Monday, February 21, 2011

Friday Night at the Track: Climbing the Wall


It has been a very busy few weeks, not helped by the fact that I was struck down on a business trip to Mainz by an evil virus that resulted in my losing 3 kilograms in about 12 minutes. Recovery was slow and my stomach muscles ached for days, putting a dent in all my biug plans. Although I only ate my first hot meal in a week on Thursday evening, I thought that I was well enough to go with my mechanic friend Richard to the indoor bicycle track in Kaarst-Büttgen. I felt bad because I had had to cancel out the week before due to the virus and was very disappointed.

When I got to Ricci-Sport on my city bike, Richard realized that I had no car, which posed a bit of a challenge. It seems that Kaarst-Büttgen must be one of the only places in Western Germany completely unreachable by public transit, so it was onto the bicycles and off we went through various suburbs of the city. It was only 17 kms but there were so many stoplights and bad traffic sections (not to mention pitch-dark sections of bikepath) it took us nearly 80 minutes to get there. I began to get the feeling we would arrive in Belgium momentarily.

The sports centre at Kaarst-Büttgen was quite an impressive facility. It was built in 1971. In addition to the cycling track, which is 250 m long (the same as Berlin’s Velodrome), there are facilities for gymnastics, inline-skating hockey, badminton, basketball, volleyball and handball. We quickly got to the locker room and changed before getting our bikes.


Crossing the track into the infield, I was surprised to see a lot of riders on this Friday evening. It was impressive to see them go around so quickly, following the small moped-like derny pacesetter. Richard got me to ride the bike around the track a few times at slow speed to get used to riding a bicycle with no brakes and no freewheel, meaning that the pedals never stop turning as long as the bicycle is in motion. I quickly got the hang of slowing down and stopping but as we practiced going around I discovered that the bicycle was quite unforgiving if I attempted to coast through the corners and jumped around a bit. It was actually startling and a bit nasty to feel the bike fight me, but in fact I was fighting the natural physics of the bike and the track. I mentally forced myself to relax my grip on the bars, as well as relax my shoulders.

Richard at speed on the Peugeot

Gradually I got used to the bike and increased my speed, practicing holding my position and trying to match Richard’s tempo. He has been riding a track bike since he was 12, so I was not under any illusions that I was going to impress anyone. As I began to get confidence and move up the track I found that I could slow down by putting a bit of reverse pressure on the pedals. However, it was soon clear that my recent virus-y condition would not allow me to go all that fast and I could feel my calf muscles getting sore from the unusual sensation of pedalling without a pause. It was quite dry in the hall and I had to stop twice for water but I did not get very cold. The fast riders all had arm and legwarmers, as well as jackets, even though the hall is heated. It is obvious that at the higher speeds they were going it would feel like cold wind and getting sweaty would be uncomfortable.

Richard showing what a bank of nearly 48 degrees looks like...

As I could feel my muscles slowly start to stiffen, I thought I would make a big effort to chase Richard up to the blue line, called the derny line. It was amazing to me how hard this was as riding on the track you do not perceive just how steep the banking really is at 47.8 degrees . It is like riding up a steep hill that appears quite flat. My legs and my lungs did not approve at all.
When I stopped for water, I chatted with a big rider who, unsurprisingly, noticed it was my first time on the track. He was very enthusiastic about cycling, owning 11 bikes and using an expensive SRM power meter on his track bike. He also said that he had lost 34 kilograms due to cycling and various physical problems he had had, such as symptoms of diabetes, were now under control. He was off to Mallorca the next day and was very excited.

Richard rode for a while longer, chasing and being chased by a really strong cyclist named Vladimir, who is an Elite Men’s road racer and, apparently, an eight-time world champion.

Getting changed in the locker room, another rider also chatted about his first time on the track. I think I provided a great deal of amusement for the experienced riders but everyone recognized that the first few times are awkward. I felt that I did pretty well, all things considered, but I really need to get in better shape. I can imagine that an hour on the track is amazing for conditioning. And there is a rhythm you develop after a while on the smooth surface, with the bike quietly humming away under you. Although I am not ready for a Six Days yet, I can imagine how track racing can become addictive.

Riding back home in the cool night, with a few raindrops mixed with snow in the air, I felt completely exhausted. I got back to the apartment at nearly midnight and collapsed into bed. Unfortunately, I woke up twice in the night with extreme leg cramps. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my first excursion on the track and look forward to trying it again, although I think I would prefer not to have to ride all the way out to Kaarst-Büttgen before the track ride itself.

1 comment:

Michelle E. said...

Great story, Leslie! I am surprise that you had never ridden a fixed gear before. I love mine and would ride it all the time if I could. Sounds like you had fun...hope you have a chance to do it again when you are feeling better!