21st March, 2014
As part of our recent press trip, which saw 11 journalists from the likes of the Daily Telegraph, National Geographic Traveler, Canadian Living, The New York Times, The Times of India, The Sun and more ride our Shakespeare's Way cycling tour, we secured an exclusive preview of the Lee Valley VeloPark, which opens to the public at the end of this month (March 31st).
The focus of our visit was the velodrome, although you can also try your hand at racing the road circuit, tackling mountain bike trails or riding the berms on the re-modelled Olympic BMX track. Unusually, the VeloPark hosts all 4 disciplines in one location.
We were lucky enough to have a very informative and animated guide who let us in on some of the secrets behind the building of the velodrome. For example, he told us that Sir Chris Hoy (our star GB track cyclist for those of you who don't know, somewhat of a national hero after London 2012!) was consulted at the start of the design process. The architects implemented his 3 main suggestions, which were:
A 360° audience - which is very unusual for a velodrome
Increased air temperature to reduce aerodynamic drag acting on the cyclists
A toilet (!) right next to the start line (which is situated just underneath the track)
Now here at The Carter Company we like gentle cycling and pottering about on a bike at a relaxed pace (as did most of our journalists). So naturally many of them were pretty nervous about having a go as there are some crucial differences between standard touring bikes and velodrome bikes. First of all, there are no brakes on the bikes, so to slow down you have to use the strength of your legs. And secondly, unlike normal hybrid outdoor bikes, you can't balance on these bikes without support, so you have to hold on to a rail to get started.
It's quite scary at first but you do get the hang of it! By the end, every one of our journalists was absolutely raving about the experience. It's very exhilarating once you're moving, and it's great fun to feel part of this quite special place where so much of Britain's excitement was focused during the summer of 2012.
The velodrome is now bookable (although it is already booked up weeks in advance as the Olympic fever pitch lives on and the popularity of cycling in England continues to rise!) and costs £30/hour which includes tuition. See their website for more info.
PS. thanks to Paula from The New York Post who took this photo!