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Track Cycling: Riding a Velodrome

Riding the velodrome used for track cycling may look scary, but is relatively easy and lots of fun after you learn how.

For most beginners, riding up on the banking of a velodrome is an intimidating prospect. It's hard to imagine the bike won't slide right down it. Add to that the fact that track bikes have no brakes and some people start thinking twice about giving it a try.

You can relax! Despite the way it looks and sounds, riding a track is relatively easy and a lot of fun. Like anything else, it just takes some getting used to. Here are five things to remember that will make your child more comfortable and help him enjoy the experience.

1. Track Bikes Are Unique

Track bikes are extremely simple bikes. They have no brakes and no shift levers because they only have one gear. The bikes are direct drive; you can't coast, so there is no stopping immediately. Just like with any other bike, you put pressure on the pedals to get it going, but unlike a road bike that allows you to coast, a track bike's pedals keep going around and around. Eventually, with no additional pressure put on the pedals, the bike slows down.

2. Stopping the bike

Riders exert some backward pressure on the pedals to come to a gradual stop. Because a track bike is direct drive, do not try to coast. I started riding track bikes when I was 12 years old. I used to tell myself over and over again during my races, "don't stop pedaling, don't stop pedaling," because I knew if I tried to coast with too much force, I'd get tossed over the handle bars. Even later on in my career, I'd occasionally catch myself trying to coast and get a little jolt from the bike as a reminder.

It is normal if your child feels a little nervous. But don't worry, before you know it he'll be riding a track bike just like any other bike, and he won't give not having brakes another thought.

3. Lanes On The Track

Before you take your child to ride on the track help her understand the sections of a track. Velodromes have lines on them that designate lanes.

The Black LineVelodrome lane markings

The black line is the lowest line on the track, and is the shortest distance around. That is why during races against the clock riders stay glued to the black line.

The Red Line and The Pole Lane

The red line is the next line above the black line. The space between the red and black lane is called the pole lane. During the last 200 meters of a race, once the person in the front has entered the pole lane, they are not allowed to leave it. This allows riders behind them to pass, without the lead rider making erratic, wild swinging motions. If the lead rider does leave the pole lane in that last 200 meters, he is relegated.

The Blue Line

The highest line on the velodrome is blue. As a common courtesy, slower riders stay on or above the blue line and out of the way of the cyclists who are riding faster in the pole lane.

4. Riding On The Track

The first thing to know is that the track is always ridden in a counter clockwise direction. This is why you will hear track riders talk about going fast and turning left; left is the only direction they ever turn.

Next comes the banking: most people are a little nervous to ride up high on the banking of track for the first time. Your child will be a little less apprehensive knowing that if he can ride on the black line near the bottom of the track, then he can also ride on the blue line higher up on the banking.

  • At any location on the track, the bottom and top of the track are equally steep. So, if he can ride around on the black line, then he can also ride at that same speed higher up on the track.

  • Depending on the steepness of the track there is a certain speed that needs to be maintained in order to stay upright and not slide down. At each track the speed required is different, but you'd be surprised to learn that it is relatively slow.
  • Whenever your child gets on a new track, have him experiment and see how slow he can ride on the black line without slipping. Then he'll know how fast he will have to be going to stay upright when he is higher up on the banking.

  • One last tip, once he is up on the banking he should keep looking up ahead, no need to look down!

Changing lanes: Before your child moves right or left on a velodrome, he needs to look over his shoulder and make sure no one is there. Since no one has brakes, he doesn't want to cut anyone off. It's just like changing lanes while driving. The generally rules are no sharp erratic turns, and look before you move.

5. "Trash slides down."

This last tip sounds a bit crude, I know, but it will help keep your child safe. He should always remember to swing up and ride over a crash. Think of the velodrome like a big slide, everything not upright on two wheels slides down it. So, in the unfortunate event of a crash or slip, the riders and bikes will all slide down the track and end up in a pile at the bottom of the track. Since your child won't have brakes to stop quickly, this is an important lesson to remember. If someone falls in front of him, he should head up the banking immediately, being careful not to take out any other riders around him in the process. Always go above a crash, never below it.

Now that you and your child are armed with the five top tips of velodrome riding I encourage you both to give it a try. It is a lot of fun, and a good exercise!

Erin Mirabella represented the United States in track cycling at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, where she placed 4th in the points race. The 2006 recipient of the prestigious Jack Kelly Fair Play Award for sportsmanship, Erin has used her experiences as an Olympic athlete to create a series of children's books, The Barnsville Sports Squad. The newest book in the series, Shawn Sheep The Soccer Star, was released July, 2008. Erin lives with her husband Chris, their son Micah and daughter Lindsey in Colorado.