Training wheels

Kevin Berry

Top cyclists have to wait their turn when pupils go for a spin at Manchester Velodrome, reports Kevin Berry

The Manchester Velodrome, or to give it its official name, National Cycling Centre, is reckoned to be the fastest indoor cycling track in the world.

Top international cyclists come here to train and break records. Craig MacLean, the Olympic rider, is somewhere in the building but he will have to wait his turn if he wants to take a spin. David Robson has brought some teenage pupils from Rydal Penrhos Senior School in Colwyn Bay here for a session of track riding.

Each of the pupils has been given a special track bike and a helmet from the Velodrome's extensive stock. They are astride their bikes and leaning against a rail as Brian Souter, one of the Velodrome coaching staff, straps their feet onto pedals and adjusts saddle heights. He gives instructions.

First telling the riders how to get on to the wooden race track and how to leave it.

"Remember, your bike has a fixed gear so never stop pedalling or your bike will stop. When you're up on the banking don't slow down or you'll start to slide down. Don't steer with the handlebars, lean into the corners. You'll soon get used to it."

The curved bankings look worryingly steep but no one seems concerned. The riders move off in turn. One boy forgets to pedal as he lets go of the rail. His bike is static and then there's a wobble but he pedals quickly and all is well. Soon many of the riders are going up the banking. Lewis Maxwell looks remarkably assured. He is riding quite high up. "You soon get used to it", he says. "It's like looking over a high balcony".

Owain Miller finishes his warm up laps. He lies on his back, gulping air and sweating freely. But he is smiling. "It's so exhilarating," he says.

"Curious thing is, you get drained of energy very quickly."

The Velodrome is deserted save for the Colwyn Bay visitors and half a dozen others but it looks majestic. This is a thrilling piece of architecture both inside and out. It has hosted the Commonwealth games track cycling races and the world masters championships.

Imagining a capacity crowd cheering your riding is not too difficult. Track development officer Andrea Ingram gathers the riders together to explain more about the mechanics of track riding before they try their one-lap time trial with each rider setting off on their own. First they will all ride behind their teacher David Robson to get a better idea of where best to ride on the track.

David Robson is a top amateur cyclist, a silver medallist many times at the world masters championship and a Welsh champion. The riders follow him at a brisk pace, each keeping a "sheep's length" from the rider in front. Then comes the time trial. The riders whiz round in turn. Many of them are recording respectable times.

"Coming here is often a planned treat for pupils who have done very well," explains Andrea Ingram. "And we get sports colleges coming regularly because cycling is on their curriculum. Occasionally we do have groups of excluded students. We can show them that there's more to life than causing havoc."

The Velodrome runs a track riding award scheme for pupils. Some local authorities, such as nearby Bolton, have school tournament days for their primary and secondaries. An annual schools tournament with trophies and certificates is open to all schools and some of the riders from Rydal Penrhos School will be entering the next one.

Sessions for school groups last an hour and cost pound;28. A group must be 10 to 15 pupils. Minimum age is eight. Email:

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Kevin Berry

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