Track bars and brake hoods

Today’s fixed gear bike style question concerns brake hoods on track bars. Let me know what you think.

Traditional road handlebars extend horizontally from the stem before the tube curves forward and down for the “drops” portion. Road brake levers are housed in a “hood” that is attached to the handlebar where the curve begins. The handlebar design and the brake hoods provide several hand positions for comfort while riding long distances.

Track handlebars are designed for track racing. Hand brakes are prohibited on the velodrome, and the racers ride in the drops or the “hook” of the handlebars. There’s no need for the flat part of the bar, so track bars are designed with a swooping curve that begins not far from the stem.

The curvy design of track bars precludes easy brake hood mounting, but that hasn’t stopped some bike companies from trying. See, for example, the track style bars with brake hoods on Kona’s Grand Wagon fixed gear bike. I mostly like this bike (and more on this in the coming weeks), but to me the hoods on track bars look pretty cheesy, and they don’t feel “right” to me.

brake hoods on track bars

I like what Bianchi does on their brake equipped Pista Via Condotti — they use a cyclocross brake lever mounted near the stem. For street riding this works well because most urban riders don’t spend much time in the drops — with hands on the upper part of the bar, it’s an easy and quick reach to the brakes. Cyclocross levers also work well for the many many fixed gear bikes out there with flat or risers handlebars.

If the Grand Wagon belonged to me, I’d completely remove the hoods and replace the levers with CX brake levers, and maybe even swap the handlebars out with something else (likely bullhorns or even chopped & flopped handlebars). I’d probably also get a shorter stem with a little more rise so I have a more upright riding position. Because I need to return the bike, I’ve rotated the track bars back about 10 degrees; that looks pretty ridiculous too but at least I can rest my hands on the hoods more comfortably.

I’m curious what you think: Are the track bars a good pick for this bike and the brake hoods are just a minor nit? Or is this a design fail in your opinion?

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  1. If the bike is actually meant to ride on the track at any point, having traditional brake levers is pretty much a fail. To remove the brakes and brake levers, thereby making the bike legal for the velodrome, one would need to unwrap the handlebars. This is the primary benefit of using the cyclocross levers since they use a a hinged clamp.

    If the bike is not meant to be ridden on the velodrome, then it should be sporting regular road drop bars, not track drop bars which are a very specialized component.

  2. I am with Jon. My 2010 Paddy Wagon is not a 'track bike', it's more of a 'path racer':
    – fixed/fixed
    – road bars
    – road levers
    – fenders

    I ride it all seasons in Toronto. Why would I give up brakes? Why would I want to get wet? Why would I want sub-optimal hand positions? Oh… fashion. Knock yourself out, but I just want to ride my bike.

  3. Excellent point about removable CX brakes, Jon. And this bike isn't meant for track use — it has more of a road geometry, and it has brakes that aren't easily removable.

  4. Got already rid of right brake hood on track bar. Now I'm looking for cyclocross/V-brake lever to put it near stem. But it's difficult to find appropriate lever with 31.8mm clamp, I wonder if there are any cute bmx single-finger levers to fit this bar.

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