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Guest Blog: My Return to Meadowbank Velodrome by John Gow

This month we have an extra special Guest Blogger, my hubby!!  My husband has been a keen cyclist since the 80’s, competing on the road and even making the Scottish National Team for the track.  Living near Dundee, he only had access to a concrete velodrome so had to travel to Meadowbank in Edinburgh to get on a proper banked, wooden track.  Not having a car, this involved taking his track bike on the train and cycling through the streets of Edinburgh on a fixed wheel, with no brakes (do not try this yourself!!).  These days he cycles for pleasure and fitness and extols the virtures of steel bike frames on his blog, Steel’s Real.  He has kindly allowed me to share this blog as it highlights the need for maintaining Edinburgh’s velodrome for future generations – after all it gave us Sir Chris Hoy!!

OK, you know I am very excited that Scotland now has a new, world class track in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow.  Although the accreditation process left me frustrated beyond words and sore after picking up my first crash in over 20 years (some people don’t realise that you need to keep pedalling on a 46 degree banking) this is such a great boost for Scotland ahead of this year’s Commonwealth games.

Controversially, however, I still think that the Velodrome should have been built in the centre of Scotland’s track cycling heritage, Edinburgh.   Over the years, Edinburgh has been the home of track cycling in Scotland and I have been disappointed that the great events that have taken place there have drawn to a close as the track has been gradually run down.  As I understand, Edinburgh City Council want to use the land for more houses or commercial buildings and as such, there will be no further investment in the track.  I thought that the velodrome was heading the way of Saffron lane in Leicester which followed a similar fate once Manchester Velodrome was in operation.

This is what I was afraid of

This is what I was afraid of. Photo courtesy of http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-20546272

I thought that the end of cycling in Meadowbank was close, as I was never able to find out if there was still a track league, and the last time I heard of the Edinburgh GP track weekend event, it was cancelled.   So, when I heard that the track was open for drop in sessions I was curious.  Turns out the Edinburgh Road Club have the rights to operate and manage the track until the council figure out whats going on with the land.

This is great news.

These guys are trying to get Meadowbank going again with taster sessions, youth training, accreditation rides and accredited drop in sessions for the more experienced riders.  As I write this, the track League is being organised to start on 24th June 2014.  For those of you who want to try the track, there are bikes to hire to see if you like it, and I’m sure you will.

I am so happy to see that Meadowbank is still hanging on with a great set of enthusiastic riders from Edinburgh Road Club.  Who knows, if this project generates enough interest we could see track racing and training thrive in Edinburgh for a few more years and longer if there is investment.  I have so many great memories of this track from my racing days and was super keen to try it out.  Would it be the same, or would I be crying at the state of decay?

A few weeks ago, Suzy let me know that there was a drop-in session on Sunday morning, so on Saturday night, I started an email discussion with Phil Darby to see if I could attend. Unlike the accreditation and taster sessions, drop-ins are unsupervised so I needed a British Cycling Silver membership and proof of accreditation from Glasgow Velodrome.  OK, a quick membership renewal and a small snag – I have nothing from Glasgow Velodrome to verify that I’m accredited.  Well I took a copy of my Glasgow Sports Club membership and hoped for the best.  On Sunday morning, I had a message to call Phil.  Oh Oh, here we go again, it’s going to be really hard just to get some track time. After a long discussion with Phil, he realised the flaw in his plan regarding the evidence from Glasgow Velodrome (now sorted out for everyone) and after stalking my facebook allowed me on to the track.

Suzy and I got to the track at about one in the afternoon and started to unpack the car.  We were greeted by Phil, who said I just looked like my facebook picture.  I knew he had checked me out before letting me loose on the track.  I assembled my bike (well front wheel) and shouldered it down into the dark, damp tunnel as I had done so may times before.

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Strangely, I couldn’t hear the familiar rumble of wheels on wood as I passed through.  On entering the bowl of the velodrome, I was happy to see riders that I knew from both Ronde and the Edinburgh Road club.

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This was great, riders on training sessions in Meadowbank again.  I stood there with my bike still on my shoulder taking in the sights. Oh dear,  are we still sitting on those faded plastic chairs from the 1970’s? And when was the last time the grass was cut?  I couldn’t see turn one from the tunnel.  As I looked around the spectator stands were covered in scaffolding, condemned I think we were told.

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A quick glance at all the bikes, and once again I am the only rider on a steel frame, although most of the bikes were new, there were riders of all ages.

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Signing on

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I wasn’t sure of how this was going to go at all.  I had ridden Glasgow Velodrome recently and I remembered how well that had felt with it’s new boards and amazing all enclosed environment.  I lifted my bike over to the cote d’azure and started to circle for a lap, then getting speed up a little I took off on the back straight and into turn 3.  Well, let me tell you, the track is in much better shape to everything else around it. This felt brilliant!!  I continued around the blue line for a few laps increasing speed a little and really feeling good on the boards.  I started to move towards the top of the track and swooped down to the sprinters line; again, no issue from the track at all.  These guys have really got this track in great shape.  We really must use this facility.

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As I continued warming up I could see some others starting a chaingang, so I made my way around the track to get on to the wheel and start to work together.  Of course, I was using my steel Raleigh, and it really rode exactly where I wanted it to go.  From the top of the track to the sprinters line, this felt so good.  I really thought the track would feel warped, or have some bumpy sections in it, but it felt fantastic.

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I had a bit of a rest to let the sprinters on for their laps before beading back for a little bit more pace.  I think we ended up with a sprinter and endurance rider group that day, just fantastic.

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I returned back to the track for another blast in the chaingang, this time we all knew each other.  In fact I found one of the City of Edinburgh riders I raced with back in the 80’s, so I was in good company.  We exchanged turns on the front every 2 laps and then as the speed increased took this down to one lap.  We all slotted in exactly on the wheel; this took me back.  It also exposed a bit of speed lacking on my side, but I think a few more sessions here will sort that out.  I cannot recommend this highly enough.

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After I had finished the session, Suzy and I went underneath the track to find Phil, who had borrowed my chain whip earlier in the day.  Phil was preparing bikes for the youth sessions; We were very impressed by his dedication to encouraging the next generation of Scottish Track cyclists.

I often wonder why the track isn’t as popular as the road.  I know it requires another bike, but these are available for hire at the velodrome.  The track is such a great place for youngsters (and not so young) to learn bike handling skills, riding in a group and the feeling of speed that everyone likes about being on a bike.  I know that the banking looks scary when you first look at it, and particularly from the top of the banking, but when you’re riding, it’s not like that at all.  It’s one of the most safe places to ride.  No cars, no potholes and when everyone understands the few simple rules of the track, it’s very predictable in a bunch.  When it comes to racing too, this is really exciting.

If you watched the excitement generated at the track cycling at the Commonwealth Games and want to try this for yourself you really must get yourself down to Meadowbank track and try it out for yourself.  The Edinburgh Road Club are offering taster sessions, accreditation courses, youth courses and drop in sessions for accredited riders.  Just check out the Edinburgh Road Club Web Site for all information on track events.  You never know, you could be the next Chris Hoy.  This is where he started his cycling and it still a special place for him, even naming one of his own bike lines Meadowbank

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4 thoughts on “Guest Blog: My Return to Meadowbank Velodrome by John Gow

  1. Sad to see the track is not being renovated. Is it worth starting a petition. But good to see riders there again and hear your story 🙂

    • A petition would have limited effect. I’m sure thousands would sign it because in principle people will think its a part of history to preserve and a safe place to ride for people of all ages. But that has to be backed with actual attendance numbers! The best way to keep the track going is to prove to Edinburgh Leisure/Council that people want to and will use it!!! No good spending money to maintain it if it sits there under utilised. The more people are reminded that it is there and available for use the better. Fingers crossed!!

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