Yes, track bikes can be ridden on concrete pavement. When properly equipped with tires and brakes suitable for the surface, track bikes can be safely ridden on paved roads and other surfaces.
Track bikes, also known as fixed gear bikes, are designed for riding around velodromes or racing tracks. Their lack of freewheel and brakes make them uniquely suited for circles. However, more and more people are choosing to ride track bikes on the streets. But is concrete pavement an appropriate surface for fixed gear cycling?
- Riding a track bike on concrete is possible with some adjustments to gearing and components. Lower gear ratios are better for traction.
- Road tires provide more grip and cushioning than track tires when riding on pavement.
- Brakes are highly recommended for improved stopping power and safety. Front and rear brakes are ideal.
- Proper bike fit and handling skills are crucial for control. Take time to get comfortable before riding in traffic.
- Rougher pavement and extended distances will require modifications for comfort. Wider tires, shock-absorbing seat posts and carbon forks can help smooth the ride.
- Gear accordingly for the ride. Spinning at high cadences is more efficient than mashing big gears. Aim for 70-100 RPM.
- Concrete’s unforgiving nature demands vigilance. Scan for cracks, debris, and slippery conditions.
- Stay alert in traffic and use hand signals when turning or stopping since you lack maneuverability.
Why Ride Fixed Gear on Concrete Instead of the Track?
Track bikes were designed for wooden velodrome tracks. The smoother, banked oval surface allows reaching and sustaining much higher speeds than possible on the open road. So why would someone choose to ride fixed on harsh concrete instead?
- Training: Getting in miles on concrete translates well to oval track riding performance. It builds endurance and proper pedaling technique.
- Convenience: Tracks may not be readily accessible, so roads provide space to ride anytime.
- Versatility: With some gearing adjustments, a track bike can be suitable for commuting, exercise and fun beyond the velodrome walls.
- Thrill: Some riders enjoy the excitement and increased focus required by riding brakeless fixed gear on city streets.
- Style: The sleek aesthetics of track bikes lend themselves to urban environments.
While certainly possible, riding fixed on concrete demands adaptations for control, traction and comfort.
Key Components to Address for Riding Fixed Gear on Concrete
Track bikes right out of the velodrome will likely require some modifications to transition safely to pavement riding. These key areas need to be adjusted:
A lower gear ratio is advisable for riding on concrete. Velodromes allow reaching and maintaining very high cadences that would be inefficient on flat roads or hills.
Track cog sizes typically range from 14-16 teeth. For the street, 18-20 teeth provide a better gear ratio. This allows enough leverage for starting and climbing without excessive mashing.
For skid stops, 65 gear inches (700c wheel with 48×16 gearing) is ideal. Go lower for very hilly areas. Gear inches = wheel diameter x cog teeth / chainring teeth.
The tires make the biggest difference for traction and shock absorption on rigid concrete. Quality road tires are recommended over track tires.
Look for puncture resistance, grip and a slightly wider width (~25-28c) to smooth the ride. Durable tires like Gatorskins prevent flats. Compounds designed for wet weather provide needed traction.
Drop the PSI a bit from velodrome pressures for more tire padding. Inflate to the manufacturer’s rating, typically 100-125 psi.
Braking is severely limited without a rear brake on a fixed gear bike. Installing a quality front brake provides vital stopping power and control on variable outdoor terrain.
The front brake handles about 70% of stopping force. Large disc brakes or dual-pivot caliper brakes work best. Ensure the brake can handle heat buildup on long descents.
For maximum safety, add a rear brake as well. Having just a front brake takes practice to avoid flipping. Two brakes are recommended for beginners.
Pedals and Straps
Proper pedals help transmit power efficiently. Clipless pedals allow pulling up as well as pushing down with each stroke. Avoid cheap plastic platforms which can bend under pressure.
Retain the toe straps and practice getting in and out for emergency stops. Skipping toe straps can lead to losing control.
Dialing in the proper bike fit helps handling and power transfer. Track bikes tend to have a more aggressive fit than road bikes. Ensure your position supports pedaling forcefully all day without strain.
Ideal saddle height allows a slight bend at the knee at 6 o’clock. Reach should allow a flat back without overstretching. Narrower drop bars or pursuit bars provide needed control.
Practice fixed gear handling before riding in traffic. Learn to start and stop smoothly, take corners with precision and maneuver around obstacles. Find an empty parking lot to master skid stops.
Focus on keeping movements fluid and pedals spinning. Coasting is not an option so pedal strokes must remain steady, even when stopped. Front brakes require extra care to avoid going over the bars.
Riding Techniques for Fixed Gear on Concrete
Once your gear is optimized for the street, focus on adapting your riding style for the unique demands of concrete. Spinning in lower gears, staying relaxed and hyper-awareness of surface conditions go a long way towards smooth, enjoyable rides.
Spin in Lower Gears
Due to concrete’s unforgiving nature, mashing big gears is jarring on both body and bike. Spinnning in a cadence of 70-100 rpm makes for an efficient pedal stroke. The Pro Peloton averages 85-95 rpm.
Lower gear ratios around 65 gear inches allow maintaining this ideal cadence on flats and hills without excessive knee strain. Let the legs turn over fast and steady.
Light Grip, Soft Elbows
Avoid a death grip on the handlebars. White-knuckled riding transmits road vibration straight to your body. Keep a flexible grip to absorb shock. Allow the arms to act as shock absorbers.
Let the legs power the pedals while floating lightly on the saddle and bars. Remaining supple protects against concrete harshness.
Focus on pedaling in perfect circles to maintain momentum. Any dead spots or choppiness in your stroke requires extra effort to overcome.
Practice proper pedaling by riding one-legged drills. It quickly highlights any weaknesses to address.
Scan the Surface
Vigilantly scanning for pavement problems is a must. Look ahead for cracks, potholes, debris, gravel, seams or anything that could catch a tire or cause slippage. Approach slowly and steer around obstacles.
Wet or freshly paved concrete becomes slick. Metal features like manhole covers, rails and drainage grates also reduce traction when wet. Reduce speed in doubtful conditions.
Relax Over Bumps
Letting the bike move beneath you smooths out the ride and reduces jolts to your body. Stay off the saddle and keep legs and arms loose to absorb bumps and vibrations through the frame. Maintaining momentum is key.
Slowing down tenses the body and causes harder impacts with the road. Lightly rolling over imperfections maintains steady forward motion.
Modifications for Comfort and Handling
Long days in the saddle and potholed city streets demand additional considerations for comfort and control. Here are some key upgrades to improve the ride quality:
- Wider Tires (28-32c): More volume smoothes out imperfections and expands options for lower PSI. Puncture protection is also improved.
- Carbon Fork: The natural shock absorption properties of carbon tames vibrations far better than unforgiving steel or aluminum. Consider a quality carbon track fork.
- Seatpost Suspension: A few centimeters of suspension travel in the seatpost does wonders to smooth the impacts transmitted through saddles. Look for quality springs with adjustable preload.
- Handlebar Tape: Generous cushy tape reduces road vibrations that reach your hands. New bar tape also improves grip.
- Cycling Gloves: Padded cycling gloves add comfort by damping vibration and improving leverage on the bars. Fingerless options prevent overheating.
With some thoughtful upgrades, a stiff track bike frameset can be adapted to endure endless pavement miles while retaining its lively feel.
Fixed Gear Riding Tips on Concrete
- Lower gear ratios around 65 gear inches provide ideal leverage for spinning at 85-95 rpm cadence.
- Quality tires with puncture protection and grip handle slippery conditions. Inflate to manufacturer’s rating, typically 100-125 psi.
- Install a front brake at minimum for vital stopping power and control. Add a rear brake as well for beginners.
- Pedal in smooth circles and shift weight back to avoid going over the handlebars under hard braking.
- Scan for cracks, potholes, debris, seams or anything that could catch a tire or lead to slippage.
- A relaxed grip with bent elbows acts as shock absorbers over bumps. Stay off the saddle when possible.
- Let bumps rock the bike underneath you while maintaining steady momentum and spinning legs.
- Sitting upright helps absorb more shock than an aggressive low stance. Consider pursuits bars for comfort.
- Carbon seat posts, forks and wider 28-32c tires improve comfort over long distances.
- Gear low enough to spin 90+ rpm cadence on flats and hills without excessive strain.
Safety Precautions for Fixed Gear
The risk associated with brakeless fixed gear leads many localities to outlaw the practice. If choosing to ride this way, extreme care and slow speeds are essential. Still, brakes are highly recommended for road use. Other key safety notes:
- Only ride brakeless fixed with extensive experience controlling skid stops at slow speeds. Do not attempt without mastery.
- Tell riding partners you do not have brakes. Ride solo to prevent accidents caused by others’ stopping expectations.
- Never ride brakeless at night or in wet conditions. Severely hazardous.
- Avoid high-traffic areas and steep downhills. Slow speed is critical at all times.
- Use bright, flashing lights. Rig up a backpedal rear brake for extra stopping power if skilled.
- A front brake adds a level of control that helps avoid accidents even at slow speeds. Strongly advised.
- Tell pedestrians and cars you have no brakes. Yell “No Brakes!” if approaching an intersection without full control.
Maintaining Your Fixed Gear Bike
Riding on abrasive concrete subjects your track bike components to more wear and tear than velodrome use. Dirt and water amplify the effects. Stay on top of maintenance for smooth rolling and safety:
- Keep the chain clean and lubed: Concrete dust and road grime quickly deteriorate chain links leading to premature stretching. Regular cleaning and re-lubrication prevents this.
- Check tire pressure frequently: Low pressure results in sluggish acceleration, cornering woes, flats and impact blows through the rim. Inflate to recommended PSI before every ride.
- Inspect bolts often: Vibration can loosen critical nuts and bolts surprisingly fast. Check stem, crank and wheel hardware every few rides and tighten if needed.
- Clean and repack bearings yearly: Water and contaminants penetrate bearings ruining their smooth spin. Regrease hubs, bottom bracket and headset yearly extending their life.
- Check spoke tension monthly: Concrete’s roughness eventually loosen spoke nipples. Test spoke tension monthly and turn nipples 1⁄4 turn as needed to keep true wheels.
- Replace brake pads before they wear out: Concrete wears pads quickly. Swap in fresh pads once nearing the cut lines to maintain braking power.
With close monitoring and timely upkeep, a fixed gear bike’s parts stay in top shape for the demands of concrete riding.
Best Surfaces for Riding Fixed Gear
While concrete is rideable with care, there are better options offering a smoother, more enjoyable fixed gear cycling experience. Seek out these surfaces when possible:
- Velodromes – Best suited for high speeds with their polished timber banking and uninterrupted oval laps. Find local tracks and get experienced supervision.
- Closed Circuit Race Courses – Any looped smooth asphalt racing circuit mimics velodromes well. Airport tarmacs also work nicely. Look for autocross and cycling race venues.
- Rail Trails – Converted railways make ideal surfaces. Fine crushed gravel folds and grades mimic tracks. Search for rail trails in your region and use bike-friendly trail maps to find them. Look into Rails to Trails Conservancy network.
- Bike Paths – City bike paths offer miles of smooth pavement away from traffic. Riverside and greenbelt paths are prime fixed gear territory. Try park loops and lanes in low pedestrian hours.
Surfaces with minimal breaks, debris and variables allow a fixed gear bike to truly achieve an efficient rhythmic ride quality uninterrupted by external factors. Seek them out regularly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you ride a fixed gear bike on the road without brakes?
It is possible but extremely dangerous and illegal in many regions. Brakeless fixed gear provides very limited stopping power. At minimum, equip the bike with a front brake. Rear brake also recommended for road use, especially for beginners.
Do fixes gears damage concrete or asphalt?
No, fixed gears do not harm pavement any more than other bikes when ridden responsibly. Skidding can leave temporary tire marks on the surface but does not damage the pavement. Performing wheelies, stoppies or other tricks may scuff surfaces.
What gear ratio is best for riding fixed on hills?
For moderately hilly urban areas, aim for a gear ratio around 60 gear inches (700c wheel with 46×16 gearing). This allows maintaining momentum while limiting excessive mashing on climbs. Further lower gearing to 50 inches or below opens up very steep grades.
Can you ride fixed gear in the winter?
Yes, fixed gears can be suitable for winter with some preparation. Switch to wider tires (~35c) for traction and studded tires for ice. Fenders prevent spray. Bar mitts or pogies keep hands warm. Take extra care on slippery surfaces. Slow and smooth is key.
Does a fixed gear need suspension?
Suspension is not necessary but can add comfort. Many urban fixed riders value the rigid responsiveness. For long distances or rougher conditions, a suspension seatpost or carbon fork offers some shock absorption while retaining quick power transfer.
While track bikes were designed for riding velodromes, they can be modified to work well on concrete pavement too. With thoughtful gearing choices, quality tires, proper brakes and bike handling skills, fixed gears provide an efficient, responsive and thrilling way to ride city streets. Pay close attention to surface conditions, spin smooth circles and make incremental upgrades to tailor your fixed gear bike for the unique demands of concrete. Stay safe by controlling speed and using brakes responsibly. Embrace open roads while occasionally returning to the velodrome to experience the true thrill of a fixed gear bike at speed.