Cycling 101: Olympic equipment (2024)

With a variety of disciplines comprising Olympic cycling, it's no surprise that different events have different equipment needs. Even the bikes themselves vary greatly between events.

Read on to learn more about the different types of equipment used in Olympic cycling, as well as how each piece of equipment differs between events.


What types of bikes are used in track cycling?

Unlike the bikes used in road races, track bikes are pared down to the basics. These bikes have no brakes and one fixed gear, which requires no shifting mechanism. Track bikes also have no rear flywheel, allowing the cyclist to slow down or even stop by pedaling backward, as often seen in the sprint competition. Most track bikes also feature solid disk wheels on the back or on the back and front. The aerodynamic shape of these wheels allows the rider to attain faster speeds without exerting additional energy than with traditional spoked wheels.

The bikes used in the pursuit and time trial events differ slightly from the standard track bike. These bikes feature aerobars in place of the traditional racing handlebar. The aerobars extend to the front of the bike and allow the racer to maintain a more aerodynamic position. Mounted below the aerobars are bullhorns, two smaller bars that assist the rider in exploding out of the start.

What types of bikes are used in road cycling?

Outside the controlled environment of the velodrome, road cyclists face conditions that require more features than the stripped-down track cycling models. Road racing bikes are equipped with gearing systems with front and rear derailleurs as well as brakes. Road racing bikes have standard racing handlebars on which the brake and shifting levers are mounted. This allows the cyclist to shift or brake while still maintaining an aerodynamic position. Most road race competitors use spoked wheels on both the front and back. Spoked wheels are lighter than the carbon fiber "Mag" style wheels, with three to five wide spokes, but have greater wind resistance.

The bikes used in the individual time trial differ slightly from standard road bikes. These bikes feature aerobars in place of the traditional racing-style handlebar. The aerobars extend out to the front of the bike and allow the racer to maintain a more aerodynamic position. The wheels of a time trial bike are also different from the standard road bike. On the back is a solid disk wheel for better aerodynamics. On the front is typically a wheel with a deep dish rim, also for aerodynamics and decreased rolling resistance.

What type of bike is used in mountain biking?

Mountain bike competitors require bikes that are durable enough to withstand the punishment of the off-road terrain yet are light enough to optimize speed. This combination is obtained with frames made of light and rigid materials, typically carbon fiber or aluminum. Mountain bikes feature front and sometimes rear suspension systems that absorb shocks and vibrations. They also increase the bike's adherence to the ground for better traction and stability.

The handlebars on a mountain bike differ from a road bike in that they are straight across with brake and shifting levers mounted at each end. The brakes also differ and consist of discs mounted to the front and rear hubs, each controlled by hydraulic fluid. The tires on a cross-country bike have a much deeper tread and are much wider than those used on a road bike.

What type of bike is used in BMX?

Like mountain bikes, BMX bikes feature wide wheels with a thick tread. However they are smaller, as is the rest of the bike. Unlike mountain bikes, BMX racers use one gear and one break lever and do not have any suspension.

Freestyle specification standards: Two wheels equal in diameter; elite wheels must be nominally 20 inches in diameter, with total diameter including inflated tires no more than 22.5 inches. Pegs are allowed, provided they're securely attached.

Racing specification standards: Frame must withstand rigors of racing, have no superfluous accessories, e.g., chain guards, side stands, butterfly nuts. Rear brakes are required.

Pedals and shoes

For optimal power and energy transference, the widest part of a cyclist's foot must be positioned directly above the axis of the pedal. To achieve this, road and mountain bikers use clipless pedals that are more streamlined than traditional pedals. A cleat mounted to the bottom of the rider's shoe fastens to the pedal, keeping the foot in the proper position.

In track cycling, it is crucial that the rider's feet remain attached to the pedals and are unable to accidentally pull free. These cyclists use a step-in pedal system that consists of a standard pedal with two sets of straps. The straps are placed over the rider's shoes and pulled tight, securing the feet to the pedal. In all cycling disciplines, the fastening of the feet to the pedals allows for constant propulsion, because while one leg is pushing the pedal mechanism, the other leg is pulling it up. Cycling shoes feature a hard, rigid sole that focuses the cyclist's energy into the pedal stroke.


Road race cyclists and mountain bikers wear helmets similar to the standard designs with which most people are familiar. On the track, competitors in the omnium, keirin and the sprints also wear these relatively standard helmets. While these helmets provide the cyclist with protection against head injuries in case of a fall or crash, they are also designed to be aerodynamic and reduce drag during the race. The helmets feature numerous vents that allow air to flow through, providing a cooling effect for the athlete. Often, a mountain biker's helmet will be equipped with a small visor attached to the front to help protect the rider's eyes from the sun and debris.

The helmets worn by road time trial cyclists and track pursuit competitors differ greatly from the standard biking helmet. While still providing protection for the head, these sleek, space-age-looking models are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible, allowing the rider to slice through the air with minimum drag.

BMX racing competitors use full-face helmets with visors similar to those seen in motocross. BMX freestyle riders are also obliged to wear helmets – though its specifications are more general than in racing – and strongly encouraged to wear other protective gear such as shoulder pads.


Just as the cyclists' helmets are designed to be aerodynamic, so are their clothes. Track cyclists and road time trial competitors wear one-piece, form-fitting "skinsuits," while road race cyclists and mountain bikers wear jerseys and bibbed cycling shorts. These garments are made of drag-resistant materials such as Lycra or nylon to help reduce the rider's wind resistance during the race. According to the rules of UCI, cycling's international governing body, all uniforms must have sleeves and the shorts must not extend below the knee.

Many cyclists will also wear gloves while competing. These gloves, which are usually fingerless, provide protection in case of a fall and also help reduce vibrations absorbed through the handlebars. They can also come in handy during the road race or mountain bike competition if the rider needs to clear debris or dirt from a tire.

For BMX racing, riders must wear loose, fitted long-sleeved jerseys that extend to the rider's waist and must be tucked in. While Lycra is allowed in other competitions, it is prohibited in BMX. The athlete must wear long pants made of tear-resistant materials to protect themselves in case of a crash. A BMX racer must also wear gloves that completely cover a rider's fingertips.

Restrictions for BMX freestyle are more lenient, as long as the clothing doesn't pose a risk to the rider's safety (e.g., being exceptionally loose). A shirt with or without sleeves is required at all times and can't include any offensive statements or imagery.


Starting blocks are used on the track and feature a brake that grips the edge of the rear wheel rim, releasing via an electronic system at the moment of the start for all competitors simultaneously.

The motorcycle that provides pacing for the keirin event, also known as a derny, must have between a 500cc and 1000cc engine, if fuel-powered.

Note: Some components of may not be optimized for users browsing with Internet Explorer 11, 10 or older browsers or systems.

Cycling 101: Olympic equipment (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Frankie Dare

Last Updated:

Views: 6370

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (73 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Frankie Dare

Birthday: 2000-01-27

Address: Suite 313 45115 Caridad Freeway, Port Barabaraville, MS 66713

Phone: +3769542039359

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Baton twirling, Stand-up comedy, Leather crafting, Rugby, tabletop games, Jigsaw puzzles, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Frankie Dare, I am a funny, beautiful, proud, fair, pleasant, cheerful, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.