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Monday, 25 May 2015

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SPINNING has recently become one of my favourite ways to exercise, so learning that the Olympics host four cycling events I was excited to put my hard work at the gym to good use.

With no local velodrome, and already owning a mountain bike of my own, I decided to try something new and give road and BMX cycling a go.

Having 40 years experience selling top of the range bikes, I decided Topmark in Barrow, would be the best place to set the wheels in motion for my cycling challenge.

Brian McKinley, one of the Topmark team, agreed to kit me out in the appropriate clothing and teach me the basics of each event.

Having made its debut at the Beijing 2008 Games, BMX Cycling is the most recent discipline to have been added to the Olympic programme and will be making its second appearance in London on a short outdoor track.

On a course built up with jumps, bumps and tightly banked corners, eight riders compete in heats, with each race lasting around 40 seconds.

BMX bikes have only one gear and one brake and need to be strong enough to endure the wear and tear from the jarring landings after jumps, yet light enough to remain fast and competitive.

Presented with a typical BMX bike the first question I asked was “is this size for children?”

The seat was so low down that when I sat down my legs were round by my ears making it impossible to pedal and the shape of the seat meant I felt totally unstable.

“This size bike would be perfect for someone your height. If you watch BMX riders you will notice that they spend the whole time stood up so that they can do their stunts – they very rarely sit down,” Brian explained.

Previously believing that children who ride BMX bikes were all trouble making thrill seekers, I was shocked to learn that BMX was an Olympic sport. But trying it for myself, and recognising the skill involved in even the smallest of manoeuvres I have developed a new found respect for the teenagers I see at my local skate park.

Managing to stand up and cycle on such a small bike, is extremely difficult and I spent the first 10 minutes wobbling about just trying to learn to cycle in a straight line.

My longest stint before falling off was around 10 seconds, and I decided to quit while I was ahead and leave the tricks to the talented teenagers.

Next to tackle was a road bike, which had wheels two-thirds bigger than those of most BMX racing bikes.

The Olympic programme includes two road cycling events – the road race and the shorter time trial.

For the road race (approximately 250km for men, 140km for women), all competitors start together, and the first rider to cross the finish line wins gold.

And for the shorter time trial (44km for men, 29km for women), the riders start 90 seconds apart, and the winner is the rider with the fastest time over the course.

Owning a mountain bike I am used to cycling on sturdy wheels and therefore found the unsteady looking thin wheels of the road bikes worrying.

“You need to be careful, these bikes are made from ultra-light material and built for speed” Brian cautioned, adding to my already building concern.

Setting off from the shop on Greengate Street, we cycled down towards Morrisons and raced along Cavendish Dock Road.

After getting used to the thin wheels of the Whyte Portobello, I found I actually enjoyed riding it more than my bulky mountain bike as it was much more versatile allowing me to nip round corners and quickly manoeuvre.

Despite the pouring rain, arriving back at the store, I was disappointed that my lesson had come to an end.

Getting out on a bike, feeling the wind in your hair, is exhilarating and much more interesting than sitting on a stationary bike in a sports centre.

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