The following was written as a guide for members participating in the NW Cluster Sessions, however it also serves as a good introduction to the velodrome for anyone not familiar with it.
There may be a large number of older, experienced looking children there – don’t let this put you off as the coach will make sure the less experienced riders get to ride safely in their own group.
Please arrive in good time to get ready for the session to start. The coach running the session will need everyone ready on time to organise them into ability groups and explain the session format. On arrival your child will need to seek out the bike that they have been allocated. If all goes to plan the bikes will be lined up with a post-it note stuck on the frame or handlebars with their name on it.
Saddle height is adjustable with a quick release lever. All bikes are fitted with ‘Look’ style pedal systems. Most of you will not have the shoes to fit these pedals and there are two options. You can either hire the shoes for a small cost from the velodrome if they have the correct size or you can use the adapters that allow the rider to wear their trainers. I would recommend the latter. The adapters click onto the pedal and have a toe clip and strap arrangement for the rider’s feet to be secured to the pedal. This can be worrying for young riders, but it is ultimately the safest way to ride a track bike – see next point.
The bikes are fixed-wheel which means the rider has to keep pedaling while the bike is moving – there is no free wheel. Also they have no brakes and to slow down the rider has to ease off pedaling and let the bike slow down. It sounds a bit risky, but as all the riders are traveling in the same direction and there are no other obstacles it’s not really. The toe-clips and straps help to keep the riders in control and properly attached to the bike should they forget about the fixed wheel and try to free-wheel. If their feet leave the pedals while in motion, the bikes become really difficult to control.
You are likely to enter the track from the well in the track centre below one of the banked curves. The height and steepness of the banking can be intimidating from there, but don’t be worried by this as the riders will only be asked to ride as high up the banking as they feel confident enough to ride. Although the banking is steep, it is just as steep at the bottom as it is at the top, so it’s not really any more difficult to ride higher up – but riders must keep pushing on the pedals round the banking as if they loose speed the bike will naturally drop down the banking. It is quite surprising just how slowly you can ride and still have enough speed to stay on the banking, but if you can encourage your child to ride with a bit of speed they will get more out of the session. Once up towards the blue line, to follow a line around the track you actually go slightly up hill into the curves and down hill out of them (think of following the edge of an upturned pringle crisp!) so the rider has to have a bit of momentum to maintain speed around the curve.
For real novices the coach will probably get them to ride on the painted concrete area just inside the track to get used to the bikes and then move them up onto the bottom blue section of the track when they are ready (known as the ‘cote d’azure’). From there they can progress as their confidence and ability dictates. You’ll probably be surprised just how quickly your child gets used to it and they will soon be whizzing round the track.
The velodrome can get quite warm, and there is obviously no air movement so riders can get hot. The session is also long and will be relatively strenuous. Therefore please can you ensure that your child brings plenty to drink and some energy giving food (chewy bars, bananas, etc.). Usual cycling clothing is best and a helmet is essential. If your child has cycling mitts they should wear them and I feel a thin long sleeve top is best. There are occasional spills and the most common injury is actually friction burns from the wooden track surface. Mitts and long sleeves will help prevent them.
Finally, if you intend to take pictures you will have to register your intent with the velodrome reception staff. There are no problems with taking photos, the velodrome just like to keep tabs on who is taking photos while youngsters are involved.