After refurbishing my mountain bicycle I have discovered I need a new cable for my rear brake. My front brake works perfectly fine and that is the only one I use. I will be getting the rear brake replaced but have taken it off for now.

I was wondering is it illegal to cycle in public with just one brake on my bicycle? We have cycle paths but I'm still not sure.

Thank you

  • 11
    There are laws about this in places but it's not really a question unless we know where in the world you are. And even then, anyone answering would likely have to research your local laws for you to answer, which is something you could do too. Apr 24 at 7:23
  • 3
    Any question about legality of something must mention the location or jurisdiction. I'd assume most people here come from the US, but it cannot be understood implicitly. That said, there are many fixies that can only brake by pedals - somewehere they are legal, somewhere they are not.
    – Vladimir F
    Apr 24 at 8:13
  • I have closed this question because it needs more detail, as indicated in previous comments. If you edit your location into the question, it will automatically be flagged for reopening.
    – jimchristie
    May 17 at 11:59

This obviously depends on the location on where you ride, whether or not your bike happens to be a fixed gear bike (most are not), whether or not the laws consider the ability to backpedal on a fixed gear bike a brake device.

This could also depend on the specifics of the bicycle. The lawmakers obviously don't want everyone riding on bicycles with only one brake. However, the lawmakers also probably don't want to make cheap coaster brake bicycles illegal. So it may very well be the case that two brakes are required but one brake is permissible in some special cases such as bikes with only one gear that use a coaster brake.

You said you discovered the need for a rear brake cable. Most likely you thus are aware that brake cables don't last forever. Front brake cables can fail too.

I wouldn't ride a bike with one brake only, especially if that brake uses cables that can fail suddenly as opposed to hydraulics, anywhere else than the nearest bicycle shop where I would purchase two cables -- one for the rear brake, the second as spare so you never again encounter the situation again where a cable needs to be replaced and you don't have a spare.

Cables are cheap. For every cheap wear item, you should have a spare somewhere.

  • As a Dutch person, (only one brake needed in the Netherlands) I have heard all or almost all other countries require a second brake. And even in the Netherlands bikes sold with a brake on the front wheel will be sold with a second brake on the rear wheel.
    – Willeke
    Apr 24 at 9:25
  • 1
    @Willeke Afaik, the Netherlands have a rather high count of internal gear hub bikes with built-in coaster brakes (because it's the only sane choice for a bike that's meant to be ridden as a reliable vehicle for daily shopping and such by non-sportive people). These will count as a second brake in any country that demands a second brake. Apr 24 at 11:08
  • @cmaster-reinstatemonica, traditionally it was single speed coaster brake bikes, internal gear hub bikes are more likely to come with other kinds of brakes than coaster ones but they do exist. Coaster brakes only are considered enough in mostly flat Netherlands, but not in most other countries (which mostly have many more hills and mountains.)
    – Willeke
    Apr 24 at 11:10
  • 1
    Your answer implies hydraulics are immune to sudden failure, which is not the case.
    – mattnz
    Apr 25 at 3:15
  • 1
    Hydraulics generally require damage to the hose to fail suddenly, so there has to be some prior event such as a crash. In contrast, mechanical cables can fail alone from fatigue and wear even if the bicycle has never been crashed in its lifetime.
    – juhist
    Apr 25 at 12:13

Some bikes do have only one brake but it is at the rear. Applying front brake only at high enough speed or steep enough downhill results the bicycle rolling over the front wheel. So, I would say, simply reckless driving, should be illegal on this basis. Even if there is may be somewhere a very special bicycle safe to ride with the front brake only (have never seen such in all my life but maybe not freewheeling), your bicycle is not.

Also, if you need to adjust your headlight or anything the like, lift the hand that controls the front brake, not rear (usually left).

This happened twice for me alone. One time I was going downhill in the night and decided to adjust the front light with the wrong hand. I was not even intending to reduce the speed, just kept applying the brake because it was downhill.

Second time, more recently, I was adjusting the rear gear regulator on the wheel with wrong hand and suddenly needed to brake. I even was not moving fast, yet happened.

Third time I have observed this happening from the side. The guy was chatting over mobile when he needed to brake. Again, it was not even at significant speed.

You can read the relevant question in Physics stack exchange that deals with physics behind this. Also, another answer on our own site has the same observation: the bike may tip, simple as it is.

  • 1
    Some bikes do only have one brake, but are they legal to ride in public?
    – Swifty
    May 16 at 9:46
  • 3
    I would say uninformed and plain wrong answers should be illegal.
    – ojs
    May 16 at 10:00
  • 3
    A properly controlled front brake isn’t dangerous and allows for a much shorter braking distance than the rear brake.
    – Michael
    May 16 at 11:56
  • It happened twice for me personally and once I have observed this happening from the side. I am convinced enough in correctness of my answer so not to retract it. I have never seen a bicycle with the front ONLY brake in a factory setting.
    – h22
    May 16 at 18:45

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