I have ridden and raced road bikes for over 10 years. I have raced everything from 30 minute crits to the 228km Grafton to Inverell. I have ridden in countries all over the world. But I have never tried my hand at track racing. That just happened for the first time. And how was it?
I was met at the Unanderra velodrome by Illawarra’s ‘Mr Track’ aka Simon Britten. He gave me a briefing about riding on the track, most of which I didn’t understand. Some key points though were to always hold your line on the sprint laps, stay ‘high side’ of the rider in front and ALWAYS keep pedalling. Sounded easy enough. After fitting myself to a borrowed bike it was time to get going.
On to the track and pushing off from the fence the first time was a bizarre experience. In some ways it felt the same as riding a road bike. The familiar sensations were comforting. But at the same time it wasn’t the same. Where do you put your hands when you have no hoods? Where on the track am I supposed to be riding? How do I stop this thing? How do I tighten my shoes when my feet don’t stop moving? These are some of the questions that your brain is immediately computing. Fortunately for me I had Mr Track and Mr Track Jnr (Ryan Britten) to prevent me making a complete ar$e of myself. A few cautious laps of lots of giggling proceeded. Before I knew it there was a motorbike on the track and time to start the 40 lap warm up.
The next 40 laps were a hands-on apprenticeship in track riding. With the speed gradually increasing I found my heart rate doing the same. Sitting behind the motorbike was a real buzz and the lack of anyone screaming at me indicated I wasn’t doing anything too stupid. Though when I say behind the motorbike I use the term loosely. Where the experienced riders are kissing their front wheel on the back of the moto with effortless composure, you could have parked a car in the gap I was leaving. ‘These things take time’ I kept telling myself.
Another comforting and familiar sensation was the bumps continually shaking my body from the track surface. It turns out that the roadies are not the only riders in the Illawarra to be faced with a less than ideal tarmac. Even track riders keep the expensive carbon race wheels in the garage in lieu of robust aluminium hoops to take the brunt of the bumps and dips.
With the warm up complete it was time to start my first ‘100 lapper’. For the uninitiated, that’s 100 laps of the track. Eight behind the moto, two lap sprint, repeat process 10 times. Sounds easy, right? While sitting behind the moto was comfortable enough, the sprints were an entirely different story. This was where the speed, power, and racing smarts of the experienced riders comes to the fore. Seeing the guys (and girls) shooting past me was humbling. Getting smashed by a bunch of teenagers is a great way to keep the ego in check. Though I was reassured afterwards that these are some of the best juniors in the country, which softened the blow a little.
Overall it was a wonderful experience. I can certainly see the appeal of getting off the road and on to the track for sessions like this. There is a sense of community and camaraderie that we often lack on the road. And to answer the inevitable question: did you feel safe bashing around the track at 50km/h with no brakes? Surprisingly yes. Firstly there are no cars that can pull out of a cross street and t-bone you. Secondly, surrounded by experienced riders who also don’t have brakes you are all going at the same speed so there is no sudden stopping in the first place. It will take some getting used to at high speed I can see that it is far less dangerous than one may think.
A big thanks to all that were there last night, especially my Britten chaperones. Hopefully I can get back there soon.
And if you are reading this and thinking to give it a try I urge you to do so. $10 was all it cost and is something I will never forget.
More images from the night can be found here