I’m still giddy. Like, seriously, ear to ear, mud eating grin, giddy.
Team Colin hit the Milton Velodrome last night. Man, what an experience.
What an awesome, terrifying, scary, big, boss, biking bucket list, experience.
I’d wanted to try the track since it’s construction was announced over 4 years ago, and finally decided to pull the trigger about a week and a half ago. Five days later, I was in my car with two friends for the drive across the city, across the city west of my city, and through a few other smaller cities, to the Milton Velodrome for the Track Certification A course.
The course started at 8:30 PM, and I spent the work day, and supper with my kids, on the edge of my seat, watching the clock. By the time we were in the car at 7:00 PM, I was literally buzzing. We were on our way to ride an actual velodrome–I was going to ride an actual velodrome.
My Facebook status that morning:
I am so so so super stoked about tonight. I’m going to the Mattamy Cycling Centre for my first dip into the world of track riding…for me, it’s the culmination of years of practice in order to get the confidence to be able to do it–and even the confidence to TRY to do it. I. Am. Stoked…
Are you kidding me? Team Colin, a 44 year old husband, and father of two; MTB racer; giant Clydesdale; guy who writes a blog that is regularly seen by at least a dozen people, is going to strap on a sweet fixed gear bike, and ride the track at a world class cycling facility? The same place where world class cyclists ride?
Yup, I was going to ride the 42degree, two story tall WALL that is the Mattamy Cycling Centre, also know as the Milton Velodrome. Wait, 42 what, now? Two stories of holy…
What did I get myself into?
It took an hour to get to there, but as soon as we entered the building to register and pay, the buzzing inside me quickened.
We walked past the tunnel that led up and onto the track.
I. Was. BUZZING. I think I may have created an electrical current, because I swear the lights flickered.
Getting my bike sized and fitted, the buzzing doubled.
Rory, the rental guy was awesome, but my friends were changing and I had to wait a minute–aw dang it! I forgot my helmet. I was prepared to the degree that I was wearing shorts and dressed long before leaving the house, but I forgot my helmet.
Okay, so the buzzing subsided a wee bit, because you know, the ick factor of a rental helmet was playing big in my mind…
But then I remembered where we were, and the helmet didn’t smell that bad, so the buzzing resumed as soon as I had my bike.
The velodrome uses Argon 18 fixed gear track bikes. They are a thing if beauty (and they’re from Montreal!) but it takes a minute to get used to them. Without a freewheel, and no brakes, you first have to wrap your head around starting, which requires a bit of balance and finesse, and stopping, which requires a bit of thigh muscle and finesse.
With our bikes fitted, and my new lid protector on my head, we walked up the tunnel to get to the track. The track is beautiful…and should we join the group over there, or that group up there…and were we going to sit together…and where do I put my bag…and holy crap, that bank is steeper than I thought it’d be…and wow, look at those riders booking it..and ugh, I’m wearing a rental helmet (a RENTAL helmet!)…and is that a running track up there…and okay, I can do this…and boy, that’s really steep…and I’m so glad I’m with my buddy Jonathan…and really, does it have to be that steep…and what the, it’s not an oval, and…
You get the picture.
We sat down for a half hour introductory talk.
Then, we strapped into out bikes and learned how to ride the track.
And two hours later, it was over, and we were driving home.
It was as easy as that. End of blog.
I’m kidding. It really was simple, but there was a bit more to it.
Okay, it was really simple–and terrifying at times–but there was a bit more to it.
Here’s what happened:
Course Report: Track Certification A (Milton Velodrome)
The instructors, Chantal and Scott, and Rory, the bike rental guy/mechanic were absolutely spot on. These folks know their stuff, and even better than that, they’re funny and engaging, but most important, they know how to TEACH their stuff. Seriously, I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and I always hate the thought of sitting in a class with a bad presenter at the helm, but these three gave us everything we needed, at exactly the right pace, in precisely the best way. It started with Rory, in bike rentals (I had questions, and he had answers) and carried through every part of the course with Chantal and Scott.
After the introductory talk, that cornered safety tips, track etiquette, and how to get on the bike, we were up on the track.
The session on the track lasted two hours. They broke us into two groups, with one group riding, while the other was being taught. They’d introduce a small piece of the track riding puzzle, and then let us explore it. We’d stop, the other group would ride, and they’d talk to us about the next piece. Great teaching pedagogy (that’s a teacher term for breaking a lesson into manageable, and logical, chunks). I’ve broken it down into three laps.
The First Lap: The Track, Starting, and Stopping
They talked about the various parts of the track: the Safety Zone, the Cote D’Azur, the Sprint Lane, and the Passing Lane. Good stuff to know. And then we were on to the most crucial part of the training: how to start, and more important, how to STOP. It was easier than I thought, and honestly, it was probably the most challenging part of the course. We did a few laps, stopping and starting every half lap, and once we got past that part, it was pretty much a smooth zip.
The Second Lap: Entering, Exiting, and Changing Lanes
There’s no doubt about it, I’m delicate,and I was worried about a lot of things. Managing a bike without a freewheel was tough enough, but riding with other people on the track scared the hell out of me. Scott and Chantal showed us how to make proper, precise shoulder checks, so that we’d be better equipped when we rode the track with other riders. What’s the answer to every question? Shoulder Check! They also took us through when and how to ride in each of the various lanes. It all went to hell when we actually started riding, but between telling us, and then letting us practice while they watched and gave hints, in no time we were riding like…um, people learning. They made us ride on the top part of the wall, um corner. I’m an MTBer. We ride down walls like that, and up walls like that, not across the face, a few feet behind someone else as terrified as we are. Thankfully, it was only really horrifyingly scary the first time, and every subsequent time after, and it got easy never.
I’m kidding. Actually, it was always daunting, but never truly terrifying. I rode in my mind more than I should have, but when I let go, and listened to their advice, all was well.
However, at some point in the evening, they talked about holding the bars lightly. I failed that part miserably. We were supposed to make a “d’ and a “b” with the thumb and forefinger of each hand, and lightly “caress” the bars. That was a whole bunch of NOPE from me. I tried, but between the terror of falling, the adrenaline of riding, and the fear of hitting someone, I held onto those grips like a Donald holds a grievance. Loose arms? Relaxed shoulders? Maybe next time.
The Third Lap: Banking, Cadence, and Pace Line Exchanges
The next big chunk of the course dealt with riding in a pace line: how to follow (and where to follow) as well as transferring from the front of the pack to the back. I have to be honest, it was pretty terrifying at times. You can’t escape it, the turns are really steep. Worse, there are other riders on the track, and that makes it all pretty intense. I was either following too close, or too far, and my cadence was all over the map, and it felt like I had to sprint at the corners and brake on the straightaways before springing to catch up again, and I always felt like my cadence was at a consistent pace of EVERYTHING.
But guess what. It was okay even though I got yelled at–and boy, they really gave it to me–because I was doing it wrong. I mean, sure they could have said it a bit nicer to me, but that’s okay. I’m not that sensitive, and it didn’t really hurt my feelings, and I didn’t tear up a bit, that was just dust in my eyes…
I’m kidding. They were right, they weren’t mean at all, and if you want to learn something the correct way, you have leave your ego at the door. They were honest with our mistakes, earnest in their desire for us to get it right, and sincere in their quest to keep us safe. I’m a character person, and I really dig the staff at the velodrome. They made an awesome experience even more awesome and thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks Rory, Chantal, and Scott.
Plus, I learned about cadence. Slow, incremental changes.
End of Course Report.
Like everything else for me in cycling, I was excited and worried before setting out, but all was okay in the end. When I came close to a rider, I just had to pedal a bit slower. When I felt a demon pulling me down the track while at the top of a corner, I just bailed from the pace line and went back to the sprint line. It all worked. Everything they said worked. At times, it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t that much less terrifying every time I cornered, but it was fun, I learned a bunch, and I’ll definitely be back for Part B. In fact, it’s already booked for Friday night. Boom.
Before you go, here are a few tips from Team Colin:
- They only offer Track Cert. A on Monday nights from 8:30 PM to 11:00 PM (cost: about 45 bucks), and Track Cert. B on Friday nights from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM (same cost). Late nights, but what can you do.
- It really is an hour drive from the centre of Scarborough, but at those times, traffic is pretty good.
- Unless you have a track bike, you have to rent their bike for 12 bucks.
- Yes, it’s worth a late night, a long drive, and 12 extra bucks.
- The change rooms and showers are impeccably clean and well outfitted. The rental shop is a mecca of bike gorgeousness,and the facility is world class from top to bottom.
When you go, a few notes on what to bring:
- Shoes. Running shoes (with which you’ll use pedal cages, or clipless shoes (Shimano Road–not MTB, or Look shoes. You can’t bring your own pedals, so it’s either of those three options. If you have all of them, flip a coin.
- A helmet (or you can rent one for 5 bucks, and no, you won’t get lice, but yes, it is kind of icky wearing someone else’s head sweat).
- Gloves and glasses. Your hands will get sweaty, and your eyes will thank me. It’s dry in there.
- Water bottle.
- Clothes. You can wear whatever you want. Some of us were in a full kit. I wore a padded bib under fitted shorts, and a technical shirt (because Team Colin likes it low-key).
- It’s inside, and you’ll get hot. A helmet liner or beanie might also help.
That’s it. Go with an open mind and wide eyes.
But it doesn’t end there. After the two-part certification, you are qualified to ride the track during drop-in sessions, but if you’re like me, you might not want to just jump in with the big league riders. There are other courses to take: Track Cycling Skills Development, Skills Development, Structured Madison Training, Sprint Training, Pace Training, Cycle Fit, Learn to Race, and more. Pretty cool.
So that’s really it.
Wait, what do they call this place? Milton Velodrome, or Mattamy Cycling Centre. I’m calling it the Milton Velodrome at the Mattamy Cycling Centre (or just Milton Velodrome). I’m not a fan of corporate sponsorship, but Mattamy homes coughed up about $8 million to help build a mecca of track cycling, and we should give them homage. That said, we can be aware of their help, but we don’t have to marry it. It’s a velodrome in Milton. Just a thought.
Team Colin at the Milton Velodrome. I went, I learned, I rode, I nearly pooped in my bib when I thought I was going to kiss the track. Worth every second of it.
When Chantal was talking about the various weights of riders, and their relative mass to speed ratio, she used me as the cautionary tale, I mean example, of the heaviest rider. She called the little dude a Prius, and me a dump truck (or something like that–she may have said “tractor trailer”). Not cool. Funny, but not cool. He asked to be called a Ferrari, so I want to be called either a monster truck, or Mac truck. Kay, thanks.
And hey, did I get this right? If you want to contact me about this post, or any other, and join the conversation about bikes, please feel free to comment directly on this blog, or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org