Rhik Samadder tries … observe biking: ‘It’s like being overtaken by lorries on a motorway designed by Escher’ | Biking

This is hardly the place to confess it, however I hate cyclists. I by no means know if they will cease at visitors lights or plough by; they’re usually very shouty resulting from all the time being in peril; and the worst factor is, they’re proper. We must always all be cyclists because it’s good for the planet. I hate being round people who find themselves proper however, to my credit score, I’m all the time prepared to have my rabid street prejudices punctured, so I’ve agreed to present observe biking a go.

Observe biking is like biking squared, however in an oval. You’ve seen it on the Olympics: supercharged, clean, oddly soothing – till a collision takes out half the cyclists as a result of they’re using mere millimetres aside. I’m shocked anybody is ready to have a go at whipping across the London 2012 velodrome on a two-dimensional bike that appears prefer it weighs lower than a toaster. The Lee Valley VeloPark, within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, east London, is big and engulfing. On the primary ground, different folks making an attempt at this time’s taster session sit in three-sided metallic pens, spaced aside like we’re at a sheep public sale. I really feel as if I’m within the hive the place they make cyclists. I scan round for a large alien ovipositor. The place is the Queen?

Two wheels dangerous … Rhik comes a cropper shortly after setting out. {Photograph}: Andy Corridor/The Guardian

I really feel grimly compelled to strive cleats, since I’m right here. Cleats are my nightmare: to be clamped on the foot to a perineum-mashing machine that’s consistently falling over. “In case you crash, your ft come proper out,” fellow rider Gabriel, who belongs to a triathlon membership, reassures me. Oh, glorious. Our completely upbeat teacher Rory teaches us the weather of the observe. The darkish blue apron is a flat “security zone” the place something goes. The dreamlike turquoise band, referred to as the Côte d’Azur, is for straightforward riders. Then the observe begins to financial institution: gently at first, in direction of a black line, then increased and better, marked by a pink sprinter’s line, then a blue line, after which there’s a broad sweep of terror to the excessive prime of the observe, the place there aren’t any extra strains as a result of you could as properly be in area.

The others peel away. They might be newbies at observe biking, however I haven’t been close to a motorbike in 15 years. I let go of the wall, wobbling violently. I really feel like a toddler once more – childhood being a time of large nervousness, the place one lacks motor expertise and autonomy. Observe bikes are twitchy, with out brakes or gears. I overcorrect, wrenching the handlebars wildly. The bottom rises to fulfill my panic. I crash, not exhausting however shockingly, spilling throughout the ground. Different cyclists steer round me. On the plus facet, my ft did come out of the cleats.

I hear a reassuring voice; a bike owner has stayed behind, to assist with my cleats, and test I’m OK. It’s Gabriel. I might cry. Rory is there, too. “You’re good to go!” he encourages, with no proof in any respect. I keep low, hugging the black line. Low-friction environments all the time really feel like alternate worlds, with unpredictable bodily legal guidelines. As a substitute of slowing down for corners, we’re taught to hurry up. An hour on the observe requires the identical power as three in an on a regular basis surroundings. The upper one’s observe place, the longer the circuit and steeper the financial institution, requiring extra work to take care of. I spend a half hour in terror, being handed by increased riders, who’re instructed to shout “STAY” or “HOLD YOUR LINE” as they hurtle above me at a 45-degree angle, lest I modify my place and trigger carnage. It’s like being overtaken by lorries on a motorway designed by MC Escher.

Steering into the corners, as I intuitively do, makes me lose top, and drop down the markers. (Unhealthy information for riders behind.) “It’s an infinite straight line!” Rory shouts. His epiphanic exhortation unlocks the magic trick on the coronary heart of observe biking: when is a circle a straight line? Attacking the nook, I level the bike at what looks like an uphill angle, letting the observe flip me. Or maybe the world turns, and I keep in place. The paradox of velocity and stasis looks like being in a online game.

Rhik Samadder
Tyred out … Rhik opts to stroll the remaining few yards. {Photograph}: Andy Corridor/The Guardian

Eager to really feel superhuman, I climb to the highest of the observe. The extent of energy required to remain right here is immense, as if the air is thinner. I can really feel the legal guidelines of the outdated universe pushing down on me. However there’s a rider beneath, and I’ve dedicated. I pump and gasp and check out to not wobble, my legs eager to shear off my physique as I take the nook. I’m biking on an untenable angle, held up by my very own energy. It’s a rush; I get it. I consider mountain goats. I maintain it collectively, earlier than I can safely drop to a line on the straight. It takes me three laps to cease.

I’m panting so exhausting my lungs are outdoors my physique. The hour’s not up however I’m achieved. Full respect to cyclists and their legs. I’ve cycled a mile of their terrifying sneakers, and whereas it actually received me nowhere, I now perceive them higher. Though a part of me nonetheless thinks they’d all be happiest right here: on this alien cocoon, biking a futile ouroboros and shouting “STAY” at each other. We might energy the Nationwide Grid.

Unicycles on escalators?

I don’t thoughts cyclists now that infantilising e-scooters have hit the roads. What’s subsequent? Motorised tricycles? Grownup prams with Porsche engines?

Smugness factors

Steep studying curve. 2/5

Velodrome Taster Classes at Lee Valley VeloPark price £40 and can be found to ebook at visitleevalley.org.uk/lee-valley-velopark.

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