Differences Between Track and Road Hubs
1. Rear Hubs
Most of the differences between track and road hubs are found on the rear and are as follows:
- Different Cog Systems
Track hubs use a single fixed cog whereas road rear hubs come with a driver with a built-in freewheel mechanism. The driver allows the installation of a multi-speed cassette.
Different Axles and Wheel Retention Systems
Track hubs rely on solid axles securing the wheel via bolts whereas road hubs use hollow axles with quick-release skewers or thru-axles.
The reason why track hubs use solid axles and bolts is security – a track cyclist produces a lot of power in high gear which greatly increases the torque at the wheel. For that reason, track standards require the use of solid axles and track nuts.
Conversely, a road bike is built for speed on the road. The presence of gears reduces the torque at the back wheel and diminishes the need for maximum wheel security.
Additionally, hubs with solid axles and bolts are heavier – a negative in the world of road cycling where every gram matters.
A Different Number of Spokes
To save weight and become more aero, road bike wheels often rely on a reduced number of spokes (e.g., 16, 22…etc.). Some track wheels are the same way, but a basic wheel usually has about 32 spokes for extra rigidity. The rear hub has to reflect that. Hence why a rear track hub may come with more spoke holes than a road one.
The term O.L.D. stands for “over-locknut dimension” and refers to the usable part of a hub between the locknuts.
A modern road bike has a rear hub O.L.D. of 130mm and can fit 9+ gears. Meanwhile, track bikes don’t use gears, and the hub’s O.L.D. is narrower – 120mm.
For that reason, one cannot put a rear track wheel on a modern road bike unless the frame is made of steel, and the user is willing to cold-set it (a fancy word for bending).
Different Sealing Systems
Since a pure track bike is ridden only on the track/velodrome/indoors, it doesn’t have to be weatherproof. As a consequence, some track hubs have relatively simple seal systems which would let water in when the bike is used on the road.
In different, a road bike is an outdoor machine and needs waterproof features. Thus, the seals on road hubs are a lot more water-resistant.
Different Size Flanges
By tradition, track hubs are often high flange. This means that the outers side of the hub to which the spokes attack are larger than normal. Meanwhile, modern road bikes rely on small flanges.
The main benefits of high flange hubs are:
- Potentially stiffer wheels
- Easier to remove a spoke because it’s higher than the cog
- Unique aesthetics
If you want to learn more about the differences between the high flange and low flange hubs, consider reading the dedicated post on the topic.
2. Front Hubs
The front hubs of track and road bikes are a lot more similar than the rear ones because they have the exact same function, namely to provide a spinning mechanism for the front wheel.
Nonetheless, there are still some dissimilarities worth mentioning:
- Wheel Retention System
Track hubs use solid axles with track nuts whereas road bikes rely on hollow axles + quick-release skewers or thru-axles.
Some track hubs are simply not designed for outdoor usage, especially under hard conditions. As a consequence, their seals are not as promising as the ones found on road bikes.
FAQ: What is the O.L.D. of front road and track hubs?
The O.L.D. of track hubs is 100mm and so is the O.L.D. front road hubs using quick-release skewers. Road hubs with thru-axle have an old of 100-110mm.
Can I use a track wheel on a road bike?
A classic track wheel cannot be used on a road bike for the following reasons:
No Braking Surface
Track bikes do not use brakes. The rider brakes by resisting the pedals. This is a safety precaution meant to create a somewhat predictable braking pattern in case of an accident. If the bikes had brakes, then braking would be a lot more unpredictable, and a collision could become more dangerous.
Subsequently, track wheels come with neither a braking surface for rim brakes nor with disc-brake ready hubs.
Thus, if you want to use track wheels on a road bike, you will have to replace the rims and the spokes.
Rear Wheel Incompatibility
As previously mentioned, the O.L.D. of rear track bikes is 120mm. Thus, the wheel is too narrow to operate on a modern road bike.
That said, older 5-speed road bikes can accept a track wheel because their O.L.D. is also 120mm.
Different Wheel Retention Systems
Road frames and forks with thru-axles are incompatible with the bolt-on attachment systems found on track hubs.
Can I use track hubs on my road bike?
Technically, you can use a front track hub on a road bike or a rear track hub on an old 5-speed bike converted to single speed, but there are compelling reasons not to do so.
The downsides of using a track hub on a road bike are:
- Voided warranty
You will lose the warranty of the hubs the second you lace them for road use. Track hubs are optimal only on the track. If you expose them to the elements, the manufacturer can choose not to respect the warranty because the component isn’t exploited as intended.
Track hubs tend to be more expensive than an “ordinary” road hub.
- Not weatherproof
As already mentioned, a track hub has a hard time dealing with moisture, dust, dirt, water…etc.
- No Gear or Coasting
A track hub cannot coast and doesn’t accept more than one cog/gear.
Summary: What You Need To Know
1. Rear track and road hubs are of different lengths and structures. Track hubs have a single fixed-gear cog and can’t coast. Road hubs can accept cassette gears and have a ratcheting mechanism allowing the rider to coast.
Also, rear track hubs are narrower (120mm O.L.D.) than road models (130mm O.L.D.).
2. Front track and road hubs are of matching O.L.D. (100mm) most of the time. Thus, one can theoretically install a front track hub on a road bike and vice versa.
3. Track hubs often have extra spoke holes.
4. The seals of track hubs offer insufficient isolation for riding in suboptimal conditions. Thus, their longevity on a road bike will be non-satisfactory. Using track hubs on a road bike will also void their warranty because they aren’t engineered for outdoor use.
5. In most cases, one is better off buying hubs corresponding to the bike’s intended use.