It's fast and furious - and there's no brakes. PAUL CAREY takes a look at the growing world of cycle speedway in Newport.
IT MAY NOT be the most popular sport in Britain at the moment but Cycle Speedway is gathering momentum – with Newport at the heart of it.
Newport Cycle Speedway Club are champions of both their regional leagues and currently have seven members in Australia representing Wales and GB.
It’s quite a record for a club which has just 25 senior members and 20 juniors representing it, with numbers on the increase year on year.
Whereas cycling in the velodrome can be classed as a safe due to a fixed wheel on the bike acting as a brake, in this form of cycling, anything can – and does – happen.
Races are short, fast and intense with riders doing everything they can to get across the finish line first – despite having no brakes on their adapted mountain bikes.
A race is four laps of an outdoor 70 to 90 metre circuit, lasting around 35 to 40 seconds – and physical contact is both legal and often necessary.
Four riders contest in every race, usually in pairs as it is predominantly a team sport, with club matches far more common than individual championships.
Riders vary in ability but the ones at the top of their game are explosive sprinters who have the stamina to keep going through many races.
Colin Simmons, from Newport, who is club secretary for the Newport CSC believes the sport is on the up as people realise it is a fun alternative to normal cycling.
The 56-year-old said: “It’s definitely a growing sport at the moment. Our membership is growing every year.
“There are a lot more juniors coming through as well which is great to see.
“We get people coming down to the beginner sessions we hold as we loan the bikes and safety equipment so it’s not expensive for them.
“You can normally tell if people enjoy it as when they fall off they get straight back up and have another go.
“But not everyone does that. It’s a physical sport and it really is all action for spectators.
“You have elbows flying everywhere and collisions. I’ve been riding for 35 years and I’m still very passionate about the sport now.”
Bikes are similar to BMX or Track bikes – there are no gears or brakes to assist with stopping and riders must use their feet to help them get round corners as fast as possible.
Clothing is conservative with most riders covering themselves from the neck down to protect against falls whilst a helmet must be worn.
Contact is expected, so some riders wear additional protection such as knee, elbow and hip pads.
Peter Sadler, 59, from Newport, has been involved in cycle speedway for over 40 years and says the sport is tough but rewarding.
“It is very much a contact sport,” he said. “This and BMX are the contact sports involving bikes. I have raced indoors at the veldodrome but you have a fixed wheel in there which is like a back brake.
“Here there are no brakes and you expect to get knocked off, crash and pick up loads of bumps, especially in the first bend.
“You just get up and get on with it. There are a lot of incidents but not many serious ones and it requires more skill.
“I’ve done this for years now and still enjoy it. I first got into it when a friend of mine said to give it a try and I’ve been competing ever since.
“I’ve had a few accidents in my years of doing it but nothing too serious. I’ve dislocated fingers, broken a collarbone and also broken a foot but you just get on with it.”
As well as the advantages of the thrill that cycle speedway gives competitors, Mr Sadler also believes part of the charm of the sport is the price.
“I think it’s suited to a lot of people as it doesn’t cost much money,” he added. “It’s a fun and exciting sport that costs very little so it’s ideal if people are looking for something to do.
“We have bikes that beginners can use and after that they just have to pay a small membership fee and get some cycling bottoms and full, long sleeve clothing.”
The quality of riders at the club is varied – from beginners having fun to committed, passionate cyclists that are fully intent on representing Wales and GB abroad.
Beginner sessions are held at 6.30pm on Tuesday evenings at the outside track of Newport Velodrome and cost just £2.
Due to the thrill of getting on the bike and getting around the track as fast as you can, it can often lead to the cycle speedway bug being caught by new members.
That is exactly what happened with a Newport CSC rider that has gone on to represent Wales and GB in Australia.
Chris Davies, 25, from Newport, would be taken to running sessions by his father before he decided to give cycle speedway a chance.
He said: “My dad took me to the beginner session of this instead one day and 14 years later I’m still here and love it.
“My mum and dad are now both involved with the club and my sister is also competing in Australia at the moment for Wales.
“We’ve competed against each other in Club Championships which is always quite an interesting experience.”
Mr Davies – like many others – has suffered his fair share of injuries during his 14 years in the sport varying from grazes to a broken wrist.
“It can be a very dangerous sport,” he added. “It depends on how you ride as everyone is different but a lot of people are stupid.
“They go for gaps that aren’t there and cause collisions but it’s an enjoyable thing to do if you can get past that.
“It’s the buzz of the competition and to keep fit that makes me come here. Races aren’t very long but you’ve got to be fit to compete.
“I’ve been to Australia, Poland, America and Scotland whilst doing this so you definitely get to visit some great places.”
Newport CSC have just finished their most successful season since being formed in the 1960s.
They won both South Wales leagues and lifted the Gold Cup tournament which has led to the club being accepted into the Elite league which will begin in April 2014.
The club race in their region – consisting of Exeter, Poole, Oxford, Eastbourne, Southampton, and Swindon - through the season which runs from March to October.
Members range in age from six to 59, and the club is always looking for new riders of any age or ability.
With the intense and speedy nature of the races and the will to win that may push you further than you knew possible – you may surprise yourself.
If your talent matches up to your enthusiasm then you could find yourself travelling to England, Scotland and maybe further afield to represent Newport CSC or Wales.
Why not take the word of someone who has been there and done it?
“If you’re thinking about coming then what’ve you got to lose?” asked Mr Davies. “It’s a good laugh, it keeps you active and there are a lot of different nights.
“We have fun nights as well as the serious nights of hard training but I’m sure that people would enjoy themselves if they gave it a try.”