Thinking outside the Cell – a hack for the track
- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 17 February 2014
Go as fast as you want, or at least as fast as you can. A smooth road. No traffic. No corners. No signs or traffic lights. I love track cycling. Everyone I have ever introduced to track cycling loves track cycling. My four kids love track cycling…Kids. Four. Cha. Ching. Having four kids riding on the velodrome was starting to look like an expensive proposition when they grew too big for the junior club bikes, but it did get me thinking in creative directions. I needed a budget track bike, and if they didn’t exist, I would have to create one. This is when I got involved with Cell Bikes.
Cell Bikes is an Australian online retailer with bricks and mortar stores in Sydney and Melbourne. They’ve been around for a good while now and the business has grown, selling both top-end and budget brands. One of the things Cell is known for in Sydney (and probably Melbourne too, since it’s flatter) is budget fixies. I see Cell branded fixies (and unbranded ones too since they sell some of their bikes with easily removable decals) all over the place in my travels, but particularly in the city and inner-city. That got me thinking – Cell sell fixies –> track bikes are fixies –> Cell can sell me a track bike!
So I got in contact with Cell, via their social media manager, and I told them about my club and all of our smiling fixie riding kids; we have more junior racers than some clubs have members. Our junior numbers increase weekly, and they quickly progress from bmx bikes to road bikes, and then to track bikes. I told him about my idea for a budget track bike – one of their budget fixies with few simple modifications. He said “Let’s do it”, and a bike was couriered to my door for the experiment.
Free tracked shipping! Can’t argue with that.
Well packed and partly assembled. Some tools and complete instructions included.
I got a Cell Messenger, a steel framed fixie which is available in a range of colours. I received a pretty green one in the smallest frame size they had, a 49cm seat tube bike, which isn’t as small as a little kid needs, but is almost as small as a 700c wheeled bike will go. The bike arrived partially assembled, and I completed the assembly quickly and simply, guided by the instructions. In truth, it’s not a bad bike as it stands. The bike comes with brakes (since they’re not selling it as a track specific bike), a rear wheel with a flip-flop hub, allowing you to ride single speed or fixed, tyres, tubes, pedals, reflectors, and a bell. Basically it’s a completely usable bike (almost) straight out of the box.
Standard assembly of the Cell Messenger with flip-flop hub
Well, nearly…I did have an issue with the wheels. The wheels, both front and back, were done up so tightly that they barely spun. Everything else looked fairly good on the surface, save for the wheels. This is not something a new bike owner would necessarily notice was wrong. Someone who assembled this bike and rode it for a while would be in for a bad time when their wheels either seized or started to run roughly. I reported this to Cell who responded that it shouldn’t have come like that (no kidding) and they would specifically check that in their quality control process with their other bikes. They offered to deliver me another bike, but I was happy to re-pack the hubs myself (actually, I already had) and the wheels turned out wonderfully.
So, I had a stock standard fixie/single speed. Looks good, right? But it’s not a track bike. When I arranged for the bike from Cell, I asked them to put in some dropbars, which they did, along with some bullhorns and pursuit bars so we could mix it up a bit.
Although I didn’t need to, I stripped the whole bike down to its parts to turn it into a track bike. Why? Well, given the wheel issue, I wanted to make sure the rest of the bike was sound. It was. All of the interfaces were greased and, while the parts were nothing fancy, they were all sturdy and suitable for the task. I re-greased all of the parts (there’s enough grease, and then there’s “enough” grease) and reassembled the bike.
During reassembly, I didn’t replace the flat handlebars, the brakes, the pedals, the bell, or the reflectors. I put the drop bars onto the stem and I transferred the hand grips from the old bars to the new ones. I took off the freewheel on the rear, leaving a track cog and lock ring on the other side. I got the club mechanic to give it a final look over and, in very little time, I had a fully functional track bike.
Now modified with drop bars and no brakes as a junior’s track bike
A selection of handlebars were supplied by Cell.
So how does it ride? Well, I didn’t ride it, but some of the kids in the club did. They could make it move in a blur quite easily. That’s the beauty of this idea, you don’t need a carbon fiber wonder-bike to ride very, very fast on the track. Steel bikes, like this one, can move just as fast as any of the others out there until you are ready for the higher levels of the sport. Since it’s an “old” technology, the parts are well established and relatively cheap. Cell can put together a decent quality bike for a great price, and I can easily turn it into a track bike.
As a track bike, it’s not perfect, especially for the juniors. The top tube is a little long for the size of the bike, the angles are a little slacker than a standard track racing frame, and the cranks are also longer than we would normally use on the track for kids. They’re not deal breakers, though. Cranks can be replaced, and kids come in lots of different sizes. My eldest daughter (13) fits on it and has been racing with it for a couple of weeks. My second daughter (11) should fit it, but she’s still on her road bike and hasn’t made the leap to track yet. My other kids aren’t big enough for this bike yet, so they’ll have to stick to the 20 inch or 650c bikes we have. Yes, you can get track bikes with 20 inch wheels. They’re very cute.
Patrick on the club’s new budget track bike
Standing start against a flying start. Patrick soon got up to speed.
What all of this means is that, for $200 and a set of handlebars, you can have a track bike. These bikes are available in sizes from 49cm up to 59cm, which would fit me at 190cm tall (6ft 3in). If you up the price just a little, you can get on of the other Cell fixies with a lighter frame, better wheels, and other upgrades, but the outcome will be the same – you can get yourself, and your (taller) kids, into track cycling on a budget. And better yet, when track season is over (or when you want to invest 10 minutes of work), you stick the brakes back on, replace the freewheel, and you have a single speed road bike. It’s all good.
Cell Bikes deserve a special thank you for providing the club with a bike and handlebars with which to do this experiment. You can do your own hacking on one of Cell’s fixies with prices ranging from $199 to $349 plus $35 for a set of dropbars. When you’re done, contact your local club and find out how you can get on the track – fun for young and old.