Mont Tries Out Track Cycling For The First Time (A Taster Session At Derby Velodrome)

My wife has a habit of buying me ‘experiences’ for Christmas and birthdays. I have a habit of not getting around to going on them.

I’m not sure mi amor has entirely forgiven me for not going to a driving track day that she bought me very early in our courtship. More recently I only got round to attending a sailing taster session (birthday present) a few hours before the voucher expired (i.e. my next birthday).

This ungrateful behaviour doesn’t seem to stop her.

And to be fair, she’d be forgiven for thinking that a voucher entitling me to a series of track sessions at the recently-built Derby velodrome, would be a Christmas gift I’d (i) be delighted to receive; and (ii) be motivated to book myself onto the session.

She was right about (i). Delighted.

The issue was (ii).

Time slips away. Derby City Council do not make it easy to find and book yourself onto a session. I finally got round to organising my first session in November.

And here is how I got on (spoiler alert: it was brilliant).

How To Get Track Accreditation At Derby Velodrome (And Probably Most Other UK Velodromes)

In order to attend open training sessions at Derby velodrome, you have to have completed four instructor-led sessions where you learn the skills and conventions on the track, such that you don’t present (too much of) a danger to yourself and other riders.

I was attending session 1. This is also a ‘taster’ session for cyclists that just fancy trying track cycling out as an experience.

I can’t say in detail what happens in sessions 2 to 4 (as this was session 1), but I understand the aim is to get you used to riding in a much closer group of riders (in front, behind, side-by-side).

Once you’ve completed all four sessions, you’re road track legal and can sign up for any mixed training sessions you fancy. If you’re already acredited at another velodrome, I think you just need to complete one instructor-led session (presumably to confirm that you’re not making it up) and you’re good to go at Derby.

Some Introductory Words About Track Bikes

They don’t have brakes (THEY DON’T HAVE FUGGING BRAKES!).

Nor do they have gears. Well they do. But only one of them. A single chainring at the front; a single cog at the back.

Most importantly (and probably usefully, given the lack of brakes), track bikes do not have a hub that freewheels.

You can’t stop pedalling when the bike is on the move. If the wheels are turning then so do the pedals (and so do your feet).

You can ease off from pedaling and let the momentum of the wheels/pedals carry your feet around as you gradually slow down. You can slow your pedal stroke quite rapidly and you’ll slow down quite rapidly.

But if you try to stop your feet from moving then you’ll go over the handlebars (we were reliably informed).

Track Bike For Hire Or Rent (Shoes To Let, 50 Cents)

Needless to say, velodromes don’t allow you to use a road bike on the track. Not only are there more bits on a road bike that can be damaged in a crash, or damage riders, it is dangerous for a rider to have the ability to brake.

Track riding involves cyclists moving at speed very close to one another – a touch of the brakes and the rider behind is into the back of you. Safe track riding relies, to a degree, on the predictability of what a rider can do in terms of speeding up and slowing down.

On the assumption that most first-time velodrome cyclists will not have invested in a track bike for the occasion, bike rental comes included in the session cost, as does a pair of cycling shoes. You can also hire a helmet if you wish, although it’s fine to use your own road helmet (as long as it doesn’t have brakes).

The Track At Derby Velodrome

Wikipedia tells me that the track at Derby is 250 metres long. There are two straights, with two steeply-banked 180 degree turns at each end.

The instructor did tell us the angle but I promptly forgot the number, instead classifying it as ‘bloody steep’.

One interesting (to me at least) fact is that the incline is the same whether you’re at the bottom of the bend or the top of it. I think I expected it to be steeper at the top. It’s not. Just higher.

What is different at the top of the track versus the bottom is the distance that the rider has to travel to get around the bend. It sounds obvious when you say it (or blog it down), but it’s relevant when you remember the lack of brakes.

If we found ourselves gaining on the rider, we were told to move slightly up the track. Whilst we were still riding at the same speed, we now had further to ride and we didn’t gain on the rider ahead at quite the same pace. How far you move up the track depends on how much you want to ‘slow down’.

The Fast And The Furious

And why might I be bearing down on the rider in front? Because I want to ride as quickly as possible.

Why ride as quickly as possible? Because ‘as quickly as possible’ is generally greater than ‘fast enough’.

And what is ‘fast enough’? Well, it’s the minimum speed that you need to carry through the bends such that the bike doesn’t slide away from under you. Which would hurt. And involve splinters.

Different tracks have different ‘fast enoughs’. It all depends on the angle of the incline on the bend. The steeper the incline, the greater speed that is required in order avoid sliding out.

The minimum speed at Derby is 14mph. Manchester is 17mph (so it must be steeper).

Now I agree that 14mph doesn’t sound too fast, but there was no way I was going to see what it felt like to go around the bend at 14.2mph. The quicker you go round the bend, the more stable you feel. I felt like I needed to cane it round each time (neither my collar bone nor my ego would survive a fall).

I guess it’s a bit like the skiing mindset, where you need to trust to lean down the slope in order to let the ski edges carve properly. The faster you take the bend, the more you can lean your upper body towards the floor and get the bike more perpendicular with the track surface.

Or something.

The Taster Session

The session lasted about an hour. It started with a 10 minute briefing about the bikes and the track, then we got riding. I’d say there were probably 18 of us. The riding was broken into a few mini-sessions.

The first one involved getting comfortable with riding a fixed gear bike, speeding up and slowing down. This took place on the light blue coloured section (the “Cote d’Azure”) at the bottom of the track which (I think) was a much lower angle in the bends.

The second stint involved getting used to gradually moving wider on the straights (the instructor stood at various heights on the track and you had to ride above him) and then returning to the Cote d’Azure.

Then we starting riding the bends properly, initially on the black line (at the very bottom), before moving up to the red and then beyond to the blue.

By the end of the session, the instructor had us moving as wide as possible on the straights, such that we were high coming into the bends, then angling down in order to gain as much speed as possible. We then took the bend at the tightest point and looked exactly like Chris Hoy (in my mind).

Photo Reportage (Or Some Photos I Took With My iPhone Which You Might Find Interesting…)

Here are the ‘innards’ of the velodrome, or the changing rooms as they’re more commonly known. Behold the nice smooth ramp that takes you up to the track:

Here you can see the stands. It was a slightly disappointing turnout from a spectator standpoint, given that this was my first track session. I’m hoping there’ll be more when I make my hour record attempt.

Here be hire bikes (note the rather steep looking track in the background…):

The track bikes, straining at their leashes, eager to put into action. Note the single gear at the back, and no derailleurs anywhere to be seen…

Racks of hire bikes:

In addition to the hire bikes, this area is where riders meet and warm up prior to their training session. As our hour went on, this area started to fill up with the riders (including a few young guns in Team GB kit) that would be on the track after us. The rollers that you can see in this shot were all in use later.

The infield of the track at Derby plays host to music concerts and the like:

Another look at the hire bikes that we used. They’re made by Moda, which is a Derbyshire-based firm (according to their website) and the bikes are “UK-assembled”.

And finally, an action shot (though not of me…):

Some Thoughts On Track Cycling (For What They’re Worth)

I thoroughly enjoyed the session. I’m keen to book session 2 (though we’re back to Derby City Council’s booking procedures making it as difficult as possible…).

Riding a fixed gear was novel. Before trying it I had some trepidation. Unlike for some of my fellow ‘tastees’, the fixed-gear-and-lack-of-brakes situation was not a surprise. That didn’t stop me having some concerns.

Concerns which it turned out were unfounded. I actually found it quite intuitive. I didn’t find myself having to remember to keep pedalling in order to avoid falling off. Slowing down was pretty straightforward. The attraction of the closed track environment is that you’re not constantly on the look out for cars and other road users coming from a variety of angles. Everyone rides in the same direction on the track (you hope…).

Time passed quickly (surely a sign of having had a good session). It also felt like I’d done a good job of work. Whilst maybe this was a reflection of my lack of bike fitness currently (ever?), there is something about the track that encourages you to go hard.

In an ideal world (or one that involved fewer hours at work at least), I could see a track training session (or two) being a perfect weekly boost to winter training. It’s just the small matter of finding an available space on sessions 2, 3 and 4 first…

Have You Tried Track Cycling?

Well, have you?

Did you enjoy it? Where did you go? Anyone tried out Manchester or the London Olympic stadium? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

35 thoughts on “Mont Tries Out Track Cycling For The First Time (A Taster Session At Derby Velodrome)”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your article but I don’t think I have the nerve to try it. I ride a fixed gear around town as well as my Pinarello but this is a whole other ballgame!

  2. Enjoyed your review. Fortunately for me, I live in a section of California where I can ride outdoors year round (and there are no indoor tracks).
    Keep posting though.

    • Thanks Jack. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Yes, unfortunately the US doesn’t have the same track infrastructure that the UK has (which must be one of the only sports where we have more funding than other nations). You do have the nice weather though…

  3. Hi. Like you I was gifted the experience, and it was FANTASTIC. I would urge any one to give it a go and you will be hooked! I was lucky to go to the London Velodrome which made the experience even better, using the same track as the Olympic greats. I looked at the gradients and could not believe I would use them to the full, but within 15 minutes I was up there and it was exhilarating. Age is no barrier. I am nearly 70!
    And it was not expensive either. You must all try this, as several of my friends have since and are going again.
    Love your posts.

  4. Hi – i did this at the Olympic park in January and similarly, trying to actually book the thing was pretty painful. Once there though – great fun ! You can’t quite imagine you’re going to go way up on the banks when you start but by the end of the hour it was easy enough, though tiring. Thanks for bringing the memories back to life,

    • No problem Jeremy. Maybe I should build a velodrome where it is easy to book onto a session. This time next year, we’ll be a millionaires….

  5. Monty
    Ho Ho Ho from snowy New England!
    When you go next you should bring your Garmin so you can Strava the ride and we can see those blazing speeds you mention.

    • Hi Steve – ho ho ho back at you from a very mild UK. Maybe at some point I can do it when they have the timers on – that should give a good indication on speed. I think the Garmin might suffer through lack of visibility to satellites and they don’t have speed sensors on the hire bikes…

  6. I did an experience day (including BMX) at Lea Valley, the Olympic park, last summer. I’m not particularly bold, but found it exhilarating and immediately booked to start the accreditation process (which seems more protracted than Derby). I’ve also bought a fixie for road use too. My advice is not to pay too much attention to the steepness of the bank before you ride. It’s fine when you’re on the track, and I’ve now ridden the top of the curve, but looks terrifying from above in the stands!

    • Yes, once you’ve got past the psychological hurdle, it all becomes a lot more doable. It did make me think about buying a fixie for outdoor riding. Where do you use it Nick? I think i’d struggle around here with the inclines, even though locally it’s more rolling rather than proper climbs.

  7. Thanks Monty, I to have a gift experience at Derby so this was perfect as an introduction for me. As you say booking is difficult, but why????/

    • Paul – it’s brilliant. The guy running the session was excellent. I know some people (“the public”) see the arena as a bit of a white elephant. But, for me, I love white elephants that can ride bikes…

  8. Nice, Monty — that was a fun read. And it sounds like you did quite well. If you want to feel even better, check out The Vegan Cyclist’s Youtube vlog about his first track cycling experience recently at the San Jose velodrome in California. He’s a CAT II racer, so not an inexperienced cyclist, but managed to crash when he forgot to keep pedaling because he was fooling with his GoPro. Ouch! 🙂

  9. I rode at Manchester about 4 years ago and it was fantastic. For an old man like me (60 at the time) it was dirt cheap because old-timers get a discount. I think it was £8 for the hour, but think it was only £12 full price. Riding the London velodrome is about 3 times as expensive but I was able to try Manchester as my son lives and works there whereas I live near London. For the older person it is a great alternative to bungee jumping – a great adrenalin experience (and I ride in Central London about 3 days a week, but this was far more exiting) Can’t recommend the experience highly enough

  10. I ride the track every month in the winter (Newport), sometimes twice I’m also BC track accredited, it is very addictive but also very painful (on the legs heart and lungs) if you want to do well and is fantastic for interval training, as an older rider (59) it’s great to ride/race against the youngsters in a session although I’ve not gone up against many riders of my own age and may give senior sessions a go when I’m 60 (well maybe).

    • Nice. I lived in south London for years and never once made it to the track at Herne Hill. Did you do the Eroica? (which is close to where I live now…)

  11. Also had a Christmas voucher for Manchester. Would be easier getting an audience with the pope than finding a slot, finally gave up and voucher ran out. Shouldn’t keep selling vouchers if they can’t accommodate you.
    4 friends have had the same problems.
    Stockport cycling club cancelled as they couldn’t get in eithet.
    Big shame😩

    • It is. It’s a real bummer Martin. I’m trying to be zen about the fact that my voucher has run out now (more or less) for the remaining sessions I was entitled to…

  12. Fantastic fun. I’ve done two track sessions, one at Newport and another at London. Scary top begin with, but once you get into it, the sensation of speed is brilliant. Also, the faster you go the more stable you feel. Want more!

  13. I’ve done track riding at Herne Hill, a few times, longer lap, less steep banking, and it’s always been great. The trust that is running it has resurfaced it so rain drains off the track faster, so it loses fewer sessions to the weather. I should go back now that I’m a bit fitter than I was then. I wrote about it here.
    And I’ve done one session at Calshot, near Southampton, inside an old aircraft hangar with a short track (142 metres, from memory), steep sides, and a little ‘kick’ on the track as you approach the turns.
    “Speed is your friend”, said the coach before we started.

  14. Yes – tried out my last Xmas taster gift this November (Parallell tardiness in booking then difficulty in securing a slot) – very similar experience to yours, much enjoyed, came feeling inspired to try more. I even went as far as buying look cleats for my shinano shod shoes (alliteration!). As ever , great report, tx


  15. We have an amazing outdoor velodrome here in Portland at the Alpenrose dairy. I went to a couple beginner sessions last summer and I really enjoyed it. I found that the fixed gear made me pedal smoother even when I got back on my road bike. Gave myself a Christmas present of a track bike from State Bicycles so I can head up to the track anytime and go for some laps.

  16. I was fortunate to win a taster session at Lee Valley Velodrome last March, the week after the World Track championships, for a bike launch. I found it a bit nerve racking and pretty tiring too, probably the hardest couple of miles I’ve ever ridden – I gained a massive respect for our track athletes after this!!! And being shown the ropes by Joanna Rowsell-Shand was pretty cool too. Like you I think it would be great to get a few sessions in over the winter would benefit most ‘roadies’, it also improves your bike handling and group awareness.

  17. I’m going for a taster session at the Olympic velodrome in October, a present from my wife. Can’t wait! I must say I am a bit nervous having only ridden road and never fixed – and my Dad is coming to watch too, he was a very good amateur when he was young, so feel like all the eyes will be watching me! Your article does give me confidence though, thanks! Just a fear of the unknown I guess, and not wanting to mess it up!

  18. I’ve had a couple of sessions at Herne Hill. As another commenter has said, it’s outdoors, and the track is about twice the length of the indoor ones. The banking is less steep (but it still feels quite high, if you look to your left when you’re at the top!). I hate to question your piece, but are you sure about the ‘minimum speed’ thing? Only I’ve definitely seen them dawdling round the top of the banking – especially the sprinters.

  19. Forgot to say, Herne Hill is brilliant – and there is (was, anyway) no need to book: induction sessions are at a set time every Saturday.


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