From John Drake, ABC Centreville’s club chairman and experienced track racer and coach
ABC Centreville always looks to develop members’ participation and skills wherever possible. This article seeks to provide information on track cycling and the avenues to participation.
There are a number of ABC Centreville members who regularly ride the track at Manchester Velodrome, including racing, some with extensive knowledge and riding experience. We also have members who have track coaching experience and officiating qualifications, including Peter Deary who is an international and elite level official in event running, administration, and commissionairing. Pete is also a regular Derny pacer for televised events including ‘devil take the hindmost’ events.
Track cycling is typically carried out on an indoor track with the track surface being constructed of pine and the distance of one lap being 250 metres. There are some outdoor tracks in the UK like those at Kirby and Halesowen, which are made of other materials.
In the photo above, the riders are just above the black line, which in coaching is cunningly referred to as the ‘black line’, this is the measured line for the track lap distance (Manchester is 250m), and as such it shows the shortest legal lap and thus it should be the quickest line around the track.In addition there are a few other elements of the track to mention which need to be understood as they form a key part of your training and the development of your track skills.
Looking again at figure 1, firstly there is the flat darker blue area inside the track known as the apron: this is the roll round area on which riders set off and end their track actions. It is concrete based with a non-slip paint coating but this must be treated with caution, for whilst it is non-slip for general footwear it is not so if you ride on it, especially through the bends at a pace approximating a fast walking – your wheel(s) will slip away.
Next to the dark blue roll around is the roughly 0.5m section of the wooden track painted light blue, which is named the Cote d’Azure this is a roll onto the track section for the full circumference, but it serves two other principle purposes: a) it provides a run off area if you come down the track too fast or are ‘squeezed’ down by other riders in a mass rider event and b) it is the area were the pursuit race track sponges (c 75mm x 75mm x 500mm and covered with yellow PVC in Manchester – pink in fig. 1) are placed for pursuit events so that ‘corners’ cannot be cut short to reduce the lap from 250 metres.
Above the black line by about 750mm is the red line, again in coaching usually referred to as that but it can also be referred to as the sprinters line for whenever there is a sprint event for example during a Keiren and it is the final sprint lap, the rules dictate that the leading rider cannot swing up the track above this line and others cannot overtake the lead rider whilst under the red line, they must go past above the red line, then when safely past they can come down below the red line.
The final line around the track is the blue line, around half-way up the track. This is the pacing / recovery line and will be referred to and utilised quite a number of times during your introduction and training on the track. It is also known as the stayers line, and is used in Madison events, where the non-active partner must stay above it.
Another key factor with the track is that it is banked, meaning that it always has a slope to it and this peaks through the two bends, which at Manchester are at 42.5 degrees.
About track bikes
The bikes are different from road bikes in that they are fixed gear: the chain-wheel and the rear wheel will always rotate together, for the chain and rear sprocket do not have a ratchet / freewheel mechanism; nor does the bike have any brakes. Braking is achieved by two principal methods, firstly by slowing down your pedalling and using your legs to slow the crank / pedals velocity, and secondly by moving up the track banking, so effectively riding uphill which will scrub off some of your pace. So the bike is very simple and consists of the frame & forks, two wheels and tyres, the handlebars, stem, seatpost, chainset , chain, sprocket and pedals.
During your training your gearing should be kept quite low so you are moving easily and have plenty of leg rotational speed, usually therefore 82 or 84 inch gearing is used at first. In the SQT (Specific Quality Sessions) for experienced riders an 88inch gear is used.
The points of contact between you and the track are your tyres or tubs (tubular tyres without innertubes) and herein lies a risk area. If you are using your own bikes, not the track hire bikes, then your tyre selection is to be carefully considered, for some tyres are not suitable, for example some Michelin tyres containing more silicone, and dual-coloured tyres. I used Veloflex Master tyres for 20 years with no problems but after reading good reports I recently purchased Vittoria Pista’s to test – these are a superb tyre and remain on my wheels, so my ‘back-up’ brand new Veloflex Masters are ‘ageing’ on a shelf!
An essential action after fitting new tyres or tubs is that when the tyre or tub is manufactured the mould used has a release oil sprayed into it before the tyre compound is introduced. When the tyre or tub is released from the mould they still have a layer of release oil on the surface. It is then packaged and sold to you – therefore if you go straight onto the track the tyre or tub will have a vastly reduced grip and will slide or loose grip on the bankings.
You need to remove the release oil and to do this, get a lint-free cotton rag and wet it with distilled (white or clear) vinegar then rub all the surface and circumference of the tyre. You will see a discolouring of the rag, so repeat – now the tyre should be oil free. As a precaution, take a rag and small bottle of vinegar with you to your first ride on the tyres in case you get any traction issues so you can wipe the wheel again.
Two items that should always be used on the track in addition to typical cycling kit for your body’s preservation and damage reduction during any accident or crash. You should always wear the following:
a) Cycling mitts. If you come off your bike whilst on the track, or whenever cycling, your natural instinct is to put your hands down in front / below you to minimise your body impact. On the track your hands will slide along the wooden boards at some speed and you will get more skin burns or loss of skin if you do not wear mitts.
b) Always wear an under-layer with shoulders under your cycling top. If you come off whilst riding you will at some point have shoulder to track impact. Cycling clothing is manufactured from man-made materials like nylon and lycra etc. Without an under-layer if you impact with the track the fabric will slide directly across your skin with a high level of friction, and the heat generated will cause skin burns and potentially the fusing of the manmade materials into your skin. The under-layer provides a ‘slip surface’ for the cycling top, so the majority if not all of the friction and resultant heat is removed. Any heat generated is between material layers, not between material and skin.
That’s the general overview concluded so now onto getting started.
Getting started through to Accreditation
Accreditation refers to a level of riding proficiency and skill you must achieve to be allowed to ride in the public training sessions and to race. Thus it is your track cycling ‘driving licence’. To get Accreditation you have to follow a designated learning and skills process set out by the velodrome which will be described below.
If Centreville members wish to get into the track riding scene I would suggest initially that on the club forum in the ‘Track riding and racing’ section you ask for assistance and we will help you. Then comes the formal processes at Manchester velodrome.
Preparing for track Accreditation
In practically all cases ABC Centreville riders starting track riding will do so at the Manchester velodrome (The National Cycling Centre) so this article will cover the procedure for this track and for adult riders – see the end of this section for junior / youth riders.
In the first instance you will have to learn how to start, progress and stop on a track bike, how to ride around the track to maintain a smooth velocity and how to ride on the banking, especially the ‘bends’ which are at a 42.5 degree slope.
Having coached learners and juniors for many years (including having to calm down stressed out and worried parents!) one of the most difficult areas to cope with is the psychological one. Firstly the ‘But I have no brakes what do I do if X occurs in front of me?’ and ‘I can never ride that step banking all the way up there!’ This one is the most difficult and I have seen and had to ‘rescue’ parents when they have looked over from the top of the banking and seen how high and impossibly steep it seems and they fainted and collapsed.
To address these two issues, firstly over time to compensate for not having brakes you acquire an anticipationary skill, but you must also develop an ingrained ‘auto pilot,’ in that if you have to avoid somebody in front of you or if there is a fall or crash you manoeuvre upwards on the track without thinking. This is because the laws of gravity and the structure of the track with its banking mean that in 99% of incidents the rider and bike in front which is causing the incident will fall down the track towards the Cote d’Azure and thus by going up you would be steering above them. It isn’t guaranteed that you will avoid the incident, but you will be swinging the safety and avoidance odds in your favour.
Secondly, regarding the second fear, the banking is at 42.5 degrees and around 7m high. With this combination new riders when they stand at or first approach the bend think ‘I will never be able to ride all the way up there—I will fall down…’ this is a fairly typical psychological reaction. However it is just that – a psychological reaction. The banking of the track is uniform from top to bottom at a given point, so from the ‘black line’ at the bottom, to the top of the track at the hoardings the slope is the same, and 42.5 degrees at the steepest. One of the exercises I used to get learners and junior / youth riders to do was to ride a lap of the track on the ‘black line’ all the way, then repeat this on the ‘red line,’ which would have one or two being slightly nervous. Then I would get them off the track to explain that next we will ride at the top or on the ‘blue line’ – nervousness at having to ride higher up the track would prevail, for it was ‘steeper and we will fall down’. I then presented the facts – when riding the ‘black line’ 100 mm up the track you are already riding the 42.5 degree banking through the bends and if you look at the track the track cross section is constant, so the same angle. Hence if you can ride 100mm up on the ‘black line’ it is the same condition at the ‘blue line’ and higher. Once this is accepted psychologically, riding the track higher and through the bends becomes a lot easier.
You do not need to go very quickly to maintain traction/grip through the bends: maintaining a speed of around 15 to 18 mph for learners is adequate but the fluency of your pedalling is very important. You need to get a fluency, that is a smooth rotational crank/leg action, for if you have an on/off or inconsistent pedalling pressure you may cause the rear wheel to slow or momentarily stop and consequently the wheel may lock or skip, with an increased risk of the rear wheel sliding down the banking and making you fall off.
The accreditation process
This is a formal process for obtaining your track cycling ‘driving licence’, the following is a brief summary of the process:
- Taster sessions – these are learner lessons to help you get comfortable riding the track bike and on the track, especially its slopes. You will need to do several of these sessions, after which you will be allowed to move onto ‘Accreditation Stage 1’
- Accreditation Stage 1 – develops your riding and certain track skills & safety.
- Accreditation Stages 2,3 & 4 – develop you further and at the conclusion of Stage 4 if you are competent you will gain your ‘Accreditation’ or track cycling driving licence
At this stage of development I would advise that you then ride a number of open ‘B’ class rider sessions (‘B’ class being the designation for lesser experienced riders) to gain experience in a less presuured setting then SQT (structured quality sessions). B sessions are formal, structured and coached, for example they might instruct you to “Ride doing through-and-off for 20 laps then the last 5 laps no through-and-off but it will be as if you are in an open race scenario.” Hence you will gain bunch conditions with the jostling for position, being over-taken, you taking over others etc. This will develop you further towards gaining sufficient skills, safety awareness and confidence to move onto SQT (Structure Quality Training ) sessions which are more intense, fast and physically demanding, potentially leading on into racing.
For further detail on the Manchester process go to http://www.nationalcyclingcentre.com/track/novice-riders/
For youth or junior riders
The above process can be followed for age 12 years and above, but the limiting factor may be strength and having sufficient confidence to ride with a group of adult riders.
Manchester Velodrome does have a resident independent club who run sessions on Monday evening for new or very junior riders, on Saturday mornings for 11 to 16 year-olds and Wednesdays for competent riders of 15 upwards who have passed through the club other sessions and reached a certain level of track skill, strength and safety competence. These clubs (which are under one umbrella organisation) are Eastlands Velo & Sportcity Velo (I was a coach at both of these clubs for around 10 years and coached and developed Jason Kenny, Matt Crampton, Steven Burke, Adam & Simon Yates, Christian Lyte, Chris Lawless, Chris Latham, and Matt Rotherham amongst others) The club has got great skills and expertise in coaching & developing youth and junior riders for it has been operating since the track opened over 20 years ago.
Note:- However after the introduction sessions juniors have to have your 1st claim club as Eastlands or Sportcity Velo and not ABC Centreville to continue attending the coaching sessions (doesn’t apply to seniors).
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