Track bike or fixie?

Miscellaneous 38 352

I always enjoy hearing from readers, so I don’t make a habit of picking on any of you for leaving comments that I don’t agree with. In fact, differing opinions make the blog interesting. In this case though, I do feel compelled to take issue with a statement that was recently left in response to an old post:

Anonymous said… Top tube pad or not, riding a track bike on the street is dumb

While I don’t really agree that riding a track bike on the street is dumb, that is not what initially bothered me about the comment. I guess it is just a pet peave of mine, but I get irritated when people refer to any bike with a fixed gear as a track bike. To be fair, maybe the commenter was not referring specifically to the bike in the picture as a track bike (it definitely isn’t one). I think a better statement to convey his or her sentiment would have been “riding a fixed gear without brakes on the road is dumb.” Maybe I am wrong in that assumption though. Maybe he or she meant that bikes specifically made for track racing should never be on the road, with or without brakes, and that road bikes converted to fixies are perfectly OK for road riding, brakeless or not. Who knows? If we are lucky, maybe the anonymous commenter can come forward and clarify the statement.

Since I brought this track bike/fixed gear labeling issue up, I’ll use two of my bikes as examples. Above is my track bike, a mid eighties Pinarello with a short wheelbase and tight geometry. As you can see, the bike has no brakes or braze-ons. The front fork is not drilled for a brake and the round profile fork legs (compared to oval profiles) weren’t really designed to withstand the forces of braking. In the past, I had a different fork on the bike so that I could run a front brake for road riding but I just recently put the original fork back on. As it is configured now, I occasionally take it out on the road, but never really in traffic. Yeah, I can stop it quickly if I need to, but it is so much easier to gently pull a lever than it is to lock up the drivetrain with my legs.

The bike pictured below is a cheap fixed gear road bike that I built up for commuting. The bike has track style fork ends that face the rear, but I still wouldn’t call it a track bike. It was made for riding on the road, which is why I have it set up with brakes front and rear. I think the gearing on this bike is 46-16 compared to 50-15 on the Pinarello. Since velodromes don’t have hills (OK, they are banked, but you get the point), it is fine to have a high gear on a track bike. When I am riding a loaded bike on the rolling hills of my route to work though, it is nice to have an easier gear.

Maybe I am making a big deal out of nothing (it wouldn’t be the first time). Perhaps the whole track vs. fixed gear distinction is just a point of semantics. Despite the tone of this rant, it doesn’t really matter to me if you use the terms interchangeably. Some of you may define the two terms differently than I do anyway. I guess my real point is that riding a track bike or a fixed gear road bike on the road is fine if that is what you really want to do. I have been riding my old Pinarello on the road for nearly 20 years, so I am as big a fixed gear proponent as anyone. Still, I think that it makes no sense to ride a track bike on the road just because it is the trendy thing to do these days. Now that I think about it, that is probably what the anonymous commenter really meant. It is time to wrap this post up, so I will just leave it at this. If you enjoy riding a track bike on the road and you are sure you can do so safely, then great; I say go for it. On the other hand, if you choose to ride a brakeless track bike on the road just because everyone else is doing it, then yeah, I agree that is kind of dumb. There are many different bicycle types out there, so regardless of what you call them, it is always best to ride what works for you.


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38 Comments

  1. inkyfingers March 20, 2008 at 5:27 pm -  Reply

    Hey, thanks for this post! As someone who is fairly new to daily bike riding (been commuting on my 2d hand Cannondale for about 6 months straight now) these types of distinctions between fixed gear and track are important. Especially since I am thinking of getting a fixed gear bike for the commute (with brakes!), and am looking at getting involved on the local velodrome.

    • ewabeach century rider October 24, 2012 at 11:24 pm -  Reply

      I ride in a huge group Of Fixed Gear cyclists, here in Hawaii about 55 riders. We all have pretty much evolved from The ignorance Of brakeless, helmetless, redlight Runners, To… Using front brakes, clipless pedals, helmets, and bartape. Because most Of us experienced riders have crashed hard, living The ”fixie kidd hipster lifestyle”, and we”ve evolved into cyclists, instead Of fixie kids. There still are fixie kids hitting The streets everyday, and some Will Never learn from their mistakes…but i guess thats why we got old toothless dudes begging For scraps and handouts, and who obsess and compliment our bikes, when we Park infront Of 711. Oh well, thats My smieeL… Ride Aloha, drive Aloha! Ewa beach century_Rider.

  2. Nathaniel March 20, 2008 at 5:41 pm -  Reply

    another downside to a purpose built track bike vs. a fixie is that the BB on a track bike is generally lower to the ground than on a road counterpart … not an issue on a track but on the street a pedal strike mid corner can have some painful side effects

  3. James March 20, 2008 at 6:18 pm -  Reply

    Inkyfingers, glad to hear that you started commuting. If you get a fixed gear bike, I I would definitely recommend one with front and rear brakes for the road. That way you have the flexibility to run a singlespeed freewheel as well.

    Good point Nathaniel. I forgot to mention that my track bike has a low bottom bracket and 165mm cranks. My road fixed gear has 172.5’s which are closer to the 175length that I use on my road bikes.

  4. erik k March 20, 2008 at 11:38 pm -  Reply

    Im not ever sure that I can ride any bike safely anywhere, with or with out brakes. I just hope for the best and try to be safe. Ridding to work Im mostly worried about the traffic, oh and nathaniel… I believe you are referring to “s–t ass pedal strike

  5. Ed W March 21, 2008 at 9:51 am -  Reply

    I used to ride a track bike on the street, but given the bike’s stiff, unforgiving ride quality, I never wanted to ride it any great distance. It certainly was fun but the ride quality was punishing. These days I prefer a road conversion because it’s far more comfortable.

  6. C March 21, 2008 at 10:30 am -  Reply

    For me the pinnacle of stupidity is what I see so many messengers here in Seattle doing: fixed gear, no brakes, no bar tape.

    No brakes on a fixie is a true sign you’re a member of the young and dumb crowd. I always ask these twits how they plan to stop and they all give the same smug answer about skid stopping and skill. Then I ask them the question they haven’t contemplated: how do you plan to skid stop if your chain breaks? I’ve seen this happen more than once. Of course that’s because I’ve been riding fixed gear bikes since the mid-80’s – a time when most of these hipster dimwits were nothing more than a condom failure waiting to happen. I ride a fixie and most of the time I skid stop. However, I also have a front brake. I treat it the way a pilot treats a parachute: you don’t plan to use it but you’ll be really happy it’s there should something go wrong.

    The lack of bar tape is also a sign of not having two brain cells to rub together. Here in Seattle we lots of wet weather and it can also get pretty chilly. Bare metal is a great conductor of the cold and very slick when wet. Oh yeah, it makes perfectly good sense to go careening down bumpy roads on cold, slick bars. Brilliant.

    Irony is these people all think of themselves as “individuals” even though they all seem to blindly follow the same fashion trends when it comes to bikes, clothes, tattoos, etc. They’re just as sheep like as the guy who goes out and buys the Madone with matching Disco team outfit.

  7. inkyfingers March 21, 2008 at 10:45 am -  Reply

    To C:

    LOL at the bar tape comments! I’ve seen San Francisco bike messengers doing the same thing and I can’t figure it out. While we don’t get the rain you do up there, we certainly have our fair share of chilly weather (read: fog, which does bring a lot of humidity and condensation with it), bumpy roads, and hills.

    And you’re right: to them it’s all about posing and being cool. Many of them seem to ride with the mentality that if you leave a tattooed, good looking corpse under a car it won’t be so bad.

  8. sumadis March 21, 2008 at 1:24 pm -  Reply

    while we’re railing on things that don’t make sense in the kingdom of fixed:

    top of the list certainly is fixed w/o brakes on the streets. dumb with a side order of stupid.

    toptube pad fashion. no clue here, wouldn’t stem pads make more sense?

    mad-expensive mag-spoked track-specific wheels on the street. says ‘trustafarian’ like nothing else can.

    flat pedals w/o clips on fixed wheel rigs. equals otb ejection-seat action and serious knee problems.

    no tape. ’bout as stupid as the 6″ wide straight bar chop.

    bmx stunts on track bikes. yes I said track. oh wow, barspins and wheelies. when these posers can launch a fufanu to icepick on a pursuit frame with aerospokes and land it clean, then I’ll pay some attention.

    new trend I can’t wait for: brakeless singlespeed freewheel bikes in traffic. culling the herd, one blown traffic signal at a time.

  9. adrian2514 March 21, 2008 at 1:51 pm -  Reply

    Hey just stopping by to get my dose of green info. Always good stuff here! I am trying to compile a list of stuff I can do to reduce my carbon emissions. MTV had a commercial about it, and got me interested. I have been to http://www.earthlab.com and they have a ton of tips but I was mostly impressed by their page where they have their users send in tips: http://www.earthlab.com/life/tips.aspx Does anyone else know of other data bases that I can find these types of small things that lower my emissions? EPA or WWF maybe?

    Thanks for all your info and drop me a link if you guys see anything worth my time.

  10. bikesgonewild March 22, 2008 at 1:56 am -  Reply

    …provocative post, james, w/ some great & truthful responses…
    …now lemme see…
    …soccer mom w/ cell phone plastered to her ear, who’s inattentively driving an overly large suv -VS- a brake-less, fixed gear hipster speeding along in a world of self congratulatory cool…
    …hmmmm…i’m gonna side w/ one but if we’re betting on survival, i’m gonna bet on the other…

  11. Sprocketboy March 24, 2008 at 10:55 am -  Reply

    Great post but at the end of the day if you behave like an idiot on a bicycle it doesn’t matter what kind of bike you ride. Back in the Really Old Days, when people did not have freewheels yet, they still had brakes. As I was taught when learning to fly, safety is the No. 1 issue and everything else is a distant second. One of the joys of cycling is independence and that includes being responsible for your riding. I have never ridden a fixie and have been considering getting something like a Raleigh One-Way, with a flip-flop hub, for local riding.

    Adrian: for information on carbon emissions and how to reduce them, check out http://www.terrapass.com.

  12. James March 24, 2008 at 12:16 pm -  Reply

    I agree with bikesgonewild, great responses everyone.

    C, good point about stopping with a broken chain; I’m glad you mentioned that. Your comments about unwrapped bars are funny but they are also right on. I really don’t understand the appeal of bare metal bars, but I guess some people will do anything to look cool.

    I would love to hear from someone who rides with untaped bars and can explain to me why they do so. Can anyone fill me in, because that is a trend that I really just don’t get?

  13. David March 24, 2008 at 1:32 pm -  Reply

    How about this: A track bike is a a bike that is primarily ridden on a track.

    Any other bike that has a fixed gear, regardless of its geometry, should be referred to as a fixed gear.

    Oh wait, I didn’t finish reading the post. Maybe you’ve already figured this out…

  14. sumadis March 24, 2008 at 1:36 pm -  Reply

    unwrapped handlebars are:

    - more aero.
    - easier to swap out with other bars.
    - cool to the touch.
    - for lovers of chrome.
    - reducing the environmental impact of harvesting cork for bar tape.
    - an added challenge when wet weather riding – and who doesn’t like a challenge?
    - saves $. 2 rolls of bar tape = 1 sixpack of imports at the bodega or a martini at a bar in the LES.
    - and last but most important: running bars with no tape is hot because someone else did it first and they seem to be cool so hey, let’s all do it.

  15. bikesgonewild March 24, 2008 at 1:39 pm -  Reply

    …appearance wise, riding handlebars w/ out tape is like wearing a suit, tie & wingtip shoes…w/ no socks…

    …no brakes & no bar tape while regularly riding in wet conditions…hmmm, not so much a fashion statement as an evolutionary step perhaps…

    …but i guess i should remain open minded until someone weighs in & ‘tries’ to justify it…

  16. bikesgonewild March 24, 2008 at 1:47 pm -  Reply

    …thank you, sumadis…i guess we were posting at the same time…

    …your list of ‘salient points’ were a good chuckle, although we both know there are hipsters trying to memorize them right now for future justification…

  17. Anonymous March 25, 2008 at 1:15 pm -  Reply

    James, you might consider changing terms (again) to “fixed wheel” rather than “fixed gear”. I tend to agree with the English (for once!), that “fixed gear” implies that you can’t change gears, which would mean any single speed.

    If you need an example, maybe consider the fact that it’s possible to build a bike with a fixed wheel that can change gears. Such a bike would have a fixed wheel, because it doesn’t allow you to coast, but not a fixed gear, because it allows you to shift.

    Also, the line between “fixie” and “track bike” is more blurry than you think- geometry isn’t a deciding factor, because there are plenty of bikes designed for the track that have more road-ish geometry, and vice versa.

    Precision in bike language is hard, I think, because of the years and years of marketing and hype that the bike industry has. Finding words that are correct is pretty hard these days.

  18. Handy April 17, 2008 at 5:37 pm -  Reply

    Hey, I’m not going to defend the no tape thing but I do it. However, mine has nothing to do with seeing anyone else do it (I haven’t really) and actually my other bikes have tape but my beater is tapeless.

    Why you ask?

    Well, I always wear gloves with nubs on them so my grip is just fine and the bike is a 60’s era bike that’s all white and chrome and the flash on the handlebars is pretty flashy, and this bike is pretty much just a flashy bike. Nothing special, nothing expensive, just good for an occasion ride through town on a nice day.

    If it were raining… probably not a good choice though the gloves are fine. If it was my only bike… definitely not a great choice, but as just one of the fleet, it’s fine for me.

  19. michael May 10, 2008 at 12:49 pm -  Reply

    great post. i’m running front and back brakes on my fixie. this may exclude me from the hipster elite, but i’m okay with that.

  20. Anonymous May 14, 2008 at 1:57 am -  Reply

    some serious haters up in here.. lol
    I don’t ride one, but don’t have no problem with them either.. let them do what they wanna do, and don’t hate.

  21. Anonymous May 27, 2008 at 1:45 pm -  Reply

    I am replying to “C’s” question about how one would skid stop a brakeless fixed gear if the chain breaks. its easy.

    -take one foot out of clip or pedal
    -put foot on top of wheel, wedged on the seat stay
    -lift ass off of seat and apply pressure

    its as if your standing up on your rear wheel. its extremly easy and effective.

  22. Anonymous June 10, 2008 at 12:09 am -  Reply

    Loads of people ride BMX bikes brakeless, and they either have to jump of and look like an idiot or jam their foot into the back wheel.
    It’s one thing with tiny BMX bikes going 10 MPH where the rear wheel is about 8 inches away from the pedal, but on a full sized bike, it’s just not that easy.
    Plus, I can imagine skid stopping all the time would wear out ones knees incredibly fast. Y’all who ride BMX know how frustrating it is to always be nursing an injury.

  23. Anonymous July 8, 2008 at 8:36 am -  Reply

    welcome back 80’s!!!!! Cut you tight jeans up, and have you little kid sister cut your hair!

    Just be considerate of others, and wear deoderant

    thanks

  24. gabe.tippery July 25, 2008 at 12:08 am -  Reply

    I ride a fixie with just a front break as that is where 80% of your stopping power is anyway when using breaks. I have to agree with most of you about the self-destructive aspects of riding any fixed-wheel in traffic while lacking breaks, bar-tape, and toe-clips/clipless pedals.

    I must add to the list though head-phones and helmets. These are not exclusive to fixie riders either. I do not know how many times I have seen cyclist have extremely close calls on both roads and trails because they cant hear what is going on. Thet cant here me politely warn “on your left” as I pass nor can they hear the motor vehicle “warning” them of the mounting road rage.

    On the subject of helmets… I do not care if you think they dont look cool enough or are too warm or any number of the reasons that SO MANY cyclist do not wear them. I can tell you that in the last six years of using a bicycle as my exclusive form of personal transportation (ok I take the bus occasionally) I have been hit three times by motorists. never has it been my fault, one was intentional, and the other two were genuine accidents on thier part. All three resulted in shattered helmets. Only one resulted in a concussion. That is what I have to say about that.

    HELMETS SAVE LIVES and all cyclist should wear them. (dont get me started on the idiots who dont wear helmets on motorcycles.)

  25. Nate August 3, 2008 at 8:09 pm -  Reply

    I’m riding and old 10-speed that I plan to convert to a fixie/free flip-flop based on the ease of maintainence and simplicity of spinning (mostly flat here). I for one will keep the breaks, even upgrade them and I make an effort to always wear a helmet. I used to ride a cruiser with coaster breaks and no grips and bare bars(they kept sliding off) when I was young and dumb until I had a few close calls as the chain slipped and I flew out into traffic with no helmet. Luckily I didn’t have to eat the front of a car to learn my lesson. I think I look a lot cooler riding my bike safely than in a full body cast.

  26. your best friend August 27, 2008 at 11:33 am -  Reply

    sumadis
    I only caught your sarcasm because of your other comment, but if any tapeless bar guy uses one of these arguments, this is what I’ll say

    -more aero… well your average hipster doesn’t go fast enough for it to take effect
    - easier to swap out with other bars……. because new bars are more important than switching out that disgusting schwinn quill you’re running
    - cool to the touch…. for the first five seconds
    - for lovers of chrome…..ok, but if your bike is for looking at why ride it on the dirty street?
    - reducing the environmental impact of harvesting cork for bar tape…..cork isn’t the only thing bar tape is made out of.
    - an added challenge when wet weather riding – and who doesn’t like a challenge?……because riding fast isn’t the kind of challenge you are interested in. it’s fun (and challenging!) to slip off the bars and eat asphalt then ride home.
    - saves $. 2 rolls bar tape = 1 sixpack of imports at the bodega or a martini at a bar in the LES…..sounds good. get pissed, then get on the bike, slip back off, wonder why you don’t have tape
    - and last but most important: running bars with no tape is hot because someone else did it first and they seem to be cool so hey, let’s all do it because riding bikes isn’t about environmentalism or fun, it’s about shiny bars!

    p.s. anyone who actually rides bikes knows tape is valuable. for any ride longer than 5k without tape, the hands suffer. two reasons for this:

    -one, to maintain your grip, you have to grip the bars tighter, which is bad because this causes soreness in your hands, and this is not necessary.

    -two, vibrations from the road are transferred straight to the hands which is painful and can lead to carpal tunnel which, I assume makes it hard to grip tapeless bars.

  27. Anonymous October 28, 2008 at 8:31 pm -  Reply

    I’m only anonymous because I don’t feel like creating an account.. But all this “bitching” and moaning reminds me of the old hags of the 50’s that thought Rock N Roll was the devil’s music….

    attention all bike snobs!!!

    just shut up and ride…

    K? Thanx..

    -Skyy

  28. Anonymous November 20, 2008 at 4:34 pm -  Reply

    Here’s a link to my site which shows a build of a fixie frame and fork. Comments welcome there.
    http://porterbikes.com/
    dave

  29. Anonymous December 16, 2008 at 7:48 pm -  Reply

    umm well first off track frames have a HIGHER bb than road and with 165 cranks its an even lass chance of pedal strike, alot of people prefer track bikes for road due to tighter geometry, less chance of pedal strike on sharp corners, chain break, alot of people who ride track bikes on street know about the bmx stop(foot brought to back tire to slow down), wll more should learn if riding brakeless.no bar tape? who cares do what you want. its your own bike have fun atleast they are not driving a car blind folded for looking cool

  30. Anonymous January 2, 2009 at 4:04 pm -  Reply

    As for the “BMX stop” method of stopping for brake-less fixies, that’s just naïve. You get much more braking power from your front brakes, so even if your chain doesn’t break, you can stop faster if you use your front brake. I know mine has saved my life more than once. I don’t know, maybe the drivers are better in your area, but here they have SUVs and cellphones.

  31. Retro Cycle Sport July 17, 2009 at 3:44 am -  Reply

    Wow, very explosive view points.

    However while valid the debate and it's completely segregated camps achieves little as far as rights of a cyclist goes, here in Sydney Australia, New York, Paris or London.

    The problem with beliefs is like religion, it's held dear until proven wrong. Conjecture only contributes to conflict as a result.

    Love your bike, and let others learn how to ride theirs. If that means a trip to an Emergency Unit looking like a casualty of war then that's fine for them.

    Mwah.

  32. theconstantocean July 17, 2009 at 10:32 pm -  Reply

    while I in no way agree with it, most peoples reasons for riding without bar tape are for swapping out bars faster in stems that don't allow for easy bar removal. This has also lead to the popularity of bmx stems which allow for TAPED bars to easily be swapped out between your riser or drop bars.

  33. Anonymous January 7, 2010 at 2:31 am -  Reply

    I think its funny that some people will hate something that doesn't concern them at all. Why do you care so much that other people do not tape there bars. I can tell you something… I'm not a whiner complaining about how other people don't tape their handlebars

  34. micycle May 25, 2010 at 4:24 am -  Reply

    why do fixie kids feel the need to ride without tape or brakes? why do road bike riders always think they look so good in spandex? i mean c’mon, there’s not really a rhyme or reason to some things in the bike world. i ride with no tape because i love my gloves and tape is just one more expense. and hell, it looks pretty slick! why is it such a big deal if i want my one and only vehicle in this city to look good?

  35. @NONYMOUS December 26, 2010 at 7:08 am -  Reply

    tape or not to tape? Sound like a bunch of apes .. I don’t
    wear boxer or briefs .. does anyone have a problem with that?
    lol

  36. Benengeli August 19, 2013 at 10:56 am -  Reply

    So many haters. Try riding a fixed gear and I guarantee you, all those pent-up anger towards fixies will go away.

    Longboards, skateboards, in-line skates. All pose the same risks. Why single out fixed gears.

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