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INTRO TO TRACK CYCLING IN LONDON

Why, where and how to do it

 

Track cycling is loads of fun – and it’s much more accessible than you might think. Even if you don’t fancy racing (yet!), it’s amazing for building your fitness and skills. In London, there are women of all ages riding and racing track. In fact, some of the fastest, most tactical riders we know are in their forties and fifties. Inspirational much?

What exactly is track cycling?

Track bikes are fixed gear bikes (so your legs are always turning), without brakes (you slow down using your leg power), ridden on oval tracks with varying degrees of banking (indoor and outdoor).

And what’s the deal with track racing?

Very briefly, events can be either sprint or endurance. There are loads of types, from scratch races (first across the line wins) to points races (riders sprint to win points on particular laps and the one with the most points wins) to derny races (riders go super-fast, saving energy by riding behind a motorised bike). And the strongest rider doesn’t necessarily win – being tactical is the name of the game.

Where can I do track cycling in London?

We’re lucky to have two fantastic velodromes: Herne Hill Velodrome (HHV) and Lee Valley Velodome (LVV) – aka the 2012 Olympic velodrome. HHV is an outdoor track, 450m, with not-too-steep 30º maximum banking. LVV is an indoor track, shorter at 250m, with steeper 42º banking. Sounds scary but it’s thrilling to ride, promise.

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How do I get started?

At HHV, you need to do a track induction before you can take any other sessions. Then you can attend the Sunday evening women’s sessions (below), or other beginner sessions. You may then want to get your training accreditation (or race accreditation too), so you can take part in more sessions.

LVV has a different accreditation process. You’ll start with a taster or stage 1 session, and then you can progress through the four stages (with additional skills sessions) to get fully accredited.

Whichever velodrome you start at, you don’t need to be fast to get accredited. The coaches will be checking that you can ride safety around others and listen to instructions.

Do I need my own track bike?

No – you can hire a bike at both velodromes. At HHV, bike hire is free. At LVV, it costs an extra £12 per session. Both velodromes have a wide range of sizes so there’ll be a bike to fit you. If you want to race, you’ll need your own track bike for most events. However, HHV’s summer women’s track league allows C category (beginner) riders to race on hire bikes.

What do I wear?

You’ll need a helmet and mitts/gloves. For racing, many riders wear all-in-one skinsuits. But cycling shorts and a jersey are fine for riding track. You must have your shoulders covered (so, no sleeveless jerseys) and it’s a good idea to wear a base layer under your jersey for extra protection. (It’s highly unlikely you’ll fall off but just in case.)

Are there women-only/women-friendly track sessions?

Yes! We can’t say enough good things about HHV’s Sunday evening women’s sessions, 5-7pm, £10. Incredibly friendly and so good for beginners. And there are women and vets sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. For more experienced riders, we’ve found that the mixed Saturday morning intermediate session is great too.

LVV has women-only sessions every fortnight (currently on Thursday evenings, no experience required), with women and over-40s sessions twice a week for those who are fully accredited. As with HHV, the coaches are fantastic and they do a great job of creating a welcoming environment for women.

What about track racing?

The best place to start is HHV’s summer women’s league, which takes place once a month, August-September. There’s a C category for beginners, you can race on a hire bike and the coaches will explain how each race works. There are also ‘opens’ throughout the season, which are one-day events with women-only races, and a monthly women-only race in HHV’s Wednesday night league. You’ll also find sprint and endurance-specific events. While women-only events are great to start in, there’s nothing stopping you joining in with the men’s racing when you get more confident. We’ve got riders who can hold their own among the boys.

There are also plenty of race events at LVV although, unfortunately, far fewer women-only races. And these races often require previous race experience or attendance at specific training sessions. We recommend starting at HHV but racing on the Olympic velodrome feels incredible, so it’s a great goal to aim for.

Photography: 1. Sam Holden, 2. Jess Geen