2018 NAHBS: Best Track

2018 NAHBS: Best Track

Best track is a tough category. Because the bikes have a limited amount of componentry, there is a truly limited opportunity to do much to distinguish the bikes from one another. With this category the builder info sheet becomes very important; we need to see that the builder understands track geometry, and honestly, a bike meant for someone doing the points race or Madison will be different from a bike used for individual pursuit, so it’s helpful for us to know exactly what disciplines the bike will be used. If we don’t get that info, it’s hard to allow the bike to progress very far. And because the category is “track” and not “any fixed-gear bicycle,” fixies get cut in the first round.

Broadly speaking, we’re looking for bikes that have a higher bottom bracket and more trail, though that BB can be a bit lower if the bike is for the pursuit. If the client is going to be racing the Madison, we expect not to see 7cm of BB drop, and definitely not less than 6cm of trail.

We also want to see a stiff tube set used as well as a stiff set of wheels. We know the bike is all about delivering maximal wattage to the boards. The gearing doesn’t matter at all; we have no way of knowing how strong the client is, so there’s no reason to ding a bike if it has a relatively low gear on it.

No. 22 presented us with a track bike that was almost too stylish to be a track bike. What they are doing with anodizing makes their bikes really stand out among ti builders. They’ve established themselves as masters of anodizing, even doing intricate masks to allow for unusual designs.

Between the tubing choices and the geometry for the bike, we could see that this was a machine intended to perform on the velodrome, nevermind the fact that I’d personally be terrified to do a Miss and Out on a bike that nice.

Chapman Cycles submitted a bike that gave us real pause. It was as if the bike had been spit out of a 1966 episode of Time Tunnel. Between Chapman’s retro logo, the bike’s immaculate fillet-brazing and carefully curated 1960s-era components, I half expected to see a picture of Jacques Anquetil astride the thing.

But dear lord, we struggled with how to gauge it against the other entries. Sure, it was an amazing bike built by an absolute craftsman. And it had style like Kansas has corn. The question we asked ourselves is what sort of bike someone desiring to buy a track bike will most likely get excited to purchase. When I consider all the riders I know who purchased bikes to ride and race on the velodrome, they tend to be focused way more on performance than on looks. Sure, everyone wants a good-looking bike, but I don’t know anyone driving to the velodrome after work who is worried about whether or not they’ll have the prettiest bike.

I need to also acknowledge how much easier our job was made by having Tom Kellogg as a judge. Tom has built hundreds of bikes raced on the track, including bikes that have won world championships. His insight on geometry was the sort of confirmation that made me comfortable with dismissing some bikes for weird design, odd tubing choices or unworkable geometry.

Ultimately, we settled on the T°Red track bike as the winner. First, the T°Red had geometry entirely appropriate to the track. We could tell from the info sheet that they knew what they were doing. Also, the bike was made from aluminum, which meant that due to the tubing sizes and wall thicknesses they chose, the bike was stiff as a belt of young Scotch. It was also light, thanks to the aluminum as well as more affordable for an actual track racer than either the No. 22 or the Chapman.

The big welds on an aluminum bike can be a problem for focusing stress on the tubes immediately adjacent to the welds, and Gary Klein realized that taking a dynafile to the welds to give them smooth transitions would make the frames longer-lived, which is what T°Red did on this bike.

While having world champion stripes on the bike is impressive, that’s not something we judge by.

The steel inserts on the dropouts were a terrific touch. First, it gives the axle nuts better bite, and two it eliminates damage to the much more fragile aluminum. That disc won’t move.

As much as we loved and admired the Chapman, the T°Red is the bike we think better represents what a cool track bike is today and is more likely to get orders. But damn, that Chapman was cool as hell.

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