Ask RIDE…What do I need to get on the track?
I’m a triathlete who is converting to cycling due to issues with my feet caused by running and would really like to have a crack at track cycling. It looks like awesome fun. What do I need to get to start racing? I’ve also noticed riders using different length cranks to traditional road bikes. I currently use 172.5mm on the road bike, what would I need to look at when buying a track bike?
Track Cycling is one of the purist forms of cycling and is possibly one of the most enjoyable styles of racing. To get involved you will need the following items:
1. An Australian Standards approved helmet
2. A track bike (fixed wheel)
3. A current racing licence (through Cycling Australia)
4. A velodrome
Most clubs that are located in the vicinity of a velodrome conduct weekly training and racing through the summer. Start with contacting the club nearest to you for racing details. If you are lucky enough to live near an indoor velodrome, such as Dunc Gray in Sydney there is usually racing all year round.
There are three main reasons why one would consider varying crank lengths:
1. Proportional to inseam leg length – There are many theories surrounding crank length related to athlete height or leg inseam. This is an topic with no distinct answer.
2. Extra Clearance – Clearly the shorter the crank the more clearance you will have when cornering. Velodromes (with very few exceptions) do not have corners, only bends, so if you are ‘cornering’ in a race, things will shortly turn horribly wrong. However, some of the shorter length velodromes have very steep banking (42 degrees) and it is indeed possible to clip a pedal when riding at slower speeds in the bend. By the varying nature of track there are times you need to travel slowly and having the extra clearance can make the difference between staying upright or hitting the boards.
3. Spinning vs. Leverage – Longer cranks increases leverage thus making the perceived gearing smaller. Shorter cranks decrease the leverage and make the perceived gear larger. Many road riders prefer longer cranks because they enjoy grinding out a big gear. One of the problems is that with this extra leverage comes a decrease in core stability with your hips having to flex more and the legs performing larger circles. Smaller cranks are better suited to spinning for this exact reason.
Try this test: Put both hands just in front of your chest with your fist closed. Start making a tight circular motion as fast as you can, now increase the diameter of your circles. You should notice that with the larger circles it is harder to maintain stability in your shoulders and body for that matter. In most forms of track racing you need to be able accelerate quickly, so you have to choose a suitable gear ratio. Unfortunately this gear is usually smaller than you would use for a sprint and the single gear mean you must be able to maintain a top end speed with an intense cadence. It gives credence to the old track adage “You spin to win”.
Finally to answer your question: It is my opinion you should buy a standard track bike with 170mm cranks. You most likely will not even notice the 2.5mm difference from your current length. Considering you are starting out in this discipline a standard bike will be more than adequate. As you gain experience and become more proficient you may like to tailor equipment to suit your needs. You will be amazed at how much track bikes retain value when selling your first bike.
Thanks for the question,
Paul is a race promoter and commentator specialising in track events. He is the promoter and organiser for RAW Track events at Sydney’s Dunc Gray velodrome.
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