A good friend of mine and fellow cyclist was recently asked 'why do you bother cycling ?' by someone close to him.
While to some people this may seem like a perfectly acceptable query, to my friend and I it was a bolt from the blue as neither of us ever expected to be asked why we love cycling.
So this kicked up a fair bit of existential dust as we tried to pin down exactly what we found so fascinating about moving your legs around in circles for pleasure.
And that is where the Lee Valley VeloPark comes in: the hub and home of all kinds of cycling in London.
An amazing building
The spectacular centre in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, east London, can give you a taste of every kind of cycling from mountain biking to BMX and road cycling – but I had my eye on the rising star of cycling disciplines.
Track cycling has soared in popularity ever since Britain smashed the Beijing Olympics in 2008, winning eight golds, four silvers and two bronze medals.
And with the rise of the cycling celebrity (à la Bradley Wiggins ) and the relaunch of the Six Day track cycling-meets-nightclub event at Lee Valley last year, 2017 seems like a perfect time to see what the fuss is about.
The one-hour taster session at Lee Valley is a definitely the best place to start if you want to hit the track.
You can borrow all the equipment you need and the instructors are more than well prepared to walk you through the steps to get you up on that banking.
No brakes and one gear?
It takes a good few laps to get used to the unique track bikes – brakeless and with a single fixed gear, meaning you can't stop pedalling, much like a spinning bike – but once you overcome the initial jitters you are free to experience the sheer and simple joy that comes with riding a bike.
No one in our small group of riders had set foot on a track before, and the cycling abilities were so varied amongst us it was clear that track cycling can be picked up by anyone who can ride without stabilisers.
And free from the hazards and distractions of cycling in London – no mechanicals, no punctures, no pedestrians walking out blindly into the road, and most importantly no traffic – that one hour was the perfect exhibition of why cycling is so much fun.
There are two drawbacks to the Lee Valley track (other than the mission it takes to get from west London to Stratford), the first of which is cycling's popularity.
Lee Valley's taster sessions are booked up months in advance so sadly there is no chance to just turn up and ride on a whim.
The second drawback is the cost: cycling can set you back a LOT of money, from buying the newest line of Lycra to upgrading your bike with the latest technology, but track cycling adds a new element of cost.
At £40 for an hour, excluding shoe and glove hire, the session is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, which could put off anyone not completely comitted.
The four stages of track accreditation - which is needed to access more advanced sessions - all cost at least £30 (if you need to rent a bike) each, meaning by you're looking at a bill of almost £180 to race at will.
But if you can stomach that chunk out of your paycheck, you're in for a treat.
Never want to slow down
Keeping your head low and your hands on the drop handlebars you can fly around the 250 metre Siberian pine velodrome faster than you even thought it possible to ride, and weaving in and out of fellow riders high on the banking is fit for only one word – exhilarating.
As the minutes tick down and you fear being called in off the track by the instructor - because you don't want to ever slow down - your legs remind you that this can't go on forever.
With nothing but the wind holding you back after 30 minutes of sustained effort your poor pins really do take a beating – there is no rest out on the track.
So when your time is finally up and you reluctantly dismount your now-faithful steed you are simultaneously glad that your aching limbs can finally breathe, and you immediately check your diary to find time to get back out on the boards.
Now whenever I'm asked why I even bother cycling, I might not be able to explain to someone without a bike, but my mind will cast back to the blazing quads, sweat-drenched helmet and ecstatic rush that comes with riding on the track.
Track Taster Session at the Lee Valley VeloPark
Track Tasters are a fun, one-off experience where you can ride the Olympic Velodrome track. These one hour sessions are an exciting introduction to track cycling where you'll be coached in the use of a fixed wheel bike and the basic skills required to safely ride the Velodrome track.
Adult £40 : Junior £30
Minimum height 4ft 9in / 145cm
Minimum age 12
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