Glasgow cycling: Spinning around

I'm pedalling nonchalantly along, minding my own business, wondering whether I should have worn something a little more comfortable than jeans for this afternoon bike ride, when a jumbo jet takes off right behind me. A current of air smashes into my back, sending my cotton shirt aflutter and my hair into a frenzy from which it will take days to recover.

My legs, weak and quaking with fright, speed up in a burst of involuntary pedalling powered by the intense air pressure sweeping in from behind. My ears zing with a sound so sudden and menacing they might never be able to dislodge the memory of it.

The cyclone sideswipes me, passes over. I stare ahead: it is a peloton of cyclists that has shot past in an abstract blur of spokes and helmets and muscle and lycra. My own bicycle trembles with the group's collective, brute energy and is sucked forward into its slipstream. Eventually I slow, lose momentum, judder to a halt and spend a long moment absorbing the spectacle before me: members of Scotland's cycling team, training for the Commonwealth Games, which end today, are poised to take flight as they surge around the glossy, vertiginous track of Glasgow's Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.

Ten minutes earlier I'd been clipped into my pedals by Scottish Cycling's national sprint coach, Kevin Stewart. "Have you ever ridden a fixed-wheel bike?" he'd asked. I had no idea what he was talking about. I'd ridden all manner of bikes but this, apparently, was a special vehicle, a power-machine devoid of conventional brakes and which should always be in motion once the cyclist had mounted it.

"You can only stop by pedalling backwards," Stewart explained. "And remember - if you don't have something to hold on to when you stop, you'll fall over."

The track was clear, with only a few people milling about its periphery. Glasgow's late summer sunlight filtered through the ceiling's glass panes, adding a lustrous polish to the arena's curved walls and timber track. How wonderful that an undiscovered talent such as myself could just walk in off the street and take a spin around this esteemed track, named for Britain's most successful Olympic athlete, the Scottish cyclist Chris Hoy.

But Glasgow is nothing if not an inclusive city: the track, which forms part of the games' purpose-built Emirates Arena, had been erected not so much for the prestigious event as for the people of Glasgow - and for tourists like myself who fancy themselves as wild-card gold medallists.

My launch onto the pale wooden boards had been hesitant - would I look silly, would I tumble? - but soon I was inching tentatively onto the track, which rose and fell in centrifugal waves along the velodrome's outer wall. It was like surfing on land: up and down the steeply sloped panels, heaving and plummeting and flying onwards before coming gently to rest on the apron.

The surfing metaphor was really just limited to my imagination, though; I was still plucking up the courage to mount the bank and whiz back down it again when I was assailed by the jet engine sound of the flock of Scottish cyclists pedalling relentlessly in their bid for gold.

Now coming to a quivering rest beside Stewart, I dismount and watch the peloton spinning around and around until I can hardly stand the dizziness. I'm a mere amateur, it seems. But there should at least be a medal for trying.

The writer was a guest of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau and BritRail. Bookings for cycling sessions at the velodrome will resume after the Commonwealth Games.

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