Sunday, September 2, 2012

Different, Yet Familiar...

A week ago Saturday marked my first time ever riding on a velodrome. Having never done so, I was required to take a 101-style introductory course at what I consider to be my home track, The Major Taylor Velodrome. The course included a classroom segment and an on the track segment. Together they combined to share a little history of the track, educate us about the technical aspects of MTV, explain the differences between road and track racing, explain the differences between road and track bikes, and then to get us familiar with riding the bikes, being on the track, and riding & interacting with those around us.

The velodrome, named for Marshall "Major" Taylor, was built in 1982 and is an open air concrete oval track measuring 333.34 meters in length. Major Taylor was an Indianapolis native and turn of the twentieth century track sprint champion. The velodrome had it's heyday throughout the 1980's as it played host to many national and international level events as track cycling hit it's second peak in America. Interest declined in the 1990's, and coupled with rules from the International Cycling Union that limited international events to indoor, wooden 250 meter velodromes led to a general falling-off of the facility and it's usage over the past few years. While the track itself never fell into disrepair, it did become much of an afterthought. Early last year the city entered into an agreement with the nearby Marian University, who uses MTV as it's home track, where the school will manage and operate the facility for 30 years. In the last year and a half, they seem to be making strides to bring it back into the public's consciousness.

My personal take is that those who did use the velodrome during this time created an elitist and unwelcoming air about them that was not very off-putting. While MTV was still the host to local and regional Friday night races, it never seemed to do much to promote itself or attract new interest. And, like any other hipster hangout, if you didn't already know about it or weren't a part of it, you weren't likely to. While my view may or may not be accurate, it is the impression that I had held for many years about track cycling in general and what likely turned me off to it. As I was writing this post, I realized that that view may also have played an influence on my decision to ride the hour. We've had this facility in the city for 30 years, yet no one in that 'holier-than-thou' crowd ever made an attempt at the sport's crowning achievement. Even if I don't break any record, I will at least have the attempt over most all of those who have ridden this track before me.

The track itself is far less intimidating than one would first think. The steep banking, 29 degrees at MTV, can look like a challenge to master. Once you realize, however, that the banking in the turns is used to help you get around the track, the mystique disappears. I learned pretty quickly that while riding a track bike on a velodrome is different,  it is also familiar. Like all things within bicycle racing, once you achieve a certain level of comfort there isn't much to fear. Obviously, you can't take it for granted, become careless, and bust your ass or others' asses. But it is still just as simple as pushing down on the pedals.

We started the on the track portion by doing various drills to familiarize ourselves with the bikes and the way they operated, as well as to make ourselves more comfortable in the various situations we might encounter while racing. We also worked on on the track communication and being able to turn your head to look around without shifting your whole bike up or down the track. It all built up to us putting in laps in a pace line and pulling off into the turns and rejoining at the back. Essentially, reinforcing all of the prior drills and familiarizing that we had done, in a real time, real speed scenario.

I found the track to be a little bumpier than I expected, but the facility is going to be resurfaced in October. Everything else pretty well sorted out as I expected it too, and I'm not intimidated or in a place where I would want to give up this whole endeavor. As MTV is only open for one more month in the season, there are just a few opportunities left for me to get out and turn laps. Hopefully I can make it to one of those. If not, I'll just have to dedicate to doing a lot of base riding and 'trainer miles' during the winter months before I can get out there again next April and start grinding out laps in my buildup to my attempt, sometime late next summer.

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