There is generally one common misconception about fixie bikes is that they’re the same as track bikes. While track bikes are also technically fixed gear and offer many of the same riding benefits as a standard fixie, there are some key differences between the two. There is also a general conception in the fixed gear community that those who use the term 'fixie' are either beginners or the standard term used to reflect the whole fixed gear scene in the eyes of general public. For starters, track bikes are designed for racing on a velodrome, or bike tracks mainly criterium races, while fixies are more for regular recreational and commuter bike use. Though both track bikes and fixies operate in fixed gear, generally fixies have a flip-flop hub with a freewheel and a fixed cog, so riders can decide whether they want to ride fixed or single-speed at the same time. There are a number of structural and other differences in these two types of bikes that correspond to the intended use of each which we will highlight below.
The most obvious difference between fixie bikes and track bikes is that track bikes are brakeless. On a bike track, everyone is moving in the same direction, so brakes are not needed. Interestingly, brakes are actually considered a safety hazard in velodrome and even criterium. Without brakes, everyone stops at about the same rate whereas brakes add a dangerous variability. It’s also important to note that removing the brakes alone doesn’t change a fixie into a track bike and having brakes in your fixie doesn't mean you are not 'cool'. Some laws in certain countries made it mandatory to have brakes attached to the bicycles regardless of whether you own a fixie or a track bike if you are commuting on the road.
Track bikes are also engineered slightly differently in order to make them more aerodynamic and more efficient at hard sprinting. Generally track bikes are made from aluminium and have a much compact size compare with fixies to maintain optimum light weight, stiffness and minimal flex. The fork blades are circular, rather than oval-shaped, which makes them more rigid against the heavy side loads that biking out-of-the-saddle puts on the fork blades in a race. The more upright angles of track bikes’ frames increase the maneuverability while maintaining stiffness. This stiffness means that track bikes are less capable than fixies of handling hazards like bumps, which are more often found on roads rather than tracks and are therefore less comfortable under such conditions.
Tires & Wheels
Track bikes have the tightest possible tire clearance, so your choice of tires on this bike is limited to the narrowest types available, whereas fixies can accommodate a much broader tire size for added comfort on daily rides. Track bikes are also not designed to be used outside of the controlled arena of a velodrome and, as such, you can’t have the quick release wheels or fenders that fixies can. If you get a flat tire it’s much more difficult to fix a flat if you can’t remove the wheel and if you really want to, you have to carry the tools around to make sure you are ever ready for any possibilities which you may encounter on the road with your track bike. Generally, most track bike cyclists will also prefer to use carbon wheels over alloy wheels as they are much lighter, stiffer and generate a substantial momentum in high speed race. High profile carbon wheels definitely uplift the looks on any track bikes but may not be the best in terms of comfort and durability on road conditions.
You can technically ride a track bike on the road even though it’s not what they were designed for. It is always a thrill to own a track bike of your favorite brand and have fun with it on the road since not everyone are into velodrome and crit races. If you are debating between track bikes and fixie bikes, it’s important to know that safety always comes first whenever you are on the road. Going brakeless either on fixies or a track bikes are better left to professionals or cyclists who have higher skills in bike control.