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I currently have a 'regular' bike, i.e. a bike with typical brakes but I've been more fascinated recently with single speed and fixed gear bikes. One of the reasons that I've held off on getting on is the braking.

How does coaster braking and braking on a fixed gear bike compare to regular brakes? I live in NYC and want to make sure that I can brake in all situations!

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8 Answers 8

up vote 19 down vote accepted

A track bike (fixed gear) has no front or rear brakes. You slow the bike down by resisting the turn of the pedals but you need to be careful to not push too hard, which can lock up the rear wheel and cause a skid.

But most fixed gears aren't true track bikes. You should be able to find one that has standard brakes on both the front and rear wheels. The front brake is especially important since that's where most of your braking power comes from on a normal bike.

A coaster brake is basically a drum brake in the rear hub. Pedalling backwards engages the brake.

Personally I would expect a bike with a normal front rim or disc brake to be "safest". Front brakes have much more stopping power because your weight shifts to the front wheel when slowing down. Plus you can control the amount of braking power more easily by hand than by resisting with your feet.

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I use only a front brake on my fixed gear. Between that and resisting pedaling I have not had a problem. I don;t go very fast on the fixed gear so this also reduces the need for emergency/panic stops of the kind I have had to do with a road bike.

you can put front and rear brakes on a fixed gear, but probably not necessary. I would not ride one without a brake though.

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A rear brake on a fixie is totally unnecessary IMO, but as Tim says, I would never ride one without a front brake. I hardly ever use the front brake on my fixie, but I've got a massive downhill stretch on my way to work every day and I definitely want a front brake in case I lose my chain or some jackass in a car cuts me off. –  Scottie Aug 31 '10 at 15:29

regular (rim brakes) or disc brakes are the safest hands down, as long as you know how to.

fixie skidding limits you to either 1 or 2 pedal positions,depending on rider, to brake in and since there is no front brake it can take yards to completely stop. coaster brakes are similar to fixies because it can take a while to stop. also on a long descent using a coaster brake can actually cause it to overheat and explode.

when using rim brakes you should almost always (80%+) use the front brake. it stops you much faster but you need to learn to slightly brace yourself so you dont fly over the handlebars. use the rear brake on long descents and in wet weather.

hope this helps

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Wow...'overheat and explode'...that's a show stopper! Also I didn't know that we should be using the front brake more. I usually use the back brake more because someone cautioned me from using the front brake since that may cause me to fly over the handlebars. –  milesmeow Sep 3 '10 at 13:25
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@milesmeow Yes you can fly over the front. One technique is to push your bum back (perhaps even behind the saddle) when you brake, to get lower and more rear-ward (and so less likely to flip). Another technique is to apply both brakes at once: then when or before you begin to flip, when weight comes off the rear tire, then the rear tire starts to skid; so when the rear tire starts to skid then ease up on both brakes (similar to an ABS antilock braking system on a car). –  ChrisW Jul 21 '11 at 3:05

Regular brakes—two hand levers, one for front and one for rear—are certainly the safest because they provide two independent means of stopping in a very controlled fashion. If one of your brakes fail, you have another to fall back on. A bike with coaster brakes or a fixed gear without freewheel, that also has a front brake is nearly as safe, but the rear braking action is a bit harder to control.

If you want to know whether you would feel safe on a bike with just a rear brake, ride your normal bike around and only use the rear brake.

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Keep in mind that, if your chain breaks, your coaster brake won't work. My grocery-getter has a coaster brake as well as a front handbrake. –  Neil Fein Aug 30 '10 at 19:57
    
Not to mention that brakes were specifically designed for braking. Or, to put it in other words, nothing brakes better than brakes! –  heltonbiker Sep 9 '11 at 0:46

Fixed gear bicycles have their advantages but I'm gonna say that braking is not one of them. The guys who uphold fixed-gear wheel braking seem to forget two major factors: A. With any form of braking, rear-wheel braking is nowhere near the power of front-wheel braking and B. With all the skid-braking on a fixed-gear, don't you create 'flat spots' and wear the tire out sooner? It's probably cheaper in the long run to regularly buy new brake pads than new tires.

I can say without a doubt that disc brakes are hands down the most powerful and reliable for any bicycle. Even when disc brake pads are worn out and not tuned... they still manage to perform better than anything else. For me the biggest advantage is wet-weather performance. You can be going through a monsoon and they will still be able to lock-up your wheel (good!). I commute all year, all seasons including winter blizzards. Are disc brake systems heavier? Sure... but we are talking ounces. Are they more expensive? Yes. Anyways these negatives don't out-weight the benefit of performance in my books. I've put my SRAM X0's through 30,000km's roughly and they are still going strong. I've gone through about 3 pairs of pads. Only thing I will say about them is I wish they used less recycled metals because recycled metals corrode faster in this salty winter environment (Canada).

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Usual brakes, front and rear! because sometime i used single-speed too (i used a flip-flop hub) if the terrain too punishing therefore both brakes is mandatory for me

but in case i have no spare brakes for my bike on the workshop (i seldom recycling unused bikes to usable bikes, so i have to make all parts used carefully) , i'll only use front brake and I'll find the rear brake another day, so at least it usable and safety

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as far as stopping power...a front rim brake because : 1. disc brake require more torque cessation at the center of the wheel 2. coaster brakes even more torque 3.it's safer to lean back with a front brake than to lean forward with any brake which you could do with a rear brake, but as previously stated when stopping more weight is shifted to the front and that is where braking is most effective. so....front and rear rim brakes would ultimately be safest but for stopping power and safety at least a front rim brake is my choice. YOLO!!

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Hand brakes are great for emergency stopping but horrible when you just want to SLOW DOWN your speed to round a corner. The bike jerks to an abrupt halt and you can come crashing down. I feel more in control with coaster brakes.

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I'd think a hand brake is 10x easier to feather compared to a coaster brake. –  dotjoe Jun 1 '12 at 14:28
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If hand brakes jerk like that they're either very poor quality or seriously misadjusted. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 1 '12 at 14:50

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