Track cyclist rookie: How to turn steel into gold

“Here, build it up… it’s yours,” Andy Gracyalny of Athlete Octane said to me after digging through a pile of bike gear in his garage.

He handed me a Fuji steel track frame.

I looked at him with a bit of a pause, questioning the sanity of such a gift. Coming from the road and time-trial racing world where carbon is king, I almost thought it a bit crazy.

“It’s steel, but it has quite a few wins to its name,” he said after quickly reading my facial expression.

So I used a combination of various parts bought from Bicycle Ranch, a crank set with track cogs picked up off of Ebay and a set of clip-on aero bars from Stevebay.

All in, including the buildup labor at Bicycle Ranch, I put about $500 into this venture. Two months later, I won eight gold medals and one silver medal at the Arizona track championships.

Not a leap of faith

At 195 pounds I’m a big boy for competitive amateur road racing.

I don’t shy away from hills by any means, but I’m not one of the guys you’ll find at the top of KOM’s on the steepest climbs around town; that’s not what I’m built for.
My expansion out to the Velodrome is in part due to an observation made by my coach Lewis Elliot, not coincidentally a former junior national track team member himself.

“You’re built for the track man,” Lewis said to me when we first met.  “And now that we know you can time trial, you’d be great at the [3k and 4k] pursuit.”

It seems that was all I needed to hear. Three weeks later, I loaded up my newly built track bike and drove six and a half hours to Los Angeles.

Go time

When I arrived at the track, I’ll be honest and say I was a slightly intimidated, mostly because it was a foreign experience.

Getting on the track to race involves taking a track certification course.

Mine was a $40, four-hour investment on a Friday night.

That allowed me to race the very next morning. The course itself helped clear up some uncertainty in my mind.

If you don’t know where to go, how to ride, what all those lines on the track mean, you wouldn’t know what to do in a race. But rest assured, it’s easy as pie once you apply the lines to the actual racing.

Speed a few laps around the track, and you will be hooked, because there’s nothing like accelerating into a banked corner — nothing!

Who are these people?

Once inside the inner circle at the velodrome in Encino, I was amazed at how welcoming Arizona track racers are. It’s a way different vibe than road racing.

To make things even better for my first time on the track, I met up with Faster Performance Center’s James Kramer and his son Levi, guys I knew from road racing. On the road and in crits, our teams are regularly duking it out for victory.

They’re now my Arizona co-state champions in the team pursuit.

Not only did James help me get my bike geared right for most of the races, but also he was more than happy to share his knowledge of the track, and he wasn’t the only one.

Pretty much everyone down at the track is supportive of everyone else.

In fact, another fellow racer lent me his rear disc wheel when mine was acting up right before one of my races. It’s tough to find that on the road.

In track, everyone loves to go fast — really fast — and there’s nowhere to go faster than on the track. That’s because the track is pancake flat with banked corners you can build speed in, and the G-forces eject you out of the turn. “Go, go, go… dig, dig, dig,” could be heard almost anytime someone was screaming around the track. It was a pleasant change of pace for sure.

Jump right in

I think the impression most road cyclists have is that track racing is an elite sport where only the fastest of the fast go to race.

At least as a roadie, that’s what I thought, but it’s not true.Big or small, you can succeed in the velodrome. It’s not just for the fastest climbers or the biggest sprinters or the most aero time trialists.

I think a lot of Arizona road racers I know would really love track racing, and it’s not a big financial investment to get your feet wet.

I mean, I was able to turn steel into gold — who can ask for more? You just have to be willing to set your foot out the door and be ready for an adventure.

Photos by Marianne Holleman

By Karl Baumgart, Karl is a 2014 Arizona track cycling champion and first-time track cyclist.