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Fixed Gear vs. Track Bikes (What’s the Difference)

Don’t risk embarrassment by not knowing the difference.

Man on fixie at velodrome riding a track bike.

If you’re new to the scene, you may have heard the term fixed gear bike and track bike used interchangeably. Let me be the first to tell you a fixed gear bike and a track bike are not the same. It’s important to note, as not knowing the difference can be pretty embarrassing.

In efforts to save you from looking like a chump in bike forums, let’s take a moment and answer the question: what is the difference between a track bike and a fixed gear bike?

The main difference between a fixed geared bike and a track bike is that track bikes are specially designed for racing. Fixed geared bikes, on the other hand, are primarily for casual use, enjoyment, and transportation.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. So, in this article, you will learn the difference between a track bike and a fixed gear bike so you can make an educated decision when shopping around. I will also cover the pros and cons of both and give you my recommendations on a few great options to check out.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on October 14, 2021, to include additional information regarding track bikes.

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What is a fixed gear bike?

A fixed gear bike (often called a fixie) is a bike that has a single gear with no freewheel mechanism, which means it can’t coast. The bike must stay in constant motion. You will typically find them with no hand brakes. However, to satisfy many local laws, fixed gear manufacturers usually provide a single front hand brake.

Woman casually riding a fixie on the boardwalk.
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Woman casually riding a fixie on the boardwalk.

This style of bike has become immensely popular because of its simplistic design, lightweight, and low maintenance. Fixies are the go-to choice for many bike commuters and messengers. 

You can read more about riding fixed in our ultimate guide to fixed gear bikes.

Pros of fixed gear bikes

There are many benefits to riding fixed. If you enjoy doing repairs on your bike, you will love owning a fixie.

This type of bike is known for being easy to repair, and replacement parts are affordable. If you maintain your bike and keep up with the required maintenance, it will last for years.

They are also extremely customizable. there is a huge industry of bike manufacturers who cater to the activity of fixed gear cyclists. The result is a plethora of colorful parts to make your fixie look and feel unique. Below are some parts you can swap on your fixie.

Cost is also a major pro for fixies. Due to their minimalistic design, fixed gears have fewer parts, thus making them less expensive than most other bikes.

They are ultra-lightweight. You can usually carry a fixed gear bike up a set of stairs with a single hand. You can’t say that about most other bikes. 

Fixed gear bikes also have the ability to go backward, not that you’d ever need to, but it can make for a neat trick.

Woman doing cycling tricks.

Cons of fixed gear bikes

While there are many reasons fixed gear bikes are great, they may not be the best bike for your needs.

If you need a bike that can conquer hills or rough off-road terrain, a fixie may not be the bike you’re looking for. Fixed gear bikes are best on flat ground. The single gear makes it very difficult to pedal up steep hills. It can be done; But prepare for a workout of epic proportions.

What is a track bike?

A track bike is essentially a fixed gear bike made specifically for racing. Track bikes are usually ridden on a velodrome

A track bike has aggressive geometry, with the seat and head tube angles at around 74 degrees. The bottom brackets on these bikes are placed higher off the ground to avoid scraping against the velodrome. The tires on these bikes are narrow and inflated to the highest volume possible. Track bikes are built to be as stiff as possible; comfort is not a high priority. Any customization done to this bike is to optimize it for racing. Additionally, track bikes do not use hand-powered brakes.

If you want to learn more about velodrome racing, check out this video from Mobile Cyclist.

An introduction to velodrome cycling.

Pros of track bikes

As mentioned earlier, track bikes were designed for use on indoor bike racing tracks called velodromes. They are built for maximum lightweight and speed. They look amazing, unique, and they are about as fast as any bike can get. If you want to ride a bike at a velodrome, this is the bike for you.

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Cons of track bikes

A drawback is that they are not made for the outdoors. They are not meant to handle bumpy terrain and potholes. The stiffness and aggressive geometry might be uncomfortable for long commuting rides.ss

Since they don’t come standard with hand brakes, It’s not always safe to ride them outside. There will be times when you’ll need to stop immediately without warning. Not being able to do so with ease is a safety issue. And of course, most states and cities require bikes to have brakes to be street legal. 

And, of course, the cost is a major factor. Track bikes can be very expensive when compared to most casual, fixed-gear bikes.

Why don’t track bikes have brakes?

Track bikes are designed for indoor velodrome racing. In these kinds of competitions, all the participants are moving in the same direction; one person suddenly braking could be dangerous. With a brakeless configuration, all the participants stop at the same rate and point, which is why they have no brakes. Riders use the power of their legs to slow down as needed.

A cyclist smashes into another at the velodrome.

What are the similarities between a fixed gear and track bikes?

Track and fixed gear bikes share many similarities. They are both technically fixed gear bikes (bikes with single-geared drive trains), they look very similar, are very lightweight, and they both primarily require leg power to stop or slow down. 

Which is best for me?

Track and fixed gear bikes are designed for different purposes. One is for casual street use, and the other is for racing and maximum efficiency. 

In most cases, you are going to want a fixie. Fixed gear bikes are the top choice for those looking to purchase a bike for commuting. If you want to a bike to ride in the park or on your commute to work, fixed is the way to go.

If you are looking to do some indoor velodrome racing, you will want a track bike. They are designed for use on indoor racing tracks. 

For the record, I have never owned a track bike, but I have friends that ride their track bikes in the street, and they don’t complain. They look Ballin as hell, and they are fast as lightning, so feel free to grab one if you so desire. 

If you’re in the market for a track bike. Take a look at our guide on how to choose a track bike. If you’re interested in a fixie, check out our guide on how to choose a fixed gear bike.

Man riding track bike at velodrome.
A man riding a track bike at the velodrome.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you have learned some of the primary differences between a track bike and a fixed gear bike.  

In this article, we covered fixed gear bikes, track bikes, and the pros and cons of each. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • Both track bikes and fixies fixed (single-geared) bikes.
  • Fixed gear bikes are primaraly used for cuity use, commuting, and fun.
  • Fixed gear bikes are easy to repair, and replacement parts are affordable.
  • Track bikes are specially designed for racing.
  • Track bikes are lighter and faster but mroe expensive.
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So, are you a fan of the velodrome? Or are you riding a standard fixie? Let us know in the comments below (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on everything fixie. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.

Written by Bradly Knight

As a native New Yorker, Bradley is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He’s been riding fixed for over ten years. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including playing guitar, video production, and photography.

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