Track Cycling (Valley Preferred Velodrome Clinic - Trexlertown, PA)
Walking upon the Trexlertown velodrome, it was certainly an intimidating sight. The track was less than a mile around, comprised of smoothed concrete, with what appeared to be incredibly steepbanking on the turns for someone who has never seen a velodrome in person before. Not only that, but the bicycles we had to ride were "fixed-gear," meaning there were no handbrakes (you stopped or slowed by back-peddling) and only one gear (so no switching). Needless to say, I was intimidated... until I tried it.
Coming from a first year cyclist who spent the entirety of this past year working to overcome the many fears of potholes, sharp turns, steep downhills, and riding in large groups at fast paces, track cycling was by far the most fun and simplest form of cycling I have tried (and seemingly far safer than road cycling).
How? Well, aside from having Olympic medalists teaching us the fundamentals, track cycling at Trexlertown, PA removes most of the "scary features" from road cycling, such as steep hills andpotholes, while the sharp turns are barely noticeable due to the banking of the track. Don't let people scare you about the banking, either. I rode almost 5 miles an hour on those turns without even a sensation of falling. It's EASY. Just imagine riding sideways on a hill. You probably do it all the time when riding outside without even noticing. "Oh, this hill is too steep. I'll just pull over to the side," and there you go! You just rode on a banking slope.
Concrete often sounds intimidating as well. Being a hard surface, it's often associated with things going SPLAT. However, compare sliding your butt on a smooth surface to the rough asphalt of the road. I'd choose the former. That said, wheel traction on the track is still great, and not a single person fell off their bike while riding during the two days I was at the velodrome. Not ONE!
This was surprising to me, seeing as it was the first time that many people had ridden a fixed-gear bicycle, at least since they were young kids. However, once you figure out how to mount on a fix-gear, which isn't bad, the rest is easy. On the track, you slow down by moving up the slope or by slightly applying pressure back against the pedals. To speed up, simply pedal faster. Due to this, you seem to have a lot fewer instances of people slamming on the breaks in front of you, so you ride with a little more peace of mind. Also, when you want to move off the track, you can chill and ride around slowly at the top of the banking until the track clears, or gently glide down to the inner floor of the track to dismount.
However, there are two major safety rules that must be followed (other than the usual "wear a helmet") and these are:
2) NEVER stop pedaling, until you're slowed enough to stop. Supposedly, the vast majority of accidents that occur on the cycling track happen at the finish line, when someone just finished a hard race or achieved victory and decided to just stop pedaling... KICK, and the bike bucks them off. This spinning, just keep spinning, just keep spinning, spinning, spinning."
Supposedly, the vast majority of accidents that occur on the cycling track happen at the finish line, when someone just finished a hard race or achieved victory and decided to just stop pedaling... KICK, and the bike bucks them off. This did not happen with anyone when I was there, but as long as you keep pedaling (and you'll realize how difficult it is to forget anyway) you'll have a blast. To make sure, I just kept singing that song from Finding Nemo (with a slight modification), "Just keeping spinning spinning spinnning spinnnnnning....!!!
Track cycling is a sport about positioning and power! I loved it. Not only would I confidently claim that I feel safer doing track compared to road, but I had more fun, too. Fast speeds, few people, straight lines, and no one does track standing at this level, so don't even worry about it. Just ride! If you haven't tried track before, are worried about trying, and/or on the fence, TRY IT! I was scared, but there's nothing to be scared about, and once you try it, you'll see. There are more clinics coming up for the ECCC (Kissena in NYC and Trexlertown, PA). Give it a try.