As a keen mountain-biker of 22 years I’d never really considered riding the ‘other’ sort of bikes, but always enjoyed bantering with my skinny-wheeled brethren from RAF Coningsby Cycling Club about the fragility of their equipment.

After watching the triumphs of Team GB’s riders last summer in London, a note on the RAF Cycling Association forum aroused my curiosity – ‘First Velodrome session of 2013 will be February 6th at Newport, open to all, come down and try it out!’

So, after a couple of phone-calls to find out that all I had to do was get my name on the admin order and bring a helmet and gloves, I found myself picking my way through the rush-hour traffic of Newport in South Wales looking for a stunning piece of architecture like the Olympic Velodrome.  What I found was an unimposing industrial looking sports-centre just off the ring-road near the docks.

Once inside, I met the rest of the 25 or so RAF guys – who’d come from as far afield as Waddington, Lossiemouth and Chivenor – in the cavernous hall for a brief on the day’s riding.  Once we’d paid our £15 fee to cover bike hire, we were introduced to Gary our British Cycling accredited coach for the day.

As a mountain biker, I’m used to having 21 gears and freewheeling to slow down before using hydraulic brakes to stop me, but a track bike is a very, very different beast.  Our coach described track bikes as ‘feisty animals’, and he wasn’t wrong… No brakes, no freewheel and a single fixed gear, set up for acceleration and spinning.  As soon as I clipped-in to the pedals and began to spin, the shiny red Pinarello started to pull away and just seemed to want to keep going faster. Stopping was ‘simply’ the opposite of accelerating, using your legs to slow down like engine-braking in a car. It sounded quite easy, until I was faced with someone falling off 15 feet in front of me at 18mph.

We started with a couple of laps on the flat ‘safety zone’ around the inside, getting used to the feel of the bikes, then quickly moved up onto the first shallow section of the track. Once we’d shown the coach that we could all handle our bikes safely, he let us move up onto the boards proper and we began to explore how high and fast you can ride ‘once you learn that centrifugal force will overcome gravity and the track becomes a flat road in your mind’ (Gary the coach’s words, not mine). After a couple of laps it turned out he was right, and as we got used to riding at 30 degrees to vertical and used our speed to get higher up the banking, we moved on to team drills, lap after lap learning to ride closer together and change positions efficiently.

Once we’d begun to work well together in our teams, we rode a Team Pursuit competition, really going for it to beat our opponents by a whisker before a break for drinks and an energy bar.

Back on the track after a quick break and with legs still throbbing from the previous session, the coach set us off, one after another, for a series of flying sprints.  The aim was to come off the top of the banking as fast as we could into the start of 2 laps of maximum effort.  As I tipped the bike in toward the start-line my heart was pounding, but as I pushed hard into the second lap I could feel the fatigue in my legs beginning to get the better of me. Momentarily, I forgot there was no freewheel and the bike very nearly kicked me off as I slowed my cadence quicker than the bike would allow. The jolt from the bike was a timely reminder of where I was and spurred me on toward the finish, where I could slow down and cruise in to find out my time.  After a quick drink, we finished the session by consolidating our new skills with an Australian Pursuit, where all of the riders start at 20m intervals and try to catch the rider in front.  I have to admit I was quietly relieved when I was finally overtaken and could drop out for a rest.

As we began packing up, a group of riders appeared on track with a physio, several assistants, a mechanic and 10 extremely expensive looking carbon fibre framed bikes. Once they took their track suits off we realised that they were the Team GB development squad.  Our track day ended with a demo of how the Pro’s do it, watching them chasing not just a moped, but an actual motorbike around the track at unbelievable speeds.

Many thanks to Cpl Stu Tipton from the RAF Cycling Association for organising a really enjoyable introduction to track riding and loaning me his roadie shoes.

For more details of the opportunities available through membership of the RAF Cycling Association or to get involved with Coningsby Cycling Club contact WO John Elkin in ELW HQ on 7450 or Chf Tech John Eaton in the TSC on ext 8160.


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