I have recently moved to Germany (from the UK) and started commuting to work by bike. Apart from the confusion of cycling on the other side of the road, and the levers for the brakes being the other way round to the are in the UK, my new bike is fitted with a coaster brake as well as calliper rim brakes for the front and rear wheels.

I have never ridden a bike with a coaster brake before, as they are unusual in the UK. I am unclear as to when I should use the coaster brake and when I should prefer using the rim brake for the rear wheel? Are they essentially equivalent and I should just use whichever I find easier, or are there circumstances under which I should favour one or the other or even both together?

If it makes a difference my route to work is fairly flat and mostly consists of cycle paths separated from the road, although at this time of year there are a lot of wet leaves on which I'm finding it difficult to control the speed as easily as I'd like. It has been several years since I have ridden a bike.

  • If its your bike that only gets ridden by you, then its not a lot of work to swap the brake cables left for right. Of course this could be a surprise for a local who rides the bike and suddenly finds the brakes reversed!
    – Criggie
    Nov 2, 2016 at 11:15
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    The rim brakes are there mainly for show -- to make the bike seem fancier than it is. I doubt that the bike is designed for anything more than casual riding, and the coaster brake should be all you need. However, if you prefer using the rim brakes there's nothing wrong with that. Nov 2, 2016 at 11:37
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    @Criggie: I considered it, but figured I was better to get used to how things are usually done in the country in which I now live. Nov 2, 2016 at 11:51

1 Answer 1


The coaster brake is the primary brake. It should be used as your first means of stopping. Rim brakes on coaster brake bikes are typically a safety design. If the chain were to break or come off the sprocket you would have no coaster brakes. In the U.S. the hand brake is normally installed on the front wheel. The front wheel provides more braking power as you weight shifts forward.

  • So, if i understand you correctly, if I need to stop quickly I should use the front rim brake in combination with the coaster brake, otherwise rely on the coaster brake to slow down, and use the rear rim brake only as a backup in case the coaster brake fails? Nov 2, 2016 at 10:25
  • In the US many bikes are sold with only a coaster brake. If any sort of failure of the coaster brake was likely then the safety folks would require an additional brake, but they don't. The odds of a chain breaking or coming off of a single-speed bike are vanishingly small. Nov 2, 2016 at 11:40
  • In order to comply with traffic laws, bicycles are required to have two independent brakes. This applies to most (continental) European countries, Germany making no exception. German bikes had coaster brakes as a standard feature until the early 1970s.
    – Carel
    Nov 2, 2016 at 13:21
  • @Carel - I realize the original question refers to Germany, but in constrast to German law, US law is not so strict. For example, in California: a bike need only have a single brake: ...equipped with a brake that will enable the operator to make one braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement...
    – Johnny
    Nov 3, 2016 at 6:14

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