While it’s now considered a niche sport in the U.S., track cycling has been a staple of European racing since the late 19th century. During the 1930s, it was one of the most popular sports in America. The discipline has been on the program of nearly every modern Olympiad. It’s extremely spectator-friendly, thanks to the confines of the velodrome.
All track events — from the Madison to the Keirin — involve the use of fixed-gear bicycles that lack brakes. The timed events are about pure speed, and thereby require the use of highly aerodynamic equipment. Competitors in the sprints or points races, on the other hand, muscle their bikes around the track via narrow, stiff drop bars designed with dramatic bends.
While specific equipment varies by event, riders often opt for full-disc front and rear wheels, or three-to five-spoke bladed front wheels, because of their aerodynamic properties. Modern track bicycles feature aero tube shaping and massive bottom bracket shells to maximize efficient power transfer.
The bikes may seem simple, lacking brakes, gears, and derailleurs, but they are built for a very specific purpose. Just don’t try to coast.
One look at the massive bottom bracket shell of the Cervélo T4 tells you everything you need to know about what the designers intended with the bike: stiff, explosive power. It’s race-proven, with a resume that includes Bridie O’Donnell’s former UCI women’s hour record and numerous wins by Great Britain’s track team at the 2016 World Cup in Hong Kong.
With that pedigree, we expected rave reviews from our tester, 2014 national track calendar champion Liam Donoghue. We got them, with a few caveats. Overall, the T4 is a race-driven machine for serious riders hoping to reach the top echelon of velodrome racing.
Pursuit bikes are generally designed with twitchy, responsive steering. The T4, with its low and forward geometry, is no different. The 60 millimeters of bottom bracket drop is on the short side, which would generally mean you’d need to work a bit harder to dig into corners with stability. But the frame’s relatively long wheelbase (380 millimeters rear center; 626 millimeters front center) helps reduce some of that skittishness without sacrificing an aggressive, forward riding position. Donoghue noted how well the bike stuck to the pole line (the black line at the bottom of the track) at speed. Add some aero bars and you’ve got yourself an hour-record machine.
Back to that massive BB shell area. Our test rider raved about the quick pedaling responsiveness and explosiveness off the line. “Straight-line acceleration during standing starts is amazing,” Donoghue said. But our lab numbers told a different story. The bottom bracket stiffness score wasn’t exceptional, at 0.61 millimeters of deflection. By comparison, Felt’s aluminum TK2 fared much better at 0.36 millimeters, even though its bottom bracket isn’t nearly as stout as the Cervélo’s.
Will that matter to you? If you’re a sprinter who puts out massive watts throughout the course of a race, it could. But for endurance riders, the stiffness score is respectable, and the bike will offer you plenty of pedaling response once you’re off the line.
And remember, it’s easy to get a bit myopic about deflection numbers when we’re talking about such small numbers. With its exceptional handling, the T4 offers a balanced, explosive ride, which may be more valuable to sprinters than pure stiffness.
The T4 is sold as a frameset for $4,500, including an FK27 fork, an FSA IS2 headset, and an Aero UCI seatpost. Our bike, as tested, came in at $10,577, but there are certainly places to shave thousands of dollars from that price tag. Be careful with your wheel choice: We ran into some clearance issues when we rode Mavic’s Comete lenticular disc rear wheel, which yielded less than two millimeters of clearance between the wheel and the beefy, flared chain stays.
• 2014 national track calendar champion
• Member of Team USA at 2014 Pan-American Championships
• 1st, team pursuit, 2013 elite track nationals
• 1st, pursuit (as pilot), 2015 para-cycling track national championships
• 2nd, individual pursuit, 2012-’14 elite track nationals
• 3rd, Madison, 2013 elite track nationals
• 3rd, points race, 2012 elite track nationals