I currently have a 'regular' bike, i.e. a bike with hand rim 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 rim brakes? I live in NYC and want to make sure that I can brake in all situations!

  • For me coaster brakes were always the 'usual' brakes. Hand operated brakes did not enter till I was an adult. So please consider to always describe what is 'regular' for you.
    – Willeke
    Jan 18, 2021 at 19:59

14 Answers 14


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.

  • 1
    Another thing to consider with a fixie is that body position (weight distribution) plays a huge role in getting the most of out a front brake in emergency stops. Getting your weight back to keep the rear wheel on the ground is much more difficult when the rear wheel wants to keep the pedals spinning.
    – Paul H
    Sep 7, 2015 at 8:44
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    with coaster brake it's impossible to fly over the handlebars, even if you want to, with the front brake it might happen by accident
    – Omu
    Apr 8, 2016 at 6:42
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    Coaster brakes are great as a fail-safe fall-back: They pretty much only fail if the chain falls off. So, as long as you can ride your bike forward, you are also able to stop it with the coaster brake. Thus, a good front brake for normal breaking plus a coaster brake to save you when your cable breaks is a great combo. Jul 24, 2018 at 23:07
  • Using front brakes only is dangerous in several situations. Jan 19, 2021 at 1:02

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.

  • 7
    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.
    – Scott
    Aug 31, 2010 at 15:29
  • A rear brake on a fixie is a total must, at least with the laws in my country. Any bike must have two entirely separate breaking systems to be allowed on the road. (That's actually the same rule that they use for cars, or why do you think they're still building hand-brakes into cars?) Jul 24, 2018 at 23:11
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    One could reasonably argue that a fixed-gear bicycle's drivetrain is a braking system - you can apply a braking force to the wheel by pushing against the pedals. (I have no idea if that would be accepted by any particular legal system)
    – FLHerne
    Jul 25, 2018 at 21:37

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

  • 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, 2010 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, 2011 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.

  • 4
    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. Aug 30, 2010 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! Sep 9, 2011 at 0:46
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    Another advantage of dual brakes is that, if one hand is "busy" (shifting, scratching your nose, whatever), the other hand can brake. Sep 7, 2015 at 11:52

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).


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


If you bike a lot in bad weather conditions, having a coaster brake can be safer than only having rim brakes. When it is raining or when the ground is wet, water can act as a thin layer of lubricant on rim brakes. However coaster brakes are encased and so are unaffected by rain.


Rim brakes:

  • Pro: Good stopping power, easy to use, relatively easy to modulate braking power.

  • Contra: Brake cables can and do break. You must always have a working backup brake to ensure that you won't be caught on an unstoppable bike when your brake cable breaks.

Coaster brake:

  • Pro: Extremely fail-safe. Natural actuation. A well-greased coaster brake provides enough brake force modulation.

  • Contra: Only applicable to the rear wheel, thus limited achievable brake force. Compact design implies danger of overheating on longer descents.

Fixie bike:

  • Pro: No overheating possible. Mechanically the most robust system.

  • Contra: Brake force hard to modulate and uneven around the turn of your pedals. Only applicable to the rear wheel, thus limited achievable brake force. Dumps the braking energy into your muscles, I guess this must be extremely tiring on long descents.

A bike with a coaster brake and a front rim brake is an excellent choice, imho, as long as you do not intend to ride in the mountains with it. More hilly profiles call for overheating resistant disk brakes with large disks for heat dissipation. I would not ever want to ride a fixie in a city, though. Fixies are designed for sportive use, only.

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    Your coaster brake "pro" is missing their main benefit: mad skidddz Jan 19, 2021 at 1:27
  • @whatsisname Well, I guess I'm just too old for this kind of things, I strongly prefer using my tires for many, many kilometers. But I realize that younger people might have different priorities :-) Jan 19, 2021 at 9:47

I see two aspects to this question.

  1. Braking system effectiveness when functioning.
  2. Reliability of braking system.

For 2. there is no comparison. Since cables brakes can be applied to both wheels, and having two brakes is always more reliable than one, cable brakes are a key component of a reliable braking system. And in fact, some bikes will have a combination of these two brakes, having a cable brake on the front and coaster brake on the rear. Now, you might think, gee, a cable can break, but a chain never will, WRONG. While I'm sure it is less common on chunkier chains found on fixed gear bikes, chains can and do break, but it is rare for two cables to break at the same moment.

For 1. there are several considerations. First and foremost again, because cable brakes can be applied to the front wheel, cable brakes can apply far more braking force to the bicycle than a rear wheel brake of any kind. When you apply the brakes, weight shifts to the front, off the rear wheel, meaning you can skid the rear wheel very easily. The front wheel, not so much. In dry conditions you can get 100% of your braking force from the front wheel. In wet conditions, you will benefit from having two brakes and get more total braking force by having both wheels braked.

As far as I understand, the main benefit of fixed gear bikes or coaster brakes is one of simplicity, they require less equipment on your bike and less maintenance. A secondary advantage is that the brakes themselves are not as affected by wet conditions. While rim brakes have significantly improved, they still function less effectively in wet weather. But rim brakes are not the only type of cable actuated hand brakes, you can in fact, use a hub brake (the same as a coaster brake) or a disk brake with a cable (or hydralics), and this in my opinion, for a city bike, is the preferred form of braking.

  • 1
    Additionally, some locations legislate that bicycles must have two independent brakes.
    – Criggie
    Jan 19, 2021 at 2:06
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    In my experience chain dropping off cogs is much more common than breaking, and it interferes with braking just the same. Except of course if it drops to spoke side in the back.
    – ojs
    Jan 19, 2021 at 14:59
  • Dropping chain of cogs is more common than breaking when you have a rear derailleur. But a bike with a single cog on the back (as you'd find on any fixie or coaster brake bike), dropping a chain should be orders of magnitude less common IF the drivetrain is tensioned properly. Whether that is more or less common than breaking a chain on a single speed bike, I really don't know, but it is a good point. Jan 19, 2021 at 19:39

Besides the practical issues, you should also check the law. In many countries, bicycles must have two independent brakes. A fixie without any additional brakes would be illegal and you risk a fine, even if you do nothing else wrong. It is not even clear if the pedals in a fixie count as a brake system (in Germany, a lawsuit was needed to clarify that this is acceptable as one of the two required brakes, but fixies still need a second, independent brake).


All my life used coaster brakes and never was able to adjust to those bikes with rim brakes, you will adjust to speed, distance and be prepared - it will become your habit to always be prepared and hold your legs in position for coaster brakes, meanwhile your hands are free. This is especially great when you ride with hands off for fun and can have extra time to use your coaster brakes over hands one.

  • Gidday and welcome to SE Bicycles. Thank you for your answers. Can you compare coaster brakes with the front rim brake that your bikes would have also had?
    – Criggie
    Oct 15, 2015 at 20:56
  • Not all countries require front rim brakes. (And when I had a bike with one I was told firmly never to use it, as it was dangerous.)
    – Willeke
    Jan 18, 2021 at 20:02
  • @Willeke Well, front brakes are dangerous for being able to block (sending you over the bars) or skid the front wheel (sending you to swipe the road at speed). Rear brakes are dangerous for blocking and skidding at lower brake force than a front brake would (causing you to ride into stuff that you could have avoided with a front brake). The later is not academic: I've had several front brake cables break on me, and always had big trouble coming to a stop soon enough using the rear brake only. This can make the difference between an emergency stop and being hit by a car. Jan 19, 2021 at 15:40
  • @CareenGregory Having embraced a light post once due to riding free handed, I must add that it is highly unadvisable to ride free handed: If you lose just one of your pedal from under your foot, you'll lose the other one as well. This leaves you with only a single contact point to your bike, and utterly unable to steer, brake, or regain control. That's what happened to me, and if it hadn't been for that light post, I might have hit something much worse. Jan 19, 2021 at 15:45
  • @cmaster-reinstatemonica, I blame your rear brake not being adjusted right (or you making too much speed for the brake and road combination.) Where I live it is flat and kids almost never get their bikes to a speed where a good coaster brake would not stop them efficiently. It is likely different in hilly country.
    – Willeke
    Jan 19, 2021 at 17:46

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!!

  • Even with a rear brake, you would need to lean back to increase your stopping power: When you move your center of gravity back with a rear brake, you increase the load on the back wheel, which translates directly to the max. achievable stopping power. This is actually quite similar to shifting back for front wheel braking, where you move your center of gravity back to put load on the rear wheel so that you can remove more of that load by braking harder before you brake too hard and go over your front wheel. Jan 19, 2021 at 15:24

Let me be the one to support coaster brakes for a real reason. For a fixed gear bike the pedals can rotate in two directions but you are required to come to a stop. For a coaster brake you can only rotate it one direction. So without loosening my pedal straps in fear of tilting and falling at a red light or anywhere I have the freedom to stand on one pedal while leaning on a light pole, wall, grabbing something, etc and just push back off on green. There you have it, speed is the perk.

  • You can grab the light pole or wall just the same when you do the last bit of braking with a single brake. Or you could do it the way I do it, and lean against the wall/pole with your elbow. That said, I've never clipped my feet into pedals, so I'm not an expert when it comes to this. I do hate dismounting at traffic lights, nonetheless. Jan 19, 2021 at 15:32

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, 2012 at 14:28
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    If hand brakes jerk like that they're either very poor quality or seriously misadjusted. Jun 1, 2012 at 14:50

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