Five years ago few people knew the difference between Kirin and keirin. But the traditional, steel track bikes used in the Japanese professional racing circuit have become highly desirable. Rather than comment on the irony of the Japan’s handbuilt bike renaissance following the collapse of its large scale manufacturing and exports due to the so-called “yen shock” of the late Eighties and increasing costs of labour, I thought I’d stir up the brake/no-brake argument about riding those treasured track bikes on the road.
Who would put brakes on their keirin bike?….Professional keirin riders.
Why would they? Because they go too fast when they train on the road (if they need to train on the road, since the velodromes there are open all year). No matter what, riding with brakes gives you more options for stopping, and you can stop in a shorter distance in more conditions than just using your legs to halt the fixed gear.
Those pro keirin riders get paid pretty well, and they frequently race into their later thirties. Though crashes are frequent in actual racing, that’s just part of the job. Getting injured because of a crash on the road doesn’t pay the bills.
A lot of keirin builders also make “training” bikes: fixed gear bikes that are designed to accept brakes front and rear, sometimes with provision for fenders. These bikes do not meet regulations for the keirin circuit, but they are meant to give keirin riders an affordable and suitable training tool for the road.
If you really wanted to ride the certified keirin bike on the road with brakes, you could get something like this precision product made in Japan (photos courtesy of famed keirin rider Koh Annoura). The special mounts allow you to temporarily mount regular road brakes to the bike without altering the bike or even damaging the paint. Cheaper (and kinda cheesy) versions have been available for years in Japan, and I believe Soma will be debuting in this country something in between the two.