Bike Skills at Herne Hill

As a club we have been wanting to do a bike skills course for some time. With various lockdowns starting to lift we were able to finally organise a session at the Herne Hill (outdoor) Velodrome.

On the 11th April, 26 members from the club ventured down to Herne Hill for the session, travelling via bike, foot (yes someone ran there!), train and car.

Once we had all arrived, we were issued with our bikes, adjusted our saddles, and those that wanted to put their own pedals on did so. The coaches from Herne Hill spent some time explaining how track bikes are different to our “normal” road bikes, and why being clipped in, or keeping your feet in the toe clips was important on a bike with no free wheel.

We started off with a simple exercise- to complete a single lap and then stop at the barrier. Sounds simple, right? It was harder than you think with no free wheel, having to remember to slow the bike down by pedalling less strongly. There were a number of us who failed on the single lap and ended up doing two as we figured out how to slow down next to the barrier.

The next few exercises built on stopping, starting and working our way up the banking. To help there are various lines on the track to indicate a particular line. It’s hard work starting a fixed gear bike from a standing start. As you can see from the video, there’s a fair bit of wobbling going on as we all get going!

Our next exercise had us riding in a line, slowly reducing the gaps between the bikes each lap. To give us an idea of how small to make the gaps the coaches shouted out the size of an animal that we should use to size the gap. Naturally we started with an elephant, and slowly worked our way down the animal kingdom. The aim here was to get us used to riding in a much closer formation than we might normally be comfortable with. I must admit this did not come naturally to me at first, I like my stopping distance (and the ability to stop using brakes), but once I wrapped my head around the fact we were all doing the same thing, in the same direction, things started to click into place.

By now we were (allegedly) starting to get the hang of it so the coaches had us working in a small team of 4 to give Dave a break from being on the front all the time. The aim was every half lap to have the person on the front to go up the banking to slow down, the rest of the team undertakes whomever was on the front, and they then accelerate down the banking to join the back of the group again. Sounds simple, and on the whole it was — pacing on these bikes is key to everything. I had never realised just how much I rely on being able to accelerate and brake instantly, whereas on a fixed wheel track bike you have to plan ahead and trust your teammates.

The last exercise of the day was called ‘squaring the circle’. We lined up in two rows around the track on different lines. Each time we went over the start / finish line the front two riders would peel off up the banking, riding high whilst the rest of the group cycled through. The once front riders would then join the back.

This sounds easy, but the rider on the inside has a harder job as they have to accelerate ahead to avoid crashing into the rider on the outside.

All too soon, our two hours were up and it was time to head home after switching pedals back over and putting our bikes away. According to my Garmin, I had travelled 21km around the track which was a lot more than I had expected.

Huge thanks goes to Des for organising the event, Rob for taking the photos, and the grant from Wembley National Stadium Trust that enabled us to go as a club and improve our bike handling skills. (And thanks to Martina and Dan for going and getting engaged — and bringing along post-ride cupcakes to celebrate!)