Track Racing Your Bike

The Shijingshan district of Beijing will be the venue for track, mountain and BMX cycling events at this summer’s Olympics, while the Urban Cycling course will be home to the road events.

Of course, competitors in each category are rightly proud of their own disciplines, but for many it is the track events that fire the imagination.

Perhaps it is the tension surrounding the games of cat and mouse and the sheer physicality involved in achieving victory with a sudden sprint for the line.

The steep 45-degree banking of the track can be a pretty terrifying sight for spectators, too; no wonder it represents such a gripping part of this sporting carnival.

Whatever the level of track event, from club to international standard, it is a far cry from a gentle pedal on a bicycle down to the corner shop.

The sport requires good fitness levels, tactical awareness and bravery. Yes, it is as much about strength of mind as body when it comes to crossing the finishing line first.

Individual Pursuit

There is a variety of events that come under the umbrella of track racing, perhaps the most recognisable being individual and team pursuit.

The former involves each rider starting from opposite sides of the track and competing until one rider finishes or is caught by the other, usually over a distance of between 3,000-5,000 metres. The principal is the same for the team format, with each side consisting of four riders.

One of the more unusual events, and one that is included on the men’s schedule in Beijing, is the Keirin. This involves a field of riders following a motorbike that progressively cranks up the pace before leaving the track and allowing the riders free rein to sprint as fast as they can towards the line.

Fixed-Wheel Machine

The most fundamental aspect of track racing is getting to grips with the bike. Unlike other machines, it is a fixed-wheel, or fixed-gear, machine.

This means that it does not have a free wheel – you won’t be able to coast, and when in motion the pedals will revolve – and there is only one gear and no brakes.

So how do you slow down? Well, either you can ease back on the pedals, or use the intimidating banking of the velodrome (the term for the track itself) to decrease your forward momentum.

The relative simplicity of these machines has seen their popularity grow in recent years among both casual cyclists and messengers. There is a great deal of choice around, with prices starting from around £300.

But as with all equipment, you should always try out a fixed-wheeler first and seek professional advice from a reputable retailer before opening your wallet.

You will find both indoor and outdoor velodromes around the country, Manchester being the home for the UK’s number one facility. Here, you can enjoy a one-hour taster session with both bikes and equipment provided, in order to give beginners their first experience on the track.

From there, budding Olympic champions should join a club where they can develop their skills in a stimulating and safe environment. Start by visiting the site of British Cycling, which carries both information on the sport and contact details for individual clubs.

If you need any further encouragement to try track racing, why not sit back this summer and absorb the drama in Beijing. Then you can start planning your own programme towards one day competing for Olympic gold.