Feels Like The First Time at the Cleveland Velodrome
“Like a roller coaster that you drive yourself.” That's what I told people it was like, riding the Cleveland Velodrome for the first time on a beautiful Sunday morning in late July.
And then I added a couple of things: “like a rollercoaster that you have to balance, and where you provide the power to keep it running.”
Explaining what it's like to ride a velodrome and what the track is all about have certainly been a challenge for Brett Davis and the Fast Tracy Cycling board as they brought the vision into reality. Thanks to the scarcity of tracks in the US, almost no one has any direct experience with them even as a spectator, let alone as a rider.
The track isn't quite open to the public, but challenge of cluing folks in as to what's going on at Broadway and Pershing has been partly solved in recent weeks, now that it's ridable. Indeed, while I was there, Canadian track specialist Chris Singleton—son of 1982 track cycling world champion Gordon Singleton—was getting a workout on the track in Slavic Village.
So now, instead of reaching for metaphors or explaining the races and their techniques, Davis can just show people who want to see and learn. And lately that's what he and a few others have been up to—teaching individual riders how to get up on the banked turns safely in sessions he describes as “Track 101.” Davis says as of late July he's taught the intro to track to about 35 cyclists.
To ride the track, you need to either bring an appropriate bike or borrow one from the Fast Track Cycling stable. An appropriate bike has a fixed gear, no brakes, and appropriate bottom bracket clearance so that pedals don't catch the track surface on the banks.
Davis talks new riders through a gradual process, first having them ride around the blue “apron,” which is the transition between ground level and the banked track. There he asks them to practice accelerating and decelerating on the straightaways, partly to get used to the fixed gear, and partly to be sure they have the capacity to do those things. A rider needs to get up to about 18 miles per hour on the first straightaway in order to remain upright around the steep banks. It's also important to be able to slow the bike in short order, for getting off the track safely.
After a few trips around the apron, it's time to trust physics, and venture up the track. It's easy to grasp the idea that your inertia keeps you up in the turns. It's another thing to trust that idea as you pedal toward what looks very much like like a wall. Davis says most people ride faster than they have to when they're learning to ride the banked track, because they're afraid that if they don't go fast enough, they'll crash. As it happens, the requisite 18 miles per hour is an easily attainable speed for most experienced cyclists.
I could feel the inertia pushing me against the banks of the turns as I rolled around, white knuckling the bars. Once around that first turn, though, confidence begins to slowly creep in. It's hard not to look at the track right in front of you, just to make sure that your tires maintain contact on the banks. But after half a dozen times around, it's easy and much more fun, interesting, and safe to look at where you'll be a few seconds later, 50 meters farther around.
Besides inertia and steeply banked turns, riding the Cleveland Velodrome has another thing in common with roller coasters. As soon as you get off, you'll probably want to do it again.
Davis says Thursday night racing will begin at the track in the next month. Details about other events are still taking shape. The accessible observation deck has yet to be built, and that's got to happen before they can get an occupancy permit from the city and officially open the place to the public.
Contact Davis through Clevelandvelodrome.org to offer your support, whether it be volunteer carpentry skills, materials, finances, or an interest in helping with ongoing programs.