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Road Cycling

7 Reasons you Should Try Riding Track (Whatever your Ability)

It's easy to think 'it looks scary' or 'it's too much hassle'. But, man, is it worth it!

Back in October we published an article about track taster days – how non-scary, exhilarating and incredible they were – and why everyone should give one a try. 

That was nine months ago – and in that time I’ve gone from being vaguely interested and enjoying the track, to being just a little bit in love with it. I’ve passed my Race Accreditation at Herne Hill and Lee Valley. I’ve learnt loads, raced only four track leagues (the pursuit of a 2nd cat road license and diary clashes just keep getting in the way!)… and admittedly crashed once.

Despite a relative lack of racing – I’ve been to regular training sessions and enjoyed every second of it. Ok, except occasionally being dropped and crashing – but I also won an Elimination race and came second in a Points race, and both of those felt pretty amazeballs.

It’s easy to believe that track cycling is all about being fast. Obviously, the end goal is to be the fastest over the line – but there’s actually an awful lot more to it than that.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s also a lot of training available to beginners. At my own local track at Herne Hill, weekly women’s sessions cater for all abilities. Baggy shorts and trainers strapped in are just as welcome as skinsuits and aero helmets.

So, there’s no excuse for not giving it a go. Here are seven ways ANYONE can benefit from track cycling…

There’s LOADS of variety

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It’s not all bunch riding – there are solo efforts too. And when it is bunch racing, there are loads of different formats to suit assorted skills. You’ll find one style of racing – or just one exercise completed in training – that you love. Working on that innate strength will send your confidence soaring, and it also helps soften the blow when you find an area where you ‘could do better’.

It’s not just exercises and racing where there’s variety, either. Most velodromes run tons of different sessions, aimed at a wide range of abilities – ages and genders. There will be a session that you fit into and you’ll almost always be able to hire a bike.

As Katie Archibald commented when speaking to us recently, if you do decide to race – track league events often consist of lots of short races. She told us: “Most velodromes host a league, it’s [usually] once a week that you can race, and just learn! You make one mistake and you’re like ‘ugh, balls, I wish I hadn’t done that!’ but there’s another race in 10 minutes, you can try it again!”

You’ll learn a lot about bike control

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What, going round and round in circles with no corners to speak of?

Indeed.

Riding on the track often means sitting wheel to wheel with the rider in front (though you’ll be allowed bigger gaps at beginner’s sessions). When they slow down, you need to slow down – but not so much that you disturb the person behind you. If they speed up, you need to gradually increase your pace, but since you’re on a fixed gear bike you’ll have to be careful not to overdo it – as an over-acceleration will mean you’ll need to slow down or go round them as you narrow the gap.

Learning to control your speed, anticipate changes and speed up or slow down without destroying the rhythm of the bunch is an art form and it will help you elsewhere.

You’ll get better at riding in a bunch

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Before I started riding on the track, I’d been competing in time trials alone for a couple of years. I do love a good time trial, but my reason for avoiding leaping into crit and road racing was an unadulterated fear of racing in a bunch.

Etiquette of Riding in a Bunch

However, track training forces you to ride close to others. On fixed gear bikes. With no brakes. It might sound scary, but training takes place in a very carefully regulated environment, and no one is allowed into advanced sessions without having proved themselves to be safe via accreditation. Effectively training on the track is a controlled environment that’s ideal for learning the skills required to ride safely in a group.

My confidence in a bunch still isn’t right where I’d like it to be, but it’s much closer. And you don’t need to have any desire to race to benefit in this way – being comfortable riding with others is an essential skill for any cyclist who wants to ride with a group of like minded bike riders.

You’ll learn to spin a higher cadence

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Confession: I took up track training with view to speed up my cadence over winter, to make me a better time triallist. I have been known to complete a time trial with an average cadence of 76. Or was it 67. Either way – it’s pretty far off the recommended 90rpm. Turned out I ended up getting so involved in road racing as a result I’ve not had a chance to test the effect in a time trial (oops).

Beginners Tips for Riding the Rollers

Track bikes have a gear – just one, and you have to turn that gear constantly. So if you’re going to be riding an hour long training session, you can’t be pounding the sort of gear you might change up to on a road bike when you want to sprint. That means you’re going to have to spin the cranks faster.

A great many hobby cyclists could do with increasing their cadence. Doing so will mean you rip into fewer of your super powerful fast twitch muscle fibres, using more slow twitch muscles that allow you to keep up your effort for longer. In other words, learn to spin up the hills and you’ll be less exhausted for the next one.

You’ll get stronger

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Life goals: bigger quad muscles, calfs and glutes.

The thing that sets the track surface apart from the road is the banking. Every time you go round that corner, you’re pushing hard on the pedals for a couple of seconds, on the same gear that also feels comfortable as you roll down the banking. Therefore, getting up the track can require an explosive effort if you’re going far and fast enough.

Training also includes quite a lot of sprint drills – a perfect way to execute those standing start sprints Dani King recommended to us. Except you’ll be riding against other people – and a little friendly competition always helps raise the heart rate.

You’ll learn to be disciplined

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Amateurs the world over pay hundreds of pounds a month to have a ‘coach’ email them training plans and advice. A good training plan can make all the difference – but on the track you’ll have a coach watching you throughout, offering advice and feedback. Most coaches know a thing or two about what you should be doing outside of their sessions, too – and if you ask you’ll no doubt get advice at length. For free.

Not only that, coached track sessions usually have fast bits, and slow bits. Many cyclists have a tendency to obsess over trying. to. ride. faster. all. the. time. That often results in riding relatively fast-ish, all the time. Being forced to slow it down means you focus on skills.

Common skills sessions might include being split into groups, and asked to ride round in a variety of different shapes. Riding solo, looking back over your shoulder without wavering from your line and cycling with your hand on your neighbour’s shoulder. All useful skills that increase confidence in a bunch and alone.

You’ll make ALL THE FRIENDS
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Honestly, trackies are a right social bunch. Sessions are often around two hours, with short breaks between efforts where there’s time to chat as you rehydrate and compare snack choices. With regular women’s sessions available at a number of velodromes you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make friends, and actually the boys aren’t too bad either.

Interested? Check out…

UK Velodrome Guide

Why You Should Try a Track Taster Sessions and Take it Further

Review: HOY Fiorenzuola 002 Track Bike

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