19 January 2013

Night riding in the Herne Hill velodrome

For us outdoors lovers, London is definitely not the best place to be based. However, every now and then I am reminded of how cool this city is. A good example of this is the Herne Hill velodrome.

It is tucked away in a residential area of South London (i.e. Herne Hill!). To get there, if you come by bike and from North London (as is my case), you cycle through Central London with its busy traffic and all that. Then, at some point, you take a random residential road, and on your left hand side (or right, depending where you come from) you find the entrance. It looks like this.

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Herne Hill hosted the track cycling at the Olympic Games in 1948, and for quite a while, it was the only velodrome in London. In fact it remained London's only velodrome until last year when the 2012 Olympics created a new one. Last summer, I decided it was about time to pay this legendary place a visit, and perhaps even get to ride in it. In over 2 hours I got taught what to do (and most importantly, what NOT to do!) while on the track. It was good fun.

I've been wanting to go back and do some track cycling for a while, but never find the time or mood for it. But on a random Thursday evening, in one of the coldest weeks I remember in London, I got an invite to join  a bunch of people from the bike industry and do some laps.

When Dan and I got to the velodrome, it was pitch dark and freaking cold. We found ice puddles on the way in, and no one seemed to be around at 6 pm, which was the advertised time of the event. When we actually got nearer to the track, a couple of instructors were there waiting for the group to arrive.

Our fixed gear bikes ready to roll
Given that we both had had our inductions a few months earlier, we were given the green light to go and ride by ourselves. Too bad it was pitch dark, surely below freezing, and that we had forgotten our good lights at home! As it turned out, this event was organised by a light manufacturer, and so, we got a few sets of powerful lights to test out.

Although one of the banks of the track was iced over and could not be used, we set off to do a few laps with our fancy front lights on full beam. I was wearing jeans and feeling cold all over, but feet and fingers were especially bad. They never warmed up.

That's how cold it was!
When the large group arrived, we had a much needed cup of tea and some food, warmed up, and kept on riding. At some point we were asked our names and put down on a list, not knowing really what for or why...

The event finished at 9 pm, and by then we had done a good number of laps, some relatively fast, but mostly at a relaxed talking pace. When we were having our second cup of tea before heading home, we were told we had actually won joint 2nd place on the fastest laps overall, and with that, a couple of those fancy lights we had been testing!

Obviously, I could not believe it. I have never been fast nor did try to be fast at all on this event! I was even wearing jeans and casual shoes while riding!

Perhaps I should have considered professional cycling a little earlier...Sir Alberto Hoy. Sounds good to me!

The velodrome at night
Last adjustments before the off
Riders ready to go. Surely an unusual sight
Riders being given the track induction


  1. Ha! Awesome stuff. I'd love to try track cycling and is on my list of things to do before I turn my toes up. I have a track bike which I use for small trips, maybe it's time it saw a track?!

  2. Certainly not a bad idea! just make sure you remove the front brake (if you had one!) and try it out. It really is hard work after a few laps, but quite a nice change from the crap tarmac we are used to here in the Southeast.