I’ve fielded a number of follow-up questions regarding my recent articles on the Mike Walden Velodrome. To the best of my knowledge, the track is still on schedule for a June 2001 opening. And if it sounds like I’m trying to drum up support for a ensemble to drive up I-75 and do some training and racing on the track, I stand guilty as charged. Besides the obvious benefits of the absolute ultimate in speed training, track racing is really a whole lot of fun. Recent photographs of MVW-ers shouldering bicycles while running through the snow over a series of two-by-twelve wooden barricades have led me to conclude that there are some hard-cores in the club who are assured of finding yet another ultimate cycling rush on the track. Especially this track; it’s short, steep, and state-of-the-art.
You may be wondering whether a stripped-down road frame, like those fixed-gears one sees the more discriminating cyclists use in the winter, minus the brakes, would make a suitable track machine. The problem with a road frame on a track with 45 degree banking lies in its geometry. Track bikes have a shorter wheelbase, steeper angles, and a higher bottom bracket. Bottom bracket height is obvious: you need extra clearance to prevent the right-side pedal from hitting the banking when you’re going slow or when you move up the track. The shorter wheelbase and steeper angles make it easier to steer the bike when you move up the track, which is something that you have to practice to the point where it becomes automatic. I remember Tuesdays at Dorais always beginning with a demonstration of this technique and then a follow-the-leader snake dance up, down, and around the track with Mike Walden poised in the infield, blaring at us through the bullhorn: "Steer up; turn down! Steer up; turn down!" Walden always had an eye for those who most needed help. "Teall! . . . Steer . . . the bike. . . up . . . the track! You’re turning it, Teall. . . Steer!"
That Hall of Fame cycling legend for whom this newest velodrome in America is duly named did finally drill this essential rudiment of track cycling into my skull. It’s something that you can actually practice on the road, before you ever get to the track. Rather than simply leaning the bike to turn up the track, you actually turn the handlebars and hold the bike upright. You only do this turning right; left turns are done with a natural lean (more like a dive) down the track. On a steep track this technique is necessary for maintaining optimum control and ensuring one doesn’t plant his pedal into the planking. Even with that added bottom bracket height it’s possible if you get the least bit sloppy. Especially if you run long cranks. Most trackies use 165 or 167.5's or 170's at the most. The big boys who use the longer cranks have that built into their custom frames with a higher bottom bracket. If you rode a road frame around the bottom of the track all the time, it would be no problem. Custom pursuit bikes are longer and lower, and some of the specialty time trial road bikes, like the Cervélo, have horizontal dropouts that allow them to lead a double life as a track bike. But these machines are designed for use only in timed events, like the kilo and pursuit, where the rider stays at the bottom of the track. The only time a pursuit or kilo or any other timed event is run is at some sort of championship, which are run once or twice a year or never. The weekly meets are all omniums.
As they should be. The track omnium is where the roadie can reap the most benefit from the track. Walden used to tell us not to waste our time just rolling around the track (as fun as that was), that we should either be going thirty miles an hour, working on some skill, or we should be off the bike recovering for the next all-out effort. If you read Frankie Andreu’s bio at his website, he credits Walden and the Dorias program for making possible his professional career. Just about anybody can get himself fit enough and acquire enough skill to hang with a twenty-seven-mile-an-hour peloton careening down River Road. But how many can sustain thirty-plus for more than a couple of hundred yards? That’s something you can develop by training for the track and training and racing on the track. At the track, whether it’s a training night or a race meet, you get a ten or fifteen minute race, like a tempo, a miss-and-out, a handicap, or an unknown distance, followed by a recovery period while the other cats compete. And the baseline speed is around twenty-seven. It goes up from there when the real racing begins.