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Track Bike vs. Fixie: The Surprising Difference

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 know this, 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 fixie bike, and which is right for you?

Both track bikes and fixies (fixed gear bikes) are single-geared. However, track bikes are specially designed for racing; fixies are for casual use, enjoyment, and transportation.

If you’re in the market for a new bike, keep reading because, in this post, 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. 

Hanging out by the river with a fixie.
Hanging out by the river with a fixie.

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 they can’t coast. Fixed gear bikes are powered by the rear wheel. For the bike to maintain movement, the pedals must stay in motion. They are generally breakless, however, to satisfy many local laws, fixed gear manufacturers usually provide a single front hand brake.

Woman casually riding a fixie on the boardwalk.
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. 

Pros of A Fixed Gear Bike

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.

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.

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 fixie tricks; riding backwards on on rear wheel.

Cons of A Fixed Gear Bike

While there are many reasons a fixed gear bike is a fantastic choice, it 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 an epic workout.

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 have any 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 A Track Bike

As mentioned earlier, track bikes were designed for use on indoor bike racing tracks. If you want to ride a bike at a velodrome, this is the bike for you.

They look amazing and unique, and they are about as fast any bike can get.

Cons of A Track Bike 

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. 

Track bikes are very expensive when compared to most casual, fixed gear bikes.

Since they don’t have brakes, it wouldn’t be safe to use it outside. There will be times when you are biking, where you will 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 are very expensive when compared to most casual, fixed gear bikes.

Why Don’t Track Bikes Have Brakes?

These bikes are designed for indoor velodrome racing. In these kinds of competitions, all the participants are moving in the same direction; one person suddenly breaking could be dangerous. With a breakless 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.

Similarities Between a Fixie and Track Bike

Both 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 One Should You Purchase?

These two styles of 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 purchase a bike to ride in the park or on your commute to work, a track bike is not the best choice. But 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. 

Man riding track bike at velodrome.
Man riding track bike at velodrome.

If you in the market for a track bike. I suggest taking a look at this definitive buyers guide to track bikes from cycling weekly magazine.

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 there’s no shame in grabbing yourself one if you so desire. 

Conclusion

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

Key takeaways: 

  • Both track bikes and fixies fixed (single-geared) bikes
  • Fixed gear bikes are meant for street use
  • Track bikes are meant for velodrome use

So what about you, are you riding a fixie or a track bike? Do you have anything you want us to add to this post? Let us know in the comments! Click here to check out all of our blog posts. Thanks for reading and stay fixed.

Written by Yerain Abreu

Yerain is the owner and operator of this fine website. As a native New Yorker, Yerain is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He was there in 2008 when it was hot, and he's still riding fixed–day in, day out. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including, cycling, video production, and photography.

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