• Patrick Gabrion

Cycling away my 66th year

This past Monday was just like any normal day, except for two things. First, I spent the morning attending a seminar in my attempt to select the right Medicare Advantage plan. And two, which I really needed after dealing with number one, was going for a long bike ride. What made that unusual? It was the fact that it was my last pedal as a 66-year-old cyclist.


And what a glorious day; temperatures in the 40s, with the "feels like" index also in the 40s. It was especially nice dressing in only two layers of clothing instead of the full arsenal of winter gear. The only caution taken on the ride was going around corners because of the presence of sand, which was put on the roads the night before because of freezing rain conditions here in Maine.


While Tuesday was my actual birthday, I knew I'd be unable to jump on the saddle because I was working at the bike shop. So hence, the long journey on Monday. I played a little game with myself by not looking at the bike's odometer until I arrived back home. I just wanted to ride until it got too dark and not concern myself with the mileage. I did end up with nearly 36 miles, which isn't bad for a late November day. Anyway, it was a great day for a ride, and the Medicare issue didn't cross my mind once.


Going in circles


I'm currently enjoying the book on cyclist Major Taylor. Delving into it has revealed the popularity of velodromes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. For me, it also brought to mind the two days I spent circling around one in my native state of Michigan years ago. The experience was made possible at the urging of my niece, Kacey Manderfield, a collegiate national champion and former professional cyclist.


Me "the racer" at velodrome in Michigan.

It took place at the International Velodrome at Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills, Michigan, located near Detroit. It is the only bicycle racing track of its kind in North America, designed and built by Dale Hughes, who also constructed the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Velodrome. The Bloomer Park track is an outdoor, 1/8-mile wooden oval with banking from 13 degrees to 44 degrees. And that's the part I remember the most ... the banking!


Just imagine. Here I am on a track bike for the first time in my life. No gears. AND NO BRAKES. And you can't even coast on these darn things. The pedals are in constant motion; the only way to slow down is through decreasing your leg speed, which wrenches the heck out of your untrained thigh muscles. The other way to slow down is crash and burn.


Anyway, I'm gliding around the lower portion just trying to get acclimated to this foreign object between my legs. Then as I slowly approach the first corner, with other riders whizzing by me, I look up at this 44-degree banking. My only immediate thought is, "How the hell am I going to stay up on that steep incline without sliding down and hurting myself?" Quite honestly, I was shaking in my cycling shoes!


I recalled Kacey instructing me that you only needed to go about 15 mph to maintain your position on the track. So I knew that was doable. I did a few laps on the blue apron and then I made my way onto the actual track surface. And oh my god ... what fun! My wife, Vicky, said I had a smile on my face the whole time once I got going.


And low and behold, the banking was the best part. Diving into the corners from the upper straightaway creates a ton of speed and lots of fun. Any thoughts of my tires losing their grip quickly evaporated, along with my fears. For two days, I was fast and free.


So if you ever get the chance to ride on a velodrome, I highly recommend it. Yes, it's different and probably not very comforting at first. But well worth it, believe me.

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