The Spoke September 15, 2012

A spin round Brighton's Velodrome

I am still living in the (golden) hue of the Olympics. I saved the medal table on my iPhone and occasionally take a look at it. I've watched action from the Games on iPlayer and YouTube. I've felt proud talking about the Games and the wave of interest the Games generated across the country to my European and US work colleagues. It's also had a motivating effect on my training as well; having not cycled 100 miles for 2 years I completed that distance twice in August. I plan to do it again this month and aim to chalk up 7 100 mile plus rides before the end of the year. However, as far as competition itself is concerned, I've not been bitten........yet. 

Having seen the both the road race and the time trial events a few weeks ago, it got me thinking. I wondered what it would be like to cycle round a velodrome. It looked very exciting on television and I fancied having a go. It transpires there are not very many indoor velodromes in the UK. The closest one to home ss a converted airdrome at Hamble near Southampton. What interested me was the offer of a 6 hour, one to one session with the intention of becoming proficient at the end. This will be the subject of another article, I'm sure, in the near future. For now though I put this visit on hold and decided to take a closer look at the outside circuit at Preston Park, Brighton.  
Indeed, I had almost forgotten there was a Velodrome in Brighton. It's located in the North-Western corner of Preston Park, just of the A23, London Road. For a while, some years ago and before I was quite so interest in cycling, I lived almost opposite. Ironic given that I never once took a spin round the track, even out of curiosity. How things have changed. A while ago, Frank and I went for a street-lit spin round the velodrome just for kicks. It was good fun though nothing of any substance was achieved; so fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. 
I have never competed in a time trial of any description, but I wondered how I might fair over 10 miles. 10 miles equates to 27.6 laps of the velodrome - so that became my target. I headed down there one late Sunday afternoon in August with the aim of giving it my best shot. Or more accurately, mote best opening shot. I had switched the wheels over, so I was going to make my maiden attempt using the ZIPPs. It was windy, but I figured it wouldn't make too much difference to my time. What I lost on one half I would gain on the other side of the track. The track had a mixture of users; from the chap spinning round on a single speed to the kids learning to ride their bike from scratch and the kids that looked like they were learning to ride their Dad's bike! That said, it was not busy. Near perfect conditions I thought. 
I readied myself, got the Garmin ready and I was off. I started about half way round to manage the 0.6 of a lap required, but ultimately I was going off the distance recorded by the Garmin. I quickly established a rhythm and steadily beat out one kilometre every 96-100 seconds or so. Clearly I had a bit of a metric/imperial measurement issue going on, but I went with it. The velodrome has one properly banked curve where the seated area is. Truth be told, there's no real need for it to be banked since its pretty shallow. Or perhaps I should qualify that with me riding round the track there's no need for it to be banked! The surface is pretty good and where possible followed the red line that I thought denoted the racing line around it's circumference. I've no idea if this is the case or not. My circuits were made all the more interesting by the selection of other users also on the track. I learned, for example, that if you are learning to ride a bike, you don't care whether you go round the track or across it - you simply want to stay upright. This made for an exciting evasive manoeuvre or two. Moreover, I ended up on the grass doing my best to avoid someone new to the joy of being on two wheels. Other, more proficient young cyclists were intent on racing me. This was fine, but they were more interested in looking at me than looking ahead or even at the track; hence the haphazard and sometimes unexpected via across towards me. Others chose to ride anti-clockwise instead of clockwise which also, frankly, made me nervous. And then there were the footballers who where making use of the grass in the middle of the velodrome but who would either stray onto the track every so often or apparently boot their ball in my general vicinity. All in all, it was quite entertaining, especially since I was actually trying to concentrate on doing a respectable time. 
I say respectable, I had no idea what that really meant. I managed 28 minutes for my first time. Honestly, I could have gone a little quicker, paced myself better and maybe taken a minute off. But not much more than that. I asked my fellow Twitter followers whether 28 minutes for 10 miles was any good. The people that answered basically said no. I was crestfallen but on reflection, not terribly surprised. Practice makes perfect and is was my first time. What else did I expect? Curious, I googled what time Bradley Wiggins could ride 10 miles in and then I wished I hadn't. About 17 minutes is the answer and it provided me some perspective. I shan't bother him for a while. Nevertheless I quite enjoyed my spin and I will definitely have another attempt soon. As with all these things I've put down a marker - now I need to get better. Maybe I should target a time to reach before the end of year.....and make my next attempt at a time when there are less hazards! 
About Brighton's Velodrome
There is some history attached to Brighton's velodrome. The circuit is 579 meters long, making it longest in the UK. There is some debate as to whether it is also the oldest velodrome in the world. Wikipedia for instance cites Preston Park as the second oldest velodrome in the word but does not identify what it regards as first placed. Other sources such as the recently published article by Lee Rodgers called "Celebrating the Velodrome" states that Brighton's track is the oldest example. Regardless, the track celebrated its 125th anniversary earlier in May. it was built by hand, surprisingly, by the British Army in 1887 and was ready to race the following year. Again how this came about is unclear to me. The original cinder track was replaced by a concrete surface in 1936, you can imagine, to the relief of anyone racing around it! It reached its heyday in the 1950s when up to 10,000 packed round the track to see riders of the day such as Reg Harris compete. Interest in the Velodrome dwindled as the century wore on, but it is now the home of the Sussex Cycle Racing League who hold meetings there between April and on Tuesdays and Fridays. Outside of these times, the track is available for free public use. 
Additional Sources - 'Celebrating The Velodrome' by Lee Rodgers, 10th August 2012
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