Sir Chris Hoy gears up for Sky Ride | Martin Wainwright

"You soon get used to it," says Sir Chris Hoy, cheerfully – perhaps forgetting that riding around a 45 degree slant of wooden boards comes easier to an Olympic champion than the man in the Manchester street.

Still, he has logic on his side. "The slope's angle is the same at the top as the bottom," he grins. "And no one's getting worried about the Cote d'Azur."

The Cote d'Azur is the bright blue-painted strip at the bottom of Manchester's velodrome circuit, and it was busy yesterday with tyros taking a masterclass from the gold medallist and a whole cohort of champions from cycling's Team GB. Plus spidery models with snazzy racing bikes doing a fashion shoot for the designer Paul Smith.

The aim was to publicise Sky Ride, the biggest single mass-biking event in the country's calendar, which pedals off in July. Starting in Ealing on the 18th, a succession of events will see urban centres closed to motor traffic – any cyclist's dream – in Bath, Southampton, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Redbridge (London), Glasgow, Leicester, Bradford, Blackpool, central London and Birmingham. Stars such as Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton, Lorraine Kelly, Gemma Atkinson and Jean Christophe Novelli will lead family rides, staged "chase" events and all manner of other outings to proclaim the virtues of cycling.

"I've been out for a road ride this morning myself," says Sir Chris, whose class took in lessons for the humble commuter as well as would-be Olympians. "First lesson: make sure your bike is in good condition and that everything's in working order. Second, ride defensively. Be aware all the time of your surroundings. Don't shrink into the gutter where the potholes are. That's the route to sudden swerves, and even the most careful car drivers can't always cope with that."

The organisers, Sky and British Cycling (the governing body of cycle sport), hope to build massively on the 110,000 people who took part in a smaller programme last year.

They reckon that another 280,000 people increased their two-wheel mileage because of all the publicity surrounding the event, and that 92,000 have become "regular cyclists" – those taking at least one ride every month.

The Velodrome meanwhile welcomes anyone to try the 45 degree elipse – or just the Cote d'Azur.

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