Counting the seconds as I barreled toward the 42-and-a-half degree banking of Manchester’s HSBC UK National Cycling Centre velodrome for the first time, I couldn’t quite banish the instinct that I was about to end my honeymoon with a busted face.
Manchester was the latest stopover in our freewheeling post-wedding circumnavigation of Scotland and northern England, a loosely planned route that proved highly susceptible to the suggestions of fellow pub-goers. Following the vague endorsement of “it’s a cool city,” we wound up penciling in two days on the itinerary, relying on our good record of finding our own fun.
Perhaps the single existing bit of intelligence we had on Manchester was the velodrome, a facility I had read about for years in the scene-setting of various bits of cycling news. We committed to having a look, hopping the light rail for an easy trip out to the track where riders like Chris Hoy got their kicks in.
This was nothing like the beloved concrete Hellyer Velodrome in my hometown of San Jose, California. The massive indoor track seemed something reserved for professionals, something we could never hope to experience. But I remembered from San Jose that Hellyer regularly rented bikes for beginner sessions at the track, and it wasn’t long before a couple of dirty backpackers in T-shirts wound up on the roster for a one-hour afternoon session at Manchester.
The banking loomed huge as I hit it as fast as I could, as a not-so-insignificant part of my inner voice continued to scream, “Is this really going to work!?”. Yet I felt the curve scoop me up as it had the dozens of riders I’d watched that day and dump me out on the next straightaway with smooth and seamless speed. The sensation of building altitude around a turn and accelerating on the descent was incredible.
After adjusting to the surprising scale of the whole experience, we wished we had more time. We hadn’t even gotten into the racing. It was sheer joy, and one of the most memorable parts of the trip.
Velodromes all over the world offer these sorts of sessions, and in this case, it was cheap. Around $25 U.S. got each of us a bike, shoes and helmet – the worst part of the process was the minor annoyance of setting up a user account for the facility.
We were lucky to sneak in for the session, but I’d recommend calling a few days in advance for advice on how to properly set up an account. It was a hoot, and a nice way to work off some of that ale.