Coaster Brakes: Yay or Nay?

Oh how I love the feel of a good coaster brake on an upright city bicycle! Cruising along a Viennese bike path or a quiet Boston side street and controlling my speed with a subtle backward twitch of the legs… It's a lovely feeling of integration with the bike, where forward means go and backward means stop. But not everyone shares this affinity. For North American cyclists, the poor coaster brake is often an object of disdain - something to be abandoned with the cheap children's bikes they associate it with. So when asked whether I think coaster brakes are a good idea, I can respond only by outlining the pros and cons as I see them. In short, here is my take on the coaster brake:

What is a coaster brake?
A coaster brake is a rear brake on a bicycle that is activated by pedaling backwards. If you want to slow down, simply start to push the pedals backward with your feet instead of forward. The harder you push back, the more braking power is applied. This type of brake is common in European upright city bicycles, and it is usually (but not always) supplemented with a front hand-operated brake. The coaster brake is internal and lives in the hub of the rear wheel, rarely requiring maintenance or adjustments.

Why I love coaster brakes:
. I find that coaster brakes deliver softer (no sudden jolts), smoother, and more consistent stopping power in city traffic
. I like to have one hand free in traffic, so that I can signal while braking
. I find it easier to modulate coaster brakes at finer increments without totally losing momentum
. I have problems with the nerves in my hands, and find it painful to use hand-operated brake levers frequently (like in stop-and-go traffic)
. I find coaster brakes intuitive and stress-free to use: it makes sense to both accelerate and slow down with my feet
. I like it that coaster brakes require virtually zero maintenance or adjustments

Why some dislike coaster brakes:
. They find the act of backpedaling confusing or counterintuitive
. They find it inconvenient that with a coaster brake, you cannot bring the pedal back into starting position in the same way as on a non-coaster brake bike
. They feel that a coaster brake does not provide sufficiently strong braking power for the type of riding they do
. They lack the leg strength to activate the coaster brake (or have problems with their legs or knees that prevent them from doing so)
. On bikes that are coaster brake only (no front brake), dropping the chain means you will suddenly be left brakeless.

I should also add that coaster brakes make sense only on upright bicycles. Using them on a roadbike would be tricky, because of the speed and the leaned-over position (though I do know of some who have tried, just for fun).

If you have never tried a coaster brake, there is no way to know whether it's right for you until you test ride a bicycle fitted with one. When I tell anti-coasterbrakites that I love coaster brakes, their response is usually "Oh, but I bet that's because you got used to riding a bike like that when you were a kid." Not true: The first time I tried a coaster brake bicycle was in April 2009. It was love at first backpedal!

How do you feel about coaster brakes, and why? I am sure all feedback will be useful to those wondering about this braking system.


  1. I have trouble with coaster brakes, because I still try to stop without putting a foot down. That is doubly hard to do with a coaster brake because you cannot pedal and brake at the same time unless you have a hand operated brake as well. I also like to hear the sound of the freewheel, though I guess I could simulate that via an iPod recording...

    1. Why do you pedal and brake at the same time?? Where is the point?

    2. I love the coastie! I did grown up with a Columbia "63 Special" and I rode in sun, rain and even snow. I was 11 years old and enjoyed it well into my teens. When I went off to college, it was over.
      Years later, I bought a road bike and I never liked the hand brakes and messed up the gears, so when I buy another bike it will probably be back to my first love.
      The coastie is as trouble free as you can get and the brakes seem natural and intuitive.

    3. My sentiments EXACTLY!!!! I could never get used to the hand brakes and I would be trying to brake with the pedals and all that would happen is - the pedals just went round & round, round & round, round & round and there I would be - just moving straight ahead and never stopping!!! NO HAND BRAKES for ME!!!! I wanted & GOT a REAL BIKE!!! like I grew up with... YEAH!!!

    4. I have a cool old Masi Road bike that I had a Sturmey Archer 2 speed kickbab hub with a coaster brake laced to 700c rim. I found that a single speed had a big compromise , a low gear for climbing steep hills didn't work in the flat roads as I would spin out at under 20 mph. I also have a backup front brake if the chain drops or breaks. People ask me why I like a coaster brake road bike, I reply, it's fun without the dangers of a fixie.

  2. I agree with the pros that you listed, and I do like the feel of coaster brakes...but whenever I'm not in the act of using them, I'm not a fan. Not being able to bring the pedal back to its starting position is probably my biggest issue. I'm somewhat used to it by now and simply roll the bike back a couple of feet when stopped at an intersection -- or, if there's no room, I kind of wiggle it back and forth a few inches at a time. Still, it gets annoying.

    Also, I'm always concerned about the safety aspect of coaster brakes. If something happens to the chain -- yes, I realize that the chances of that are small, but still -- I won't be able to stop. So, I'm not willing to ride a bike with a coaster brake unless there is a hand brake as well, even if I'm not using the hand brake most of the time.

  3. I love the idea of controlling speed only with the feet and direction only with the hands. I would love to have a coaster brake, but can't really afford to have my wheel rebuilt right now.

  4. I haven't ridden a bicycle with a coaster brake since before my teens, but I've been curious to try one again. How are they on hills? My problem is signaling turns with one hand and trying to brake with the other while going downhill.

  5. Velouria,
    I initially wanted a coaster brake because it felt so much easier, but then I realized I didn't know how to deal get the pedal back to starting position. This may seem elementary, but I literally don't know how you would deal at a stop light where you have to dismount. What do you do? How do you prepare to be ready to go?

    1. lift up your back wheel and move the pedal to the position you want

    2. that's what i do!

    3. Oh what fun, trying to lift a 40-50 lb bike, possible loaded up with panniers, while balancing on one foot so as to have the other able to move the pedal...even more fun in a long skirt and heels. In short, what a stupid method...more brute than brain.

      If you have a front hand brake as well, you coaster brake up to the intersection and as you approach it you hit the handbrake as you quickly move the pedals round to a good position to restart. It's just a matter of getting the knack of the timing.

      If you flub it, or only have coaster brakes, you can A) brake early and use the extra space in front to slowly push and pedal the bike forward until one pedal is where you want it, or B) roll the bike backward a bit, which on most of these bikes will cause the pedals to automatically revolve backward, until one is in postion.

      No lifting, no twisting, no reaching under or around skirts or front mount child carriers looking like you're doing bike yoga or a circus balancing act in your dress pumps.

    4. You can learn to start with your other foot. The opposite pedal is in what you think of as 'start position.' Takes some significant creation of new muscle-memory until it feels natural, though.

  6. Personally, I despise them. I try not to project my reasons onto others, but as a seller of many upright city bikes, I must try to account for the fact that we've (almost) never sold an otherwise fine bike equipped with a coaster brake at much if anything above wholesale.

    The sole exception is bikes that are quite cheap/crude/spare to start with. If the bike is rich enough in specification to have more than 1 or 3 (internal) gears, full fenders, carrier, lights, chainguard, etc. then it almost certainly costs more than a coaster brake will allow.

    I should clarify that this is Portland, Oregon, a city with mostly gentle, but not flat topography, and a tight street grid. It's not uncommon to coast up to 25mph between intersections spaced just a few hundred feet apart, for miles on these gullied river slopes, with volcanic and glacial features. Stopping isn't the serious business that it is in San Francisco or Seattle, exactly, but it's not Chicago or Boston either.

    In my considered opinion, coaster brakes are ineffective to the point of being unsafe in these conditions, particularly for the families carrying children, groceries etc. who are our core customers. As you brake, your weight shifts naturally from the rear to the front wheel. When your rear wheel becomes unweighted enough, you skid, losing control. Not acceptable!

    Coaster brakes are notorious for overheating and seizing or glazing on extended grades. They can only absorb so much heat before becoming ineffective.

    What's more, you can apply a coaster brake only while your feet are in a certain range of the pedal cycle. From about 11-2 and 5-8 o-clock, you have no sudden brake option; you must continue to pedal forward to set up the right leverage, which due to this little delay is liable to be urgent, increasing the skid risk.

    O, and if/when your chain falls off? Happens.

    Coaster brakes make starting more awkward, as you note. In places where coaster brakes are widely used (such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam), I note that a great many riders actually dismount at every single stop, starting up with a little run and hop! Or if they remain in the saddle, they either have the saddle too low for proper leg extension, or they seek a pole or something to lean on: anything but put one foot down with neither wheel braked! And if you shake your head at this painful, stubborn technical insouciance, well, you're being a vacuum cleaner geek and need to get a life.

  7. My screed is too long. Part the second:

    If you seldom exceed, say, 12mph in a flat place, well, coasters may be fine, at least if you've never grown accustomed to the superior power and control that hand brakes offer. That's another thing that kills them in this market at least: most people willing to drop more than, say $500 on a nice town bike have sport-oriented bikes in their life: they won't make the giant leap backwards. You are exceptional in the US in having arrived at road bikes via classic European-style town bikes! For most American adults, coaster brakes are indeed associated with the bikes of their distant youth, which they think should cost $200 tops?

    My little son, now 8, learned to ride on a coaster braked bike, in spite of the few tantrums and many tears the awkward starting and stopping this imposed. We ride on the street -- the aforementioned close grid. Timing to cross intersections with breaks in car traffic is an important affair. It won't do to roll a few feet forward into the lane to get the pedals right for a clean start, nor to dismount and roll the bike back where you can't see the traffic, nor to lift the bike, nor to wobble into the lane with less than a strong stroke... and all this in the name of simplicity? We re-built his 3-speed wheel around a freewheeling version, and instantly his confidence and competence on the bike increased 5-fold.

    As near as I can tell, the only reason people put their children through such trials is that coaster brakes are cheap and robust, and a bike that will be outgrown in such a short while won't command the price that halfway decent hand brakes would imply, particularly when nobody makes levers for such tiny hands. The whole bike would need to be built to a higher, more costly spec to accommodate hand brakes well.

    Most of the reasons you cite for liking coaster brakes over hand brakes don't apply to all hand brakes. Point by point:

    Smoothness: hand actuated drum or "roller" (Shimano) brakes have the same or better soft "anti-lock" progressive feel of coasters.

    Hands free: I routinely signal in traffic with my left hand while my right hand actuates the *front* brake, the one that counts.

    Modulation: this is a question of the specific components used and their setup and maintenance. Grabby hand brakes certainly exist, but it's not something you need to accept as inherent to them.

    Nerve damage: OK. 1 point for coaster brakes.

    Intuitive: OK. Sort of like the Flintstones car is intuitive. :-)

    Maintenance: the aforementioned drum/roller brakes are just as neglect-tolerant as any coaster. Rim or disk brakes, you're right, aren't.

    One coaster brake plus you don't mention: they make for a visually cleaner bike. It it's a single speed, the bars can attain sculptural purity of form. But the arcs of cables have their own charms.

    1. Just randomly googling about coaster brakes, and found this post -- great thoughtful and well-written comment Todd!

    2. Same as "anonymous!" Random googling, very informative post Todd! Thanks

    3. Coaster brakes are fine. In fact, they work almost exactly the same as drum brakes. The advantage to drum brakes is that the braking surface is larger to better handle the heat. A larger shelled CB could be developed and accomplish the same thing (say a 135mm option). The advantage to the CB is that zero cable and housing is required. That is a clear advantage no other brake affords.

      The common argument that it is awkward to start with the feet not in start position is insane. Assume your cranks are at 3 and 9 o'clock when you brake as they should be, then you will be in starting position every time. I've seen children ride controlled wheelies with CB, which only furthers my question of the lack of skill an adult would need to not be able to control a CB bike.

      Todd do you also hate friction shifting? :P


    4. Not to quibble, but my rear brake is on the right and the front in on the left. Every hand brake equipped bike I have owned has been that way. The only bike I've seen that has a front brake on the right is a motorcycle.

    5. Anon, I was confused by that post on left-right as well. However, according to Wikipedia, "It is customary to place the front brake lever on the left in right-side-driving countries, and vice versa, because the hand on the side nearer the centre of the road is more commonly used for hand signals, and the rear brake can not pitch the bicyclist forward." Interesting!

    6. 3 and 9 is NOT an ideal starting position. For a light children's bike perhaps it is adequate, but for a full sized bike which may weigh up to 50 lbs plus any cargo, that is simply not enough to overcome the inertia, unless one is on a downward slope with a good tailwind. You might get moving, but slowly and with poor balance and control.

      An ideal starting position is with one pedal about an eight of the way from the top position (of a complete circuit) or 1/4 of the way toward it's most downward point in the circuit.
      The slacker your seating post is the higher up you will likely want the pedal, the more toward 90 degrees it is, the lower you can get away with. I imagine in a recumbant you want something closer to 12 and 6. You want to be able to use as much of your body weight as possible for as long as possible and get a good long first stroke.

  8. I find a coaster brake is pleasant, but I would strongly recommend having a front brake.

    I find the major disadantage is the stopping power. I have a early/mid 60's Schwinn that came with a coaster brake and no front brake. My issues are with braking power:
    (1) about 70% of bicycle/motorcycle braking comes from the front wheel - a coaster brake alone can only give you about 30% of normal braking

    (2) The coaster brake is at the hub and has little leverage; rim brakes can slow the wheel much faster (unless you have chromed steel rims in rain or snow)

    One time a bungee cord came loose over a bump and took the chain off the wheel. I was really glad I had added the front brake.

    Regarding your comment on signaling turns, I prefer to make the right brake the front brake. I find left signals to cross traffic more critical than right signals. With the front brake on the right, you can signal turns with one hand and still have most of your braking.

    In general, I do like the simplicity of coaster brakes. It can give smoother braking.

    To Amy, on steep hills (older) coaster brakes need help from the front brake.

  9. i really like my coaster brake. It's pretty strong & it has become really intuitive to use it now. I don't even think about it anymore. And I like having one hand free and the low maintenance part. However, they are not so good for hills, so I'd personally rethink getting a new bike w/ them

  10. I've got a vintage upright with a coaster brake as well as a hand-operated front brake and I love the combo. I use the coaster brake more often, for coming up to expected stops, and my hand brake is for more immediate stopping, like when a car comes out suddenly. I've been on this bike for years and so I've internalized coming to a stop with my pedals in a good starting position.

    I find that whenever I ride my boyfriend's freewheel I backpedal all the time, but I'm pretty sure that's just the novelty. I'm about to build a new bike that will be freewheel with two hand brakes, and I'm curious about how I'll take to this different braking system.

    1. I had a 3-speed coaster Schwinn when I was young and went everywhere with it. I have tried many hand brake multi-speed bikes since then, but just can't get the hang of it. I have a problem with coordinating the brakes with the peddling. To stop, I end up just jumping off. That could be a problem, yes? LOL. Anyway, I am looking for another 3-speed coaster brake and think I can once again have fun peddling.

    2. I had a 3-speed coaster Schwinn when I was young and went everywhere with it. I have tried many hand brake multi-speed bikes since then, but just can't get the hang of it. I have a problem with coordinating the brakes with the peddling. To stop, I end up just jumping off. That could be a problem, yes? LOL. Anyway, I am looking for another 3-speed coaster brake and think I can once again have fun peddling.

  11. Hi Velouria,

    I really like coaster brakes for most of the same reasons as you stated.
    They really are the most maintenance free brake
    because there is nothing to adjust
    and there is no brake cable.
    I love the smooth and intuitive feel
    of them as well. They give me a more "connected" feel to the bike,
    in much the same way that fixed gear bikes do.
    However, I do like to coast at times
    to give my legs a rest.
    Coasters are just plain fun!

    The lack of brake cable also makes
    for a cleaner looking and easier to clean bike.
    I personally use a Fitchel and Sachs
    duomatic hub. This ancient hub provides
    two gears and a brake without any cables.
    You back-pedal slightly to toggle between
    the two gears; back pedal a bit more to apply the brake.
    Sturmey Archer have just released a modern version called the S2C:

    Coaster brakes are also useful on folding
    bikes or bikes that split in two for storage, like my bike:

    The lack of any cables to the rear of the bike
    make splitting easy.
    As you can see, this bike has a
    less than upright riding position
    (better for my back), but the coaster
    brake still works really well.
    I am not a fast rider, and my gearing
    is set fairly low, which also makes the
    coaster brake stronger.
    Two gears is all I need for the terrain I ride.

    Coaster brakes do work best with a
    front brake as well.
    When stopping I release the coaster brake
    just before I come to a halt and pedal forward slightly, so that the pedals
    are in the correct position for starting again.
    To do this maneuver well, you need a front brake to bring you to a complete stop.
    In any case, a front brake greatly reduces the stopping distance of any bike.

    The only downsides I can see with
    coaster brakes is that they
    can overheat on long downhills,
    and they can be harder to modulate
    at very high speeds.
    But for most city riding they are fine.

    John I

  12. I deeply love my coaster brakes. I was worried about the 'resetting after a stop' factor before I got them, but it's been a non-issue. On the other hand, I do have a hand brake for that last little bit of the stop while I put my foot down, but that feature became entirely useless in the rain the other day, while the coaster brake worked beautifully - so glad I had that option. I also think it makes stopping at lights/for pedestrians less of a chore because there is something kind of fun about using the coaster break and I just enjoy the feeling. Maybe it's related to the feeling of skidding on a fixed gear bike? I've never done that, so I'm not sure.

  13. I'd like to see a coaster brake system that DID let you return the pedal to take-off trajectory. That would be AWESOME.

    That's my only issue with the things.

  14. It's in inability to move the pedals backward that would drive me nuts.
    I am constantly adjusting the pedals by backpedaling
    At a stop I adjust to a "power position" or to keep my skirt from riding up, at a corner going downhill, I don't want to gain speed but want to raise the inside pedal, parking the bike when the pedal is in the way of a kickstand or the rack.

    Then again, I would hate to be on a bike on which I could never coast peacefully down a hill, so it's all about individual preferences, and luckily bikes are so customizable and variable that it's possible for everyone to find or build exactly what they're looking for!

  15. I think coaster breaks are not safe in that they develop bad habits. Riders come to rely on them. But in stopping suddenly, the primary break should be the front. In fact, I was taught that, in making any full stop, the right break should always be primary, and the rear break applied to prevent skid.

  16. I like coaster brakes, but perhaps a bit less after Todd's comments
    ; - ). Tho an additional front brake is a must. Perhaps coasters are best suited for lower cost single speed / 3-speed city bikes?

    I was very impressed with roller brakes on a Workcycles test ride. I'd love to read an article all about them: retrofitting, availability, maintenance, etc. I don't understand why V-brakes are used with IGH city bikes in the US.

    1. You know, there are now some coaster brakes(Shimano Nexus) having up to 8 speed. So, they are not single geared anymore.

  17. Todd - Thanks for your detailed comments, but I don't agree with how categorical you make some of your criticisms seem.

    A few points from my perspective:

    . Yes, I was most definitely talking about the kind of cycling that rarely exceeds 12mph, and I am starting from the premise that most European upright city bicycles were designed for cycling at slow speeds. In Boston and Vienna, where I ride, I actually do not think it is possible to consistently exceed that speed in the city, in a way that is safe. And if I am in the suburbs and cycling faster than that, I would rather be on a roadbike anyhow. I have no experience cycling in San Francisco or Portland, and cannot comment about what is possible or convenient in those areas.

    . I stand by my opinion regarding modulation and smoothness. I have ridden bicycles with hand-activated hub/roller brakes and prefer the feel of the coaster.

    . Regarding the front brake and stopping power: I am well familiar with the idea that the front brake delivers 70% of stopping power on a bicycle and that one must rely mostly on the front brake. But I believe that this idea applies predominantly to roadbikes. It does not apply in the same way to upright city bicycles, and furthermore, I think it is dangerous to suggest that it does. Todd, I know you import some of these bikes. But have you ever tried the front brake on a classic Gazelle, Batavus or Pashley? They work very poorly, or do not work at all. And I am not alone in this perception! To rely on a front brake as the dominant brake on one of these bicycles would be suicidal. They are not roadbikes. They were designed for slow cycling where the rear (traditionally coaster) brake is the dominant brake.

    I believe it when you say that customers are reluctant to spend big money on a bike with a coaster brake, because their idea of what constitutes "good components" vs "bad components" comes from the culture of high end racing bikes. Despite the recent move toward transport bikes, many just can't get behind the idea that slower is better in some cases, and that the components that are considered superior on a roadbike are not necessarily superior on an upright bike. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that a loop frame bicycle or a mixte is "inferior" and "unsafe," using some of the same arguments that are used against coaster brakes.

  18. Bob - caliper brakes are put on IGH bikes in the US, because some will use the same arguments against drum brakes in general as Todd just used against coaster brakes. "Drum brakes cannot possibly provide as much leverage and thus deliver the same stopping power as rim brakes" is the argument. Once again, I agree when it comes to a roadbike. But upright city bicycles were designed to go at speeds where internal drum brakes (including coaster!) do just fine, and have the benefits of being maintenance and adjustment free.

  19. Velouria - Whatever works, but cars to not go 12 mph and there will always be times you will need to stop suddenly. I am not suggesting you give up your coaster beaks. I would like to suggest that you figure out why your front break does not work, so you can fix that problem.

  20. Ave - My front brake works; I did not mean to suggest otherwise. But it does not (and, it seems, was not designed to) supply the majority of the braking power. The same was true of my Pashley. And the same has been true of several other Dutch, Danish and English bicycles I have tried.

  21. Nay to coaster brakes. I'm with Todd on this one. I have never been able to feel comfortable stopping and starting in traffic with them. If I were more ambidextrous with the feet I might not have the switching problem, but they are way too clumsy for quick decisions and I do not feel secure with them. Happy with handbrakes.

    1. With you entirely on this one. I've disabled my coaster and have two v brakes instead on pedalec. Starting was a nightmare.

  22. Perhaps male commenters who believe that hub-style hand brakes on heavy bikes are powerful enough should attempt to use them with one finger only on the lever, to simulate a typical female grip strength.

    Having said that, I don't like coaster brakes. I really don't. Fortunately for me, my grip strength allows me to skid my 65lbs loaded Pashley on dry pavement any time I want, but if it didn't, I'd look into transport bikes with disc brakes (or at least a disc front brake and hub or coaster rear brake). Caliper brakes--both front and rear--look *seriously* out of place on transport/city bikes. So do disc brakes, of course, but less so.

  23. I love Todd's well-written screed.

    Like Cycler, I would also be driven insane by the inability to move the pedals backward, which thing I do often in a fiddly way and enjoy a lot. A coaster brake makes me feel a bit less stable -- like I have less control of how much power I might need at a given moment, and I feel like I have less dexterity, too.

    I will say that it is sometimes very nice to be in a place where you only need a single speed with a coaster brake. No locks, no gears, no brakes, no complications. House to beach, beach to house and that's it.

  24. Regarding getting the bicycle into starting position - There are subtle tricks to doing this that do not involve running starts or holding on to a pole (neither of which I am capable of anyhow!) or any other crazy complications. Those who use coaster brakes simply get used to automatically stopping in the correct position. This can be facilitated by nudging the pedal into position with your toe as you come to a coasting stop. It is hard to explain in writing, but it works and becomes an automatic part of stopping once you're used to it.

  25. I too love Todd's well-written screed!!

    Do people forget that speed plays a much role in braking distance than brake type? You really don't have to go 25mph down hills.

  26. Velouria, I will cop to some categorical exaggeration. It's the internet, sure, but also common rhetorical practice, and I think you do the same when you say. for instance, that it is "suicidal" to rely on the front brake of a classic upright city bike. You cite some specific makes as having poor front brakes. Certainly the Batavus Old Dutch introduced to North America in 2007 had a dreadful front caliper brake slapped on (rubber on steel?!) in half-arsed address to the liability issues of the traditional coaster brake, and let's not even mention the vagaries of certain rod-actuated brakes. Classic Gazelles now being imported have quality front and rear roller brakes. I'm not a great fan of Sturmey Archer drums (Pashley) on grounds of feel, and we've faced some intractable squeal issues as well.

    I take your point about 70/30% not applying, but I never cited any such formula. I acknowledge that the more lightly weighted the front end, the more braking will depend on the rear, again except in urgent circumstances where the weight will shift forward. I often stop my classic Azor/Workcycles Oma using only my front brake on the volcano I live on, often with 8-yo child aboard: Shimano IM-40 roller brake, the lowest-spec model of the line.

    It isn't "the culture of high end road bikes" that makes coaster brakes unmarketable here, nor a general disdain for slowness. All but the most blinkered shoppers are able to recognize that these long, tall, gracefully heavy bikes would not be improved with any sort of racing technology. (OK, maybe I have just learned to tune them out. The ones who come in overweight in lycra to ask where the serious car-rack trophy bikes are.) It's that most any $99 big-box bike with hand brakes will likely be able to stop and start more rapidly, especially when it counts most, whether ambling along below 10mph or over 40.

    Watch out, MDI: my wife who boxes and lifts weights would not approve of the idea that "typical female grip strength" is equivalent to one male finger!

  27. Fair enough Todd. I like having your point of view here, because it is important for people to be aware of different perspectives. I would feel responsible if I wrote that I preferred something and people took that to mean it is objectively "better" - which is something I never mean to imply.

    Re gripping strength - It is unfortunately a biological fact that (on average, all other factors remaining equal, yadda yadda yadda) women are typically endowed with considerably less physical strength than men. So if your wife boxes, we would have to compare her griping strength to that of a male boxer and not an average man. That is fine with me though, as we outdo you guys in other ways that are more important : )

  28. I have never enjoyed coaster brakes for the same reasons that others have cited, so I don't know much about them. I am, however, considering one for the first time as I rehab a rod brake tourist. Is there some variation available regarding how far back one pedals before engaging the brake? I feel if I got one that needed to go back pretty far before engaging, I wouldn't find it as irksome during the non-pedaling portions of my ride.

  29. I was going to state, as you already did:
    "Velouria said...
    Those who use coaster brakes simply get used to automatically stopping in the correct position. This can be facilitated by nudging the pedal into position with your toe as you come to a coasting stop."
    I think the only trouble I've had is when I'm spaced out in my own little world of thoughts while riding and I forget which bicycle I'm on... I'm either on the coaster brake bicycle and trying to stop with my hands, or on the bicycle with the hand brakes trying to pedal backward to stop. It always makes me laugh though because I feel silly for forgetting what I'm riding. I suppose I've never had a situation where I was going so fast I couldn't stop, but I'm not one that rides super fast anyway. I just put the pedals in a position for starting again when I stop and then don't have to worry about picking the bike up to get the pedals where I need them. I enjoy the coaster brakes myself, but I don't dislike hand brakes either. I think it's definitely a personal decision and one should try it out to see if s/he likes using the coaster.

  30. Hi G.E,

    I can totally agree with your comments.
    It is a personal decision. It is a bit like
    trying to argue once and for all
    which musical instrument is better,
    a violin or a cello.

    I have also had moments where I have
    forgotten which bike I am riding,
    and back-pedalled when trying to stop
    my hand-braked Gazelle!
    Scary, but no harm done.

    One other aspect of this choice of brakes
    is the cultural element. In the Netherlands,
    Germany and Denmark coasters are very common,
    even on new bikes. Over there the emphasis
    is on utility, whereas in the UK, USA
    (for example), there is always the "performance"
    aspect in the back of everyone's mind.
    I suppose performance means different
    things to different people.

    John I

  31. WOW, theres a lot going on here today. I think coaster brakes are sort of misunderstood. The people that love them sometimes lose perspective about their shortcomings and guys like Todd seem to take the position that they are really no brake at all.

    There is middle ground... I think that anyone who was interested in learning to use a coaster gracefully and efficiently would probably succeed. They really do stop better than most people seem to think but they are'nt the absolute most powerfull brake in the world either. Big deal. Don't put one on your race bike or your longhaul touring bike. I've had the chain break when I rode bikes with chains made from 2 or 3 junk chains. I lived. Use a good chain. I've had good quality caliper brakes fail when the pivot bolt broke and flipped the caliper into the spokes. That was a really bad one but I lived that time too.

    The comment about your wieght shifting forward as you apply the brake is true, thats why to get the maximum performance from any type of brake(front or rear) you have to know how to shift your wieght back over the rear of the bike farther and farther as the need arises. I bet even Todd does this intuitively and effectively. And I bet he had to learn the technique intentionally too. Works on coasterbrakes too.

    Overheating? Yeah that happens, but I bet almost no-one ever got themselves into that situation unless they really were'nt very skilled or using good judgement at the time. That's a recipe for drama regardless of your brakes. Anyway, careening down a LOOONNNGG downhill streaming a blue-grey trail of smoke like a stricken JU-88 over London is a pretty cool thing when your 13(and really, some of us still have a little 13 year old in them still).

    As far as the stoplight two-step is concerned, practice. It's easier to gracefully position the pedals on a coasterbrake than to learn to do a trackstand. If you want to learn, I dare say you will. While these things are not that freaking hard to master, they might not be the best choice of brakes for the halt and infirm.

    Some of us like manual transmissions and master them to the point we get benefits you can't get from an automatic, pilots who fly lots of old planes are better pilots for it when they get in modern machines, Riders who spend some time mastering friction shifting, toeclips or fixedgears are not going to be worse off. If using a coasterbrake in an intentional manner forces you to anticipate, focus and be aware of how your bike works a little more than usual, well, I think thats great.

    If you don't like em', fine, but the attitude that they are junk and somehow irresponsible strikes me as being as much marketing as fact.


  32. Blimey, this is nearly as tetchy as a helmet debate :>D

    I first read this thread before the replies came, and had I asked a question then, it would have been to clarify whether you could backpedal at all without braking. Guess not, but hey it's not the end of the world.

    I've never used a coaster brake so have no experience to share, however...

    ...I can see the attraction with keeping a hand free, and the simplicity of having one less lever and cable.

    I also disagree with Todd's strong views about back brakes. A back brake comes into its own on a bicycle that has a heavy load on the rear, particularly in wet weather when a lightly loaded front wheel is best left for steering with. And at slow speeds - below 10 mph for example, the rear brake is useful in that it doesn't affect the steering, so gives better control of the bike - this is actually drummed into you when learning to ride a motorcycle here in the UK.

    Don't diss the rear brake Todd, some of us are quite fond of them ;>)

  33. While I'm enjoying this thread I am vacationing on the coast.
    The only bikes they rent around here are coaster brake beach cruisers -
    mostly ridden by novices. They are ridden in town, on the trail and on the beaches. The cruisers are mostly cheap ones, probably < $150 new. I haven't seen anyone struggling with a coaster brake yet.

  34. Ian - Yes, I have to admit that I did not expect the discussion to be quite this passionate : ) Overall I think it's good that people have strong preferences and opinions... as long as we are all aware that either way, they are just opinions and not gospel.

  35. coaster brakes should definitely never be the only brake. i have coaster brakes and i like them most of the time. i get around the starting position difficulty by always orienting my pedals the way i like to start (right pedal lower than left pedal) and applying the backward pedal pressure. the only cons are those you have mentioned. also if you need to stop very quickly, you end up skidding if you do coaster brakes solely (i never remember that i have a hand brake, too). and in these cases, i probably don't have my pedals oriented the way i want. and because i'm short, i have to lean my bike over a lot to get back on my bike.

    if you're bike shopping, i wouldn't automatically reject a bike with a coaster brake. but i wouldn't get an existing bike fitted with coaster brakes.

  36. In my many, many years cycling as an adult, I've really tried to like coaster brakes, but just can't quite do it, for the reasons others have given. But I'm sure one day I'll again try setting up a bike with one and seeing if I can enjoy it. Tastes change, you know?

  37. I must say that Todds comments sound like the gospel that "hard-core" roadies push. Everything is about the bike, the equipment and the technique. Woe unto you if you do not conform!

    In the Netherlands I think coasters
    are popular because they are cheap, reliable
    and they work. Nobody hits 25mph carrying children between intersections, as Todd claims is "not uncommon" where he lives.

    Over here people just want to get around
    on a reliable cheap bike. You try to convince
    my 81 year-old neighbour that she should
    give up her coaster because it is "dangerous".


  38. My experience, riding a coaster-brake Workcycles bike around Amsterdam whilst on holiday there recently, is that most of the locals solve the problem of not being able to "reset" the pedals by doing everything they can (except going through a light) to avoid actually stopping.

    It helps that a lot of the Traffic lights for cyclists have countdown timers showing how long until a Green light is coming, so you can get the timing right and slow right up well before you reach the junction.

    I found I could just give the bike a push-off with my foot, then sit up on the saddle, and continue pedalling. But Amsterdam is mostly flat. It might not be so easy elsewhere.

  39. Like you said, all just opinions, and how fortunate for us that there are so many choices and each of us can have exactly what we want.

  40. Without going over all the issues Todd covered, I'll just say I agree with much of what he said. I personally find coaster brakes awkward, underpowered, and even verging on unsafe in some riding conditions. I think they're fine for cruising bike paths at low speeds, but I wouldn't recommend a bike outfitted with a coaster brake for mixing it up with traffic.


  41. I have to agree with both Alan and Todd, although I should probably declare myself an agnostic on the issue since I haven't actually ridden a bike with a coaster brake in nearly 50 years.

    I think integrating one's ability to safely stop the bike with the drivetrain is at best a bad idea and at worst seriously unsafe. But then I view "city bikes" themselves of limited practicality outside of flat terrain and possibly not even the best choice where the terrain makes them usable. (Any bicycle that makes repeated appearances in the Fashion and Style section of the NYT is immediately suspect. ;-))

  42. I understand that coaster brakes are something special for people who see cycling primarily as a sport. In countries like the Netherlands and Germany, however, where everyday cycling and bike commuting is perfectly normal, you probably won’t hear anyone saying that coaster brakes are insufficient or even dangerous. In my youth and childhood coaster brakes were the usual thing to me, while freewheel bikes were something special. I bought my first freewheel bike only when I was 22 years old.
    But I admit that I too like the ability to turn the pedals into the right position while being stopped, and also the ability to brake and accelerate simultaneously (which helps to balance the bike at very low speeds).

  43. I almost (impulsively) bought a Gary Fisher Simple City 3 speed with a coaster brake in the rear and a caliper up front. I had checkbook in hand, but then I test road it. Yikes!! I could not get used to that set-up. After using hand brakes for many years (since I was about 10-12 yrs old), I decided to stick with what felt comfortable. So, I went the Pashley route (with hand brakes) instead....even though the Pashley cost considerably more than the Gary Fisher. [It really is the major league vs. the minor league. I admire Gary Fisher for getting into this arena, but they have a little ways to go.]

    The bottom line is get whatever feels comfortable. Some people like to bend over (racing style), some like to sit up; skinny tires-balloon tires; fenders-no fenders, etc. etc. I think it's very cool that the bike-riding public is such an eclectic group.

  44. I've spent the last 4 hours today riding a single speed coaster brake beach cruiser rental bike. I rode it through and around this busy beach town and on a meandering paved coastal bike trail with lots of carved mini hills thru the dunes. Riding and braking were intuitive and easy. I did not miss having a front brake, tho if this were my bike, I would still install a front hand brake. Also, I had no trouble with start ups.

    The coolest thing about these bikes is that they are so accessible to anyone who wants one - perhaps bicycling in its simplest form.

  45. This reminds me of something we see at racetracks where modern sportscars and vintage cars run together. For cars of the same horsepower and wieght, old cars from the 50s and 60s, with their drum brakes or stone-age discs, when meticulously prepared and well driven routinely drive around modern stuff driven by people who rely on anti-lock brakes and traction control to make up for their lack of experience. The worse some of these guys get spanked the faster, more expensive car they bring the next time. They either eventually learn how to really drive well or they wreck progressively more powerfull eqpt.

    Hardware is the smaller part of the equation.


  46. Bob - reading your comments, makes me wish I were in a beachtown right now! : )

    Zweiradler said...
    "I understand that coaster brakes are something special for people who see cycling primarily as a sport. In countries like the Netherlands and Germany, however, where everyday cycling and bike commuting is perfectly normal, you probably won’t hear anyone saying that coaster brakes are insufficient or even dangerous."


    Again, I hope my readers keep in mind that the opinions stated here of coaster brakes being dangerous in traffic are just opinions, and are - in my view - coloured by a very American perspective, which is in turn informed by ideas from the decades of road cycling culture. Personally, I find coaster brakes (on upright city bicycles of course) to be fantastic and perfectly safe in traffic.

  47. I and the missus now ride a lightweight bicycle with coaster-only bicycle, we found this to be the perfect bike for all sort of riding around town.

    the missus bike is an old 48.5cm English track frame (smallest I can find) that has promenade handlebar, lightweight wheelset with Velosteer coaster hubs, 25c tyres and the final piece - bell on the stem.

    all this together make a very light and nimble bicycle that'll last quite some time, the benefit of that is the weight allowed a shorter braking distance than a typical dutch bike with coaster-only brake, and enable it to be a lots more comfortable than a fixed wheel bicycle (especially with promenade handlebar), here's the link to the bicycle in question;

    If you have a fixed wheel bicycle already, I strongly suggest you to get a coaster hubs + lightweight rims build and wack it on the fixed wheel bicycle, I'm fairly certain you'll fall in love with coaster hubs all over again more than you originally had!

    (my other coaster-only bike hasn't been finished yet, but it's in the style of a parisan porteur bicycle with lightweight part and fatter tyres).

  48. I recently rode a 5-speed bike for a week that had a rear coaster brake and a front handbrake.

    I hadn't ridden a coaster-brake bike since I was about 12 so it took a little while to get use to it.

    I ended up using the coaster brake as part of my speed modulation - I would speed up or slow down with the pedals, but use the front brake for actual stopping or when I had to slow down suddenly.

    This worked very well and I found myself liking the coaster brake used this way, as a speed modulator. It was especially nice in city traffic for some reason.

    When I was coming to a complete stop, I would stop slowing down with the coaster brake and instead use the front brake while I pedaled forward to get the pedal position where I liked them for restarting.

    This all worked very well unless I had to stop quicker than I planned and didn't have time for the half-rotation of the pedals while I stopped. So I would end up with the pedals in the wrong position.

    At least, being a five speed, I could adjust the gears for starting after the stop. Sort of the opposite problem one has with a derailleur bike, where you end up in the wrong gear after too sudden of a stop, but you can adjust the pedal position.

    Overall, I decided I liked them.

    As to not having enough braking power, to some degree this is true for any rear brake. As you decelerate, you rear wheel starts lifting up and your deceleration goes away. You HAVE to use your front brake if you want maximum deceleration, coaster or caliper brakes.

  49. A Graceful Dismount!

    I commute to work on an old (1960s frame) dutch bike with coaster brakes. I'm often in heels or a skirt and the back-break allows me slow to a stop and step off one side of the bike gracefully.

    I also feel like I have better control in city traffic with a coaster brake.

    You're also right about maintenance. In the past two years, I've only made aesthetic changes to my bike: cork grips, Brooks seat, and some rust repair/prevention.

    I love a coaster brake!

  50. Visited Astoria, Oregon today (Long Beach, WA yesterday), and rented 3 more coaster cruisers for the family. Mine was a 3 speed Trek Lime (can't recommend that auto 3 speed at all), and towed our dog in a new Avenir cargo trailer, used the coaster brake all while dodging people, cagers and even a streetcar. We also had a Torker and a 3G coaster cruisers, they worked fantastic - all well worn rental bikes. The Manzanita Beach, OR shop was sold out of cruiser bikes to rent (shame nobody likes them ; - ).

  51. I'm not what I would call "happy" about the way Todd equates the value of a coaster brake with COST. It's an engineering decision. Good engineering decisions are often costly, but more often than not they are inexpensive - or even the cheapest.

    If front brakes were all you needed than cars wouldn't come with back brakes. On the other hand, if back brakes were sufficient cars (as they did in the past) would only come with back brakes. Of course they do come with front brakes, which are notably more robust than those on the back, which are often quite crude to save money where it isn't needed (see above).

    Note, however, that nearly all motor vehicles whose task is low speed utilitarian still come with ONLY back brakes. They work. They're all that's needed. They're cheap. They're low maintenance.

    They git 'er done.

    On those rare occasions when you don't find me on a fixed gear, you'll most likely find me on a coaster only; and I'm no stranger to high end racing bikes. I'd have no problem fitting a coaster (with front caliper, drum, disk) to a very expensive, high end road bike.

    They git 'er done.

    Have it platinum plated if you think it needs to cost more for some reason.

  52. O, kfg, it's not a problem at all that coaster brakes are cheap. Cheap is a plus, for sure, and it's a perfectly honorable part of why coasters are popular in flat places, where they are functionally adequate. My remarks about cost are from my perspective as a merchant of classic European city bikes in a place that isn't flat, and it's a problem that these bikes are *not* cheap by the time we unpack the shipping container. But mostly it's a problem that they are not functionally adequate here. If they work as well for you as hand brakes would, then I'm pretty sure your riding conditions, and style, and culture, are a long way from Portland's. That's fine too!

    Daan, I'm certainly no "hard core roadie." I ride in street clothes, to go places and carry things, usually quite upright, very often on an omafiets. But I do take pleasure and pride in many points of technique, whether I am riding fast or slow. I like slow and fast almost equally (slow a little better). 25mph between intersections? That's because it's downhill; gravity does that here. We need brakes adequate to these conditions.

    Ian, I have no problem with back brakes. I certainly use them, predominantly even on our bakfiets where the front wheel is too lightly loaded if empty. On trikes in the Christiania format, even coaster brakes make good sense if supplemented with front hand brakes. But on more typical bikes the front is generally the most important one. I'll go as far as saying that either front or rear alone are probably good enough 99% of the time. But if you ride every day, in hills and with traffic, in all weather, I'll wager that over a decade the user of only a rear brake, whether hand or coaster, stands a much higher chance of losing control and being injured, or worse.

    I couldn't agree more with Spindizzy when he wrote: "If using a coasterbrake in an intentional manner forces you to anticipate, focus and be aware of how your bike works a little more than usual, well, I think that's great." If you're going to embrace a coaster brake in other than a pretty flat place, please do it this way: as a challenge to your skill and judgement rather than as the most authentic, natural, and appropriate design choice for classic upright bikes.

  53. Todd - "it's a problem that these bikes are *not* cheap"

    You keep saying that, but you never connect it to the functionality of coaster brakes. I still don't see how it can be.

    "If they work as well for you as hand brakes would. . ."
    I don't think you understand coaster brakes. Or perhaps brakes. Or perhaps your bias is getting in the way.

    "I'm pretty sure your riding conditions, and style, and culture, are a long way from Portland's. . .25mph between intersections? That's because it's downhill; gravity does that here."

    Yeah, you're right. Here we go on screaming 40+mph descents for up to 10 miles at a time (my poor 77 year old mom has to ride 3 miles uphill just to get a head of lettuce). I'd have no problem riding a bike fitted with a coaster brake to do this. I might refuse to ride a front drum though, even though it's a "hand" brake (hand is not a type of brake, it's a means of actuation). That could be dangerous.

    But people tour loaded in the Alps with coaster brakes quite well and with no problems. Of course the Alps aren't Portland.

    ". . . the most authentic, natural, and appropriate design choice for classic upright bikes."

    Aaaah! THAT would be fixed gear.

  54. kfg, it seems our communication styles are ill-matched. i don't understand the point of what i think is your sarcasm above, so i'll let it go.

    About cost, one last time: Classic European town bikes are a bit of a specialty item in America, imported in relatively small quantities, with high shipping and duty costs, often without a distributor to ease some of the logistics costs. And in recent years, the Euro-Dollar conversion rate has made European products less cost-competitive here than they are today. This means that by the time these bikes are sitting on the floor of a bike shop, say, in Portland, they will cost at least $700 for even simple models, with premium configurations topping $2K. There are poor economies of scale to bring the costs down.

    At these prices, American buyers expect very high function. Coaster brakes simply do not fulfill these functional expectations except for an unusual few. I enumerated specific functional limitations unrelated to cost in my first 2 responses in this thread, and I stand by them, particularly for hilly places. I regard loaded touring in the Alps with typical coaster brakes a bit like traversing the Silk Road with roller skates. Great adventure, I'm sure, like your dear mom's lettuce run! Not a particularly easy equipment choice.

    So these coaster-braked bikes don't sell at prices that make business sense, in view of our costs. You can call it "my bias," or you can recognize that people "vote with their wallets." We reduce the prices until they do sell, making little or no profit, and naturally we decline to import more of these bikes until they are available with hand brakes. So, if you want a Gazelle Toer Populaire from us, it will be configured with Shimano Roller brakes and 8 speeds over 3:1 range, just for the US market, "authentic" flatland tradition be damned. Thus configured, the import costs are a much smaller percent of the retail price, so such bikes compete well with other market offerings, and sell well.

    And we sleep better, too, knowing that these customers are somewhat less likely to injure themselves or their child passengers than if they had chosen a coaster-only model. In fact, if you want us to install a child seat on your bike, it must have at least a front brake, hand actuated of course.

  55. Todd is right about the pricing, my girlfriend got a brand new Gitane 1930 for €200 while we were in France, and similar bikes here seem to be about twice that!

    My personal opinion is generally of agreement with Todd, knowing full well that in a flat enough city (here in Montreal, we have some small hills, but it'd still be fine), it'd be totally fine, but that the reason you don't see many in the US is for all sorts of reasons that are more in people's heads.

    I prefer having at least a front brake as well, myself, but it's not a big deal. My favourite bike shop has some very nice single-speed bikes with coasters and a roller in front.

    I've never gotten coaster brakes to overheat (I don't have those on any of my bikes, only when I borrow/rent), but I could imagine getting down some hills in San Francisco to be very punishing: either you brake the whole time, with a fairly solid amount of force, or you get to go quite fast, and need really effective braking. With coasters, I'd take the "brake the whole time" approach to keep speed under control, and I could imagine some of the longer hills making those brakes really hot!

  56. I am not going to close the comments here, because I would like readers to keep sharing their views. But gentlemen, please exchange remarks nicely, eh? : )

  57. My friend built a bike with a Shimano 7-speed coaster brake hub and drop bars. I tried it. The leaned over position did not compromise braking power or control at all. I don't know why the conventional wisdom says that a leaning-forward position is not compatible with coaster brakes. It worked extremely well.

    Coaster brakes can't work with derailleurs, because there is chain slack, which is incompatible with purposeful backpedaling. Perhaps this incompatibility is confused with the forward-leaning position.

  58. Tom - Recently I test rode an Abici bicycle, which came fitted with a coaster brake and on which I was leaned forward considerably. I found the coaster brake hard to deal with on that bike, and it took me quite a while to get accustomed to it.

  59. I've taken a liking to coaster brakes. Often those who dislike them don't use them properly. Rear brakes of any sort are better used for the purposes of controlling speed or slightly slowing down and front brakes are best suited to bringing you to a complete stop. Hence, use your coaster brake to control your speed and steady yourself, and as you approach your final stopping position, activate your front brake to bring you to a complete stop.

    Coaster brakes are low-maintenace, are not adversely affected by weather conditions, and save on rim wear. They are best used on utility bicycles that are ridden around town for various purposes. Athough, Heinz Stucke (world record bicycle tourist) rode around on a 3-speed with coaster brake for most of his touring life, and Colin Martin rode from England to Australia on a 2-speed Duomatic hub with coaster brake.

    Coaster brakes were practically universal on Australian roadster bicycles from 1900 to the 1950's for their low-maintenance and reliability, often with no other brake on the bicycle.

  60. I grew up riding a coaster brake bike in a small mining town with very long and steep hills and I'm still alive, so the brakes must not have been too bad.

    I can't comment on whether or not they tended to overheat though, because we always just tucked in on the downhills to try and get some momentum to help us up the next one.

    What we used the brakes for was to lay down long, snakey, black skid marks on the asphalt, something a coaster brake does really well because you can get your weight so far back.

    My new mountain bike has hydraulic disc brakes, and I like them, but I'm going to convert my older going-to-work bike to a coaster brake because it'll just be handier on my short low-speed commute.

    Can't promise I won't do a few skids for old time's sake.

    (You don't quit doing brake slides when you get old, you get old when you quit doing brake slides ! )

    Odd coincidence that the previous post should mention Heinz Stucke, because I met him in Marseille in the fall of 1978. He was about to leave on a ship to Dakar, Senegal (I think), then head eastward across Africa and I had just done a motorcycle tour of the Sahara.

    I remember he had purchased a new front hub (the old one was worn beyond adjustment)and was going to re-lace the wheel while on the boat.

    He was a really nice fellow - modest and intelligent.

  61. Romanian 2WheelerMay 11, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    As I'm a bicycle addict, I like all kind of brakes. As I love all kind of bikes. I own several bikes equipped with different typologies of breaking systems. All of them have different approaches in style of riding and breaking depending always on the purposes you're using your bike. Transport, racing, leisure, beer drinking, etc. Have-'em all first and then use them accordingly. Biking suppose to be a fun way to move your rear-end, exercise or doing sport. There is a bike and a brake system for each of the above purposes. Fun is the most important and is included by all the rest. No matter it involves a coaster, disc, caliper, cantilever or shoe sole.

    Regards from Bucharest.

  62. I'm sure we've all seen that photograph, which appeared in Life magazine in the 1940s, of the archetypal all-American girl pushing her bicycle. There's also one of her riding it. They're such evocative photographs, and I would encourage anybody who isn't familiar with them to check them out. What interested me, though, when I first saw them, was that the bicycle was obviously American. Certainly, the star decals are a giveaway, but the other one is the absence of any brake levers on the handlebars. The bike is clearly fitted with a rear coaster brake only, as evidenced by the reaction arm attached to the chainstay. I believe that such an arrangement would never have been legal in Britain, where road safety has always been something of an obsession. Here, it was permissible to have only a front brake if you had a fixed wheel. These enjoyed something of a vogue many years ago, long before the present renaissance of the "fixie." But a coaster brake in back would also have to be supplemented by a front brake. Shame, really, because I love the clean look of handlebars unencumbered by brake levers.

  63. info is very useful for me. Thanks..

  64. I notice here on Lovely Bicycle some crybabies' going on and on about how dangerous coaster brakes are. I don’t remember ever throwing or breaking a chain on my Coaster, but I have thrown many chains on my multispeed bikes. When was the last time that your coaster brake plowed through most of the spokes on the right-hand side of your rear wheel? And, have you ever had the quick release on your coaster brake- release in the middle of a fast descent? My coaster brake never fell into a false neutral. After that Sturmey Archer 3-speed SW, I was surprised later that I was able to father 2 son’s.

    In the mid 1950′s we used to ride our coaster bikes down Rosecrans Blvd to where it dead ended into Highway 39 to a place called “Motorcycle Hill”. We would go down Motorcycle Hill on our coaster brake bikes using a series of broadside skids somewhat like downhill skiing. Did we suffer casualties? Yes– The worst one was when Leland Dong got pointed straight down the hill and had a “runaway”. He was in a coma for 2 weeks- small price to pay, we thought at the time. When Leland snapped out of it he was still smarter than the rest of us. After the coma he figured out how to get two sprockets on a Sturmey Archer 3-speed, and with a homemade rear sprocket changer he had the only 6-speed in town.
    The only significant downside of a coaster brake bike that I can remember was that my rear tire was nothing but a series flat spots. Thankfully, I didn't have overprotective parents, and they replenished my tires as needed. After the amazing things I see kids doing with bikes nowadays, anybody who can’t quickly master a coaster brake bike has no right to complain about anything. Maybe they can qualify for an electric sit-down scooter

    Anyway, have fun, Coop

  65. I have no problem with coaster brakes. Just another cool way to stop a bike. I put a Sturmey 2 speed kick-back on a track bike and love it. Clean lines. No cables. No calipers. Just raw bike.

  66. I've come to really like the coaster brakes on my Worksman. It has a front drum brake as well. As this is hardly a fast bike, the coaster has had no problem stopping me when called upon. One thing I really do appreciate is how rain does not degrade the brake's performance. I've experienced conventional caliper brakes slipping on me when wet. I was able to stop safely but I really had to grip hard.

  67. I originally found this blog when searching for a review of the Pilen. Since then I have toyed considerably with buying one. I am faced with a choice between the 7-speed with coaster (plus lever front) brake or the 8-speed with roller (plus lever front) brake.

    So this morning I got up and googled 'coaster vs roller brake', and then had hours of fun reading all your comments. Melbourne, where I live, is pretty flat. I'm thinking of going the coaster. Just so I have something to say on the matter.

    Keep up the good work, all of you.

  68. We sell Pilen city bikes and Christiania cargo here in Melbourne, and some customers like coasters other like drum, it's all about feelings and what you prefer, to argue one is safer than another is silly, bot brake systems are safe, and the price between a shimano nexus 7 speed coaster and 8 speed roller is less than AUD 60, so in the bigger picture it should not make a difference, if you are talking quality bikes, I'm not surprised Todd have had to sell coaster brake bikes at a loss, can imagine it is pretty difficult selling something you dislike so much...
    I reckon there is people for both brakes...

  69. I now live in a hilly area where biking is impractical unless you're an athlete. When I visited friends in Holland I tried riding a bike again after 15 years of not doing so. I hate hand brakes! They stop you abruptly. I slow down when I make turns. It jerked the bike to a halt and I got thrown off the darn thing. Give me good old-fashioned coaster brakes any day!

  70. Stopping a bike going fast downhill or otherwise with only the strength of your hand grip vs using the power of your quadriceps (fingers vs thigh muscles!) has always seemed odd and ill-advised to me! It is particularly questionable for women, whose hand span &/or grip is often not well-matched to standard hand-lever brakes. (I, for instance, have had my grip-strength measured as quite strong, but I don't have the hand/finger-length to really get good leverage on most hand-lever brakes I have used.

    Imagine having a hand-operated squeeze-grip brake on a car, instead of a pedal you can stomp on if necessary. Same thing to me.

  71. I find this thread funny, because I think the vast majority of people who prefer *hand brakes* do so because it's what *they* grew up with. And hahaha wtf @ hand brakes being ill-advised and unsafe for women and their weak grips? Every woman cyclist I know in London has a bike with a hand brake and manage just fine, for the same reason every male cyclist I know in London do the same: because they are used to those brakes. I, however, would feel unsafe on their bikes because I'm used to coaster brakes. I'm guessing even Todd mainly dislikes coaster brakes because he's not used to them, and, like me, can't be arsed to get accustomed enough to the other option to start appreciating it. Velouria, I think you're the exception to the rule here...

  72. When I as a kid in the 1970's in Michigan, the vast majority of our bikes had coaster brakes only. We never had the slightest trouble with them, dispite abusing them in typical kid fashion by intentionally skidding our tires on big hills. I never witnessed or imagined that they could overheat... never heard of anyone throwing or breaking a chain... they seemed totally without fault to me and my young friends, utterly reliable. In contrast, we thought hand brakes were weak and troublesome. Granted, these were cheap bikes in the age of steel rims, but there was cable troubles, squeaky brakes, adjustment issues, etc. We hated hand brakes and thought the new 10-speeds were for snobs of dubious masculinity. In fact we thought any bike with a front hand brake was a little silly, though I do not hold that view now.

    I still look with a great deal of doubt upon the old brake calipers that leverage all that force onto a single cheap bolt of unknown metallurgy located so far away from the braking action... yikes. But while riding a 3-speed in Japan for a couple years I did come to appreciate the convenience of being able to position your pedals readily at the frequent intersections. But then again I think tales of people dismounting or going through other elaborate motions to accomplish something fairly simple on a coaster-brake bike are terrible exaggerations.

  73. I recieved a Schwinn girls bike in about 1959/60 for birthday gift. It was used slim tire slim frame straight bars from the handle bars to the pedels. Foot bakes ( really made a load noise when used on a steep incline) and front fender had a pinched rise in the middle. I still wish I had the bike.....I loved it. Do you have information on the year it was built or what it was called.... Straight line, Streamline....something like that?

  74. I'm not sure why this has to be an almost religious debate—it really just depends on your application. My daily rider for <5km trips here in the urban Netherlands is a single-speed omafiets (black, of course) with a coaster brake, and its elegant simplicity is part of the appeal. It's intuitive and smooth, and has never put me in danger even when carting home a backpack full of groceries and a crate of beer. No, I probably wouldn't ride it in San Francisco or Boston, but I also wouldn't clean my stove with a kleenex or dice onions with a machete.

  75. i have ridden a coaster brake all my life i am 55 i have a single speed a 3 and 5 speed coaster brake bike my 3and 5 speed bikes are fitted with front brakes one with v-brake one with disc brake
    In in over 45 years of riding i have never had a chain break so i consider that the mutest of points on my bikes with front brakes i don't use them much
    i might add i am also 265 lbs and my area is slightly hilly i have never had isses with coaster type brake overheating
    this thing with pedal position for take off whats the rub its no deal at all to get pedals back to start off position i don'teven notice that issue
    a freewheeling coaster brake bike is a ton safer than these idiots riding these fixie bikes which the police in my area are crackin g down on like crazy give me an internal geared hub over a derailluer any day

  76. When I turned 50 I decided to get a bike. I hadn't had one since I was a kid and wanted one so badly. We only had coaster bikes as kids, so I have never used hand brakes or gears of any type. It seemed a cruiser with coaster brakes would be my best bet. I would not have to learn anything new in order to get on it and ride it out of the store parking lot. All I wanted was the childlike glee I once had on a bike, and a basic form of transportation for around town, as well as riding for pure pleasure, exercise and fun. I bought a $200. Trek beach cruiser. It has served me well and has never needed any repair. I sometimes even ride it in the woods on bumpy dirt paths. My legs have gotten stronger, and I can make some hills now. Other times, I have to walk, ride, walk, ride. But that's OK too, I have back and front baskets on it to carry my groceries, library books, whatever_so even walking it, it still serves a functional purpose. I am now 60 and my bike is still in great shape. I feel like a kid, flying down a hill, my hair blowing. The awkward thing for me was coming to a complete stop in a hurry, and getting used to leaning over and putting one leg down, then pulling the pedal around with my toe, and starting up pedaling again. Several times at first, as a novice bicyclist, I didn't trust my own reactions, and was going too fast to pull this off and had to jump down with both feet on the ground to stop myself. I certainly felt embarrassed and must have looked foolish. But, who cares. This cheap cruiser bike, without handbrakes, now 10 years old, has been a joy for this 60 year old woman. I have no reason to put myself in a compromising position on it that would require further braking apparatus. If I get to that point, I will buy a second bike for that purpose, and leave the cruiser be what it was designed to be.

  77. I first started riding many years ago, and coaster brakes were all there were. Never had a problem, never broke a chain. I still like them, they are like a link to my childhood. But my new bike has v-brakes. They are a little hard to get used to, and I am sure they will require more maintenance. I almost never use the front brake, because I can stop quite well with just a rear brake. It is nice to have both, but not totally necessary. It just makes more sense to me to start and stop with your feet. The feet make you go, and it seems like they should also make you stop. Coaster brakes work and work well with little to no maintenance. The same lack of maintenance is going to seriously degrade the braking with hand brakes. We can adapt to anything, given enough time and practice, but to say coaster brakes are no use, or the best thing since sliced bread are both wrong. I really like coaster brakes, the problem is finding a good bike that has them at a reasonable price. For those who are not going to spend much time tweaking and adjusting, coaster brakes are a better answer. A good coaster brake is going to trump a bad hand brake. Find a bike you can ride and ride it, you can adapt to the brakes, but I do not think there is any such thing as the perfect brake system, simply because people want and expect different things. For riding slowly as a commuter or rubber necking site seer, coaster will work and work well. Hand brakes have problems, and will always have problems due to design flaws. Rub on the the rim and you eventually wear out the rim and the brake pad, disc brakes you wear out the pads, cables will stretch and degrade braking. If you are going to spend the money and time on hand brakes that is terrific; if not, go with the coaster brake.

  78. I'm on the hunt for the perfect upright/city/commuting bike for my 10 km commute here in Denmark and have been redirected to your blog a bunch when looking for reviews. Most of the bikes I'm looking at have the combo of a front brake and coaster brakes. I am considering having them changed to two hand brakes as coaster brakes irritated me on my old bike. It was great to hear some pros for them though too. I was only thinking of the negative and now will consider a bit more!

  79. For various reasons, I've just rebuilt my commuting bike from a fixie into a 3-speed with coaster brake (Sturmey-Archer SRC3 hub). It has a front V-brake too, with a ceramic DT Swiss rim because a normal rim gets worn out in 18 months on the gritty lanes.

    The coaster brake is quite nice - not grabby and the power is about right to give enough stopping power without being prone to locking the rear wheel and flat-spotting an expensive tyre.

    What isn't easy is balancing the two brakes; because one is hand operated and one is leg operated, it's near-impossible to apply both up to the limit of skidding, which is possible with two hand brakes. There just isn't a consistent feel between them.

    Where the coaster brake comes into its own is in pouring rain; ceramic rims are marginally worse than normal alloy rims in the rain, needing a few wheel revolutions to wipe off the water before the V-brake brake starts to bite, and even then it tends to judder when wet.

    The big flaw of a coaster is its inability to lose heat quickly. If you only use the rear brake to stop at the bottom of a big hill, you run the risk of turning all the grease into smoke and having a very squeaky ride home. Kids don't have this problem because they're lighter, but an adult plus bike can easily be 100kg or more, and that's a lot of kinetic energy to be converted into heat.

  80. It took me a few days to adjust to using a back pedal brake, at the age of 29 having never used one before, i got in a muddle at junctions, and couldn't easily get into a push off position. However, after learning that all you need to do to avoid this is start applying the back pedal as you are approaching the junction, keeping your feet in the correct position to push off again, gradually slowing down and using the front handlebar break to bring you to a complete stop, i found it a revelation - i cant now understand why people find it such a problem. In fact i would now not consider a bike without a rear back pedal brake, as it makes cycling a much smoother and enjoyable experience.

  81. I have bikes with caliper, drum, and coaster brakes. I love coaster brakes and commute 22.5 miles a day on a single speed with a coaster brake. I weigh 225# and ride my bike hard, albeit on flat Terrain. I've never felt unsafe with my coaster brake and have had to make more than a few panic stops to avoid poor drivers. I also have a 1997 Schwinn Cruiser 7 with a Shimano Nexus 7 coaster brake. I like this bike very much. Just like making sure you are in proper gear to start with a derailleur bike before you come to a stop you can index the pedals with a coaster brake. It's really quite easy to do.

  82. I often bike my dog with my 40 or so year old coaster brake bike. I cannot imagine doing it with hand brakes. One hand is steering, the other is dealing with the dog. Without coaster brakes it would be close to impossible for me. (I have ridden coaster brake bikes since the 1950s, never had a chain come off, never had a braking failure or accident. Age has given me a weak left hand, and I doubt I could at this point use it effectively for braking in any case!)

  83. Wow, lot's of passion here regarding types of brakes for bicycles. I found this while looking for a way to improve the brake performance of my sons "box store" mongoose with the garbage hand brake set-up. Guess you're gonna find the elitist and the pragmatist no matter where you go or what you discuss so here's my $.02. Coaster brakes are good and effective for most people. They should be supplemented by a reliable front brake option in most bicycle configurations as this is verifiably where the majority of the stopping power is available. For people who simply can't figure out how to deal with the inability to pedal backwards to set-up a take-off pedal position, you might reconsider cycling as a means of locomotion, the ability to adapt to ever changing conditions and circumstances is, or should be pre-requisite. For those of you who don't like coasters because you're all into the high-end roadbike scene, good on ya mate. I wouldn't want a drum brake on my Yamaha R1 either!!! I know many people become firmly entrenched in their views as time goes on even if those views are irrational. To that end, I would suggest that all the energy revealed here, in the form of strong opinion, is leveled at the truly irrational practice of having a bike with NO BRAKES. Sorry if it makes any of you angry, but not having brakes on your bicycle is stupid. Period. I've been teaching Motorcycle safety for years and I've always loved riding bicycles and I can't tell you how many morons I've seen with Choppers (motorcycles) with NO front brakes!!! I usually provide them a quick demonstration of stopping distance using all rear, all front and both brakes together to that they will have something to think about while they plow into the side of some car that pulls out in front of them.

    Rant over. Now, does anybody know how I can put a coastie on my kids bike?????

  84. What about coaster brakes for a 4 year old? My son has been riding a balance bike for a year and is ready for a coaster bike without training wheels. We have a radio flyer bike that says "no brakes" on it and when i went to their website i discovered that means they are "coaster brakes". i was surprised Radio Flyer didn't explain what that meant on their website and I am so glad to find your website to give me more information - thank you! So my son turns four at the end of March and I would love your opinions: would this be a good first bike for him or would one with regular kid brakes be best? We live in Ashland, Oregon and ride most short distances around town and on the bike path to nearby parks. Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

  85. Bless this thread. I just purchased a Cortina Dutch bicycle (literally 3 hours ago!) in Amsterdam. I am bringing it back with me on the plane to the US, for a fee of $150. My group of international colleagues thought I was being silly when I said I was going to buy a bike before I left.

    I haven't even ridden the bike and it already means a lot to me. Buying the bike was a commitment to myself in terms of taking my health seriously. If you've never been to Amsterdam, go, because it really is beautiful seeing all those bikes parked across an entire city, each with its own character.

    I am most looking forward to riding in an upright position. As a woman, I anticipate feeling more confident as a new rider. I thankfully live near a bike path and have a great opportunity to experience an intimate personality change by establishing a health routine with my bike. I should totally give it a name :)

    I don't know yet, but I believe the coaster brakes will allow a deeper sense of intuition for me when coming to a stop. Not feeling safe going downhill however would be a concern. Can a front hand brake be added to a coaster bike? Also, I am left handed and want to understand which side would be better to place the handle.

    Love & Light

    1. Congrats on your new bike and and sure hope you kept at it. Front hand brake can be added to a coaster bike and generally added to the non-dominant side (right side for you).

  86. I just realized that most people won't come back to check this site for a while. I'm going to bookmark it!

  87. I have a question... I just bought a bike that has coaster brakes... and I had never used them before... I know how they work... I now see going to a starting position is weird, but I think I'll manage it... my biggest issue is that I like having the seat high, but at the moment I don't know how I would do braking with the backpedaling and then suddenly getting up so that I can place my foot in the ground... How can you do that? or are coaster brakes meant to be used with a lower seat where you can place the feet on the ground while seated...

    1. You've probably figured it out already (or sold off your bike), but...not sure how high you like your seat, but ideal seat height is at the top of your hips so at a full stop you put one foot on the ground while the other one stays on the pedal. If you didn't stop at the 'starting position' (I usually do), your dominant foot pushes the bicycle forward so the pedal is at the starting position and off you go.

  88. For several years I commuted to work on an 80's Peugeot BMX with just a coaster brake. I loved the simplicity of use and almost non-existent maintenance. The bike was pretty light, so when I was stopped at the lights I could easily hook my foot under the pedal and lift up the back of the bike to get the cranks in the right position for setting off. I'm planning on building a lightweight 26" bike with a coaster brake, but I'll have a hand-operated drum brake on the front as a backup. The chain never broke while I was riding the Peugeot, but thinking back to the speeds I used to go at, I shudder to think what might have happened.

  89. Lazy in Minneapolis:

    My commute is short and flat and I ride an old mountain bike with horizontal dropouts. I ride it all winter with as little maintenance as possible. I oil my chain about every... No, I don't really oil it at all. Powdered iron oxide is a lubricant of sorts, as is water. And I've broken a grand total of two chains. My rear cantilevers failed due to rust every winter, and now the posts are shot. I put on a coaster brake a few years ago. I no longer worry about rusting derailleurs and cables and adjustments. The handlebars are cleaner so I can install a windbreak for the -35 windchill days. I normally have a rim brake on the front, but this year those posts rusted out too.

    The big difference is fun factor. For some reason skidding the rear wheel is more fun with feet than hands, and winter gives me lots of opportunities. My goal is to someday get past 90 degrees (i.e. rear wheel swinging in front), but that takes a long sheet of ice. Slowing down I sometimes cycle the brake on and off, just because I like the feel. Coming to a planned stop is not a problem at all. You come up with a style that's comfortable for you and gets your feet the way you want them. Speaking of style, here's how I adjust the cranks at a stoplight: Lock the front wheel; push handlebars forwards to lift the rear wheel; step on crank. Way more fun than rolling forwards and backwards!

    For most people in most places, coaster brakes are fine. Is emergency braking relevant? In an emergency is stronger braking better? If you want to be safe plan ahead: slow down long before you need to stop. The one time I was hit by a stupid car I should have seen it coming, and brakes would not have made a difference. I've twice flipped over my handlebars with rim brakes. I guess I'd rather skid into traffic on coaster brakes than launch headfirst into it. I will admit that a handful of times a slip on ice has forced my weight onto the brake and locked the rim. Exciting!

    The drawback to going cable-less on the rear is gearing. I plan to buy a kickback hub next winter to combine simplicity with two speeds.

  90. Coaster brakes are generally found only on city cruisers where it assumes that the terrain is pretty flat. Coming from a long line of rim brake bicycle users I had confidence issues riding my cruiser at first, but came to love it and it feels very natural. My model also comes with a separate front brake for steep declines, however. I generally stop around half a metre to a metre away from the stop light line and if my pedal is not in the right position I just slowly push my bike along with my right leg to get it and get ready to pedal away.

  91. I feel like getting to the bottom of these comments is a feat in itself! I came across this post as I recently bought a commuter bike to bike to work each day (a flat cycle, around 5km along the beach in Auckland, New Zealand) the bike has been fitted with a coaster brake and a front hand operated break. I love riding it.

    I learnt to ride on a bike with a coaster as a kid, but I have found it so hard to get into the right starting position AND stop in a hurry when dealing with traffic is near impossible. Auckland is considered the Los Angeles of the Southern Hemisphere and the city was built with cars in mind. Motorists are notorious for simply not seeing cyclists where many Aucklanders would love to cycle, but perceive it as dangerous. Even though it's a short ride, I feel like I'm taking my life in my own hands with every 15 minute commute.

    I was contemplating replacing my coaster brake with a hand rear brake (no weak hands here, tiny, but not weak) and as nice as it is to coast along slowing down and cruise up to lights and have my hands free, there have been two occasions already where I needed to stop in a hurry and found getting my feet into a position where I could stop, was really difficult. Luckily, I was able to yell loud enough at both drivers who had not seen me at all.

    I've found almost all of these comments so helpful, but I think I am more confused than before! It appears that it's personal preference and there are good points to both.

    I need both my hands to signal (and push up my glasses constantly)
    I also need to stop in a hurry
    I don't want to be tinkering with my bike, making adjustments, I just want to ride it
    I ride a flat ride to work, so faster than 10-12km/ph
    I want to put my pedal into the start position easily

    What's the magic answer for the above! There isn't one. I think more me, being able to stop quickly is going to have to trump this for me, unless an engineer designs a new brake or Auckland drivers suddenly start driving more considerately (like Amsterdam drivers), it's not going to happen.


  92. I am now loving my 14" neobike kira with coaster brakes. Af first i am hesitant to use it but im now enjoying using it. Actually its now my go-to bike whenever i do night rides in the cities of Manila. My only issue with it is speed but other than that, I dont have any.

  93. One big problem with coaster brakes are winter-usage.
    Otherwise both coaster brakes and hand brakes are fine as long as you get used to them.

    I would strongly recommend against using coaster brakes in sub-freezing temps. The components won't last long.

    You see, in internal gear hubs without a coaster brake, the gears are lubricated by oil.
    In IGHs with inbuilt coaster brake, the whole thing is lubricated with a grease that can stand high temperatures.

    Use simple logic: will the high-temperature grease be ideal for low temperatures? Of course not.
    So if you are regularly using your bike in -10 to -20 degrees celsius, the grease will work poorly, and your gears will wore out quickly.

    I once hade a Shimano nexus with coaster brake that started to work badly in it's first winter. At the shop they said that it was completely worn out and had to be replaced.

    If you however go with IGH with coaster brake, then make sure that you pull it apart and grease it often, like one time before the winter, and one time during winter.

    1. Weather is unlikely to have caused this..I have run many "elderly" coaster brake bicycles in eastern Canadian winters for the last ten years without incident...if you used all grease or oil in the hub, you would ruin it regardless of ambient temps or weather..

    2. ooops: I meant to say "if you used UP all the grease or oil in the hub"

  94. I heavily modified a "beach cruiser" bike and use it in some of the most demanding environmentso because with a single gear, no derailleur, and no lines to brake, I can put my bike through anything and keep going when other, more complex bikes fail. My cycling buddies didn't know what to call my bike; it's not a mountain bike, it's not used to cruise beaches so one of my pals came up with the idea and said "You put that thing through hell, and you keep coming back. Maybe you should call it a 'Hell Cruiser' ." My bike and I take a beating, and we lover every minute of it :)


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