I bought my 3 y/o son a new BMX bike and found out only after that they do not have a coaster brake. They do have two hand brakes, one for the front wheel and one for the rear.

I would like to know the pros and cons of coaster brake vs hand-brake?


2 Answers 2


One of the advantages of a coaster brake is young children typically have stronger legs than hands. They can apply more brake pressure with the legs than the hands. Many children however have difficulty squeezing the lever with enough force to stop the bike confidently. In my experience the lower the bike quality the more effort required to actuate the hand brake. Some of this can be alleviated by proper adjustment of the lever movement by use of the lever stop screw. This adjustment brings the lever closer to the grip so smaller hands can get a stronger pull on the lever. Many entry level brake levers lack this feature. The disadvantage to the coaster brake is it requires that the crank be rotated backwards to actuate the brake. Most people have a dominant leg similar to be left or right handed. In a panic situation the pedal may be out of braking position delaying braking. Another disadvantage of coater brakes is they are totally ineffective if the chain falls off or breaks. I would teach your son to ride using the hand brakes. Practice stopping drills on a level surface. Perhaps draw a chalk in the drive-way and see how close he can come to line without going over it. With my children as we rode along the local rail-trail I would occasionally tell them to "Stop Now" so they would gain confidence in stopping quickly.

  • Kids bikes tend to be built down to a price point, because they only have to last a couple years before being out-grown.
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 0:30

Cons of coaster brakes (ie back pedalling brake)

  • Harder for young kids to learn to pedal, they pedal backward sometimes which is frustrating
  • Teaches kids that backpedalling is how you stop and they have to "change mindsets" on a bigger bike which can be a barrier to moving up a size.

Pros of coaster brakes

  • low maintenance
  • ability to do "mad-skidz"

Cons of hand brakes

  • Little kids often lack the hand strength to operate them effectively
  • Kid bikes tend to have cheap/nasty brake calipers and pads which also work poorly on steel or plastic rims.

Pros of hand brakes

  • Its what you have on a big bike, helps impart the idea of how to stop.

In short, either is fine. Kids bikes are unlikely to do more than 10 miles in their entire operational life so wear is not generally a factor. However kids will dump their bikes, and leave them in the rain so robustness is important too.

  • One small side note, there are plenty of adult bikes with coaster brakes for those who like the system, although in some countries they are harder to find.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 17:05
  • 1
    ability to do "mad-skidz" is a key element of the little kid social hierarchy Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 18:13

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