The thoughts of a track cycling nobody

Have you ever written your thoughts down before? I don’t mean like making notes at work or in the shed. I mean actually recording your train of thought and what it led to, if anything. Well, I did it one evening and during a session riding round, and round, and round the velodrome track. Why? I don’t know. I just did, so I make no apologies in advance for what might be perceived by some, as complete crap. Here goes………

I’m in the changing room and there are several other men (as its the men’s changing room) in various states of undress and all talking about ‘stuff’. Some of the talk is quite thoughtful and serious and the rest is complete bollocks. I greet a few people to be polite, but this doesn’t break the ‘last-record-in-the-car’ syndrome thats filling my head with the sound of ‘Woman in Chains’ by Tears for Fears. This is an amazing track and sung by Oleta Adams.

I get changed and walk down to the entrance to the area that is in the centre of the track, and which is where my bike is. My cycling shoes have big plastic ‘Look’ cycling cleats and they make a ‘clacking’ sound on the hard floor as I walk. I decide to walk in a way so that the cleats follow the beat of the ‘last record’ in my head. This makes my walk a bit weird and probably looks like I’m a bit mad as well. The Tears for Fears beat is broken by having to climb some stairs up to the Velodrome floor to get my bike.

There are already about 30 track cyclists riding around the wooden oval track, which whilst one of the shorter tracks in the world at only 200 metres a lap, does have great 60 degree banking curves, so twice a lap, you get a great banked corner to ride around. There is a special sound of 30 riders racing on a wooden track. Oleta Adams fades away as I mount my bike on the track side. This done by putting my left arm on the inner rail, sitting on the bike and then clipping both feet into the pedals. Looking over my right shoulder, as the direction of travel is anti-clockwise, I check to see that all is clear to push off and start to ride around the flat boards on the inner side of the track, which is the warm up, warm down lane.

The fixed gear on my Specialized ‘Red Hook Crit’ track bike is a 269 inches long, which is a 49×15 gear and at about 100 RPM, I’ll be riding around at a steady 25 MPH or 40 KPH. I start riding and thinking. The first thought is about trying to get onto the track where there is a gap. There are two lines of cyclists riding around. One group is riding between the red and black lines at the bottom of the track, which is the shortest distance around, and the second group is half way up the banked circuit on the blue line, and going faster.

I tag onto the back of the lower group and get behind the last rider, leaving a space of about 2 inches/50mm between my front tyre and his back tyre. The man if front of me is a big man, with long legs and strong build. He’s just a normal person like me that enjoys cycling, probably drinking beer and wine, and eating cake. This is evident by the extra insulation that he’s got around his hips. Some people call them ‘love handles’ and some don’t. His black Rapha cycling top is holding it all in quite well. I start to wonder about my own ‘love handles’ and wonder whether those three big biscuits I had earlier with a coffee at about 4pm were really a good idea. Anyway, our performance on the track does not have to pay the mortgage, so the pressure is off a little bit.

I start thinking. Why is it such great fun riding around a banked circuit with a load of other riders, at very close quarters, and with no brakes or gears? My first thought is about the drive in to the velodrome when I politely let someone pull onto the highway and they didn’t say thank you. This makes me cross and I regret being so polite to this other arrogant road user. Being a road user has its hazards, like speed cameras for example. Whilst talking to a colleague in the car the other day, I drove past a fixed speed camera that I know is there, and got a small-ish speeding fine. I regret being so attentive to my colleague when he was banging on about something I now cannot even remember. I use the term ‘regret’ lightly and all thoughts are broken as the big man in front of me peels off to the right and higher on the banking, and I find myself at the front of the train. I pick up the speed a bit and feel the air noise increase in my ears as there is no shelter from the big man anymore.

Being at the front of the train means that I now have to focus on my speed, the other train of riders below us, and my legs, which are now starting to feel a bit tired. I do 4 fast-ish laps on the front and then peel off to the right and higher up the banking. I now need to pedal at the same cadence around the top of the track until all of the riders have passed and then I can get onto the back of the train again. This takes two laps to happen, so I’m glad of the breather when I have to spend less effort to go the same speed. I start to think again. I had a great curry from a street van for lunch today, and which was instead of the usual salad. As I do not have time to eat after work and between going to the track, I justified a curry for some ‘advance nutrition’. The company that runs the van specialises is Kashmiri food, so my takeaway meal had about 6 different parts to it, from the rice to the chicken curry. I eat lunch with a friend, who also has a curry, using me as his excuse to get one. He is from Barcelona, and who tells me how strong he feels about Catalonia splitting away from Spain. I think about Brexit and shudder at the mess politics causes sometimes……..

………I’m feeling thirsty and need a break, so I need to get onto the back of the group of riders below us on the track. This takes time and thinking, so I leave Brexit behind and focus on my own safety. Two laps completed and I’m with the lower and slower group, and in another lap, I manage to get my bike onto the flat slowing down lane. I hook my handlebars onto the rail, which holds the bike safely, and go down the stairs onto the track centre. A quick nose blow, a good drink of water and I’m ready to go again. I enter the track banking and set off on my own. Thinking time again.

A friend and work colleague who likes photography, has come to the track tonight to try his hand at photographing fast moving cyclists and hopefully, with me in the pictures as well. To celebrate this event, I’m wearing some fake, but very real looking, tattoo sleeves to add a bit of interest. I don’t have any tattoos, but I get why people have them, and they can look uber-kool. At the last two evenings at the track, I wore a long sleeved jersey, so tonight, people that actually noticed me from previous evenings, are now giving me some ‘double take’ looks due to the tattoos, which they believe were previously covered up by the long sleeves. Its funny what makes people’s unconscious bias kick in, which by the way, includes me as well. The tattoo sleeves, which are getting a bit sweaty like the rest of me by now, seem to lead people to then look harder at the full picture in front of them. There gaze goes from the arms to my face, then to the brands that I’m wearing and then to the bike. This all takes about a second and they have then come to a conclusion about me. Also, whilst we are riding fast around the track, I also notice other riders looking at the tattoo sleeves and the black bike as we pass each other. I’m wondering what perception I’m creating. Do other riders think I’m a graffiti artist, or a taxi driver, or a motorcycle mechanic, or a bicycle courier, or a musician, or a dentist? I don’t know. Anyway, they wouldn’t guess that I’ve just paid my dentist the equivalent of the cost of my bike for a new tooth crown!

I’m in a groove now and riding in a group at a very comfortable speed, so this gives me thinking space whilst also being able to keep an eye on that wheel just in front of mine. This is multi-tasking at its best for me. I’m halfway through an idea that’s just come to me about a particular challenge at work, which I couldn’t see a solution for, when I feel the rear wheel skid a bit on the fast banking. Puncture alert! I look around quickly to see if there are any other riders behind me so I can pull off the track quickly before the next bend. This manoeuvre is completed, but now I’ve got to slow the bike down fast before the tyre rolls off the rim and I hit the deck. My body goes tense and I try to slow the pedal revolutions down so I can stop, which I do. I’m really pissed off about this because the special tubular tyre is brand new, cost a fortune, took me two days to glue onto the wheel and has only done two hours track time. The tyre brand is a good one with a reputation for quality and they are not easy to repair, so they have to be sent off to be fixed. I stop the bike, dismount and glare at the tyre. My friend uses this as a photo opportunity. My cycling night on the track is over and my thoughts are focussed on the email I’ll be writing to the tyre supplier when I get home.

The following day, I’ve reached a level of ‘puncture acceptance’ and am ready to get this tyre fixed and maybe get a spare. Then I receive an email back from the supplier saying that this is a very rare puncture case for such a quality tubular tyre, and that they’ll ‘gladly’ give me 10% off my next purchase. I find this mildly irritating, so the black bike goes on its stand and the vintage track bike is its successor for next weeks velodrome sessions. It also has new tyres on it. Pragmatically, I’m thankful the tyre didn’t deflate at full speed on the top of the banking and in the middle of a pack of riders. That would give me something to think about, whilst probably in hospital…………

All photos by Rodrigo Macip