By Mark Bailey/The Telegraph
For most road cyclists the idea of jumping on a bike with no brakes and no gears, dashing around a track with gravity-defying bankings, and racing at full speed within handlebar-clipping proximity of other cyclists, sounds about as appealing as an illegal rush hour time trial on [a British freeway]. But once you’ve mastered your fear of skidding across the track and getting Siberian pine splinters embedded in your gluteus maximus, you will discover that track cycling is an exciting and addictive way to boost your fitness, bike-handling skills and sportive performances.
1. You (probably) won’t crash so often
The scary bit that makes track cycling so ominous is also the very reason it can be good for you.
“When you’re on the track you ride a fixed-gear bike so you can’t freewheel and you can’t brake, which means you quickly improve your bike-handling skills,” says double Olympic track champion Laura Trott.
Track cycling enhances your awareness of speed, distance and space and teaches you to control and manoeuvre your bike at high velocity.
“When you see all these crashes at the Tour de France you wonder how many of the riders have had decent track backgrounds,” notes double world track champion Rob Hayles. “Track racing is really good for learning how to manage your bike without having to rely on your gears or brakes.”
2. You will pedal more smoothly
On the road it is easy to get into bad habits by unknowingly relying on stronger muscle groups or stomping up and down on your pedals like an angry toddler, which leads to dead spots in your pedalling motion. But when you ride a fixed-gear bike on the track you have to pedal more fluidly in order to crank out every extra watt of power.
3. You will get fitter and faster
Training on the track enables you to work on your top-end speed without having to keep stopping for junctions and traffic lights.
Early in his track days, Sir Bradley Wiggins would push so hard he would see black dots appear in front of his eyes. “Training full-on on the track definitely gives you that zip and speed and explosive power which you can use on the road,” explains Thomas. “Being able to ride really hard on the flat for a couple of minutes comes in pretty handy in a race.”
Five-time world track champion Ed Clancy has noticed the impact track cycling can have on a pro rider’s performance. “Road riders can suffer mildly for a long time but track cyclists can go really deep for a few minutes,” he says. “When you watch a leadout in the Tour, you can see the whole peloton strung out behind crazy Geraint at the front because he has learned on the track how to totally empty himself. It’s hard to train for that kind of intensity on the road.”
4. You will learn to sprint like Mark Cavendish
British sprinter Mark Cavendish, who has won 25 stages of the Tour de France and two track world titles, believes that his success in sprint finishes is down to his previous training on the track for the Madison, points and scratch races.
5. You will pedal quicker than ever before
Because of the intensity of track cycling events, riders tend to use a much higher cadence than when they’re out on the road, typically pedalling at around 110-130rpm. But learning to pedal at a higher cadence gives you an extra weapon when you go back out on the road.
6. You can check your progress more accurately
In the clinical world of track cycling, times and speeds aren’t affected by bad weather, head winds or dawdling tractors, giving you the chance to monitor your progress with forensic accuracy.
7. You will develop better aerodynamics
Sir Bradley Wiggins honed his aesthetically perfect time-trial position, complete with flat black, extended reach and narrow frontal area, through years of track cycling.
Riding on the track encourages a greater understanding of aerodynamics and body shape that can help to boost your speed when you switch back to your road bike.