I recently got a basic beater bike for pootling around the neighbourhood. All it has for brakes is a rear Sturmey-Archer AWC coaster brake. Having used almost every other kind of hand-operated brake in over 30 years of cycling, the coaster brake seems very strange:

  • stopping at a junction doesn't seem to allow any kind of gradual stop; you have to keep both feet on the pedals until the bike stops, then kind of flop off the pedal to put your foot down.

  • starting up again at junctions requires you to remember to leave your lead pedal at the 2pm position, because you can't back-pedal to get it to where you need it.

I should point out that I'm using this on quiet, mostly flat areas, and am not mixing it in heavy, fast traffic. I have other bikes for such use. I'm also referring to small-e effective, not Forester-style big-E Effective Cycling.

So how does one ride with a coaster and stay safe and sane?

  • Millions of kids manage fine with coaster brakes and would struggle with even a 3-speed "English racer". It's just a matter of getting used to it. It is true that the brake only applies to the rear wheel, but any decent coaster brake can readily lock the rear wheel, so braking effectiveness is still substantial. Jun 22, 2014 at 11:49
  • The difference is that most kids have the bike set up so they can touch the ground while seated, often flat footed. This is different from how most adults would set up a bike.
    – Kibbee
    Jun 22, 2014 at 13:18
  • 2
    I learned a new word - pootling. To get the pedal in position you can also lift up the rear wheel by the seat and pedal forward. Can hook your toe under the pedal to go from 9 to 2.
    – paparazzo
    Jun 22, 2014 at 13:25

2 Answers 2


Stopping is relatively easy - the rearmost foot is pressing back/down on the pedal to operate the brake, the other goes on the ground. If you're used to two feet on the ground when stopped you'll need to practice stopping with one foot first. You probably need to swap anyway, so the foot on the pedals is ready to push down when you move off. It's vaguely annoying but you'll get used to it.

To shuffle the pedals around while stationary you need to be pushing gently as if you're trying to pedal forwards, while rolling the bike backwards. Again, it's annoying. When I ride a bike like this I quickly get a little system organised so that I stop, rotate the pedals forward to disengage the brake and get ready to move off, then roll back a little until the foot that's on the pedal ready to start is in the right position.

I do think you should fit a front brake of some sort just for safety. Braking with the rear wheel is less effective, especially in an emergency stop situation. Even a cheap caliper brake is better than nothing (and often that's all those bikes are set up for).

  • Ah, the rolling back trick is a good one. I must try it, thanks. I'd normally agree about the front brake, but this bike is for very short or traffic-free trips, isn't drilled for a front brake (but has bushings for rack, mudguards and steering stabilizer in the way), and was very cheap: $100
    – scruss
    Jun 22, 2014 at 14:32
  • No caliper brake hole or something like sheldonbrown.com/home-drop.html ?
    – Batman
    Jun 22, 2014 at 16:25
  • The fork crown holes are already taken up with smaller-diameter bushings for the mudguards, front rack and steering stabilizer. So there's nowhere to put a caliper.
    – scruss
    Jun 23, 2014 at 3:21

Add a front hand brake is the easiest way. But otherwise, you have to get used to it. You should have 2 independent braking systems anyway in case one fails (and your face doesn't count as one). But you are prone to skidding and ineffective stopping with a coaster brake in general (which is why they're pretty much only on kids bikes now a days, or in some other special cases, e.g. certain tricks).

  • yeah, I bought a dutchie last year which had a coaster brake. It's all very authentic n'all, but its pretty lousy when it comes to stopping. I wouldn't be without the additional rim brake on the front.
    – PeteH
    Jun 22, 2014 at 9:06
  • 3
    "Add another brake" is a rather weak answer for how to effectively use a given type of brake. Jun 23, 2014 at 1:12
  • @whatsisname: "So how does one ride with a coaster and stay safe and sane?" - "Add a front brake" is streets ahead of any other answer.....
    – mattnz
    Jun 23, 2014 at 1:50
  • Short of using a hub brake and a hose clamp, there's no practical way to fit a front brake to this bike.
    – scruss
    Jun 23, 2014 at 3:19

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