Track Bikes and Fixed Gears
Life Cycle stocks a variety of fixed gear parts from entry level all the way to Dura Ace. Working with Euro Asia Imports (EAI) – one of the best distributors for track parts in the business – the Life Cycle team can help with any fixed gear/track needs. From converting old road frames to helping build up the new track frame of your dreams, we can help you build a bike that will fit your needs while working around your budget. The bike pictured below we feel really shows how creative you can get.
An intresting fact you may not realize is that all track bikes are fixed gears, but not all fixed gears are track bikes. How is this so? A fixed gear refers to the drivetrain, where the rear cog is threaded directly onto the hub and permits both forward and backward pedaling without the ability to coast.
Track bikes have traditionally been fixed gear since the onset of track racing as a sport, and have remained so for over a hundred years. Typically, track bikes have steeper, tighter geometry, lending to their stiffness, responsiveness, quick handling and easy acceleration.
On the other hand, any style of bike can be converted into a fixed gear – mountain, cross, road, etc. People just getting into fixed gears tend to convert old road bikes because they can be found for cheap and the horizontal dropouts make converting a breeze – however, it is not necessary to have an old-style road frame to build a fixed gear bike – using a “magic gear” or eccentric hub opens up the possibility of using any frame – new or old – as a fixed gear canidate.
Over 100 years old, track racing is considered by some to be the purest form of bike racing because bikes are restricted to being solely fixed gear with no possiblity of shifting up or down, and one must rely solely on leg speed, strength and tactics. Races take place on an oval, banked track known as a “velodrome”, with different events ranging from all-out sprinting (match sprints, kilos, keirin, etc.) to endurance events more akin to a road criterium (long points and scratch races).
The nearest velodrome to Eugene is Alpenose, just outside downtown Portland in SW. It features 43 degree banked walls – some of the steepest in North America, and measures 284m long. Pros from around the country have been known to remark about how Alpenrose is paradoxically one of the hardest and most fun velodromes to ride.
A summary of track events:
The Match Sprint – a one-on-one race in which two racers sprint eachother over the distance of 1km. This is the most purely sprint-oriented event in cycling – typically, racers will attempt to put the other racer in front of them as to gain the element of surprise, and the actual sprint usually starts within the last 200m. Elite track racers are able to go above speeds of 40mph and push more than 2,000 watts in a sprint.
Kilo – a time trial event in which riders sprint for 1km (0.62 miles). This sounds much easier on paper than it is to ride, and a typical human being will start to fade out after 2/3 of the sprint. It is almost universally agreed upon as the hardest event in track, if not the hardest event in cycling period, and it’s not unheard of for a rider to throw up afterwards.
Keirin – a Japanese event that has found popularity around the rest of the world. Riders are paced out by a motor-pacer up front and not permitted to pass him until he leaves the track. This typically happens with 2 laps to go. Before that, riders jockey for the best position to lead out a sprint. After the pacer pulls off track, it’s every man (and woman) for him- or herself, and the keirin is known as one of the most aggresive, dangerous events on the track, with elbows flying and riders closely brushing each other as they sprint past for the finish.
Points Race – takes place for a set number of laps (anywhere from 20-150) and involves a sprint lap every 5 laps in which riders score points depending on what place they are in at the end of the lap. Typically points are awarded for the first 5 racers (1st place gets 5 points, 2nd gets 4, etc.) with the last lap of the race being double points.
Scratch race – a standard, start-to-finish track race. 20-75 laps typically. At Alpenrose, the shortest scratch race is the Alpenrose Mile – a fast event from the get-go where racers have 6 laps to finish.
Miss-and-out – after every lap, the last rider on the track must exit the track until one is left. The last person racing is the winner.
Unknown distance – the announcer rolls a pair of 6-sided dice and the race can be from 2-12 laps. The riders have no idea how long the race will be until the bell is rung, signifying one lap to go until finish. This race is very suspenseful and tactics are crucial for victory.
Life Cycle has one of the only teams in Eugene with racers doing track.
Track Bikes on the Street
As the first modern-style bicycle, fixed gears have been in use for over 100 years. In fact, the first Tour de France was raced exclusively with them. However, with the advent of freewheels and derailleurs, the fixed drivetrain fell out of vogue in favor of newer technology. While the fixed gear bicycle was still around, the people riding them for recreation became fewer and fewer. However, on the track, the fixed gear bicycle never went out of style, and has been the only bike considered suitable for track racing for over 100 years.
Starting sometime around the 1970’s, bike couriers in New York City began taking track bikes out of the velodromes and into the street, a movement that has snowballed exponentially since. The reasoning for riding track bikes on the street is simple – they are typically light weight, easy to accelerate and fast-handling due to the steep geometry. On top of that, they have less moving parts to maintain, and look less attractive to the average bike thief. However, the actual experience of riding one arguably trumps all of these other reasons, as any convert could tell you.
Alleycats and Street Races
Starting sometime around the late 80’s/early 90’s, bike messengers begun holding alleycats – informal, unsanctioned street races through open traffic from checkpoint to checkpoint to determine who was the fastest. While the track bike has been the traditional bike-of-choice, most alleycats do not restrict what style of bike can be used. Alleycats typically happen around holidays like Halloween in major metropolitans. Racing one is unlike any other style of bike racing – one must rely on their routing, knowledge of the city layout and traffic skill as well as fitness and speed.
Fixed Gears for Road Training
Traditionally, fixed gear bikes have been the weapon-of-choice of pro European road racers to train on in the off-season. Utilizing a smaller gear than one would typically run in the city or on the track, road racers have long known of the benefits a fixed gear drivetrain can have on one’s cadence and pedal efficiency. By being forced to spin RPMs of 120 or above for long periods of time, racers typically find themselves faster and more efficient on the road bike come spring time. However, a fixed gear isn’t only limited to helping one learn to spin higher RPM’s – by using a regular gear of ~70″, one can effectively get more of a workout doing the same mileage, as you are never permitted to stop pedaling and rest. In turn, learning to ride a road bike in a similar fashion and resisting the urge to coast promotes better recovery from the lactic acid burn everyone inevitably experiences.