Living the dream at Herne Hill

Posted: December 1, 2016 in Cycling

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A long time ago I went to the Good Friday meet at Herne Hill Velodrome and watched people cycle very fast around in circles. It was a fantastic day out, I came away wanting to give track cycling a go. It’s taken a long time to fulfill that dream but at last I’ve done it.  I joined up with a group of local cyclists for a coached track session.

The Velodrome was almost how I remembered it, a massive asphalt oval with banked edges sitting in the middle of a field. Last time I was here there had been crowds of people and the smell of hotdogs and cooked onions drifting over. This time, on a cold and grey November day it was almost empty. The building works for the new stand made the place look messy and untidy. It was still the stuff of dreams and I still couldn’t believe I was about to fulfill a dream that I’d had for over 10 years.

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Banking and lines

We started the session by a long line and following each other round the track. We did and exercise were we rode progressively higher on the track. We started on the white line, moved up to the red line, then the blue and finally close to the top of the track. This was the first time I’d been on the banking and I was a little nervous about how it would work. I needn’t have worried, it was easy. I just followed the bike in front and climbed up. It took a while to get used to the slight acceleration coming off the banking but it didn’t take long before I felt comfortable with the whole thing.

The next exercise was all about riding in pairs. The coach instructed us to ride at a conversational pace above the blue line with the front two peeling off at the end of the lap and joining the back of the back. He carful explained that the bottom rider need to push to the banking and clear the bunch so that he didn’t cause a calamity and bring everybody tumbling to the bottom of the track. It was a lot easier done than said. We ambled round at a gentle pace chatting as we went. I was a fair few riders back of I could watch what was happening. It was all  quite straight forward. The top man drifted to the top of the track and the bottom man accelerated to the top. Then the rest of the bunch came through. What I found interesting was the changes in pace as various people it the front. I was also starting to discover that my bike was under geared for track riding. My legs were going round much faster than everyone else’s.

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Hospitality

After a little bit of recovery we worked on changes, the coach carefully explained how the track could be used to slow down and speed up whilst keeping the peddling rate constant. It was one of those things that was obvious once it has been explained.  Soon we were off again in a long line, with the front man peeling off every half lap. My turn came quickly. I could see the line, all I had to do was carry on in a straight line whilst the pack behind me went round underneath me. As the tails came round I came off the banking and joined the tail. I felt like a proper track cyclist.

The coach had yet another game up his sleeve. This time we rode at conversation pace in pairs about the blue line. When he blew his whistle the front four dropped down to the white line and powered round to join the back of the back, changing positions every half lap. It was on this exercise that I realised my bike was severely under geared. I just couldn’t hold the back wheel and had to drop off the back of my group of four. Despite this I was still enjoying myself.

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The last lap bell – a wonderful sound

After a short brake we moved onto a little bit of friendly competition. We started with a team pursuit. I started well, I held the wheel of the bit in front for almost a lap. After that I started to lose contact and had to give up. The rest of the team went on to win the heat. We then went straight onto the next pursuit. This time I was the lead out, this was the only time my under gearing gave me an advantage. I was able to accelerate much faster than anyone else, they just had to hang on to my wheel until I got to the other side of the track and peeled off. I almost managed to get back on, almost.

The session ended with an Australian pursuit, this was new to me. We were set off at equal intervals and the aim was to pass the person in front whilst not being caught by the person behind. I was the very last in the line, I thought that this would be a good position until I saw how far the front of the line was round the track when I set off.  I used my acceleration advantage to pick off about three people by the end of the first lap but by then my legs were spinning at top speed, I couldn’t go any faster whilst those in front with the proper gearing could. I was picked off on the second lap.

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I had a wonderful time at Herne Hill, in my mind I was one of those starts of cycling that I’d seen over 10 years ago swooping round the track. I left with a desire to do more and to get another bike.

 

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