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Just finished building a gorgeous commuter from a fixed track frame. I've got some nice fat 700x28 tires, a SRAM automatix hub in the rear, and a disc compatible front hub. The frame has mounts for rim brakes but lacks any elegant way to route the back brake cable across the top tube.

I've currently got it wrapped up with some fabric handlebar tap and may end up making a nice stitched leather top tube protector BUT I'm super curious...what if I skipped the back brake all together and just did ONE disc brake up front?

Obviously I'll have to perfect a nice progressive squeeze so as not to go over the front and I'll definitely have to get used to shifting my weight back a bit when I brake (especially on hills) but what other down sides are there to this?

Cheers!

  • Brakes are a good idea - the "minimalist" approach from some people strikes me as silly. If your wheel/fork supports a disc brake consider that over a rim. Bikes have two brakes for redundancy - if one isn't working you've got the other to fall back on. Otherwise you have nothing on a SS and end up jamming a foot at a tyre to slow down. At least the fixie can use pedal braking. Some countries legally require two separate braking systems. – Criggie Jul 27 '16 at 20:05
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    28mm is not a tire size many would consider "fat", but maybe that's just me. – whatsisname Jul 28 '16 at 7:11
  • do you have the coaster brake in your automatix hub? – njzk2 Jul 28 '16 at 16:05
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    Is it still a single speed if you have an Internally Geared Hub? Don't think so. – Criggie Aug 1 '16 at 10:46
  • I think the word is "phony". – ojs Aug 1 '16 at 16:40
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Like the late great Sheldon Brown wrote in his article, I use the front brake alone most of the time. But there are great reasons to have a rear brake in addition to the front brake:

  • Slippery pavement (wet weather, etc). If the front wheel skids, the rider will almost always crash. The rider can often recover from a rear-wheel skid, so if conditions are slippery, I try to use the rear brake and give myself plenty of time to stop.

  • Leverage. When I have my hands on top of the brake hoods, I don't have as much leverage as when I'm grabbing the brake levers from the drops. When I have to make a sudden emergency stop from the hoods, I can stop better when I use both brakes.

  • Braking while turning. If the rider tries to use the front brake while turning sharply, that might cause the front wheel to skid. Sometimes braking with both brakes is better in a sharp turn. Also if the rear wheel skids, the rider might be able to recover, or the crash might be more gentle than a crash caused by a front-wheel skid. I generally try to avoid braking while turning sharply, but sometimes I have no choice, if for instance I want to avoid hitting the child who ran onto the bike path without looking.

  • Equipment failure. If there is some problem with the front wheel or the front brake, having a rear brake can be very handy.

  • The Automatix hub incorporates a coaster brake, so the OP does have a rear brake. – david1024 Aug 1 '16 at 13:15
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Generally you want at least two independent braking systems for a bike (in some places this is a legal requirement). This usually means one front brake and one rear brake, though some people find resisting on a fixie as a valid rear brake.

There isn't really a difference in using a front disc or a front rim brake on a road bike -- they're independent of the rear drivetrain, and how well they work relative to each other depends on the rim brake/disc brake choices and the riding conditions. On bikes intended for the road, rim brakes are generally more than adequate when properly set up. Modulating the brake application is key with any brake choice.

Note that rim brakes are often cheaper in net. Obviously, you need to have a disc fork and disc-ready wheel to use the disc brake option, and you need a fork which can mount a rim brake and a rim-brake ready wheel (i.e. has a brake track -- the metal place where the brake hits) for a rim brake. I'd personally probably go with a rim brake just on cost, but to each their own.

This being said, the Automatix hub is not a fixed gear hub, so if you only have a front brake, you really should have a rear brake (rim brake, disc brake, coaster brake hub, etc.) -- I would not recommend running just a front brake in this case. I'd much rather keep my teeth rather than not having a brake cable running to the back. You can also get the Automatix coaster brake version. As the other answer of rclocher3 said, depending on riding conditions, you may want to have a rear brake (not just failure).

  • The Automatix hub incorporates a coaster brake, so the OP does have a rear brake. – david1024 Aug 1 '16 at 13:07
  • There are several variations of the Automatix hub -- its not clear that OP has a variant with a coaster brake. – Batman Aug 1 '16 at 13:36
  • The Automatix hub is a fairly inexpensive hub (as far as rear hubs go), if the OP doesn't already have the brake version... I'd strongly suggest the upgrade--Although, that may require a new frame for the arm, not sure I'd trust a P-clamp for that duty on a chainstay that wasn't designed for the stress of braking. – david1024 Aug 2 '16 at 15:11
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The only thing the other answers miss is that a rear brake is a heck of a lot of fun to have and adds a whole different dimension to handling and maneuverability.

Obviously it helps stop in an emergency, but it also gives you other options in an emergency, allowing you to spin the bike in a skid, or slip through tight spots where you otherwise would not have the necessary angle.

I wouldn't be typing right now if my back brake hadn't saved my life on more than one occasion first on motorbikes, and more recently on bicycle so I'm unsure if it's normal for cyclists to skid around.

  • Bicycles have such a low-output power source that intentional skidding is uncommon. Even MTB and BMX riders don't seem to skid intentionally. Unintentional skidding on either wheel is more likely to be ice/gravel/general poor traction. Motorbikes are a different matter - when you have the equivalent of ~200 pro peleton riders in your motorbike, you can afford to use power more freely. – Criggie Aug 1 '16 at 10:51
  • bald tyres help I guess, and the more you skid, the balder they get :) – Kilisi Aug 1 '16 at 14:02
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    Interesting answer! As someone who has ridden road bikes almost exclusively, I've never tried to use my rear brake to get the right angle to slip through a tight spot, or spin the bike in a skid. Sounds like fun though ;) I imagine that those skills are a lot more natural to someone with a dirt bike, BMX, or mountain bike background. – rclocher3 Aug 1 '16 at 15:40
  • Saved my life in rural New Zealand at high speed going down a hill, came around a corner almost on top of some god awful horror movie looking piece of farm machinery with a wide barrel covered in 2 foot spikes behind it. Hit the back brake and my rear slid out (kept the front pointing downhill). When I got the right angle I turned the front and just barely got around it. (then stopped and sat on the side of the road for twenty minutes shaking (from the cold)). :) Whole thing happened in an instant, but it was one of those 'this is the end of me!' moments. – Kilisi Aug 1 '16 at 23:22

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