So we now continue to our discussion about the track bike. Please refer to the previous track bike posts for reference.
Frame & Fork
Track frames tend to be stiffer, heavier, and less comfortable than road frames, which is natural given what they are being designed for. But a few features merit special mention.
Higher bottom bracket. Again, for better pedal clearance.
No bottle braze-ons. Water bottles are never allowed on the track. On a wood track in particular, any water on the track surface is treacherous and will cause crashes. (Incidentally, this is an easy way to know if a fixed-gear or single speed bike being sold in a shop is laid out with an actual track geometry. Most single-speeds are not set up for track – the bottom bracket height, seat and head angles, etc., are road angles. But if there are bottle braze-ons, it’s a dead giveaway – you know it’s not meant for the track, whatever the marketing materials say.)
Stronger Forks. Especially on short, steeply banked tracks, the G-forces a rider will generate in the corner are not inconsiderable, and that weight comes bearing down onto the front fork disproportionately. So, the fork and steerer tube need to be nice and strong to hold their shape and avoid breakage. Any good road fork would probably be fine, but track forks are a little beefier for this reason.
Rear-facing dropouts. This is the necessary feature of a track bike that makes it impossible to adapt most road frames to track use. Because different gear combinations result in different rear-wheel positions, any fixed gear bike needs to have long, rear-facing dropouts so that the rear wheel can be positioned differently for each gear.
Sizing. Depending on various factors, you may ride a smaller bike on the track than on the road. I ride a 59cm road frame, but a 59cm track frame is too big; I ride a 57cm on the track. This isn’t true for everyone, but it’s not uncommon.
Track wheels are built to be stiffer and withstand more torque than road wheels. So, high-flange hubs, stiffer rims, and beefier spokes are common. But given the quality of most standard road wheels these days, the differences in strength and stiffness between track and road wheels perhaps aren’t as great as they used to be. In fact, if you could get rid of the quick release on a front road wheel, you could probably use it on your track bike without a problem.
Why can’t you have a quick release on the front wheel of your track bike? In the “old days”, quick releases were straight and were liable to poke riders in the event of a crash. So they weren’t favored for track racing, since a quick wheel change at the side of the road was never necessary. That convention stuck.
Perhaps more to the point, you really can’t have a quick release on the rear wheel, so why bother having one on the front? You’ll need a wrench either way. For the rear wheel, a quick release would likely not hold the dropout solidly enough to prevent the wheel from pulling on a standing start or hard acceleration. So you really do need bolt-on axles on the rear wheel; it’s not just tradition.
Of course, the fact that there are no quick releases on track wheels means that the axles are solid (quick-release axles are, of course, hollow), and solid axles are stronger. Axle strength isn’t the reason track bikes don’t have quick releases, but at least for the rear axle, it’s a nice benefit.
One of the items you won’t find on a road bike is a lock-ring that prevents the rear cog from loosening up as you put back-pressure on the pedals. Given that back-pressure is your only “brake”, it would seem that the lock-ring is pretty important.
And in some cases, it probably is. As one person told me, if you had a problem and caused a crash, and the race official saw that you didn’t have a lock-ring on the rear wheel, you might be in trouble. And it doesn’t hurt to have a lock-ring on there; it just takes a little longer to change the rear cog.
Having said all that, track racers rarely use lock-rings. Once a cog has been tightened onto the rear wheel (a few hard pedal strokes will ensure that), experienced riders seem to figure that it won’t loosen up.
So, if you’re wondering whether to use a lock-ring, use one.
With so few components on a track bike, your toolkit can be pretty lean. Go to Home Depot and get yourself some 15mm box wrenches for the wheels; they are cheap and you can never have too many. You’ll need chain whips, some allen wrenches, perhaps a spoke wrench, and – well, that’s about it. There’s not much to adjust.
One note on chain whips is that most chain whips these days are designed for pretty narrow cog teeth – and they won’t work at all with 1/8” cogs. They’ll just slide right off. Either get a track-specific chain whip, or you can make your own by taking the chain off a stock chain whip and installing a length of 1/8” chain to replace it.