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Top 3 Path Racer Bicycles: How To Find, Build or Buy

Updated on September 24, 2014
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Path Racers Bikes | How To Find, Build or Buy One

Working as a bicycle mechanic for over 3 years, I got to see and work on a lot of beautiful machines over that span of time. I gained an appreciation for anything exceptionally beautiful. One of my favorite designs of all time is the path racer bicycle. These bikes are absolute beauties, with a style that I think will be popular forever.

The path racer bicycle combines a lot of aesthetics into one shape and structure. They are at once lovely works of art, and at the same time very simplistic and minimalist in their construction. A vintage path racer bicycle is perfect for anyone who really appreciates the machine itself. If you love on your bike, you'll love these things.

Inspired by French racing bicycles at the time, the path racer bike has a classic frame shape and utilizes low slung handlebars and thinner tires for extra agility. Somewhat inspired by track bicycles, the path racer was intended to fit on the track, but also run on paths and roads outside the velodrome.

This lens is all about the beautiful path racer bicycle and the components that make it up. Enthusiasts, aficionados and the casually curious are welcome!

What Is A Path Racer Bicycle?

A path racer bicycle doesn't belong to a particular brand. Rather it's a style that was very popular among velodrome racers in the earlier part of the 20th Century. The idea was a bicycle that could easily cross from the street to the track and back again. This made for a very utilitarian, sleek and minimalist look.

Many examples of path racer bikes can be seen today, and there are some variations between them. However, they have a few common threads that hold them together.

  1. Handlebars:

    Most vintage path racer bikes had extremely aggressive handlebars, styled in the racing form of the time. This mean that they were aerodynamic, low slung and put the rider in a lower stance, hunkered over the top tube of the bike.

    Frequently, this meant that moustache handlebars or inverted risers were the best fit for the job. Often eschewing brake handles, the riders would instead affix simple leather handles to these bars.

    These bars on a path racer bike not only looked very sleek and fast, they ensured a rider was aerodynamic and thereby much faster on the track.

  2. Thinner Tires:

    Although not necessarily that thin by today's standards, the tires of path racer bicycles were quite thin for the time. They were intended to reduce drag to a minimum, while still being beefy enough to handle a cobblestone path or two (thus the name).

    Commonly white or black tires were used, although it's not uncommon to see a vintage path racer with a red sidewall tire attached.

  3. Single Speed, Track Dropouts:

    Path Racer Bicycles often use single speed gearing. They had 'track dropouts' that allowed for manual tensioning of the drive chain by simply moving the rear wheel backwards in its dropouts.

    The gearing on these was also usually fixed, meaning the pedals would move in conjunction with the rear wheel spinning (no coasting or pedalling backwards on these ones!). You don't have to go fixed or single speed, but it's the look you're after.

  4. Vintage Saddle:

    The saddle on a path racer bicycle was usually leather, brown or black. The saddle was typically sprung, as that was the most comfortable suspension-wise at the time. (Bumpy paths made riding extremely uncomfortable without this minimal suspension addition!)

Retrospec Fixie Style Siddhartha Single Speed Urban Coaster Brake Bike (Chrome, Medium, 53cm)
Retrospec Fixie Style Siddhartha Single Speed Urban Coaster Brake Bike (Chrome, Medium, 53cm)

A fantastic bicycle that can easily be converted into a path racer style bike with just a few additions.

 

Retrospec Siddartha Single Speed Path Racer Bicycle

A great basis for a Path Racer inspired bike build

The Retrospec Siddartha is a great foundation to create a path racer style bicycle. It's extremely inexpensive, and it comes with just about everything you'll need. You can upgrade the seat, handlebars, and wheels if you're so inclined.

Even on its own, the Siddartha is a great bicycle to ride, super fun with it's single speed, and it looks really sharp. (I particularly like that it's not covered in branding and logos, so you can really make it your own.) Just lower the bars and upgrade a few components and you'll be riding in style in no time.

Even if you just bought the bike for the frame and forks alone, it's a fantastic deal price wise.

Critical Cycles Path Racer Bike

Another great path racer bicycle conversion candidate

This bike by Critical Cycles is an extremely affordable model, and it's a good choice for a path racer bicycle conversion if you don't have a ton of scratch to throw around. Its simple and clean lines mean that the bike is mostly there in terms of looks already.

It also includes some great features like a high tension steel frame, full integrated fenders on both the front and the back, and a rear luggage rack for pannier bags or what have you. It's a more upright riding position than the other bikes listed here, but you could flip the riser bars easily, and it already includes a bunch of leather-look components that fit the image.

This great path racer bicycle candidate comes in a few different styles, including step through and standard frames. Critical Cycles have also created a seven speed version of the bike if you need a bit more gearing (this model is a single speed).

Pure City 3 Speed Path Racer Bicycle Candidate

A good cheap ride for a path racer bike conversion

The Pure City is a great bicycle for path racer conversion. It has riser bars that could be turned upside down for that low slung handlebar look, and the frame has a classic diamond shape and elegance to it. The stance is perfect for the type of riding the path racer bike is intended for, and it's sleek and attractive with a classic throwback shape to it.

Another reason why this bicycle is a good candidate for conversion is that it uses a 3 speed rear internal hub, which maintains the clean chain line that's so essential for the proper look. It has a good range of gearing for most situations, and it's a capable city commuter that looks amazing.

It comes with a full warranty, and with a light and strong chromoly frame, good brakes and a Nexus hub the components and build are high quality. The next step if I bought one would be to flip those bars, and you've basically got a good, cheap path racer bike that's ready to ride.

Definitely a bike I recommend to anyone building a path racer bicycle.

Finding A Vintage Path Racer Bicycle

Today, unfortunately, there aren't a lot of vintage path racer bikes available anymore. Since they had their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, there aren't too many working examples running around anymore. If you did find one, it'd probably not be all that road worthy anymore. Fortunately, you can find replicas that embody the spirit of the beautiful path racer today, or you can easily create the look with a modern style bike.

Furthermore, these modern path racer replicas have a lot of technological advantages over their vintage siblings. Braking systems are modern, meaning you'll stop better, and the alloys used in bike frame metals are much stronger, so your ride will take greater punishment. Also, unlike the path racing bicycles of yesteryear, modern ones tend to have multi-speed gearing, so they're a lot friendlier for hills.

There are a ton of great path racer lookalike options out there. The Sillgey Pizazz or the Pashley Guv'nor have the look down pat. You can also save a bit of money (since both of those bikes are quite expensive for what they are) by building your own bike from a 'nearly there' model. The Pure City that I showed earlier is a good candidate, and with a small amount of work it will make a great path racer style bicycle conversion candidate.

If you're looking for a bit of a lower price, the Retrospec Siddhartha is a lower priced option that also looks great! It's a single speed that's pretty bare bones, but that embodies the spirit of path racer bicycles anyway. The Retrospec is a single speed so it's better suited to areas without a ton of hills, but the bike is a good path racer bicycle conversion candidate for sure.

Turn Your Existing Road Bike Into A Path Racer

Accessories You'll Need...

It's also possible to turn your existing road bike into a path racer inspired machine by adding a few simple accessories and components. Let's take a look at what you'll need to start your conversion:

For the simplest project, you should probably find a single speed or 3 speed rear wheel (for that clean chain line), a nice leather or faux leather saddle (preferably sprung), and some dropped handlebars with that vintage flair. You'll be 'path racing' in no time with these minor modifications!

Brooks Saddles B67 Bicycle Saddle (Men's, Chrome Springs, Black)
Brooks Saddles B67 Bicycle Saddle (Men's, Chrome Springs, Black)

The springs are important, as they complete the path racer bike look. However, it's up to you whether you go sprung or not!

 

Brooks Leather Saddle - A Path Racer Looks Good With A Brooks

Most vintage path racer bicycles had leather seats in either brown or black, so that's something you'll want to look for. The best name in vintage looking and sprung leather saddles in the business is Brooks.

Sure, they are expensive. But they will conform to your body and become the most comfortable seat you'll ever have. Besides that, they look amazing.

Moustache Handlebars - A Path Racer Bicycle's Bars Are Important

A path racer bike needs to have dropped or moustache bars. It's a must for the look to be correct. Fortunately, handlebars are cheap, and they're easy to install too.

Consider getting some leather or faux leather handlebar grips to complete the look.

Single Speed Rear Wheel

A single speed rear wheel is really the spirit of a path racer bike, so you'll want to try to find one. You can usually find great deals on fixed gear rear wheels, like the one pictured here. If you already have a similar front wheel, there's no need to replace both.

For a bike like a path racer, you'll want to stick with a classic look, so go for silver / chrome, not fancy neon colors.

Sta Tru RW7NEXCB3 Rear ALEX X202/Nexus 3SP Wheels, 26mm x 1.75", Silver
Sta Tru RW7NEXCB3 Rear ALEX X202/Nexus 3SP Wheels, 26mm x 1.75", Silver

A 3-speed rear wheel will let your path racer have that straight chain line you'll need, while still making hills easy to climb.

 

3-Speed Rear Wheel

It's also totally kosher to go with a 3-speed rear wheel, to help with those hills. The important thing is to go with an internally geared rear hub, so you won't have a messy derailleur wrecking that beautiful and simple chain line.

The three speed rear wheel pictured here is a great example of something that would probably work for your path racer bike. Be sure to do your research and get the right size. A note: installing a 3-speed wheel can be tricky, there's cabling and the shifter to account for. You might want a shop to install it for you.

What do you think of path racer bikes?

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    • BikePro profile image
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      BikePro 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Good tips, and good advice about inverting the bars, thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Coupla notes about path bikes: to get the authentic look, try British 'North Road'-style bars from any '50's, '60's or even '70's Raleigh (or Rudge or Hercules) 26" roadster. Mount them upside down, and finish them off with leather grips or cork grips; shellacking the cork grips keeps them from discoloring from you skin oils. Many path bikes had a 'gallows'-style seat post; these look similar to a quill-style handlebar stem, with a horizontal post that allows fore-aft adjustment of the saddle. They show up on eBay from time to time. Path racers usually had 'fishtail' (rear-facing) dropouts; common practice for these is to use a set of chain tighteners, allowing adjustment of the chain as well as rear wheel alignment; they add a nice authentic period detail. Another neat detail for this type of bike is a set of wing nuts. Before the invention of the quick-release hub, wing nuts allowed cyclists to change wheels easily on the road; for three-speed hubs, there are even rear wing nuts with the correct center for the hub adjustment chain and viewing hole. In addtition to the two bikes mentioned, Pashley makes the Guv'nor, single-speed with the option of a 3-speed hub; authentic path racer look and details for about $1500.

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      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      Gosh, in my lifetime, I've basically owned Schwinn bikes.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 5 years ago

      I used to have an old racer bike and I loved it- I do like to go fast!! But alas it wasn't terribly practical here as there are so many steep hills, so I had to say goodbye to it.

    • BikePro profile image
      Author

      BikePro 5 years ago

      @BLemley: Thank you! Yes, converting old bikes to path racers is pretty simple, good luck to you if you do it!

    • BLemley profile image

      Beverly Lemley 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      We've got a lot of old bikes in the basement we picked up at a yard sale years ago...could be a path racer! Great lens! B : )

    • PaulWinter profile image

      PaulWinter 5 years ago

      A very cool looking bicycle .

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you for sharing this useful information. Love it! ;-)

    • BikePro profile image
      Author

      BikePro 5 years ago

      @bikerministry: Thanks! I do recommend path racer style bikes, they are a personal fav.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      Wow, you are an expert in this field. Thank you for this information. It will help me decide what bike to get next. Blessings.