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Is it considered safe-enough to only have a front-brake on a fixie in a urban area that has many hills? I've been considering buying one, but I want to get some opinions before I move forward.

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    Be aware though, you want to have a good front brake. I swapped the standard Tektro caliper that came on my bike for a Shimano 105 and it's great. With just the Tektro I found my braking a little insufficient. – Mac Oct 19 '11 at 22:28
  • Safe-enough is subjective to your nerves...its totally normal to see only a front brake on a fixie around my parts (sometimes no brakes at all). You might want to have a quick word with local law to determine if you NEED to have both front and back on your bike for legal reasons. Doesn't mean you have to use them, just helps to avoid the fines that could happen if your local bylaws insist on f&b brakes. – Chef Flambe Feb 12 '13 at 1:07
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    It's worth noting that in many places, a bicycle is required by law to have two working brakes. I've never personally heard of someone being ticketed for not complying with that, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me. – jimchristie Aug 16 '13 at 14:52
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    Though in at least some places, a fixed-gear effectively counts as having a rear braking system: cyclinguk.org/cyclists-library/regulations/construction-use – armb Feb 15 '17 at 9:49
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Yes. The front brake provides basically all of the stopping power in a bicycle, and recent tests in Bicycle Quarterly show that, in emergency stops, the distraction of attempting to use the rear brake may even increase stopping distance. Maximum bicycle braking power is achieved just before the bicycle starts to pitch over, as the rear wheel lifts off the ground. Once that occurs, it's trivial to lock the rear wheel with a brake or by using your legs on a fixed gear.

The main disadvantage of having a front brake only in extremely hilly situations is not being able to dissipate some of the thermal load of braking between both rims, so you risk overheating the front.

  • Excellent point about overheating the rims. This issues is exacerbated by the anodized/powdercoated rims and skinny tires that are invariably on fixies these days. (sheldonbrown.com/brandt/anodized-rims.html) – WTHarper Nov 30 '12 at 17:05
  • Keep in mind, this is true only on clean dry pavement. You need a rear brake to achieve maximum braking under other conditions. And locking the pedals doesn't count. – whatsisname Dec 1 '12 at 2:51
  • In my experience, locking the pedals does count. Do you have any explanation why they would not? – ojs Jan 23 '16 at 19:07
  • @ojs a locked wheel has less friction against the road surface than one that is rolling slightly slower than the vehicle's speed. I haven't been able to find a source that clearly explains the effect but you can see the peak of the curves on page 2 of dcsl.gatech.edu/papers/cdc99a.pdf are around slip ratios of 0.08 (a locked wheel/tyre would have a slip ratio of 1) – Ephphatha Feb 14 '17 at 10:05
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There are situations, such as ice, or slick leafs covering the road surface that make application of the front brake dangerous. Generally the front brake does all of the stopping because it does not lose traction until the bike flips; however, in the aforementioned scenarios, the front wheel is likely to lose traction, pitching the bike and rider to the ground. In those cases, it is safer to slow down on the rear wheel, where a skid does not cause a total loss of control. Sheldon Brown definitely mentions this in the single speed section, where he recommends using both front and rear brakes on freewheeling bikes.

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The rule about two brakes is a rule about redundancy: If one brake fails, the other can be used to safely slow you to a stop.

That said, a fixie already has some kind of a rear-brake built in: The fixed pedal connection. As long as you have your feet on your pedals, you can apply reverse force.

The only problematic thing about this pedal-rear-brake is, that it only works as long as your feet are actually on the pedals. And that is where the hills come in: Are you certain that you can keep your feet on your pedals, independent of the hill you are riding down? If so, I see no problem with front-brake only fixie. However, if you have a hill that requires you to apply some force from a normal brake to keep your speed controllable, you should have two independent normal brakes. Likewise, if you want the ability to let go of your pedals to go down a hill fast, you need a second normal brake. A fixie's gear is generally not suitable for riding down hills fast. So, either you limit your speed to what you can safely follow with your feet, or you use a second brake. I would definitely opt for the later.

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In the 70's I raced a track bike in the Velodrome.

After moving away from Atlanta I put a front break on and used the bike as a road bike.

Even though I had the brake lever, I very rarely used it as braking with your legs (toe clip/clipless pedals) is much more rewarding.

  • While it is interesting to hear of one's experience, it does not address the safety aspects asked in the question. – gschenk Aug 15 '17 at 21:58
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As a youngster 55 years ago I understand the legal requirement was a front brake only on a fixed wheel bike and that was all many of us had. Living on the edge of the Fens in Peterborough we had access to miles of dead flat countryside and many riders used a 12 tooth rear sprocket for a really high gear. Hard to spin up initially but great for constant high speed on the flat. We also amused ourselves using lorries exiting Kates Cafe on the A1 to act as a windbreak riding inches behind them for perhaps 10 miles at a stint, risky but fun demanding sharp reflexes!

  • That's quite interesting, but doesn't address any part of OP's question (safety of front brake only on fixie on hills) Could you please expand your answer to reference hill riding on that bike then it'll be much more relevant. Use the Edit link straight under your answer to expand. Welcome to SE Bicycles, you've obviously got practical experience from many years of riding which is always welcome. Please have a browse through the tour to see how this site is a bit different from a common chat forum. – Criggie Sep 19 '17 at 1:10
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This is pretty subjective. I'd say it's preference. Some riders truly have enough skill on a fixed gear bike to go without a rear brake. Most do it because of convention. It's considered unfashionable to have a rear brake on a fixie, and for many fixed gear riders form trumps function. In my opinion its a little foolish not to have a rear brake. Backpedaling to stop on a fixie is bad for your knees and in an emergency stopping situation it's harder to give the bike the body english it may need while you're trying to push backwards on the pedals at the same time. On the flip side, having a rear brake on the bike isn't going to hurt anything, though some hipster might dock you on style points. In my book that's just another plus.

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    Nonsense. The front brake is the only brake capable of providing maximum stopping power to a bike, whereas the rear brake will skid. Most experienced riders know to use the front brake exclusively — lacking a rear brake is no real disadvantage for a bike, fixie or otherwise. – Stephen Touset Oct 23 '11 at 23:21
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    That's too foolish of a comment to warrant a genuine response. – joelmdev Oct 23 '11 at 23:31
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    I read somewhere that, not only is a rear brake unnecessary on a fixie, you get enough feedback through the drivetrain that you get much better with the front brake. (Seriously, read that link.) – Neil Fein Oct 23 '11 at 23:52
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    Another "think" coming. But nobody here has said that back pressure on the pedals is an equal substitute for a rear brake. A front brake, however, which is what the original question was about, is the single most effective tool with which to stop a bicycle safely. A rear brake is an unnecessary (but occasionally useful) addition. – Stephen Touset Oct 24 '11 at 1:25
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    I'm voting this up, and find it important to point out the importance of having a back brake is so that you have a backup. When You're going down hill at a cadence of 120, and the front brake cable snaps, you'll be happy you have that back brake. You could go around on any bike with just a front brake, but that doesn't make it a good idea. Also, if you have to rely on backpedalling as a brake, then you limit your gearing choices. It's nice to be able to go 40 km/h on your fixie without spinning fast. With that gearing it's almost impossible to stop a fixie with your legs. – Kibbee Nov 30 '12 at 13:51
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People saying that a rear brake is useless must not ride much. Fast, steep, technical descents are much faster with rear brake, as is tight urban commuting.. even on dry pavement.

I'd challenge anyone with no rear brake(fixed doesn't count) to a race anyday thru the city. I really couldn't see someone even staying with me for more than a few blocks. First couple 90deg turns at speed you will see how no rear brake performs.

Then throw some gravel or oily water into mix.. not even close.

To be clear, I DO consider a fixed wheel as being a good rear brake, I'm talking about no rear at all as some people seem to think would be adequate.

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    The question was explicitly about fixed. If your intention is to say that fixed gear is not useful as a brake, I'd like to hear some explanation about that. Your personal incompetence does not generalize. – ojs Jan 23 '16 at 19:09
  • @ojs Kris clearly said "I DO consider a fixed wheel as being a good rear brake" and what's the motivation for your last sentence? – Criggie Jan 23 '16 at 20:05
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    The "fixed doesn't count" part above that, and not thoroughly reading the entire answer. The question was explicitly about fixed gear, after all. The answer doesn't sound like written by someone with actual fixed gear experience, anyone who does should know that tight turns are limited by pedal strike, not braking. – ojs Jan 24 '16 at 12:39
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I say this is nonsense... The ability to have the back brake engaged until you flip is what you want in those situations where you are going to die. And in fact when you are in a situation when you are flipping and have to let go(RELEASE) of the front brake you want the rear brake to engaged when your rear tire touches again for that split second when your front is not engaged. Anyway, 10-20 percent braking is more than 0-percent rear braking when you are going to crash.

Sorry, I am old school and have road both coast as well as a zillion miles of intense city riding before there were any helmets and the only thing that ever saved me was my two brakes, not one... And I guess until you actually crash or experienced flipping thru the air you will never know how important your rear brake is..

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    Your rear brake is utterly useless If the rear wheel is in the air, and not on the ground. – Criggie Jul 16 '17 at 6:52
  • I say your response is utter nonsense. Of course, this is all going to be down to technique, but you should be doing 70-90% of your braking with your front brake on a road bike. And a fixed gear does have rear brakes, just not conventional ones. Your legs are your rear brakes. Fight the gear down from speed with your legs. Again, it's up to technique, but any good fixed gear rider should be able to stop within a reasonable range close to as fast as they could with brakes. I'm not saying it's absolutely as safe or fast, but the point of riding these bikes is gaining skill in riding them. – CardMechanic Jul 19 '17 at 17:31
  • Welcome to Bicycles SE. This site does not operate like a typical forum. It operates on a Q&A basis. While your post answers the question, it does so in a fashion that is replying to other answers. Our voting system causes the order in which answers appear to change. This means that it can be difficult to determine which answer you are replying to. Please use the "edit" button to make your answer more self-contained and directly answer the question. If you do not do so, your answer is likely to be further downvoted and/or flagged for moderator intervention. – jimchristie Jul 21 '17 at 13:37

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