Buyers Guide: Track Bikes
Track bikes are pretty simple
|A tube’s a tube, right? |
Butting: To save weight and provide a more resilient frame, manufactures employ some pretty nifty techniques. Butting of the tubes has higher tube wall thickness at high stress points at junctions, and tapers to thinner tube walls towards the middle of the tube.
Profiling: Not all tubes are round, either, as some frames feature funky tube shaping. Tubes may begin as an oval shape at the headtube, morph to round then back to oval at the bottom bracket junction.
Gearing is measured in inches. That is how far does the bike travel with one full revolution of the pedals. Riders will talk about 82, 84, 88, 90 and 92 and you won't have a clue what they are on about. We, as roadies, are used to talking about 11-23 and 53/39 so it's a whole new language. Changing the gear is a rare thing at first as you get used to one pretty quickly, but serious track riders carry a box of sprockets and chainrings so the can adjust their gear according to event and track conditions.
The second area you can expect to be on the receiving end of that extra money is the frame. Most of the frames here still feature full aluminium tubesets, though some, like Giant, can afford carbon seatstays. Those with aluminium frames will be more refined than cheaper models, tube butting and profiling, and higher-grade materials all combine to offer a higher quality ride.
Wheels need to be strong and tyres need to be grippy. Many people race on high pressure tyres these days but if you are going to start racing seriously then you will have to consider tubular tyres. 'Tubs' are grippy and can be run at high pressures but in the (very unlikely) event of a blow out they stay in place and
Bars and stems. There are two schools of thought here. Some riders like to simply use the same model as their road bars, however there are a
Merida 904 – £899.99
At a shade under our thousand pound target, the Merida comes from one of the largest companies now trying to make a name for itself in the UK. Their top aluminium model uses a semi-compact design available in four sizes. Double butted Pro Lite66 tubing with a double radius downtube (imagine two smaller tubes joined side by side with a normal tube capping them both). It’s certainly a novel approach. Up front carbon forks, as you’d expect, with an integrated headset. Shimano’s 105 groupset with a triple ring chainset, with the hubs rotating inside DT spokes and Alex rims. Merida specs their own-brand finishing kit, IKE.
To read what we thought of this bike, read the full bike test.
Condor Fratello - £1049.99
Just edging over a thousand pounds, the Fratello from one of London’s oldest bikeshops, is an interesting package. You see, while nearly every other bike you’ll see in the bikeshops and catalogues will have an aluminium chassis, the Fratello goes with tradition and has a steel frame. Not any old steel frame though, but a highly refined Italian Dedacciai tubeset. ITM’s carbon Spider fork up front with a now un-common 1" steerer. A full Campagnolo Veloce 10 is a viable alternative to Shimano’s offering, and extends to the wheels with a Vento wheelset. Finishing kit is thoughtfully specced, Piega bars, Deda stem and a San Marco saddle.
Read the full review.
Scott Speedster S2 – £1099.99
The Speedster with it’s dashing paintjob and bold graphics makes quite an impact. 7005 aluminium tubing, double butted, and an integrated headset, fronted by Scott’s own carbon fork with a carbon steerer. Shimano supply the full 105 groupset, and also the capable 550 wheelset (read full review). All the finishing kit bears the Scott logo, and completes the package nicely.
Specialized Allez Elite - £999.99
Specialized opt for Columbus aluminium pipes, double butted and welded into a compact design. Specialized employ a rather intriguing approach to eliminating high frequency vibrations – Zertz, chunks of elastomer, is strategically inserted into the carbon forks, and is proven to provide a measurable difference. The Specialized is also the only frame here to have a seat tube that is dramatically shaped to closely hug the rear wheel, flowing into a tear-dropped shape at the top. A full 105 groupset is only broken by an FSA chainset and Alex hubs, rims and non-butted spokes complete the wheelset. Specialized produce a growing range of components, and they re used extensively on the Allez. An oversize (31.8mm) stem and handlebar are a nod towards the shift towards the fatter interface.
For another £500 you could get Spesh’s full carbon Roubaix, which we’ve tested before.
Sat at the top of Trek’s entry-level range of bikes, the 1400 use their own Alpha SLR double-butted aluminium frame. Bontrager is now a quality range of components, providing the carbon forks (with alloy steerer) the wheels, tyres, stem, handlebar, seatpost and saddle. It’s all good kit, the seatpost is a carbon item and the handlebars and stem are of the oversize variety. The drivetrain is Shimano 105.
Giant TCR Team Hybrid - £1,099
The TCR features carbon seatstays, more often found on bikes costing several hundred pounds more. The stays are bonded to Aluxx SL 6013 aluminium tubes, which are Fluid Formed. This is a process that is becoming a more common sight. Hydroforming is a process involving heated oil to put pressure on the aluminium tubes, basically squashing the metal into a desired complex shape. Matching the carbon stays carbon forks up with an alloy steerer slot into an integrated headset. Shimano 105 all over the place (with a triple chainset) and Shimano’s excellent 550 wheelset.
Ribble have long been the staple diet for British racers on a budget. It's been Sydney Olympics proven and is hand-built in Italy with a Dedacciai tubeset and a carbon rear monostay. You can opt for either sloping or horizontal top tube geometry, finished off at the front end with a pair of ITM Millennium all-carbon forks with an integral hidden headset. Added to the chassis is Campagnolo Veloce 10spd groupset and a choice of handbuilt or Campag Vento wheels. Good range of sizes from 44-56cm (even sizes and compact). A finishing kit comprising of Selle Italia Trimatic 2 Saddle, Vittoria Rubino tyres and an ITM bar and stem. A bargain at this price.
Airborne Valkyrie - £700 (frame only)
Cheap and cheerful it may be but the Airborne Valkyrie is a very popular option. We're yet to test one, but most people who have rave about them. It's a step up towards the next price point but we expect bikes like this (and a few carbon ones) to be hitting the magic grand level pretty soon. OK so you may have to compromise on the groupset, but for a little over a grand and a little under £1500 you could build a respectable bike, with 105 10 speed or Veloce and a budget finishing kit that could be up-graded over time. The Airborne Valkyrie is built with aerospace-grade 3Al/2.5V cold-worked and size-specific titanium and features traditional round tube construction and classic road geometry.
Hewitt Poggio - from £1000 upwards
Custom Built Steel? Once upon a time all bikes were built this way... There's been some chat about this in the Forum and we're big fans of the custom built route at RCUK - especially if you want a steel bike. For example; £1141 will get you a Paul Hewitt Poggio bike built up with Campagnolo Veloce 10 and handbuilt (by Gethin Butler probably!) wheels into the bargain. Paul will size you up for this too, so it's a pretty cool deal. If you still fancy a steel bike that is. It won't be the lightest bike at this price point but it will last for ages and ride nice too.