Facing the Velodrome
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Track Cycling on a Velodrome can be a scary experience for anyone. A velodrome is an oval-shaped track that is banked up to 41 degrees on each turn. A track cyclist rides around the track, similar to a runner on a track, but you have to go fast enough not to slip off the steeply banked turns. The slightest decision by another rider to move without looking back can mean disaster for you. It all is scary! Now add into that having a traumatic brain injury that greatly affects your balance and you have what I experienced last Monday before Thanksgiving.
What was it like trying something new?
Trying new things doesn’t really scare me anymore, but going really fast on a banked wall does. So does the unknown. I had never even been in a velodrome before and I had only seen the inside from pictures. Once I entered the velodrome, immediately I was at ease because I could see what I was taking on. Sarah, the high-performance coach for Team USA Para-Cycling, was the one teaching me. She had me just follow her at first. I didn’t have to even remember the velodrome directions - “Go Fast, Turn Left.” Soon, I was at the top of the velodrome!
What was it like being on those banked turns?
Being on the banked turns was a little unnerving at first. Looking over to the left, the ground looked abnormally far from me. This startled me for the first few times I went around the curves. My natural instinct was to slow down, but the bikes have no brakes, so this wasn’t an option.
What was it like riding a bike with no brakes and no gears?
Once I got the hang of what I was doing, having no brakes wasn’t an issue. The biggest trick was getting on and off; getting off proved to be my particular challenge. First, you have to slow down to less than 1 mile per hour. Then you have to unclip one foot and catch yourself on the ground while the other foot continues in a circular pattern. For me, this means I have to catch myself with my left foot while my right foot continues to “pedal”. I had a bit of a struggle getting going with only the one gear, That one gear on a track bike is the equivalent of one of the hardest to pedal on your average road bike. I had to set my pedals to the correct angle to be able to have the appropriate power to move.
What do most people not know about velodromes?
Most people (including me) don’t know that in between the turns, the grade of the bank levels out to almost flat (in my opinion). This was an opportunity for me, as a new rider, to take two deep breaths before I pushed hard into the turns again.
Track cycling can be a scary experience but it can also be a thrill and a different type of riding for anyone willing to take on the adventure. My biggest piece of advice for those considering riding the velodrome is to fully commit to what you are going to do. If you fully commit to going around the velodrome, under normal circumstances, you’ll make it!