Do Track Bikes Have Brakes? A Detailed Overview for Cyclists

Track bikes, also known as fixed-gear bikes or fixies, are uniquely designed for racing on velodrome tracks. With their aerodynamic lightweight frames and lack of brakes, track bikes are optimized for speed and handling. But do they have any brakes at all?

What Are Track Bikes? Key Design Features

Track bikes have some distinct differences from standard road bicycles:

  • Fixed rear cog, no freewheel: The rear cog is threaded directly onto the hub, so the pedals and rear wheel turn together in unison. There is no ability to coast.
  • Narrow handlebars: Track bikes have narrow, low profile handlebars allowing the rider to assume an aerodynamic position.
  • Single speed: Track bikes have just one fixed gear ratio. There are no derailleurs, shifters or multiple gears.
  • Lightweight tires: Track tires are narrow and inflated to very high pressures, usually over 100 psi, to minimize rolling resistance.
  • Track-specific geometry: The frames have a steep seat tube angle of around 75° and a short wheelbase to facilitate quick, nimble handling for tight turns on a velodrome.
  • No brakes: Most track bikes lack any type of brakes as they are not permitted in professional track cycling competitions. Riders slow down by resisting the momentum of the fixed pedals.

Are Brakes Necessary for Track Cycling?

Brakes are not essential components on track bikes because of how they are designed to be ridden on a velodrome:

  • The steeply banked oval shape of the track allows riding safely at speed by utilizing the angled surface for support, as well as relying on momentum to carry through the curves smoothly.
  • The track surface is precisely engineered to provide consistent grip and traction, enhancing stability and control compared to unpredictable road conditions.
  • In the controlled environment of the velodrome, riders can gradually shed speed by easing their resistance on the pedals rather than suddenly braking.

So in summary, dedicated brake systems are not necessary for track bikes due to the controlled conditions and alternative speed control mechanisms. However, track bikes used on public roads are still recommended to have a front brake installed for safety reasons.

UCI Rules: Can Track Bikes Have Brakes?

According to the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the international governing body for the sport, track bicycles used in elite UCI-sanctioned competitions must adhere to strict specifications regarding brakes:

  • No brakes permitted: Track bikes must have no brakes or retention devices of any kind that can alter wheel momentum.
  • Two wheels only: Only a single seat and two wheels are allowed. No additional small stabilizer wheels are permitted.
  • Fixed rear, free front wheel: The rear wheel must spin fixed in unison with the crankset and pedals. The front wheel can rotate freely.

These regulations enable track bikes to achieve maximum speed and handling performance without disruption. Brakes or retention mechanisms would add unnecessary weight.

For some amateur, youth or entry-level track cycling meets, the use of a single front brake may be allowed at the discretion of event organizers. But professional track cycling adheres to the traditional brakeless design principles as mandated by the international UCI guidelines.

Benefits of Riding Without Brakes on the Track

There are several key advantages to riding a brakeless fixed gear track bike on a velodrome racing circuit:

  • Improved aerodynamics: Removing brakes enhances the smooth airflow over the wheels and frame to achieve higher top speeds.
  • Lower overall weight: Eliminating the extra weight of brakes, brake cables, and levers results in a lighter, more responsive bike.
  • Leg muscle development: Having no brakes means track cyclists must rely heavily on their leg power and strength to slow the bike’s momentum by resisting the pedals. This builds tremendous leg endurance.
  • Consistent speeds in packs: When riding closely in tight packs, sudden braking can easily cause crashes and pile-ups. Having no brakes maintains steady, predictable speeds through the curves.
  • Speed control via banking: On a steeply banked velodrome, moving up and down the track surface provides the necessary speed control rather than traditional brakes.

Remnants of Brake Mounts on Some Track Bikes

While UCI rules mandate brakeless bicycles for elite track racing, some track bikes may have vestigial brake mount points or holes on the fork and frame leftover from the manufacturing process.

These non-functioning mounts are plugged up and sealed. So you may see covered up areas where brakes would normally be mounted on a street bike, even though the track bike does not have actual installed brakes.

Variable Rules on Brakes at Different Velodromes

Velodromes that host UCI-sanctioned professional track cycling events are required to mandate brakeless track bikes as per international regulations. But other recreational or training velodromes may have more relaxed standards:

  • Outdoor velodromes catering to amateur riders may allow the use of single front brakes for added stability, especially for beginners learning how to ride fixed gear without brakes.
  • Indoor velodromes with very steep banking designs ideal for high speeds will usually enforce brakeless bikes during competitions and events.
  • Beginner velodromes designed for novices and kids first learning track skills may permit front brakes to boost confidence.
  • Training velodromes for recreational fitness riding will often see participants opting to use street-legal fixed gear bikes with brakes for casual practice.

So the strictness of brakeless riding rules can vary depending on the context, riders, and velodrome management. But elite UCI-level track cycling will always mandate removing brakes.

Converting a Track Bike by Adding Brakes

While track bikes are designed to be ridden brakeless, it is possible to add brakes with some modifications:

  • Brake mount holes must be drilled into the fork to hold calipers.
  • Brake levers need to be installed onto the handlebars and cables run through the frame.
  • Only a front brake can be added due to the fixed rear cog.

Doing this alters the bike considerably from its intended track geometry. But it can provide front-wheel braking ability for increased safety when riding a track bike on unpredictable public roads.

Alternative Braking Methods Used by Some Track Cyclists

While lack of brakes is standard, some alternative braking methods may be employed by track cyclists seeking enhanced speed control:

  • Air brakes: Small panels attached to the handlebars or forks that can be turned to catch the wind and create drag, slowing the bike.
  • Magnetic brakes: Activating magnets on the fork ends that resist the metal wheel rims and slow momentum.
  • Air-cushioned tubular tires: Track tubulars that compress to absorb speed when needed.

However, the UCI prohibits any retention device that alters wheel momentum or speed, so these methods are often banned from sanctioned competition. Track cyclists mainly rely on proper banking techniques and modulating pedal resistance to control speed for safe riding.

Is a Brakeless Track Bike Safe for Road Use?

Riding a brakeless fixed gear track bike designed for the velodrome on public roads is not recommended and could be very unsafe. Road conditions pose many potential hazards including:

  • Cars, pedestrians, and animals requiring sudden emergency stops.
  • Blind corners, curves and reduced visibility.
  • Potential for wet, slippery roads with decreased tire grip.
  • Steep downhills where momentum can quickly build up speed.

Without brakes, gradually resisting the pedal spinning is the only method to slow down or stop. This has a far longer stopping distance compared to caliper brakes.

To safely ride a track bike on ordinary roads, it is advisable to add at least a front brake for stopping ability. Otherwise, choose a street-legal fixed gear bike that comes equipped with brakes.

Legal Status of Brakeless Track Bikes on Streets

Most countries prohibit riding track bikes without brakes on public roads, as they fail to meet basic safety requirements. For example:

  • USA: State laws require at least one brake on all bikes ridden on roads.
  • UK: Front and rear brakes are compulsory for road legality.
  • Australia: Mandates at least one effective brake plus a fixed cog retention device.

Fines and penalties may apply for riding an illegal brakeless bicycle on public roads and streets. Be sure to check local municipal laws before taking a track bike onto roads.

Riding a Track Bike Safely on the Road

If you do plan to ride a track bike on streets, keep these precautions in mind:

  • Add a front brake for reliable stopping ability.
  • Use foot retention such as straps or clipless pedals to keep feet firmly on the pedals at all times.
  • Stick to quiet residential roads with little traffic. Avoid busy high-speed roads.
  • Practice controlling speed by modulating your resistance on the pedals.
  • Allow for extra stopping distance when approaching intersections.
  • Stay alert and watch for cars pulling out in front or making turns across your path.
  • Never ride hands-free or recklessly weave through traffic.
  • Follow all the standard rules of the road just as you would on any bike.
  • Always wear a helmet for injury prevention in case an accident occurs.

Key Takeaways: Do Track Bikes Have Brakes?

  • Track bikes used in elite velodrome competitions must be brakeless as per UCI regulations.
  • Riding without brakes maximizes speed, aerodynamics and handling performance on the controlled track surface.
  • Some beginner-level velodromes may allow front brakes for added safety and stability.
  • Don’t ride a brakeless track bike on busy public roads. Add a front brake or use a street-legal fixed gear bike.
  • Most jurisdictions require at least one brake on bikes ridden on roads for legal safety compliance.

In summary, track bikes are designed to have no brakes for racing in a velodrome setting. But brakes should be added when riding track bikes on unpredictable roads with hazards that require urgent stops.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you install brakes on a track bike?

Yes, it is possible to add a front brake to a track bike by installing fork mounts, brake levers, and cables. But significant modifications are needed to alter the bike from its original track geometry. The rear wheel remains fixed.

Do all track cyclists ride without brakes?

Elite professional track cyclists are required to ride brakeless bikes to comply with international UCI rules. But amateur and recreational riders may opt to have a front brake installed on their track bikes.

Is a brakeless fixed gear bike legal for street use?

In most jurisdictions, at least one brake is required for a bike to be street legal, so a brakeless fixed gear would often be illegal on public roads. Always check your local municipal laws before riding without brakes.

Why are brakes banned for track racing?

Brakes are unnecessary for controlling speed on a steeply banked velodrome’s oval track surface. Removing brakes also enables maximum speed, performance, and aerodynamics which are essential for competitive track cycling events.

Should you add brakes to use a track bike on roads?

Yes, it is advisable to add at least a front brake to make a track bike safer if you plan to ride it on public roads. The unpredictable hazards of ordinary traffic require emergency stopping ability that brakes provide.

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