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When the first few leaves turn brown, and the cold winds rush to ruin your lovely day with freezing cold showers, you know it’s time for a change in your riding regime. Road and mountain biking during the winter are tricky and heavily depend on where you live. In places with higher altitudes, riding a bike after late September becomes harder not just because of the weather but also because of the rapid shortening of days. Even though this opens the way for some very tempting night rides in the mountains and on the road, many prefer to hide their bikes and let them sleep like bears through the winter.

Don’t do that to your bike. Firstly, weekends are still available. Secondly, you should definitely try track cycling.

Track race your winter

Tracks are the perfect place for an after-work workout. They are enclosed, and whether ’you can ride or not doesn’t depend on the weather. Going to the track will give you a completely different experience, one that you will most likely enjoy immensely. Track riding is both similar and completely different to road riding. Most importantly, track racing has significant benefits when it comes to improving both your road and mountain biking skills.

Track cycling
Improve your skills with track riding. © Profimedia

Improve your technique

While on the road, we should always be aware of our surroundings, the traffic, and pedestrians. Following traffic rules, the terrain and the road conditions takes up a huge chunk of our concentration. That goes double for mountain biking, where your attention is focused primarily on the track, where rocks, slippery roots, and spiking branches are lurking behind every corner. On the velodrome, however, it’s the complete opposite. There is only you, your teammates, your bike, and the track. That’s why tracks are the ideal place to perfect your riding technique.

While on the track, your goal is to reduce unnecessary body movements and ensure every muscle contraction transfers directly to the forward motion of the bike. This, of course, takes a lot of training and time, but that’s the beauty of it. You have the 6-8 cold months to perfect it all. This technique will help you immensely both with road riding and when climbing up a mountain trail.

Track racing
Racers at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. © Profimedia

Perfection in rotation  

Another great advantage for both MTB and road cycling is the ability to maximize your efforts when stepping in the pedals and the timing of redirecting the force from your left to your right foot. That sounds easy, we know. You know how to ride a bike and how to change your power input from left to right. However, once you do it correctly on the track, you will see the massive difference, and you will see the vast amount of energy you wasted while riding. The biggest difference is the lack of a free wheel (the time when inertia is pushing you forward) and gear changes. This means that you are pedalling the whole time, with a consistent pace, with a fixed gear, which improves your pedalling immensely.

Endurance

Retaining a constant power input for an extended period might sound like a piece of cake, but it’s one of the hardest things you will ever do. Try to maintain a speed of 40km/h for 30 minutes on the track, and then we’ll talk.

Track riding
Another great advantage for both MTB and road cycling is the ability to maximize your efforts when stepping in the pedals and the timing of redirecting the force from your left to your right foot. © Profimedia

Fitness

Track cycling is the perfect place to practice your aerobic and anaerobic energy use. Although this component helps MTB riders when climbing (which is most often during enduro runs), it’s much more beneficial for roadies. Generally, tracks are the best place to prepare for short sprints, attacks, hills, and primes. Due to the nature of track racing, the events take between 3 and 5 minutes in which your body reaches its maximum capacity. You will eventually raise this maximum by constantly pushing it, and your performance in every other cycling terrain will improve immensely. In addition, the higher intensity of track cycling training will allow you to easily conquer steep hills with less energy consumption, and quite a bit faster.

Handling your bike

Track bikes are a unique breed. They are made to be as light as possible and lack the essentials for other types of riding, like brakes and gears. This means that track riders need to perfect their bike control and use their body, weight shifts, and the track itself to increase and decrease speed and even stop. Actually, stopping is way more complicated than anything else on the velodrome. Usually, it takes at least two additional spins until you come to a complete halt. Keeping in mind that your feet are strapped in (not clipped, but strapped), you need to stop while still on the bike. This makes track standing one of the most essential techniques you will have to learn. It’s the first step towards controlling your bike.

Lee Valley velo park
The Lee Valley Velo Park (formerly the 2012 Olympic park) in east London © Profimedia

Such bike control abilities will greatly improve your MTB skills. Although the technique is a bit different, track standing is just as essential for MTB riders when preparing to tackle a downhill feature. On the other hand, expertly shifting your body weight while speeding on a downhill track might be the difference between finishing with a beer in hand down at the pub or in the emergency room.

Bike control is just as crucial for riding the road, where navigating through traffic and roads, squeezing between parked cars, or waiting in a jam is an everyday task. Being in complete control of your bike helps you remain safe no matter the situation.

It’s fun

Track riding is like nothing you’ve tried, and it’s so much fun. Even if you think you know everything about biking, getting on the track opens a whole new chapter for your skills. You are handling your bike uniquely, concentrating on different things, and most importantly, sharing a new and exciting way to do your favourite thing with old and new mates, even during the harshest weather conditions. What’s not to love?