Why Track Cycling Rocks
Chances are, if you're reading this, you're an endurance athlete. I'm going to wager a guess that you're competitive, be it against your friends, against yourself, against your local hills, or against the elite. Now, I'll ask a question (or two): do you like doing interval training? Are you able to go out and hammer up your favorite hill just as fast alone as when challenging your best riding buddy? If you answered yes to both questions, I applaud you. You must be related to Jens Voigt.
For the rest of us, it often takes other riders pushing us to really take it into the red zone. Enter Track Cycling: a discipline that pushes high-end fitness, teaches race tactics, improves pedaling efficiency, and does all of this in a spectator-friendly atmosphere.
Most amateur races on the track last less than 10 minutes, and are breathtakingly fast. Track racing is fantastic for increasing your VO2max and anaerobic stamina. This type of interval training easily carries over into other disciplines. For instance, I'm a time trial enthusiast, and I have had some of my best form brought on by track cycling, and my absolute best time trial performances were after a training block that included track cycling.
Most track racing venues feature multiple races per meet. So if you have a bad race you don't have to wait very long to try to redeem yourself.
It's also great for your pedal stroke, you're forced to pedal in efficient circles, and very fast. I've definitely noticed an increase in pedal efficiency once I started racing on the track, and I comfortably hold ~100 cadence in time trials.
The Gear (or lack thereof):
Track bikes are relatively inexpensive compared to their freehubbed cousins on the road. With no breaks, shifters and detailers, track bikes are elegant in their simplicity. The rear hub is fixed to the drivetrain, so you slow the bike down by pedaling less hard. This may sound precarious to control, but on the track it is really a non-issue. Strict etiquette at velodromes dictates when you enter and exit the track, and without breaks no one really slows down fast enough to bunch up riders behind you, etc…
But please, do not call track bikes "fixies". Fixies are a fad that preys on tight-jeaned wannabe counterculturist bike messengers. (Plus, real bike messengers use brakes!) Track bikes are thoroughbred racing machines and are deserving of respect as such.
…and the best part of track racing? It's very spectator friendly. Friends, family and dogs are easily accommodated at many venues. Knowing someone is watching can provide that extra motivation to really dig deep and lay it on the line. There are no whimpy intervals on the track.
Velodromes commonly have adult courses that teach proper bike handling, pack skills, track etiquette, and racing tactics. The one I took at the San Diego Velodrome (link) was a lot of fun; athletes there included everything from seasoned road cyclists to local enthusiasts that had never ridden a fixed gear bike before. I made a bunch of new friends in the process.
If you're in San Diego on a Tuesday night from April through September, drop by for Tuesday Night Racing (link). It's the best free entertainment in San Diego.
The high speeds and high cadence lend for a fantastic workout. Photo: Ryon Graf