Learning the Velodrome

Imagine being on a fixed-geared bike on a velodrome track, knowing that if you tried to stop pedaling, you’d flip over your handlebars and probably hurt yourself pretty good.

That’s what Chris told us as he taught us how to ride on the velodrome track with our fixed-geared bikes.

The sun radiated off the track and immediately I regretted not having more water. We were fitted for our bikes and sized up for our shoes before making our way up to the track. There was a deafening silence layered over us as thick as my sunscreen. Chris jested at our sealed and serious lips.

My nerves were running every which way, unsure of what to expect on the track. The unknown. The possibility of failure. Fixed thoughts attached to my spinning brain. Is this how a fixed gear works? Unable to stop.

We made our way to the track, marching our rented bikes up the sloped walkway. Chris called us over and instructed us to line up. He was going to walk us through “mounting” the bike.

Chris told us to “lock in one foot.” I was there, straddling the bike, unsure of how I’d stop it. Chris followed with, “go slow enough to clip in to the other pedal. Do not stop pedaling. If you stop pedaling you’ll go over your handlebars.” He took a breath. “You’re all going to just go in a circle right around here. Any questions?”

I gulped. “Yes,” I said. “How do I get off the bike?”

“I will tell you when the time is right” he said, with a smirk.

My heart beat faster.

I was second to go. It took a few revolutions to finally clip into my second pedal. We all circled around Chris as he instructed us on the basics of fixed gears and the velodrome track. Then we were instructed to gain speed and feel the pedals revolve without forcing it, reminding us, yet again, that if we try to stop suddenly, it’s gonna hurt.

Finally, Chris explained how we safely dismount. He told us to slow our pedaling and come to an unbearably slow speed. When it felt like we’d fall over if we went any slower, that’s when we could unclip and step down.

Chris nerded out about the geometry of the velodrome and how we are able to pedal through the curves without having to turn our handlebars.

We took a sip of water and got back on our bikes. One by one we lined up behind Chris as he explained to the front runner how to get on the track. It had to be on the straightaway and we had to have enough speed to accelerate through the turns without the tires slipping off the track and falling on our arses.

I was quite a few riders back, watching the others pedal on to the track, and then I was next. Chris said he’d tell me when I needed to pedal faster and within a breath he was slapping his thigh and yelling “pedal! Pedal! Pedal!” I made it on to the track, accelerated through the turn, and found my way between the red and blue line.

Mouth breathing and drooling, I was enjoying every second. Round and round the track I went. Yelling “stick” as I passed the other men. One by one, I saw the men congregating under the tent, drinking water. I figured they were resting.

All of a sudden, Chris rode up to me asking if I was okay. “Uh, yes…” I said. He asked, “Do you know how to get down? Do you want to come down?”

I was confused and a little embarrassed. “Do I need to come down now?” “No,” Chris said, “Just making sure you weren’t stuck up there.”

I eventually made my way down and hung out under the tent with the rest of the men. My throat was dry and Chris offered us cough drops. He said it happens to all newbies. We claimed it was initiation.

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