”, says Scott.
“I would recommend wearing padded shorts, especially for us girls. I would never now ride a bike without wearing my cycling shorts, it is just for comfort. You can get them fairly cheap from bike shops, and Decathlon.”
3. Track mitts
Says Scott: “Get some track mitts – fingerless mitts just to protect your palms and the skin on your hands in case you fall off. It is very common to fall off on the first go. I say you aren’t a cyclist if you haven’t had a crash; just get it out the way early!”
“It happens in every taster session I have done, people don’t know how the track works. The bikes are so stiff, so if there is any slight wobble on the bike, if you are tense, then any slight movement will go straight through to the wheels.
“When you are out on the roads you have to turn the handlebars to go around corners but on the track bike it is all about shifting body weight. Some people try to steer and that can throw you off a bit – you have to lean into the bends. It is very fluid, it is a lovely feeling.
“If you are coming in as an accomplished road rider or mountain biker it is very different. It is very serene, all you need to do is lean in and you don’t have to grip the handle bars too tight. Every movement affects the bike – it is quite a simple sport but you have got a lot to think about.”
5. Become one with the banking
You soon get used to riding the banking, but at first, expect it to feel steeper and scarier than you think – just don’t let your mind play tricks on you.
Scott says: “It is so exciting to see the track and think: ‘I’m going to ride on that!'”
“What I say to my riders is that it is just as steep at the top as the bottom. It is just your mind playing tricks on you, thinking: ‘I am never going to be able to stay on the banking’. It is amazing how grippy the tyres are. Don’t stop pedalling – it is a fixed wheel bike – just keep pedalling, you will be fine.”
6. No need for speed
“The automatic response, if you are out of control, is to go faster. I would say: relax your upper body. Don’t stop pedalling, but don’t ride as fast as you can. You learn more about yourself and the bike when you are riding steady than when you are going flat out.
“Very new riders to the track go so fast, they are that worried that their bike is going to slip. You see guys who go on the track three times a week and we ride really slowly.”
7. Enjoy it!
“I am 24 now and I have ridden track since I was 10 years old. I still get on and love it – I love moving around the track. It is great to see people on for the first time because it is so different from what they are used to. You can go so fast with so little effort and there is a feeling of ‘I can’t wait to do that again’, because it is such an adrenaline rush.
“It is so simple: it is a bike with one gear and no brakes, all you have to do is pedal. I love it for that because it is so simple. Just relax, and make sure you enjoy it, and take it all in.
8. Get inspiration from the pros
“It might be worth watching a few YouTube videos before you go – professional racing sprinting might be quite a good one to watch because they can also ride a lot slower [at the start of a race]. That is very advanced but it is just an opener to see how slowly they are riding and [realise] you don’t have to go flat out, and look how relaxed they are. Jason Kenny looks so relaxed racing and it looks effortless – you don’t want to make it look hard work.
Here’s some classic Jason Kenny to get you inspired.