The reason why some bikes don’t have brakes

Bikes generally are fitted with rim brakes or disc brakes, but you might have noticed some bikes without any brakes; or with only a front or a rear brake. How is this possible? Isn’t it dangerous to ride without brakes? Is it allowed by law? Or is it just crazy riders?

In this article, we will look at the types of bikes that do not always have brakes. We will focus on these special bikes and explain how it works, the context, the safety aspect, and the legal aspect.

Do all bikes have brakes?

Not all bikes have brakes for various reasons. Track bikes don’t for safety reasons, BMX don’t have front brakes so cables don’t get in the way for tricks. Fixies don’t have back brakes since pedaling backward act as one. To ride “on-road” at least one brake is required by most state regulations.

Why some bikes don’t have brakes

Only bikes destined to go “on-road” are obliged by law to have brakes. Therefore, bikes only used “off-road” such as BMX or track bikes may not have brakes. It can be for safety reasons (track bikes) or freedom of movement (BMX bikes).

Why BMX bikes have no brakes?

Many BMX bikes do not have front brakes. The reason is to give the rider more freedom of movement to execute its tricks. Removing the brakes also lighten the bike which can help to perform figures in the air. Some BMX riders even go as far as removing rear brakes.

Please note that if you do remove the rear brakes, you won’t be able to ride “on-road” since it’s illegal in most states. You will therefore need to go to your best spot on foot. Most states require to have at least one brake, that’s why BMX bikes are mostly equipped with rear ones.

Many pro BMX riders like to remove all brakes like in this picture.

Why fixies don’t have brakes?

The main reason single gear bikes, also called fixies, don’t have brakes is that they can stop without one. Indeed, stopping the pedaling motion will act as a brake. In some states, the fixed gear is considered as a brake itself by regulations. That’s why many fixies aren’t sold with brakes.

Some states however may consider the fixed gear not enough and require a front brake, considered more efficient. Some lethal accidents with fixies have recently led light on the inefficiency of fixies to brake fast.

In many countries in Europe, and in the UK, the front brake is compulsory on fixies. It won’t be a surprise that more and more states in the US require fixies to have one.

A fixie bike with only a front brake.

Why track bikes don’t have brakes?

Track bikes don’t have brakes for safety reasons. Braking on a track will surely result in a fall. People ride very close to each other, any sudden reduction in speed may surprise other riders. The floor itself is also very slick to reduce as much as possible friction, without mentioning the slope.

Not having brakes on track bikes is not an issue since you are not supposed to encounter any obstacle on the oval course. Moreover, like fixies, track bikes have fixed gear. Therefore, the way they reduce their speed is by slowly reducing their pedaling stroke.

Track bikes don’t have brakes.

Which brake is more important on a bicycle?

The most important brake is the front one. It takes half the distance to stop with the front brake compared to the rear one. A rear brake is however useful to avoid tipping over. The rear brake can be used to sense traction and have better control of your bike when braking.

That’s the reason why many people recommend using the rear brakes before the front ones to have a sense of this traction. For the same reason, very skilled cyclists will say that the rear brakes are useless since they have enough experience to know when they will tip over or not, and apply the correct force on the brake to prevent it.

Front brakes are most efficient for stopping.

Can you ride a bike with just a front brake?

Technically you can totally ride with only front brakes. Skilled cyclists will even say they only use front brakes but this is not recommended for day-to-day people. Regarding the law, having only one brake, either the front or rear, is sufficient in most states in the US.

Thus, it is totally ok to ride with only a front brake regarding the law. But I would recommend having both brakes for beginner cyclists and regular commuters.

Are back pedal brakes safe?

Back-pedal brakes are safe to use but, as with any rear brake system, they are less efficient than regular front brakes. They tend to skid more than to stop. Overall, stopping the rear wheel will require twice the distance to stop than stopping the front wheel.

Back-pedal brakes also have less control than hand brakes. It is stopping or nothing, no in-between. With handbrakes you can control the pressure the brakes apply and have more modulation in the response. This is important to be able to control the force applied on the brakes to adapt it, especially when riding downhill or on slippery surfaces.

How do you stop a bike with no brakes?

There are several techniques to stop a bike without brakes. One method often used by BMX riders is to put their foot on either the front or rear wheel. Another method used to stop BMX bikes or fixies is to quickly move the bike perpendicular to the course while leaning a bit, like skiing.

Here is a nice video showing how to stop without brakes with these two techniques:

Why do some bikes only have front brakes?

In most states, one brake, either front or rear, is sufficient to comply with the law. That’s why many fixies only have a front brake since they can already back-pedal to reduce their speed.

Do fixie bikes have back brakes?

Fixies don’t have rear brakes in the form of disks or pads, but stopping the pedal motion will stop the rear wheel. As such, fixies are considered by some states as having rear brakes without an external system.

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