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Is it considered safe-enough to only have a front-brake on a fixie in a urban area that has many hills? I've been considering buying one, but I want to get some opinions before I move forward.

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Be aware though, you want to have a good front brake. I swapped the standard Tektro caliper that came on my bike for a Shimano 105 and it's great. With just the Tektro I found my braking a little insufficient. –  Mac Oct 19 '11 at 22:28
    
Safe-enough is subjective to your nerves...its totally normal to see only a front brake on a fixie around my parts (sometimes no brakes at all). You might want to have a quick word with local law to determine if you NEED to have both front and back on your bike for legal reasons. Doesn't mean you have to use them, just helps to avoid the fines that could happen if your local bylaws insist on f&b brakes. –  Chef Flambe Feb 12 '13 at 1:07
    
It's worth noting that in many places, a bicycle is required by law to have two working brakes. I've never personally heard of someone being ticketed for not complying with that, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me. –  jimirings Aug 16 '13 at 14:52
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4 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Yes. The front brake provides basically all of the stopping power in a bicycle, and recent tests in Bicycle Quarterly show that, in emergency stops, the distraction of attempting to use the rear brake may even increase stopping distance. Maximum bicycle braking power is achieved just before the bicycle starts to pitch over, as the rear wheel lifts off the ground. Once that occurs, it's trivial to lock the rear wheel with a brake or by using your legs on a fixed gear.

The main disadvantage of having a front brake only in extremely hilly situations is not being able to dissipate some of the thermal load of braking between both rims, so you risk overheating the front.

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Excellent point about overheating the rims. This issues is exacerbated by the anodized/powdercoated rims and skinny tires that are invariably on fixies these days. (sheldonbrown.com/brandt/anodized-rims.html) –  WTHarper Nov 30 '12 at 17:05
    
Keep in mind, this is true only on clean dry pavement. You need a rear brake to achieve maximum braking under other conditions. And locking the pedals doesn't count. –  whatsisname Dec 1 '12 at 2:51
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This is pretty subjective. I'd say it's preference. Some riders truly have enough skill on a fixed gear bike to go without a rear brake. Most do it because of convention. It's considered unfashionable to have a rear brake on a fixie, and for many fixed gear riders form trumps function. In my opinion its a little foolish not to have a rear brake. Backpedaling to stop on a fixie is bad for your knees and in an emergency stopping situation it's harder to give the bike the body english it may need while you're trying to push backwards on the pedals at the same time. On the flip side, having a rear brake on the bike isn't going to hurt anything, though some hipster might dock you on style points. In my book that's just another plus.

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Nonsense. The front brake is the only brake capable of providing maximum stopping power to a bike, whereas the rear brake will skid. Most experienced riders know to use the front brake exclusively — lacking a rear brake is no real disadvantage for a bike, fixie or otherwise. –  Stephen Touset Oct 23 '11 at 23:21
    
That's too foolish of a comment to warrant a genuine response. –  joelmdev Oct 23 '11 at 23:31
    
I read somewhere that, not only is a rear brake unnecessary on a fixie, you get enough feedback through the drivetrain that you get much better with the front brake. (Seriously, read that link.) –  Neil Fein Oct 23 '11 at 23:52
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Another "think" coming. But nobody here has said that back pressure on the pedals is an equal substitute for a rear brake. A front brake, however, which is what the original question was about, is the single most effective tool with which to stop a bicycle safely. A rear brake is an unnecessary (but occasionally useful) addition. –  Stephen Touset Oct 24 '11 at 1:25
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I'm voting this up, and find it important to point out the importance of having a back brake is so that you have a backup. When You're going down hill at a cadence of 120, and the front brake cable snaps, you'll be happy you have that back brake. You could go around on any bike with just a front brake, but that doesn't make it a good idea. Also, if you have to rely on backpedalling as a brake, then you limit your gearing choices. It's nice to be able to go 40 km/h on your fixie without spinning fast. With that gearing it's almost impossible to stop a fixie with your legs. –  Kibbee Nov 30 '12 at 13:51
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There are situations, such as ice, or slick leafs covering the road surface that make application of the front brake dangerous. Generally the front brake does all of the stopping because it does not lose traction until the bike flips; however, in the aforementioned scenarios, the front wheel is likely to lose traction, pitching the bike and rider to the ground. In those cases, it is safer to slow down on the rear wheel, where a skid does not cause a total loss of control. Sheldon Brown definitely mentions this in the single speed section, where he recommends using both front and rear brakes on freewheeling bikes.

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I the 70s I raced a track bike in the Velodrome. After moving away from Alanta I put a front break on & used the bike as a road bike. Even though I had the break lever, I very rarely used it as breaking with your legs (toe clip/clipless peds) is much more rewarding.

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