This blog documents the racing, training, & riding experiences of the participants of PWP

Pedaling with a Purpose

My name is Kristen Meshberg and I am a former category 1 bike racer. I competed nationally in both road and track. I am a USA Cycling Coach, and help individuals develop plans to achieve their goals. To survive the Chicago winter, I developed an indoor workout program called "Pedaling with a Purpose."

I now have various locations across the United States. To find out more about Pedaling with a Purpose or Coaching, email Kristen at: kmesh.pwp@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chicago Velo Campus

Last weekend I went down and rode the brand new Chicago Velo Campus Velodrome. It was really exciting (i.e. scary) but I just got the feeling that something super cool is happening in Chicago. My teammate Elena also went down and her excellent report and pictures do a great job summing up the experience.

From Elena:
I had heard various rumors about the track, called the "Chicago Velo Campus". Among them I heard that the track would never get completed, it is too narrow and steep to race on, it was started by some guy from Italy, the coach is a famous Australian rider recovering from knee surgery with nothing else to do, the track was far too banked to ride at any reasonable speeds....the rumors were too good. I had to go check it out for myself.

After a few twitter messages with "Chicago Velo Campus" they suggested I email Peter to go to the intro class. Concerned that this intro class, (similar to intro classes at other tracks), would mean 8 weeks of classes before I could race or ride it by myself, I explained my track experience in my email to Peter--I am a Cat 1, hold national titles, have spent most of my time at the well banked NSC Velodrome in MN, have ridden the track in Aigle, Switzerland at UCI (a well banked 200m track), etc. He replied back explaining that I still needed to attend what he called a "certification class", however it would only be one day, for 2 hours. So I set up a Friday appointment and got excited.

As a side note, velodromes come in a variety of sizes, materials and banking. A standard track is either 250 or 333 meters, with banking around 40-47 degrees, usually wood or concrete. The Northbrook track is unique in that it is much larger than your average track and much less banked. This is great for timed events (fewer corners means a faster time), as well as teaching new people, as you can ride the track relatively slowly. Northbrook is a great track with great people and programs, however for those of us who love the thrill of sprinting, flying events, and big banking, it leaves a bit to be desired.
I arrived at the track, conveniently located on my way home from work on the south side, at 8615 South Burley Avenue, at the site of what used to be a steel mill. As I rolled into the parking lot I noted a set up that wasn't too bad--storage containers, changing area, a small infield area, and some portable bathrooms. Rumor #1 not true--track is now completed. Walking into the infield I have to admit, as someone who has ridden 8 different tracks, I was still taken aback by the banking and smallness of the track. 166 meters with a 55 degree banking, it is quite intimidating. I was greeted by Emanuele Bianchi, an award-winning Italian designer, manufacturer and retailer of boutique pet products who also happens to be the President of Chicago Velo Campus. Rumor that it was started by an Italian dog lover--true. I watched his daughter, 9, and a few other juniors spin around the track looking very comfortable! He informed me that Peter was caught in traffic and would be there shortly.

I was joined by a few others, some there to ride, some there for the certification. Peter soon arrived, his accent a bit undetectable inquiring about track experience, complementing me for my pink bike, while giving me a hard time for having kevlar Keirin gloves saying "you're up first, with those gloves you better know how to ride a track." I hid my intimidation, Jumped up on the track and went at it, with Peter shooing directions in his accented voice "black Line! blue line! Rail!!!!!", reminding me of my days as a juiour in Minnesota, getting shouted at encouragingly by my Auzzie coach with a booming voice and our track director Bob Williams, carefully pushing us to our limits. I drove my bike hard into the corners, fighting the g-forces, sticking on the lines. Rumor that it is too banked and small to ride well--challenging yes, not possible, no. Heading back to the infield and talking to Peter, it was clear that this guy knows his stuff, however, rumor #2, the Auzzie with a hurt knee has yet to be confirmed.

We took turns practicing on the track, ending with a few flying laps and 200s, followed by some pace-line practice, and a match sprint. And with that, I was "certified". Oddly enough, in my tiny 84" gear, I did a quick flying 200 in 12.6. Not too shabby.
The track is also built with the bottom half of the track untreated plywood, while the top has a grit to it to make it sticky. thus you can actually ride the top of the track slower than the bottom half--quite unique! Although the wood is different than the dense Afzalia wood I am used to up in Minnesota, it was surprisingly quite smooth. Rumor that it is too banked to ride slow--also not true. You can safely ride the top between 16 and 18 mph, the bottom at 18-20mph.

Although I am convinced that the wood 250m NSC Velodrome in Minnesota is the best track I have ever ridden (and the best track in the US), this track is incredibly fun, and jokingly reminds me of a 250m track on steroids, or a track designed a s a bet between a cyclist and an architect. Everything is a little more compact, a little steeper, the transitions a little quicker, keeping the bike straight a little more difficult, yet pure joy to ride, giving the sense of a huge accomplishment, playing with the laws of gravity.

All in all it was a great experience and I am looking forward to going back for some more training, fun and exhilaration. If you would like to learn how to ride track, or are just curious about the niche sport (track cycling) of the niche sport (cycling), I highly recommend checking it out!
note: Peter, the track manager, is a former British National Team Sprinter from Manchester England. He's currently sidelined with an injury so we get to have him here in Chicago. He's extremely knowledgable and personable and is extremely helpful making everyone feel comfortable on the track.