Tandem Cycling at the Velodrome

Imagine being at the top of the banking at the Velodrome...on a tandem!

Tandem velodrome

Tandem Cycling the Velodrome

The Olympic Velodrome in Stratford runs two-hour para sessions for disabled cyclists every other week on a Monday afternoon. If you like experiencing something different whilst getting an unbelievable work out you should give it a go!

They provide pilots and the necessary kit although you can take your own helmet along. I have taken part in these a number of times over the last few years. It is nothing like riding my tandem out on the roads around London, I can assure you.

The first thing you notice is that you take a lift down into the bowels of the massive venue. You emerge into the middle of the track and you can hear a lot of echoing around the venue. The tandems themselves are ultra-lightweight carbon fibre. Nothing fancy, fixed wheels, no gears, racing saddle and drop handlebars. Oh, and yes, those cleats that clasp your special shoes to the pedals.

The staff are accustomed to helping everyone so don’t worry if you can’t get your feet into the cleats. But, be careful to listen to the instructions as getting started is a question of balance and listening to your pilot.

What is evident from the start is that the track creaks!

It is built of wooden panels on a slatted wooden frame that flexes with the weight of the cyclists. And, the most important feature, it is steeply banked, at quite an angle on the straights but severely on the ends.

Up the bank tandem cycling velodrome

The photo above is of Chris lewis and his pilot at the Olympic Velodrome, riding between the blue and red lines.

The lowest level is flat and solid just to give you a chance to get used to the motion. For those who can see, the photos show there are then a series of coloured lines going up the banking. If you have watched it on the telly you can see that it looks steep. After I had finished the session I asked the organiser if I could walk up and feel the banking.

Shoes removed, I walked up in my socks along the finishing straight. I got about halfway before I slid down. Socks off, I walked to the top. I was around 10 feet above my pilot who was standing in the middle! After that, we went to the end of the track. I couldn’t get even a couple of feet up the banking here as it is just so steep.

Once you cross the first line onto the actual track you can hear the boards crackle. The pilot gradually increases the pace until you are flat out. The circuit is only 250 metres in total so there is no real straight or bend, just continuous cycling! Bizarrely, you get buffeted a lot from the air.

Yes, it is inside but you are pushing against the air with nowhere for it to go so it causes buffeting. Going around the track at the lower level is pretty straightforward.

Obviously, you have got to be pushing in sync with the pilot but frankly, the pedals don’t allow you not to do so. Trying to do a number of laps flat out is lung-busting, to say the least. Then, with a little more confidence, the pilot takes you up the banking. This requires significantly more peddle power. At the top of the banking, there is a hiatus before you suddenly drop down at an amazing speed, pulling a few Gs, and swooping onto the bottom of the track is exhilarating!

And, once your ten or fifteen minutes of peddling is done you can’t just stop. There are no gears on the bike, nor breaks, so you just gradually slow down by not pedalling. Coming into the end is a test of accuracy from the pilot and then the joy of sitting down, deep breathing and gulping lots of water plus something energising to eat or drink before heading out again! Depending on how many other people are on the track you will get four sessions in the slot.

If you like cycling or just like doing different things, this is an amazing way to test out your fitness and fearlessness whilst also experiencing an Olympic venue!

The photos don’t do justice to the speeds you achieve nor the steepness of the banking but I can honestly say it is one of the best sporting activities I have ever done.

You can book online and ask for a tandem and a pilot. Ask for Nicky!

by Chris Lewis 

About Metro Blind Sport

Metro Blind Sport is a London based charity, creating fun, accessible sport and physical activity opportunities for blind and partially sighted individuals of all ages and abilities.


Olympic Velodrome event info below

The Olympic Velodrome in Stratford runs two-hour para sessions for disabled cyclists every other week on a Monday afternoon

Email: [email protected] | Telephone: 03000 030 613 * we’re currently unable to answer telephone calls so please email us with any queries that you have.

Website: https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk/lee-valley-velopark

Address: Lee Valley VeloPark, Abercrombie Road, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London E20 3AB