The weather was good and I found myself, unusually, with a free Saturday morning. So I cycled over to the Herne Hill Velodrome to take part in one of their Saturday track sessions. There’s nothing quite like the “burn” on a fixed wheel bike, where, if the wheels are going round, so are your legs. Or the pleasure of using the banking to accelerate down to catch the back of a group as it goes round below you.
The open-air Velodrome is one of the oldest cycling circuits in the world, and the last time I wrote about it here it was under threat of closure. Since then the Trust that has taken it on has done a wonderful job. The track surface has been relaid – it’s far more rain-resistant than it used to be, so cycling is much less likely to be rained off. The trackside barriers have been upgraded. And they’ve built a small circuit in the middle of the track for kids to practice on, with a multi-purpose games area.
There’s more to be done: the Pavilion, which has been shuttered for more than a decade, is due to be replaced over the course of the next year, which will also reinvigorate the place.
Because it was so close to Christmas, it was quite a small turnout for Saturday’s session. The coaches said it was like “the old days, before cycling got popular”. And it was striking how many kids were around, taking part in the other cycling activities the venue hosts. VCL Londres, the club that manages the track activities, has a model that allows kids to start as young as two and grow up with the sport. And actually, cycling is quite unusual in this, and in maintaining the social infrastructure (the clubs and the coaches) needed to support it. Elsewhere organised grassroots sport is under pressure, especially where it’s associated with men spending time away from their family.
And apart from the success of Britain’s new cycling stars, at the Olympics and on the road, and the funding that has followed from it, this might be part of the secret of the cycling boom – it works for families. You can do the serious stuff with the coaches on the track, and you can put the miles in to improve your fitness or prepare for a sportive. But you can also just go out for a ride along a towpath or a Sustrans route with the kids, or your partner, or both. It has social pathways.
The image at the top is from the Herne Hill Velodrome website, and is used with thanks.