By Michael McCarthy
Elbow to elbow out of the last turn. Legs move at a blinding 140 strokes per minute as you make your final dash to the line in an all-out effort that won’t last more than a few blinks of an eye. Sound appealing? No? Okay. Try this. Four minutes of torture, only you’re so in the zone, you can’t feel a thing. Every ounce of energy in your body concentrates on staying low, holding your form, and destroying the guy on the other side of the track.
Welcome to the wonderful world of track cycling.
Not a climber? Not a time trialist? Not a sprinter? No problem. The banks of the track offer opportunities for cyclists at all levels. And all that with only one choice of gears and no brakes. Now that sounds like fun.
I sat back and reminisced about my first foray into track racing, and recalled fondly my trips to Kissena. Leslie “Chuggy” Carter would pick a group of us up at the boathouse in a school bus about three hours before racing started so we could beat the traffic. By the time we got to the track, the mish-mash of riders and watchers had the bus looking more like a scene out of a Cheech and Chong flick than a serious race crew. My abstinence paid off. I was quickly regarded as Al Toefield’s least favorite rider because of my ability to put the smack down on his Kissena boys. I was honored and before long Chuggy had me convinced that I was the next world-beater pursuiter. (Did I mention he was a wise man?). Of course I really had no idea what I was doing out there, it was road racing on search, flying through the corners, making some occasional contact, and watching guys throw their bikes and forget to pedal. Hee hee.
Meanwhile back in freewheel land, my road riding was improving by leaps and bounds. I began to handle my bike with ease, I was sprinting at a better-than snails pace (up from not-quite snails pace), and my decision making process was elevated to the instinct category. See, track racing is exactly like road racing except it’s concentrated. You don’t have time to look around and enjoy the cherry blossoms, you can’t think about when to start to plan your attack, there are no feed zones, and except for six day racing, you get four or five chances a night to correct your mistakes and win a race. I always loved that part of track racing.
Sure, with all my promises of high speed action, I may have frightened some of the more timid souls off. Well it’s not always like that. There are plenty of opportunities for the less wild types, just don’t be in the back of the miss-and-out with a quarter lap to go.
There’s a certain camaraderie that fixed gear racers develop that makes track racing a lot of fun as well. Go to most road races, you cross the line, go to car and split. Racing the track you can watch other races (in their entirety), and play the social butterfly thing before it’s time to get back on the rail. Of course the racing itself, if done right, should leave you a little nauseous but that usually passes before the trip home.
Sarroni, Moser, Boardman, Bauer and a host of other superstars all began their careers as track men. If you have any idea what’s right for you,you’ll catch the fixed gear flavor too. You’ll never know what hit you.