Avantidrome – Riding circles in the Waikato
With teenage rowers in the family I find myself floating around the Waikato on a regular basis. Initially these trips struck fear in my heart – I had flashbacks to foggy Hamilton mornings riding endlessly flat streets trying to find my way back home. That was the 1970s, long before GPS & polypropylene. When Child-Services eventually reunited me with my family boiling water would be poured on my hands to separate me from my Raleigh Twenty.
Well, fast-forward to present day Mooloo country and the Waikato is an awesome place to ride a bike, for three seasons of the year anyway!
Just out of Cambridge (on the road to Hamilton) is the spanky new Avantidrome. But don’t ride down the main highway to get there, instead follow Alpha Street from the middle of Cambridge and soon you’ll be cruising the newest section of the Te Awa river ride. This beautiful concrete path skirts farmers’ fields beside the Waikato River before turning inland towards the velodrome.
Apart from a couple of lookout spots you don’t see the river much, it’s far below you, but this is a very pleasant pedal through the country I’m sure you’ll enjoy. There’s one little hill to tackle at the end, but the path is predominantly flat and suitable for all members of the family.
You don’t have to be into track bikes or racing to appreciate Avantidrome. As well as high-performance sport the facility was set-up to encourage all members of the community to get active, and when you’re over being “active” there’s a nice café with all manner of sweet-treats and cheesy-combustibles.
Entry to the facility is free and worth a look even if you have no interest in cycling. I’d never seen a velodrome in the flesh and the steepness of the wooden banking (43.5º!) will blow your mind. If you’re lucky you might witness New Zealand’s best cranking around at breakneck speed as you walk around the top of the grandstands.
The day I visited a Have-a-Go session was in progress. For $15 you get an hour with a qualified coach, a bike to ride, even a helmet. How’s that for value? It looked like such fun I booked-in a session later in the week and had-a-go myself. T-shirts and running shoes are fine, you don’t have to dress like a pro, but you won’t look out-of-place either way.
Riding track is all about speed, they even keep the ambient temperature high as it makes for faster times. I thought I was fit, but after four 250m laps (riding flat out) I was gasping for breath and soaked in sweat. An hour was long enough to learn the rules, get fitted on a bike, do a couple of wobbly warm-ups and ride maybe a dozen laps at speed. That was plenty for me, I was super pumped afterwards but still had a little energy left for the ride back to Cambridge.
Outside the velodrome is a bike skills park, it’s free to use and suitable for all ages and skill levels. Crusty 50-year-olds and little groms on balance-bikes were having a ball the day I visited. I know, because I was the crusty 50-year-old. There’s a miniature road network with working traffic-lights, a larger gravel pump-track with bermed corners, rollers & jumps and a snaking section of skinny boardwalk in the middle to keep you on your toes.
New Zealand is one of the few counties where Joe Blogs like you and I can use the same facilities as Olympic athletes and not feel out-of-place or intimidated. Our own Millennium Institute has a similar vibe, it’s something to be celebrated.