Track cycling has soared in popularity since 2008 with a big medal haul from British athletes in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Great Britain’s success continued into London 2012 and then in Rio Olympics to capture the eye of not only the dedicated cyclist but the general public too that track bikes are an entry point into a uniquely fast and exciting cycling discipline.
The UK has six indoor velodromes including; London, Newport, Manchester (which is home to British Cycling), Southampton and two relatively new additions in Glasgow and Derby. We also have over 14 outdoor velodromes spread between Wales, England and Scotland; Herne Hill Velodrome in London being one of the most famous as it is the last remaining venue from the 1948 Olympic games.
Video: A beginner’s guide to the team pursuit
What is a track bike?
The track bike is a simple machine. It has one fixed gear, meaning you cannot stop pedalling. No brakes, you use the fixed gear to speed up and slow down and that is it. Of course you have two wheels, a saddle and handlebars.
A good track bike should handle well, giving you the confidence when chopping and changing direction at high speed, accelerate quickly and be strong enough to withstand the harsh forces track riding involves. But also it needs to be stable at high speed especially when going for a flat out sprint for the finish line (we don’t want to be giving anyone a dirty flick). Comfort isn’t really a consideration as time spent on a track bike is relatively short but it does need to fit correctly.
Track bike frames
The usual mix of carbon, aluminium and steel are the main purchase options for track bikes. Depending on your budget is will effect the material you buy. Aluminium is the most common, the cheapest, most robust (in crashes), with pretty much all brands offering a decent mid-level options for those budding racers.
Carbon is of course the most expensive but the advantage here isn’t weight, it’s aerodynamics. Bikes like the BMC TrackMachine and Cervelo’s T5 are designed to be a slick as possible whilst maintaining immense stiffness. Exactly what you need for racing on the boards. They achieve this by beefing up some of the key areas, head tube and bottom bracket mainly and, as weight or comfort isn’t too much of a concern, companies can do this in without penalty.
Steel is still seen on the track cycling scene, though it’s not as common as carbon or aluminium. Eddy Merckx held the Hour Record using a standard steel frame. Although you won’t see these at World Championships or the Olympics any more, you’ll see them regularly at training sessions and amateur races.
Track bike specification
Although a simple machine, starting out in track cycling can leave you a little dazzled by the array of components and gear options. With indoor and outdoor velodromes being almost worlds apart to ride and different disciplines favouring a variety of wheel, gear and bar options, the initial outlay might seem expensive but you don’t have to buy it all at once. An off the peg bike will come with all that you need to ride.
The standard gear is between 84 inches and 90 inches (chainring size 47 teeth – sprocket size 15 teeth or 50 tooth chainring – 15 tooth sprocket) which will come with most track bikes out of the shop. The smaller the inches (a common reference to gear sizes taken from the size of the wheel from a penny-farthing) or the smaller the front chainring and the larger the rear sprocket, the easier it’ll be to pedal. The opposite for bigger/harder gears; large front chainring, smaller rear sprocket or higher inch count.
To put that into context, Bradley Wiggins would have been riding well over a 110inch gear at the Olympics in the team pursuit. If you want to get into racing be prepared to try different ratios, training specifically on pedalling efficiently or just riding different tracks, as they can be different lengths, steepness for both indoor or outdoor velodromes.
Check out our gear table below.
Tubular or clincher
As with the road you still have the option of tubular or clincher tyres. Tubular tyres are more common as puncturing is far less likely. These are harder to change (due to being glued or taped to the rim) when they do wear out and are more pricey but you’ll see a performance benefit and you’ll be able to run much higher tyre pressures than clincher tyres. The least amount of rolling resistance is key.
Clincher tyres of course still have their place. Easier tube changes and generally cheaper than tubular tyres. This will depend on the type of track riding you want to do or if you want to race. Clincher is a good option for outdoor riding, tubular is for more performance and racing orientated riders.
Unless you are Sir Chris Hoy or team pursuit starter Joanna Rowsell-Shand, the chances are a standard, middle of the road chainset will do. What you are looking for is stiffness and longevity of wear. The thing to remember here that a top end Shimano or Campagnolo chainset won’t feel any real different from a half the price Miche Primato Advanced chainset for example.
The main thing to look out for here is bolt circle diameter or BCD (the measurement between the chainring bolts on your chainring and chainset usually measured in millimeters). It doesn’t really matter what size you get or have, the most important thing to remember is that you need to match the chainset with the chainring BCD size otherwise it will not fit.
The BCD should be written on both crank and chainring, if not you’ll simply have to measure between two adjacent bolt holes to get the size. Match this with a track chainring and you’ll have no issues.
Crank length is something to consider. Traditionally you’ll ride between 165mm cranks and 170mm. Any longer and you’ll likely hit the banking when pedalling, too small and it wont be very efficient.
For beginners, a standard drop handlebar is all you need. If you want to do pursuit or do individual timed events it’ll be worth investing in a set of aero tri-bars. Without any brake or gear cables to worry about change between is very simple.
Track bike wheels
Like the frame, you can purchase standard aluminium equipment at a reasonable price.
Box rim spoked wheels, clincher or tubular can be found for less then £200. These will be apt for everyday riding on the track. Likewise you can go down the expensive carbon route and buy into a disc rear wheel and either deep carbon front of five spoke wheel.
Unlike the rest of a track bike, wheels are one element where weight will penalise you. With many of the track disciplines needing sudden acceleration, rolling mass needs to be kept to a minimum. If you’re looking for performance improvements, its likely that investing in a set of fancy wheels will be more of a game changer than buying a new bike will ever be.
For most bunch racing events, it’s generally accepted that the best rapid wheelset option is a five spoke front wheel and a disc at the back. The aerodynamic effectiveness, weight saving and reduced rolling resistance all add up to be something special when you need that extra zip.
If you’re thinking of pottering about town on your fixed-wheeled bike, it’s not too difficult to transform your racing beast to a road legal bike simply with the addition of a front brake. Although, if this is your intention, first check that your bike of choice can accept a front brake (not all race forks will have a front brake mount hole).
We would also suggest opting for a much smaller gear than standard, ideally no bigger than 72in (eg. 45×17). This should make riding up inclines, away from lights, junctions and general manoeuvres in traffic much easier. Of course at night you will also need to apply the usual Highway Code rules on lights and reflectors.
Our pick of the best track bikes
Here is our pick of the best deals on track bikes.
With each bike is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Moda Forte track bike
Read the review: Moda Forte track bike – £999.99
We found the Forte comfortable, fun and easy to ride, making it a great playmate on the banking of any track.
BMC Track TR01 track bike
Read the review: BMC Track TR01 bike
This is an amazing frameset and if you get the chance to ride one, do it! Of course it is an astronomical amount to spend on a bike, let alone ‘just’ a track bike but I’ve enjoyed my time with the BMC. It does everything you need and more on the velodrome.
Dolan DF4 track bike
Read the review: Dolan DF4 track bike
There is a reason why you see Dolan everywhere you go in the track cycling circle and it isn’t just down to price. When you hear ‘for the money you get a great bike’ it can often shout buying on the cheap but you really are getting a professional level track machine.
Specialized Langster Track bike
The Specialized Langster is designed for the boards of the velodrome but is widely used as an on the road fixie too.
Cinelli Vigorelli HSL
The Cinelli Vidorelli is named after the famous Velodrome in Milan. Constructed from Columbus Airplane tubing finished off with Miche components.
HOY Fiorenzuola .001
The Fiorenzuola is designed and has been track-tested to withstand the power of Sir Chris Hoy himself while being aimed at riders earlier in their track racing career. The Fiorenzuola is named after the Italian track where Sir Chris won his first senior World Cup medal in the team sprint.
Fuji Track Elite
Developed in the A2 wind tunnel, the Track Elite is the stiffest Fuji have ever made according the American company, and it is one of the first-ever track platforms to utilise a tapered head tube and fork.