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Brakes: necessary evil or useless weight?(30 posts)

Brakes: necessary evil or useless weight?fixedgearhead
Dec 2, 2002 5:47 PM
I don't know if this has been bandied about in this group, but what is the general feeling re:Brakes
Front only, Front and Rear, Rear only or, Gasp:
About half of my bikes are brakeless. How about everybody else. If this has already been discussed then what were the results.

General concensus is...timfire
Dec 2, 2002 6:38 PM
...front only for general road-use. The topic does come up from time to time (at least it did in the general forum). But of course some admit to riding without brakes, and some some suggest front/rear for hilly terrain.

On my fixie I ride with front only. I personally am not a fan of heavy back-pedalling, so I use my brake for most of my stopping.

--Tim Kleinert
a vote for front onlyDASS
Dec 2, 2002 10:54 PM
I use a front brake for general road use. I think it is a must-have for stoplights and traffic. I probably use it more than actual backpedaling.

A back brake, on the other hand, seems unneccessary and it would take away the 'clean' look. I keep telling myself I'm going to put on a back brake for if I ever put a freewheel gear on, but I never do. I love it fixed!
I advocate 2.Steve_0
Dec 3, 2002 5:22 AM
Especially in urban environments, efficient braking is paramount. Yeah, I know people argue 'your legs act as rear brakes', but leg braking is far less efficient than two brakes. I dont care how well 'my buddy can lock his wheel on a dime', it's not as efficient or controlled as with two brakes.

As i countered once before, leg braking on a bike is analogous to engine braking on a car/motorcycle, but we dont strip off the 'useless' rear wheel brakes. Certainly, we can stop a car/motorcycle with just the front brakes, but its good to have the rear when we really need it.

Also, legbraking goes out the window with a dropped/snapped chain, unthreaded cog or injury.

Considering the added weight of a rear brake accounts for a de minimus of penalty, I prefer the safety/versatility of two brakes. And when I'm 60, I'll still have my knees.
re: Brakes: necessary evil or useless weight?Tig
Dec 3, 2002 6:23 AM
I like a front brake only, even with the rarely used freewheel. I use both back peddaling and/or the front brake to stop or slow down. I'm sure I could get by with no brakes for most circumstances, but I don't like crashing (doesn anyone?) and I like keeping my knees in healthy shape.

I like to feather the front brake to bleed off speed at the last second entering a corner and for emergency stops. I don't think I could safely make an emergency stop while cruising fast with just back peddaling alone. Back peddaling into a corner can upset balance a little, so the brake is a nice convenience. In a tight paceline, minor speed adjustments feel best through the cranks.

Who cares about weight on a lugged steel single speed?! I like a simple, brakeless track bike, but for my road fixte, function first.
Second that.look271
Dec 3, 2002 7:09 PM
I even use just 1 (front) when I use the SS. I can stop quick enough with the front, especially if I combine it with
backpedaling. Besides, as a buddy of mine says; "stopping is highly overrated!"
As a fixed rookie, I vote for twomadstork
Dec 3, 2002 6:26 AM
During 2 months of fixed rides, I like the confidence of both front and rear brakes. I run a FG/SS flip/flop hub so I will keep the rear brake mounted in any case. I've experimented with back pressure on the pedals. Knee injuries from other sports make me wary of using that as my only braking option.
Front for fixed, both for SS.MB1
Dec 3, 2002 6:58 AM
I've locked up my rear wheel running a rear brake fixed-not really that much of a problem true but who needs more problems. I also like to ride fixed in the dirt every so often where you just don't want to accidently lock up a wheel. We never ride on the track so we always have at least one brake on our Fixtes.

When we flip the wheels and run SS 2 brakes are a must.
re: Brakes: necessary evil or useless weight?fixedgearhead
Dec 3, 2002 7:38 AM
The reason I asked this question is that I find that when I run my track bike or my other brakeless fixed gear bikes on the the street, I am much more cautious and aware of the surroundings. I admit that I don't often ride in an urban environment and where I ride there are long sightlines and few cross traffic streets and driveways out here in the country. The bigest problem is sliding on the horseshit left by the Amish buggies. But that is another issue alltogether. I have toured extensively on both brakeless and braked and don't have a big preference either way. The only caveat to that statement is on long downhill terrain such as the Rockies and such high mountains with 3-5 mile decents it is comforting to have the option of brakes. Even that can be delt with if you just let your legs go slack and offer the normal resistance against the force of the peddles coming around. With the proper gearing there is a constant speed that can be maintained without having to resort to extreme back pressure. As to the knee issues I think with comon sense you should be able to protect them from damage if you just don't use the lockup style of riding all the time. I am 61 and don't have any problems other than age related arthritis of the knee jounts. I ride pretty much by myself and not in a paceline where I think brakes are an advantage. So thats My 2 cents.
what Sheldon Brown says:trekkie1
Dec 3, 2002 7:50 AM

Some fixed-gear riders ride on the road without brakes. This is a bad idea. I know, I've tried it. If you do it, and have any sense of self-preservation at all, it will cause you to go much slower than you otherwise could, everytime you go through an intersection, or pass a driveway. The need for constant extra vigilance takes a great deal of the fun out of cycling.

You really should have a front brake. A front brake, all by itself, will stop a bicycle as fast as it is possible to stop. This is true because when you are applying the front brake to the maximum, there is no weight on the rear wheel, so it has no traction.

One of the wonderful things about fixed-gear riding is that the direct feel you get for rear-wheel traction teaches you exactly how hard you can apply the front brake without quite lifting the wheel off of the ground.

This is a very valuable lesson for any cyclist who likes to go fast; it could save your life.

There is really no need for a rear brake on a fixed-gear bicycle. By applying back-pressure on the pedals, you can supply all the braking that the rear wheel really needs. In fact, it is fairly easy to lock up the rear wheel and make it skid, unless you are running a rather high gear.

Some fixed-gear fans make a point of not using their brake except in an emergency. I am not sure that this is a good idea. Heavy duty resisting is widely reputed to be bad for your legs, and to be counterproductive for building up muscles and coordination for forward pedaling.

This is a lot like car drivers who use their transmission and clutch to slow down, even though the car has a special set of parts made for the exact purpose of slowing down. Brake shoes are cheaper to replace when they wear out than clutches are.
what Sheldon Brown says:fixedgearhead
Dec 3, 2002 8:04 AM
I know Sheldon thinks the way you have stated. My caveat to that is, that it is not always my intention to set a lap record on every ride. I find that the extra awareness necessary for this type of riding is an added benefit to the riding experience. I am more aware of the surroundings that I am passing thru. I like to go fast too. But not everytime I get on the bike. I feel more connected to the experience brakeless. Yes, you must ride slower, although if you watched some of the urban messengers riding brakeless, you would question that assumption. I let the environment I am riding in dictate the type of bike I ride. That is the benefit of having a choice of bikes to ride. I guess it boils down to, "To each his/her own". It is interesting though, the diverisity of opinions.

Good point..Dave Hickey
Dec 3, 2002 8:29 AM
Besides cycling, I also speedskate. No brakes on my skates. Skating on roads at 15mph+, you have to be anticipate and be prepared.
Good point..fixedgearhead
Dec 3, 2002 3:37 PM
Dave, this is a little off topic but I remember in the era just before the advent and widspread use of inline skates, there were a group of guys who skated downhill facing backwards using the older style of 4 wheel skates with the rubber drag brake on the toe of the skates. They used to skate to work from the top of one of the steepest hills in San Francisco down to the financial district in business atire with a backpack and their wingtips or whatever inside. They probably got up to 30 mph and were amazing in their dexterity to avoid the rouge taxi cabs and jaywalkers that were a part of the everyday rush to work in the business district. Blowing thru red lights and jumping over cable car tracks. The cops tried to stop them from time to time but they were seldom able to catch them. They became quite an item of note for a while, and then as usually happens, they moved on to something else. It was truely one of the "Only in San Francisco" things. I thought of it when you mentioned the rollerblades and their relevance to brakeless riding. I don't remember hearing of any of them crashing and burning, but that could of happened. Thought you would like to hear of it.

but laws require a braketrekkie1
Dec 4, 2002 7:22 AM
Most states require bikes to have at least one brake capable of skidding a tire. That alone should justify using at least a front. You don't *have* to use it.
California law implies a rear brake is req'dStraightblock
Dec 4, 2002 8:48 AM
V.C. Section 21201 - Equipment Requirements
(a) No person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it is equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make one braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

Does anyone want to demonstrate how to skid the front wheel? In an accident, you might have a hard time convincing a police officer/lawyer/judge/jury that your legs met the requirement for a rear wheel brake. It might be enough to make an accident your fault, or at least turn an accident another party caused to be a no-fault.

I used to ride my track bike on the road with a front brake and a rear brake handle with the lever removed because I liked the full choice of hand positions, but eventually added the rear caliper.
"but your honour, there WAS a brake there. Mustve snapped off'Steve_0
Dec 4, 2002 12:28 PM
maybe notDougSloan
Dec 5, 2002 9:13 AM
It doesn't say what speed. Try riding about 2 mph, then grab the front lever as hard as you can. You can easily lock the front, and not crash (don't clip in for this).

I can't lock the rear with my legs no matter how hard I try.

I would never go without a front brake. If someone pulls in front of you and you can't slow sufficiently, and the cop looks at your bike and sees no brake, you're hosed, both by a fine and blowing much of a chance in civil court (not to mention you might have totally avoided an accident).

My track bike won't take a rear brake, unless I drilled out the bridge, I suppose. For the 508, I ran no rear brake on my climbing bike, only a front, and it worked perfectly fine. However, I was almost exclusively climbing, and the brake was only necessary for stop signs.

re: Brakes: necessary evil or useless weight?brider
Dec 3, 2002 7:55 AM
I have both, with the rear brake reversed to help with the cleaner look. I basically don't use the back brake going fixed for most situations, but a panic stop will get both. For SS riding, I use both.
Hard on the KneesAlpedhuez55
Dec 3, 2002 8:29 AM
I know a few courriers with very bad knees from riding around without any brakes. A front is advisable regardless. I like a rear since I can ride my bike as a singlespeed with a freeewheel if I choose to as well.

Mike Y.
one vote for front only..NMtronracer
Dec 3, 2002 9:01 PM
You have to be more in touch with your mortality to ride with no brakes. For most people it's a worthwhile excercise to cruise around without brakes for a month or two. Eventually you'll get tired of having to ride like a jackrabbit, dodging side to side all the time. If you're riding no brakes in the city, you are almost certainly not married. Whaddya say, CHI?bigsnow
Dec 4, 2002 3:55 PM
re: Brakes: necessary evil or useless weight?fixedgearhead
Dec 4, 2002 4:45 PM
I just checked the Ohio Vehicle code which relates to Bicycle operation. It states that: '"A bicycle must have an adequate brake". I would posit that the judicious application of resistance force to the turning pedals in order to retard the forward progress of the connected pedal/chain/rear wheel constitutes an adaquate brake.Since the earliest opperation of the bicycle it has always been so. the brake is a later delvelopement in the evolution of the bicycle. Without further clarification, or definition, on the laws' part, I think that would suffice to comply with the letter of the law. I realise that each state has varying law requirements in this regard. I also notice in a section just above the previously mentioned section: :"A bicycle must have a bell or horn that can be heard for at least 100 feet". I wonder how may of us have such an item on their ColnagoC-40's or Derosa Merak's?
Just a thought; I guess that we are all adults here and can choose to obey the laws as they will. How many of us have exceeded the speed limit in their car or parked illegally? You just choose your poison and suffer the consequences. What say you.

eye of the beholder....Steve_0
Dec 5, 2002 6:00 AM
I could posit that the judicious application of resistance force of my feet being dragged on the concrete also constitutes adequate brakes. Dont think the judge would buy it though.

I think the legality discussion is kina moot; Noone, realistically, is going to be ticketed for not having a brake; however, not having a brake COULD be a discriminating factor in determining fault in an accident. Since the operator of a vehicle has the responsibilit of always maintaining control of his vehicle, the cyclist (assuming it WAS his fault) will alwayd be found at fault, regardless of brakes.

Speaking of ridiculous, outdated laws, I understand in NJ, MVs are required to have a flagman 100 ft (or yrds)ahead at all times. Havent had the desire to research as to its validity.
eye of the beholder....fixedgearhead
Dec 5, 2002 7:52 AM
I think that the history of bicycle design would prove that the brake was a later invention necessitated by the advent of the freewheel. In reality brakes were originally offered as an optional extra on bikes available at the time. Serious bicycle riders concidered them unnecessary. I realize that in this lawyer dominated society that we now live in, it is up to me to prove my point in a court of law. I agree that the point is probably moot. At least I hope so for my sake. There was an interesting case that was decided in Michigan. A guy was riding down a hill and turned onto a bridge that was being repaired. The state didn't have the bridge completely blocked off and the roadway was removed in places. He fell an really screwed himself up. He filed suit. He lost. The State Supreme Court ruled that the state did not have a responsibility to keep the roads free of any damage that might impact a bicycle. I guess they think of the bicycle as a childs plaything. go figure.

eye of the beholder....fixedgearhead
Dec 5, 2002 7:54 AM
What the hell happened to the wrap on my message?
Any ideas?

"the immortal class".Steve_0
Dec 5, 2002 9:17 AM
can tell the ex-messengers on this board.
"the immortal class".fixedgearhead
Dec 5, 2002 11:05 AM
A great book. Probably the best description of life as a messenger that I have read to date. He really captures the drama and tension of life on the messenger merry-go-round. What say you?

"the immortal class".Steve_0
Dec 6, 2002 4:26 AM
agreed. Great work. Identify 100 percent with his perspectives on the negatives associated with a society built around the auto.
Early highwheelers had a brakeStraightblock
Dec 5, 2002 1:23 PM
At least some of them did. It was a sort of spoon-shaped contraption that rubbed on the tire. On downhills, the rider would swing his legs up over the handlebars to get clear of the flailing pedals, which also made it easier to leap OTB when the brake "spoons" overheated & buckled.
Early highwheelers had a brakefixedgearhead
Dec 5, 2002 3:25 PM
You are correct. The ones that were bought by the casual or club rider were indeed available with brake over the front wheel that was rod actuated and worked off the rubber tire. The ones that were more race oriented or enthusiast ordered were most often purchased without. I have seen period cataloges from columbia and other makers that indicate that the bikes come without brakes although brakes are available as an optional extra. The inference being, if you need them you really aren't serious. I have a repro copy of the Thomas Stevens book "Around the world on a Bicycle", circa: 1887 which only has drawings depicting his bicycle, but it does not show any brake. To think that he road that thing around the world without a brake is to say the least, amazing.The advent of the safety bicycle, our modern bicycle, and the invention of the freewheel, made a brake a necessity.