Icons of cycling: UK Sports Institute track bike

We sing the praises of a machine that strikes fear into the hearts of Team GB’s rivals

UKSI bike Chris Hoy full size 1

Photo: Graham Watson

The New Zealand rugby team perform the haka to intimate their opponents before an international. The Great Britain cycling team have no need of an ancestral war dance before a track meet.

A mere glimpse of the all-black UK Sports Institute track bike with its Darth Vader-like presence has the same effect.

In the gladiatorial arena of the velodrome, believing your bike is faster than the opposition’s — combined with the opposition believing it too — is the difference between gold and silver. And of course, in Team GB’s case, it actually is faster.

Since 2002, Team GB’s equipment has been the envy of the world, with the track frame the centrepiece in a collection of awe-inspiring custom components. The bike is now on MkII and is constantly being tweaked, but the blueprint remains the same.

The year after Jason Queally won gold in the kilo at the Sydney Olympics, the British Cycling Federation asked engineer Dimitris Katsanis to produce a new frame. Up to that point there had been no dedicated equipment programme.

Indeed, Chris Fields, the creator of the Hotta Perimeter that Queally used in Sydney freely admitted it had been designed in his garage.

Although this very British approach had famously borne fruit for Graeme Obree, now with lottery funding beginning to bolster its R&D budget and with Australian, American and German federations already having invested large sums in dedicated team bikes, it was time for Team GB to raise the bar.

Katsanis studied composites engineering in Britain and had an array of carbon-fibre creations for national sport teams to his name when British Cycling called. He’d also been a national level track sprinter in his native Greece, so had an insight into the demands elite athletes made on their machines.

Record-breaking debut

Chris Hoy had many victories on the UKSI bikes throughout his career. Photo: Graham Watson

Chris Hoy had many victories on the UKSI bikes throughout his career. Photo: Graham Watson

The now-legendary matt-black frame he presented to Team GB wasn’t a radical shape — Katsanis had said he didn’t want to risk the UCI banning it — but it was fast.

Sir Chris Hoy immediately set new PBs on it and won gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games kilo, where it was debuted.

Contrary to the conspiracy-minded mutterings from Team GB’s rivals, and despite the red herrings thrown in their path by Chris Boardman’s ‘Secret Squirrel Club’, there was no real secret to the UKSI bike.

Its tube profiles were simply as efficient as possible within the UCI’s parameters and it was made from better quality carbon-fibre than was commercially available at the time.

Its performance was improved yet further by the specially developed bars, stems, chainsets and skinsuits that accompanied it.

Simon Smythe
Simon Smythe

Simon Smythe is Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and has been in various roles at CW since 2003. His first job was as a sub editor on the magazine following an MA in online journalism (yes, it was just after the dot-com bubble burst).

In his cycling career Simon has mostly focused on time trialling with a national medal, a few open wins and his club's 30-mile record in his palmares. These days he spends a bit more time testing road bikes, or on a tandem doing the school run with his younger son.

What's in the stable? There's a Colnago Master Olympic, a Hotta TT700, an ex-Castorama lo-pro that was ridden in the 1993 Tour de France, a Pinarello Montello, an Independent Fabrication Club Racer, a Shorter fixed winter bike and a renovated Roberts with a modern Campag groupset.

And the vital statistics:

Age: 52
Height: 178cm

Weight: 69kg