Opinions Wanted: Freewheel bikes with only a front brake

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floggingdavy
Participant
#

So I’ve been seeing more and more bike around (mostly singlespeeds)with just a front brake. My first thoughts when I see this are “that’s dangerous.” I was wondering what everyone thinks about this whole thing.


erok
Keymaster
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i think it’s dangerous, if the rear is a freewheel.

my experience is that many people who do this, also don’t maintain their bikes very well, ie they have front wheels that may have bumps, etc in the rim, leaving it more likely to catch on the brake.


floggingdavy
Participant
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yeah, the ones im referencing are freewheeled bikes, not fixed.

i just saw 3 locked up outside the library and it got me thinking about why someone would ride a bike like that.


dmtroyer
Participant
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rims catching on the brake!??! sounds scary.


erok
Keymaster
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yeah, especially when it gets a bit wet. mountain bikers know the problem. disc brakes are nice.


floggingdavy
Participant
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i wonder if its some sort of fixed gear emulation?


Andrew
Participant
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Even If the brake is in great condition the one brake setup is not ideal. Hard stops on wet roads could be really bad. Stopping on steep roads is hard to do with one brake.

Yeah, the one brake setup is a fixed gear carry over for sure.


mark
Participant
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i do this with my flipflop bike… its less dangerous than a fixie without brakes IMO (because your only brake is front, not rear) but at the same time i take good care of my bikes, and ride appropriate bikes for appropriate times… its nice to only have one thing to maintain and it gets more attention as a result.


BradQ
Participant
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No way. Rear brake only is far safer in my opinion… I’d much rather see “brakeless” fixed gears than front brake only freewheel bikes. Bad idea. Way easier to have a front wheel skid out under braking load on a wet surface.

I’m with Erok. Other than imakwik1, most of the bikes setup like this are pretty dangerous looking in the first place, let alone with just one brake.


steevo
Participant
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This is a really bad idea.

68 did this at jet.

one day his brake cable snapped and he ended up on the trunk of a car. duh.


alankhg
Participant
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I did this once. It worked fine. Then, riding on a snowy day, I went for my brake and my bike immediately fell over.

This was my bike’s way of telling me to install a back brake.


mark
Participant
#

you can say that for any non-redundant braking system:

“this is a really bad idea.

_____ did this.

one day they throw a chain, strip a cog, break a chain, etc and ate shit. duh. “

i’m not saying its the safest thing, but for a non-redundant brake system i’ll take a front brake over anything else, all things equal i think a comfortable, confident city biker with a front brake brakes sooner than a comfortable, confident city rider with a back brake in perfect conditions. obviously redundant systems are safer.

also i don’t ride this bike in the rain, and do ride it fixed half the time.

this thread has inspired me to put on a rear brake though. (i have forgotten to flip the lever on the brake once, i just put my foot on the rear tire to stop… pretty quickly actually… feet shoes make giant brake shoes)


floggingdavy
Participant
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reminds me of the day i borrowed my buddy’s brakeless bmx…by the end of it both my shoes and his tire showed wear. sorry dude.


Lyle
Participant
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word for the day: poseur


eMcK
Participant
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Years ago I was in Colorado Springs, in February. I had my Cross-Check with me, which I happily rode around town, fixed, with a single disc brake on the front.

Although windy, it was not terribly cold, and one day I had nothing to do but ride my bike. I figured, with my eastern sensibility, no snow down here, and warm weather, it would just be a smidge colder if I climbed into the nearby mountains and rode back down on some trails. My bike had very wide cross tires (or narrow mtb tires, depending on your perspective) and flared drop bars, run very high (the bars, not the tire pressure). A bit of dirt would not be a problem.

Before leaving that morning, I flopped my hub to the freewheel side, knowing the lower gearing would be a good thing. Up I climbed, passing and being passed by various roadies, enjoying the brisk and sunny day.

This climb was of my favorite type; the first mile or two were paved, which turned to dirt, followed by single track. Perfect, and something I miss here in Pittsburgh. Near the top I stop to get my bearings and head into the single track seeing how far I could spin my 42-20 gearing. This is where I ran into my first few patches of snow.

I continued to climb, doing more riding than walking thankfully. Got a few weird looks from various hikers. Didn’t see a single other biker on the trail, probably should have been my first clue. The snow was spare and for the most part rideable.

Kept climbing, hit bigger patches of snow. Topped out, ate some food, dropped down the backside. You know, the backside of the mountain that got very little sun. It did get snow, and it was still there. I’m a pretty stubborn person, so I didn’t turn around. People hike in Colorado, even in the winter. So the snow was packed down. Packed down to the point of being hard and frozen, you know, like ice. Remember when I talked about how many brakes I had, and what wheel it was on?

So there I am, careening down a mountainside singletrack, hanging on for dear life. The trail was a series of off-camber, packed-down snow with a steep scree slope dropping off to the valley below followed by 10 feet of bare dirt. After a bit I developed a technique. Off the brakes, roll, slid and skidder across the icy snow, front tire hits dirt, brake!!!!, slow to a crawl, let off the brake, enter the ice zone, pick up speed, remind myself to relax, almost lose it and tumble down the hill, dirt! brake!, repeat!

Eventually, I made it down and off the single track, without crashing. I have no idea how. The trail spit me out on a wide fireroad, angled slightly downhill. It was also covered with snow hard packed by hundreds of hikers. After the long decent on the treacherous singletrack, I managed to crash hard enough on this road to bloody my knee in the first 50 feet. Better that than ending up freezing to death in some scree filled valley. After crashing I couldn’t get more than 20 feet without a get off. So I ended up walking miles until the snow petered out.

Moral of the story?

Buy some studded tires.


dmtroyer
Participant
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@eric great story!!

one question: why didn’t you flip your rear wheel for the descent?


eMcK
Participant
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You know, I never thought of that.


steevo
Participant
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Yeah i think the general consensus is on a bike where you can be going real fast that you should have redundant brakes.

“but it is the most safe of the unsafe things!!”

ok.


mark
Participant
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i frown on all non-redundant brake systems equally. and use them all too. yay!

also, riding mtb with a single front brake… thats scary!


dmtroyer
Participant
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I still don’t know what it means for a brake to catch on a rim, do you mean lock it up?


mark
Participant
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i interpreted this as “awww shit my rear wheels not true and its rubbin on my brakes… this sucks… oh well i guess i don’t know how to fix it so i’ll take my rear brake off”


dmtroyer
Participant
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@mark interesting. I thought the nomenclature for that situation was brake rub, like you used it. isn’t a brake supposed to catch on the rim?


BradQ
Participant
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Sort of. If you’ve ever run a front or rear wheel with a significant hop or two in it, the braking feel can be pretty herky-jerky, with it alternately nearly locking and then spinning free as the hop goes round. That’s what Erok was referencing.


dmtroyer
Participant
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@bradq thanks for the explanation!


edmonds59
Participant
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On a semi-related note, it is my strong opinion that everyone should set up their bikes with the front brake routed to their dominant hand, right or left. If you are right handed, that hand has more strength, finer control, and quicker reflexes. In other words, simultaneously brake harder and less crashey. I’m always surprised how little attention this detail gets.


erok
Keymaster
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yeah, what brad said.


dmtroyer
Participant
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I’ve generally had good luck with most of the wheels in my life. Try to keep tension right and I rarely, if ever have to true them, which is amazing given the roads of pittsburgh and my size.

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