Max's Guide to Fixed Wheel Riding

Fixed wheel - by Max Murray-Brooks
I hope anytime is a good time to expound the benefits of cycling, in particular fixed wheel? I should warn readers, "if anyone is not interested in fixed wheel or track please delete this message", At work this is the warning I get on an e-mail of no interest, to save reading it! Well, if you've got passed the 'of no interest' warning, here are a few pointers to hopefully spark some curiosity in those who haven't yet enjoyed the thrill of riding fixed; hopefully it might even re-kindle an interest for others?

Why fixed?
Here are my personal reasons: I've done a few seasons of time trialling, not in any way successfully - short 25min for a 10, and 1hr 03min for 25 mile. The early starts on the A34 with cars and lorries buzzing you, waiting for someone to come past, are not my thing. Although having said this I have the utmost respect for those that dedicate themselves to the race of truth. I tried road racing, but don't have particularly good power to weight ratio for the hills. "He need's to lose some weight and do some training" I hear you say; you're right. But I've never been one for lots of road miles either. This is why I find track is good for me, and could be for others.

Where to go
Train, race or be a spectator - Palmer Park (PP) out door track in the centre of Reading, spring to summer racing season, April to end of August, 6pm to 9pm'ish on Monday nights. I started racing back in '98 and so this is my 4th season. Calshot Activities Centre near Fawley and Southampton is an indoor track. Autumn to spring season, October to March held on Sundays 1pm to 4pm'ish. Tried this last year, after I'd plucked up the courage to ride this tight little tester! The National Cycle Centre in Manchester is a world-class indoor venue, which is worth experiencing all year round. There are special introductory sessions throughout the year. I've asked my wife many a time, whether she wants to move. She automatically says "What? To Manchester so you can ride that track 'all' the time"!!!

I wanted to ride Manchester before Calshot, after watching people like Boardman and the like's of Queally, Hoy and McClean. I've ridden it half a dozen times now; every time is exciting, especially when you set a PB! Ask Mark Pettitt how it felt first time!

How to start
I'd heard about Palmer Park and just decided to take a look, watching from the sidelines on a Thursday night. The very next week I was taking part in one of the open road sessions; you don't need to be a member of the track just turn up and pay (2.95). I'd always wanted to ride fixed but never committed myself, so I started on freewheel, then converted it to fixed using a single sprocket and shorter chain; I had no idea what gear I was on or what etiquette to follow whilst riding the track -just tried to stay out of the way of the fast groups. There are many groups of different abilities to ride with, just join in the one that suits you and start chatting to people; this is how the groupetto starts generally; till it gets difficult to talk and ride. (Just like a Sunday ride, yeh)

This time of year [August], Thursday nights are fixed wheel only training, between 8 and 10pm; novices can come down and have a go on one of the track bikes available to use at PP. The youngest we generally have on a Tues/Thurs nights is 14/15 yrs; younger children are advised to try the Saturday morning sessions, which cater for fixed wheel (from 8.45 am) and non-fixed bikes (11:00am). (Check times with PP (0118) 901 5080)

During the off-season, (September to March) Tuesday and Thursdays nights between 8pm and 10pm the Palmer Park track is used for open training sessions. Come down on your mountain, road or fixed wheel bike; we even get tandems and recumbents in the chain gangs of 50+ riders. (Once again check with PP management for times or just ask me nearer the time)

Race distances - if you decide to race next season at PP there are many varied race distances, e.g. 1 lap of P.P = 459m, or 2 and 10 lap races moving up to the 44 lap/20km endurance race.

Events - there are many strange sounding events - sprint, handicap, pursuit, hare n hounds, devil take the hindmost, derny paced, keirin, Olympic sprints; to name but a few. All events require different combinations of attributes - sprinting, endurance, stealth, recovery and strategy. There's a race to suit everyone, some you dread and some you like (everyone knows how much I hate the 20km endurance); some you enjoy whether you're any good or not, the derny and keirin are firm favourites with most riders and spectators alike. Racing - First you'll need a licence to race, i.e. by joining British Cycling, formerly British Cycling Federation (BCF) as a member of a Reading CC, another club or even as a private member. Then you can join the Reading Track Cycling League (RTCL) to race at PP; hopefully as a member of Reading CC. Palmer Park has had its highest entry of riders this season; you'll always see someone you know from Reading CC or another club to have a chat with or meet someone new.

The BCF licence system allows many different age groups, i.e. senior, junior, under 12, 14, 16's and veterans. Seniors and juniors compete in a category, 1st, 2nd. 3rd and 4th are the levels most club riders attain. You ride races throughout the season, by winning or placing in races you accumulate points and improve your category through the league season, i.e. to go from 4th to 3rd category you need so many points or more in the season.

In racing riders are generally split by ability - 1st and 2nd cat's form the A riders, 3rd and 4th the B's. Depending on rider numbers, we race separately or as a group, but there are always separate points to be won for both A and B categories. It generally takes a couple of seasons to find your legs and get used to fixed, I've got used to seeing first timers in the endurance event as they came past me for the nth time!!! So the motto is don't give up after a few visits, keep at it and the chances will come e.g. like Phil Roberts; keep it up Phil!!! (Who haven't I picked on yet!!) Also I've never trained (ha ha I know!) with or raced against a National Champion, but I get the chance to at Palmer Park; well done Reading CC's Paul/Neil Cooper, its been confusing ever since I saw Paul's picture with Neil's name!! (Alan Cooper get your bottom bracket back down to PP and make a great come back!!)

What else fixed?
So you've joined RTCL, raced at Palmer Park, you're a Cat B looking to improve your PB; what can you do? You try a 'Special' Manchester all day training experience, like Mark Pettitt. did (read his article again). A full day's riding with hopefully a couple of PB's, and expert guidance from the likes of National coaches or Geoff Cooke ex. National coach and highly rated Vet. in World Master's racing. You can do these at certain time of the year, but you've got to book a place. After that you consider the National Track Championships and the World Masters both at Manchester this year. Having spoken to other people and written this article I'm going to 'put up or shut up' and give the World's a go, just for a laugh you understand!!

Fixed for new riders - the fixed summer season (April to August at PP) is almost over and now would be a good time to start thinking about next year for those that haven't tried fixed yet. Ride Palmer Park over the autumn and winter, getting your bike set up for the forthcoming season. Benefits - good speed, anyone can have a go, local events for people with less time. Derny train'g good for time trial (hasn't helped Max!), variety, no hills unless you count the 40+ degree banking at Calshot and Manchester, training through the winter, no rest whilst riding. Guts - no brakes, one gear + one pair of legs. You can't get lost at Palmer Park, you can still puncture, but why not do it at 35+ mph!!! Knock your mates off as was done to me, so I did to someone else!

Derny - don't forget the derny's, we use them for training as well as racing. Good speed work for those that want to try. Time trialists naturally do well at the high speeds of derny racing, when they've got used to sitting on the wheel at 30+ MPH!!

Who can I talk to?
You can ring or email me Max Murray-Brooks on (0118) 933 2751 or to ask any questions or get me back cos I named you in this article!

RCC members to talk to that have tried this year: Neil and Paul Cooper, John Wann, Murray Hogge, Phil Roberts, Ross Fitheridge, Mark Pardoe, Steve Hulse, Mark Pettitt, Chris Stones, Arthur Satterley.

Other local clubs/riders at PP - Palmer Park Velo, Newbury/Oxford RC's, Maidenhead and District, Farnborough & Camberley, WCPP riders and National Champions Ben Crawforth and 'Neil Cooper'

RCC members who organise/judge at PP - Mike Walsh, Colin Garnham, Dave Gaida

Recap - Venues Manchester, Calshot, Palmer Park + others What events - RTL, Nationals, Masters (last chance this year), Calshot, LVRC, 'fixed' Roller racing in Chippenham. Training - Tuesday/Thursday p.m., Saturday a.m., Manchester Specials with National coaches in pursuit/sprint/general track craft and some Calshot specials. What Bike - make your own, hire at PP, off the peg, cycling weekly adverts, simplest is best, little maintenance. Manchester and Calshot need spec. bikes which are available to hire, they have shorter cranks and higher bottom brackets than road bikes. Some people will have already sampled fixed, I hope by writing this that a few more people will try it and maybe get the bug! Only in the good ol' US of A - figure of 8 track