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I live in the UK and cycle to and from work. I recently noticed that the back brake on the bike is not functioning. Is it legal for me to be cycling on the road (the front brake works fine but it is a bit difficult to stop at, for example, pedestrian crossings)

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Why ask the legal question instead of simply fixing your brakes? –  Carey Gregory Dec 11 '12 at 2:21
    
I wanted to know if I was allowed to use the bike whist waiting for my new road bike to arrive –  Manatherin Dec 11 '12 at 11:06
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6 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted
  1. Yes, technically.

    Most sorts of cycle are required to have at least two efficient braking systems, by which the front wheel (or wheels) can be braked independently of the rear wheel (or wheels).

  2. The likelihood of you receiving a ticket, fine, or other punishment is infinitesimal. It could happen, but it almost certainly will not.

  3. Practically, the front brake is much stronger than the rear brake. Most experienced cyclists almost exclusively use the front brake. Why is it "a bit difficult to stop" in some circumstances?

  4. That said, you should absolutely have it fixed. Having redundant brakes is important for your personal safety. Brakes and brake cables can fail.

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It stops ok, it's more if I try to break too fast I end up kind of doing a stoppie –  Manatherin Aug 8 '12 at 16:21
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Shift your weight back and modulate the brake with a little more care then –  Useless Aug 8 '12 at 16:40
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If using your front brake resulted in a stoppie, using your rear brake would have resulted in you skidding through a group of pedestrians. –  Stephen Touset Aug 8 '12 at 18:04
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"Most experienced cyclists almost exclusively use the front brake." Even if the back is only 10 or 20% of the total braking force, that may be the difference between a close call and going under a bus - learn to use both in an emergency... The back is also very important is slippery conditions as you can safely learn how much traction you have - unlike the front brake where a lockup will end in tears. –  mattnz Aug 9 '12 at 1:25
    
No. The front brake and the front brake alone is capable of bringing the front wheel to a complete stop regardless of speed. There are a few situations where it's appropriate to use the back brake exclusively (e.g., the front wheel is off the ground), but outside of a few rare scenarios, use of the back brake at all reduces your overall braking power. –  Stephen Touset Aug 9 '12 at 4:05
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In England and Wales, the relevant legislation is the Pedal Cycles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1983 which say:

7.—(1) ... (a) every pedal cycle shall be equipped with at least one braking system;

   (b) every bicycle or tricycle the height of the saddle of which is 635 millimetres or more and every cycle with four or more wheels shall—

      (i) if it is so constructed that one or more of the wheels is incapable of rotating independently of the pedals, be equipped with a braking system operating on the front wheel ...;

      (ii) if it is not so constructed that one or more of the wheels is incapable of rotating independently of the pedals, be equipped with two independent braking systems one of which operates on the front wheel ..., and the other of which operates on the rear wheel ...

10.—(1) No person shall ride, or cause or permit to be ridden, on a road a pedal cycle ... unless the braking system or systems with which it is required to be fitted ... are in efficient working order.

(I've elided a bunch of exceptions that apply to tricycles, quadricycles, etc.)

So for an ordinary bicycle with a freewheel, it would be a criminal offence to ride it on a road unless you have two braking systems in efficient working order. (See Road Traffic Act 1988 §41A.) But as Stephen Touset says, it would be unheard of for police to check your brakes unless you were involved in a crash.

You say,

the front brake works fine but it is a bit difficult to stop

The front brake should be easily sufficient on its own to stop quickly, so it sounds as if your front brake needs adjusting too. For your own safety and the safety of other road users, get your brakes fixed! There are lots of instructional videos out there, or your local bike shop will be happy to do it for you.

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does this mean all the fixies out there with no breaking systems are technically illegal. as the front wheel can rotate independently from the pedals. –  Wezly Aug 8 '12 at 13:42
    
US rules differ by state. It's been years since I read any of them, but, eg, rear coaster brakes are generally legal, without the addition of front brakes. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 8 '12 at 14:10
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@Wezly: Yes, in the UK it is illegal to ride a fixed-gear bicycle on the road unless it has an operational front wheel brake. –  Gareth Rees Aug 8 '12 at 14:12
    
I don't live in the UK, but I live in Canada which has a legal system similar to the UK. I don't think it would be considered a "Criminal Offence" to ride without two brakes. Legally speaking there's a big difference between a criminal offence, and breaking traffic rules. –  Kibbee Aug 8 '12 at 23:50
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Even assuming wikipedia is correct, your interpretation of it is not. It says something ... is a crime if it is capable of being followed by what are called criminal proceedings. Note capable of being followed, not actually followed. Matters may be handled by FPN (for example) because it's faster and cheaper to administer: not because it could not be prosecuted in court. –  Useless Dec 10 '12 at 7:54
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No answer for the original poster, but maybe interesting for readers in Germany:

(1) Alle Fahrzeuge müssen eine ausreichende Bremse haben, die während der Fahrt leicht bedient werden kann und ihre Wirkung erreicht, ohne die Fahrbahn zu beschädigen. Fahrräder müssen zwei voneinander unabhängige Bremsen haben

Translation:

(1) All vehicles require a sufficient brake, which can be handled easily during the ride/driving and which reaches it impact without damaging the road. Bicycles require two independent brakes.

Source: Straßenverkehrs-Zulassungs-Ordnung §65.

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+1 hopefully helpful to future readers –  Manatherin Aug 10 '12 at 8:04
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Just to note something from another country, in France you must have two brakes:

Tout cycle doit être muni de deux dispositifs de freinage efficaces.

(From the road code, art. R315-3, "All bicycles must have two functioning brakes.")

If you don't have two brakes, you can be fined €11, although usually cops don't care about bikes as long as you're not drunk-riding.

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+1 hopefully helpful to future readers –  Manatherin Aug 10 '12 at 8:04
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You must have at least one braking system working to be legal. Coaster bikes only have a rear brake anyway. But what conerns me is your statement that the front brake is working fine, yet you find it difficult to stop at a pedestrian crosing. If the front brake ( the most efficeient brake in most two wheel brake systems due to ther being relatively little weight on the rear wheel ), is working fine, then you should be able to stop very efficiently. You should have to be wary of getting tossed over the handle bars! Therefore, I'd suggest taking time to either replace the brake pads or adjust the system if you're having difficulty stopping. You may save your own skin or that of a pedestrian in a cross walk. Check the wheels and the brake pads to get them both working efficiently. Bicycling is inherently dangerous in some areas anyway, so you must be able to protect yourself and others from getting injured.

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Cheers for the advice, this is a old question and I have replaced this bike with a new road one since then :) –  Manatherin Dec 10 '12 at 10:15
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Minnesota (USA) law:

(b) No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

Minnesota Statutes 169,222(b)

This, technically, may disqualify front brakes on standard bikes, since on dry pavement the bike will probably flip before the wheel skids.

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