Flicking through The Guardian during breakfast this morning, I came across a story by Peter Walker about making his track debut in Manchester. It seems everyone is doing it, because that’s the first thing I was planning to write about – once I’d got through my tea and toast.
I don’t know whether Peter was one of the media representatives invited to the session I went to at the Manchester Velodrome last Friday lunchtime, but his report struck several chords with me, because the hour I spent on those Siberian pine boards turned out to be one of my most thrilling ever.
I imagine most track debutants carry the same clutch of questions onto the track for the first time. How will I cope with fixed wheel? How on earth will I stay upright on the banking? And how long will it be before I crash?
The taster session I attended answered the first two of these questions very rapidly, while I thankfully came away from Manchester without an answer to the third. Taster sessions take place every day of the week, allowing novice riders the chance to ride on the Manchester Veldrome (£9.30, concessions £7.20), the arena that has hosted three World Track Championships and is the training venue for all of Britain’s Olympic stars.
Provided with shoes, a helmet and a very smart-looking Dolan bike, my group of 16 novices lined up against the barrier for an introductory briefing from the Velodrome’s cycling manager, Bob Barber. After five minutes from Bob, we were off, albeit initially on the flat green cement area inside the track, but soon moving onto the 12-degree angle of the ‘Cote d’Azur’ – the light blue coloured inner section of boards.
After another set of instructions from Bob, we were off again, this time building up enough speed to get up to first the black line, then the red line above it and then the blue line halfway up the banking. Fifteen minutes after walking nervously on the track, all 16 of us were circling up towards the top barrier.
Bob ended the session by timing each of us over a 250m flying lap. I wasn’t so much flying as wobbling precariously on the drops as I started mine, and ‘flew’ round in 23sec – about half the speed of Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton. Crossing the line, my subconscious cycling brain took over for the first time and I tried to stop pedalling, resulting in the kind of speed wobble that quickly kicks the conscious brain back into gear.
We finished with five minutes warming down, which I wished could go on for much longer, and then I staggered back down into the track centre, legs quivering due to the huge adrenaline rush I’d received.
Since leaving Manchester, I’ve become a track bore, endeavouring to persuade everyone I’ve met and spoken to give it a go. Naturally, I urge you all to do the same too. As cycling experiences go, it ranks up with cresting the summit of the Galibier for me – something I will never forget.
For more details on taster sessions at the Manchester Velodrome call 0161 223 2244. Children under 12 may want to try the sessions run by Eastlands Velo Club at the Velodrome – go to www.eastlandsvelo.com for details. For information on sessions at the other 19 Velodromes in the UK call British Cycling on 0870 871 2000.