What Is A Track Bike? The Full Lowdown On Track Bike Tech – Explained By A Pro

Ex-pro track cyclist and UCI World Cup medalist Lydia Gurley walks you through all there is to know about track bikes

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As the name suggests, a track bike is a bicycle designed specifically for use on a velodrome (a dedicated cycling track).

Track racing is among the oldest, most prestigious, and most exciting disciplines not just in cycling, but in any sport. Riders hurtle past at up to 50 mph, wheels millimeters from touching, with elite riders pushing to the absolute limit for victory.

Relative to road bikes or mountain bikes, track bikes are technologically much more similar to their ancestors, with the basic concepts unchanged: track bikes are fixed-gear bikes with just a single gear ratio, no freewheel, and no brakes.

However, there’s much more to track bike design than those headline features. To achieve such incredible feats, the equipment used has advanced vastly, and is at the cutting edge of technological innovation in pursuit of improved aerodynamics and greater speeds.

In my career, I was honored to represent Ireland in track cycling, racing internationally across six years at events such as UCI World Cups, European Championships, and the Tokyo Olympics – so I’ve learned a thing or two about track bike design along the way!

In this article, I want to share the fundamentals of what a track bike is and how they differ from other bikes, as well as sharing more advanced insights into track bike design considerations and the equipment choices of professional track cyclists.

Photo of me racing for Ireland at the 2019/20 Track Cycling World Cup on a track bike.
Racing for Ireland at the 2019/20 Track Cycling World Cup.
© Robyn Elizabeth

What Is A Track Bike?

Track bikes have often been described as the “purest form” of bikes.

Technologically they’re simple, with no brakes, no complex gear-shifting components, and no freehub or freewheel mechanism.

Perhaps the easiest way to define a track bike is to explain what makes them different from a conventional road racing bike.

Track Bike Vs Road Bike: 5 Key Differences

What Is A Track Bike? The Full Lowdown On Track Bike Tech - Explained By A Pro 1What Is A Track Bike? The Full Lowdown On Track Bike Tech - Explained By A Pro 2
Track Bike Vs Road Bike Frameset Comparison.
Credit: Both from Glory Cycles, CC BY 2.0. Edited from the original.

Fixed Wheel

Road bikes have a freehub at the rear wheel (or a freewheel in older bikes), which is what allows you to coast on the bike, continuing to move forward without pedaling.

Track bikes don’t have a freehub, which means the rear wheel cannot spin independently of the pedals. If the bike is moving, then the pedals must be moving too. This is known as a “fixed-gear” or “fixed-wheel” bike.


Unlike road bikes, track bikes do not have brakes.

It sounds counterintuitive, but brakes can actually be more dangerous in track cycling. In a sprinting pack, one rider suddenly braking could bring the whole group crashing down, while the brakes themselves could pose a hazard to a cyclist in the event of a crash.

Because of the fixed rear wheel, you can slow down gradually by applying backward pressure on the pedals. If adapting a track bike to be used on the road (as a “fixie“), it’s essential to drill at least the front fork to fit a front brake as the bare minimum.

My track bike at the European Championships with no brakes or gear shifters.
No brakes or shifters for me to place my hands on my track bike!
© Robyn Elizabeth


You cannot change gears on a track bike.

While road bikes tend to have two or three chainrings at the front and as many as 13 cassette sprockets (or cogs) at the rear to enable you to tackle every incline, track bikes have just one chainring and one rear sprocket, meaning they have just a single available gear ratio.

This isn’t an issue for track bikes as there are no hills to climb in the velodrome (besides the track’s banking), but it does mean that the rider must provide a monstrous amount of torque to accelerate quickly in races that feature a standing start (such as the team pursuit).

Track bike gear ratios tend to be very low (meaning they have a massive chainring paired with a small rear sprocket) to enable riders to hit massive top speeds at the expense of acceleration.

The gear ratio on a track bike can be customized by the rider when they set their bike up by swapping out either the chainring or sprocket.

Track chainrings can be as large as 60 teeth, compared to the 54 teeth that are the largest chainrings available as standard on pro-standard road bike groupsets such as Shimano Dura-Ace.

Interestingly, the typical minimum size for a rear sprocket is 11 teeth, but most track cyclists opt for slightly larger ones (often 14-17 teeth). You could achieve the same gear ratio with a slightly smaller chainring and a smaller sprocket, but big-big combinations at the front and back typically create less drag.

A professional’s track bike might typically use a gear combination of 58×16 (a gear ratio of 3.625), whereas an amateur might opt for something more like 50×16 (a gear ratio of 3.125).

The lack of gear changing contributes massively to the simplicity of a track bike’s design, as there’s no need for shifters, derailleurs, cabling, cassettes, or multiple chainrings.

Geometry & Frame Design

Rear dropout of a track bike frame.
Rear dropout of a track bike frame.
Credit: Glory Cycles, CC BY 2.0. Edited from the original.

The geometry of track bikes has much in common with more aggressive road racing bikes, although there are a few notable differences.

The bottom bracket shell of a track bike tends to be higher, as they are raced on banking of 45° or more, so the frame needs extra clearance to avoid pedal strikes – especially when the bike is set up for taller riders using longer cranks.

In addition, modern track bikes have a longer top tube as the rider aims to be as long as possible, with a flat back and horizontal torso for an aggressive and aerodynamic position.

Track bikes also have a horizontal fork end rather than a vertical dropout where the rear wheel attaches to the frame. This can be one of the easiest ways to visually identify a track bike frameset vs a road bike frameset.

The fork end allows for the fore and aft movement of the back wheel to maintain tension on the chain, as there is no spring-loaded derailleur arm as you would find on a road bike.

Wheels & Tires

My track bike with a disc wheel at the rear and a five-spoke wheel at the front, pictured at the UCI Track World Cup in Cambridge, New Zealand, in 2019.
My track bike with a disc wheel at the rear and a five-spoke wheel at the front, pictured at the UCI Track World Cup in Cambridge, New Zealand, in 2019.
© Robyn Elizabeth

Modern high-end track bikes almost always use a full disc wheel to stay as aero as possible, which is illegal in road cycling (except in time trials).

For timed events, in both sprint and endurance disciplines of track cycling, a rider will also use a full disc wheel in the front. For bunch races such as the keirin, the rider will use a 3,4, or 5-spoke front wheel. This is for safety, as it is easier to maneuver a spoked front wheel than a disc wheel.

In road cycling, there has been a tendency towards wider tires in recent years as the speed and comfort benefits of lower tire pressures (sometimes 50 psi or less) on imperfect road surfaces have become better understood.

28c tires are now relatively common in the professional peloton, and modern road frames often have clearance to allow for tires up to 32c.

This hasn’t been replicated with track bikes. In the controlled, perfectly smooth conditions of the velodrome, thin tires with very high pressures still reign supreme. Track bike tires are typically between 19-23 mm in width, with pressures of up to 150 psi.

Both tubular and clincher tires are common for track bikes.

The Key Design Philosophies and Priorities of Track Bikes

US Chloe Dygert competes in the women's individual pursuit final during the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Apeldoorn on March 3, 2018.
Reducing the front-end profile of the bike is a key principle in track bike design to reduce aerodynamic drag. © Red Bull Content Pool

Everything about a track bike is designed for aerodynamics, speed, and the maximum transfer of energy.

Considering that a top male sprinter can produce over 2,000 Watts of power, and a female over 1500 Watts, stiffness and strength are key. You don’t want flexion at 2000 Watts and 50 mph when gold medals are won and lost by millimeters.

Given that the shortest track race is just 3 laps, and the longest duration is still only around 50 minutes, comfort is a secondary consideration.

A racing track bike still has to comply with the UCI minimum weight of 6.8 kg. However, most track bikes don’t come close to this limit, and can easily weigh up to 9kg. With no hills, weight is a minor consideration compared to aerodynamics.

Although track bike design philosophies and components are conceptually simple, the developments and innovations within the track world have been exponential in the last few years, especially considering where it all started.

How The Track Bike Has Evolved

French cyclist Léon Georget rides an early track bike in 1909.
French cyclist Léon Georget rides an early track bike in 1909.

Track racing has a fascinating and brutal history.

The original Six-Day Race format had its birthplace in the 1870s in the United Kingdom and later events found massive, enthusiastic crowds in Madison Square Garden in New York in the early twentieth century.

Riders would purposely crash into each other to prevent their competitor from gaining a lap. The riders chewed coca leaves for stamina – and to stay awake – for six continuous days of racing.  

Their bicycles were the epitome of simplicity. A lot has changed since those times. 

Track Bikes in The Modern Era

Track bike at the UCI World Championships on an orange background.
Credit: Tim Rademacher, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Edited from the original.

Throughout the decades there has always been advancement with track equipment. It could be argued that the drive, and stimulus, for development was initially initiated with the injection of lottery funding into the Great Britain track squad from 1997 onwards. 

During this era, in contrast with the present, more of the racing events were time-based. Given the high speeds of the racing, aerodynamics and superior equipment made a significant difference relative to their competitors.

This is particularly so in track racing, which is a very controllable, competitive environment, especially in comparison to road racing or other sports. 

It was perceived, and proven to be correct, that with increased funding and more advanced equipment, more medals could be won when combined with an intense focus on training protocols and the now famous “marginal gains” mindset of the organization.

All this was proven effective when the GB team walked away as the dominant force with 14 medals at the Beijing Olympics.

It soon became apparent, to the other competing nations, that if you wanted to compete against the British you had to invest time and money in equipment technology.

Just check out this clip of the 2008 Men’s Team Pursuit gold medal race, in which Team GB almost overtook silver medalists Denmark having started on opposite sides of the track (though having two future Tour de France winners in the team probably didn’t hurt either).

The role of aerodynamics

Aerodynamic drag, the force of air acting to slow a moving body, increases with the square root of speed. For a sport like track racing, where speeds can exceed 50 mph, any aerodynamic advantage is critical.

Significant advancement has been made recently with the advent of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) utilization in frame and equipment design.

This allows the computer to perform calculations that simulate the aerodynamic drag of multiple design iterations at a fraction of the cost. 

Once the design has been finalized using CFD, it can be tested in the wind tunnel. The wind tunnel is used as a testing tool to assess how an object moves through air, mimicking the aerodynamics drag in a real world scenario.

It is used, in part, to confirm the data obtained from the CFD analysis. Previously wind tunnel technology was only used by the aerospace industry or Formula 1, but now it has become very much part of track bike equipment design.  

Case Study: Filippo Ganna’s Hour Record Bike

The custom Pinarello Bolide track bike on which Filippo Ganna broke the hour record.
The custom Pinarello Bolide track bike on which Filippo Ganna broke the hour record.
Credit: Pinarello

The bike ridden by Flippo Ganna during his successful hour record attempt is a prime example of the significance of aerodynamic development in track technology. 

The Pinarello Bolide F HR 2D-C was specially designed for Ganna’s geometry and anatomy. This allowed for additional comfort which, for this one-hour effort, was critical for power generation.

Not only were the bars 3-D printed with titanium, but the frame itself was also 3-D printed, a world first, apparently taking inspiration from the aquadynamic movement of humpback whales (yes, you read that right).

The seat post is responsible for 40% of the total drag of a frame and, in the Bolide, additional ridges were added, at this point, to minimize drag. 

All of this, of course, comes at a cost; the stated cost for the setup Ganna used was €75,000 ($82,000).

Bicycle design within a federation

French cyclist riding a Look T20 track bike at a velodrome.
The Look T20 track bike was developed in tandem with the French cycling federation to meet their requirements.
Credit: Look

Many national cycling federations work exclusively with a particular bike manufacturer to develop the technology for the national team.

For obvious reasons, considering the amount of time and money that goes into this development, the federations would rather not make their technology available to their competitors. 

However, it is a UCI requirement that all the equipment used by the national teams must be available to purchase by an individual or team. This is the theory, but in reality, the bike will be prohibitively expensive for most and potentially take years to order and obtain. 

Therefore, you can get your very own 3D custom Bolide Pinarello full setup with custom Ti bars or the Malaysian WR-X Vorteq track frame for $30,000 or $80,000 for the full Olympic build. It might just take some time to arrive! 

The UCI and the potential equipment arms race

A British cyclist races a German cyclist on track bikes at the UCI World Championships.
Credit: Tim Rademacher, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition, all the equipment that will be used at the Paris 2024 Olympics has to have been previously ridden at a UCI Nations Cup or Worlds Championship, on this occasion the World Championship held in August 2023. 

In the past, a nation could show up at the Olympics, the pinnacle of the sport, with technology that had never been seen or raced previously. 

At the London 2012 Olympics, this was the case where special skinsuits, developed by the Secret Squirrel Club, an organization responsible for the development of the technology used by the GB track, were worn by the GB team. 

They were destroyed after the Olympics so the design could not be copied or replicated by other nations. Therefore the UCI has introduced additional regulation to ensure this can no longer happen.

The danger is that the sport could become a kind of “arms race” where those nations that have the greatest financial resources could potentially dominate.

There is some concern within the sport that this is becoming the case. It’s a difficult, and ongoing, concern because there are opposing forces.

One doesn’t want to stop advancement and astounding gains have been made in recent times. Manufacturers are also naturally driven to produce the fastest, lightest, and most advanced equipment.

How Will Track Bike Design Change In The Future?

What Is A Track Bike? The Full Lowdown On Track Bike Tech - Explained By A Pro 3
The Dolan DF5, designed in collaboration with AeroCoach.
Credit: Dolan

AeroCoach is a company that has played a pivotal role in innovative equipment development and consulted with Dolan to assist in the development of the DF5 carbon frame.

Their director, Dr. Xav Disley, told me: “It’s difficult to say where the next advancements will be made; but, what can be sure is we will not be riding the same bikes in 5 or 10 years as we do today.”

In recent history, the UCI has relaxed some of the regulations associated with frame design, such as the width of the front fork, and this has led to development and advancement in this area. 

This can be seen in the unique design of the track bicycle the GB squad currently uses, the HB.T. This bike was a collaboration between Hope, a UK-based primarily bicycle component developer and producer, Lotus Engineering, and Renshaw, a UK-based engineering firm.

The Hope/Lotus HB.T track bike currently used by Team GB.
The Hope/Lotus HB.T takes advantage of recent regulation changes that permit wider forks and chainstays.
Credit: Hope/Lotus

How Much Does A Track Bike Cost?

Professional Standard Track Bikes Cost

It can be incredibly expensive to purchase the best equipment to complete a track bike.

Below is a breakdown of the cost associated with a professional track bike. This includes examples that are top-end, but “off-the-shelf”. The custom setups developed by manufacturers in tandem with national federations could be several times more expensive.

Track Bike Frame €7,350 [$7,950] (Argon 18 Electron Pro)

 €9,500 [$10,270] (Koga Kasei)
Track WheelsRear full disc Campagnolo Ghibli €3,000 [$3,200]

Front Mavic 5 spoke iO €4,320 [$4,670]

Standard tires; €300 for a set
Handlebars (non-custom)Aerocoach Lann €315 [$350]

Argon 18 Electron Pro Sprint handlebars €2,900 [$3,150]
Track SkinsuitA custom-made skinsuit is easily in the region of €1,000 
Track HelmetGiro Aerohead MIPS helmet €340 [$370]

 Casco Speed time Pursuit €930 [$1,000]

As you can see, for one rider you wouldn’t have much change from €20,000 [$22,000] for an off-the-shelf, professional-standard track bike setup.

Why, you may ask, is the equipment so expensive – especially without the costly electronic shifting or hydraulic disc brakes of high-end road bikes?

The reality is that track racing is a niche sport, especially in comparison to road racing. Developers invest significantly in the research and development of these machines. This means, that in an attempt to recoup their costs, the equipment is very expensive.

Additionally, flagship track bike technology uses advanced materials such as titanium and very high-grade carbon fiber, adding significantly to the overall cost of the bike.

Entry-Level Track Bikes Cost

However, if you’re just getting started, it’s possible to buy a track bike for much, much less than that.

An entry-level track bike could cost $1000 or less, especially if buying used. At this price, expect a CroMoly steel or aluminum frame, cheap non-aero wheels, and budget components and bearings.

Many bikes sold as commuter fixies could be appropriate for use on a track if you’re just dipping a toe in the water to see how you like track cycling, although they may require modification (e.g. removing the brakes) depending on the rules at your track.

As track bikes increase in price to intermediate standard ( anywhere between $1500-5000 or so), higher-quality aluminum and eventually carbon fiber framesets and wheelsets become more common, alongside a greater emphasis on aerodynamics and overall speed in the bike’s design over pure workhorse functionality.

Tempted To Try Out The Track For Yourself?

Two amateur track cyclists on a velodrome.

I would of course strongly suggest, as with any pursuit, starting simple. It is possible to get all the equipment you need to enjoy track riding at a significantly lower cost.

In addition, a velodrome will usually offer the option to rent a bike. It may be aluminum with spoke wheels, but it’s a start and it’s a fantastic option to experience the thrill of riding on a track.

Just remember the cardinal rules; don´t stop pedaling, turn left – and, most importantly, enjoy!

Photo of author
During her cycling career, Lydia represented her country at the highest level. On the track, she won medals at UCI World Cups and European Championships, and made history in helping Team Ireland qualify for the Madison and Omnium at the Tokyo Olympics for the first time. In road cycling, she achieved multiple medals in the Irish National Championships in both the Road Race and Individual Time Trial. Lydia's cycling journey was never straightforward. She initially took up mountain biking while living in Canada aged 25, but after a close encounter with a bear on the trail she traded in the mountain bike for the road and later the track, and never looked back. After retiring from elite competition, Lydia's passion for the bike remains as strong as ever. She loves a bikepacking adventure and has undertaken multiple trips including a ride from Canada to Mexico and many throughout Europe. She has also worked extensively as a cycling guide in bucket-list biking destinations such as Mallorca and Tuscany. While cycling for Lydia now is all about camaraderie, coffee, and adventure, she's still competitive at heart - and likely to race others up hills on group rides!

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