Saturday, 27 February 2016

The World's Most Accessible Cycle Sport - Street Velodrome!

Pop-up Street Velodrome
I had a go at this sport called Street Velodrome and all I know is surfer-biker chick Anna Glowinski does it and raves about how great it is. Well, given that she likes her sport adrenaline-fuelled I immediately wanted to give this activity a wide berth. As a veteran rider I find I value my bones more and more!

However, while I was at the London Bike Show, where they had set up their rig, I bumped into Anna. When I said I would be going over to watch the Street Velodrome competition she was very encouraging. "Go on, give it a go. It's free and it's so much fun," she said.
"I don't know," I replied unsure. "I'll make a fool of myself in front of everybody."
"Don't be silly. Anyone can have a go." I think that's what sold me. Anyone can have a go.

So I toddled along hoping that it would be fun, just as Anna had said. Looking at the bankings at the extremities of the short circuit made me feel a little apprehensive.

Kelly, the lady who was helping out and coaching people of all ages was very helpful. "It's not bad once you get going. You'll be fine. We'll get you to race against this boy."

I wasn't sure I wanted to race against anyone, but racing against a seven-year old kid who was barely higher than my waist worried me. He could either upstage me royally, which would be embarrassing - or even worse, I could go wrong on the banking, fall over and squash him - which would be mortifying!

Once I put on my trainers and the guys kitted me out with a bike and a helmet I first did a few circuits of the track on the flat ground, just to practice going around tight corners. The trick is to learn to look around the corner at where you need to be. .

It is true that I am already practised in going around corners, having ridden in a velodrome and raced a little on road and cyclo cross circuits.
In reality, looking around the corner is the only real skill anyone needs, so after a few laps around on the flat you pick up the concept and you're ready to go on the actual circuit with banking included.

For my first go I set off along the straight at medium speed. I should have been a bit quicker so that I would have the momentum to get up onto the banking. But even with this slight mistake where I crawled up the track at a snails pace things weren't so bad because it meant I tackled the tight corner at a controlled pace and once I was looked around the corner the bicycle followed and took me down the ramp, picking up a high speed as I hit the straight, and this speed was enough to take me up the ramp at the other end of the track, where once again I was looking around the corner. So before I knew it I was rounding the bend again to take another fast descent to my startpoint and then up to the banking again. And thus continued the cycle.

There are lines marked on the track showing when you need to start looking around the corner, and Kelly would shout across to me to do so in case I forgot! So I felt in safe hands.

Getting the cornering right
It was a real adrenaline rush for me and I was enjoying the "speed". I felt like Guy Martin, but in fact I was probably more like Eddie the Eagle! Nevertheless, the riding is easy to get into both in terms of skill and equipment. You just need to be in trainers and trousers or shorts. Lycra and specific cycle kit is not necessary. 

By the time I had finished my practice the little boy I was going to race against had already competed against someone else and won, and as I was the last person signed up for the session there was no one else left to race against.

No worries. There will be other opportunities to race, as Street Velodrome travels around the country and people can sign up on-line to have a go either in the amateur series, or in the pro series if you want to race at a higher level.

Carl Thompson the originator of this pop-up concept wanted to create a cycle event that was engaging, entertaining, free of charge, and can have a broad appeal. The series starts in May at the Eden Project and tours different venues around the country. Amateurs race for free and their series runs parallel to the pro competition, with the best amateurs being invited to the super finals outside Buckingham Palace as part of Prudential Ride London at the end of July.

"We try to get a good balance between male and female competitors as we want to showcase women's cycling rather than have it as a support event to the men's race," Carl explained to me. "We are affiliated with the This Girl Can sports campaign and we hope to reach out to 16-24 year-old women.
And the secret to doing well at Street Velodrome? According to Carl: "It's about the start - pushing off as quick as you can in a big gear when the traffic light turns green. Then when riding the berm [the tight turn] you look at the exit of the turn to get you around the corner."

Getting the cornering wrong!

So there you have it guys and girls. Street Velodrome is all very accessible. Just sign up and remember to push hard and look round the corner - something that this guy unfortunately forgot to do, though no harm was done. I'm sure that won't happen to you!


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