Fixed Gear Brakeless . . . and Brainless?

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Anonymous's picture

Just helped put a fixed gear biker in an ambulance with a couple of broken ribs and hopefully nothing worse.

Guy collided with a traversing cyclist, who was inadvertently in fixed gear guy's way, but was hoping the fixed gear guy would slow down at seeing him.

Fixed gear guy could not slow down fast enough . . . Bang!

I noticed, as in many cases of fixed gear riders -- no brakes. Am I missing something here, or is it just plain stupidity not to put at least a single front brake on the fixed gear in case of emergency? Does your dick shrivel up by putting a brake on the bike???

Anonymous's picture
Baruch (not verified)

Recently, as fixed gear has become more and more cool and stylish, I've been noticing riders who are, well, cool and stylish.
Most recently, I was passed by a pair on the Hudson River greenway. They then slowed down, and one made a casual and agonizingly slow U-turn without ever looking behind him. DOH, he just passed a few seconds earlier; Did he think I disappeared?

Anonymous's picture
Bill Vojtech (not verified)

"Fixed gear bikes have been popular with members of the urban cycling community, (mostly messengers and others who want a bike that has few parts to get stolen while locked), for many years.

They don't need a rear brake, as direct drive enables you to slow the wheel with leg power. The front brake provides most stopping power on any bike, and many people who ride fixed gears on the road use a front brake.

With a front brake, they stop as well or better than a non-fixed road bike. Of course, having brakes does not guarantee that they will be used– there are ""suicide jockeys"" on all sorts of bikes, and other vehicles, too.

There is hardly a cause for alarm."

Anonymous's picture
chris o (not verified)
speaking of appendages...

We don't use brakes strictly for decoy purposes in order to out people like you, Ron.

If you struck up a conversation with a man riding without a brake, you may ask him why he does not have a brake. You may even observe that it seems reckless and stupid. This is understandable. But would you throw in that line about the dick to his face? No. So why do you have to communicate so rudely just because it is a message board?

Anonymous's picture
Ron Torok (not verified)


Sorry if I offended you. It was written more for my own amusement and personally did not think it was particularly rude, but rather merely off color. I will try and apply more discretion on this message board going forward given the sensitivities.

(And yes, I would say that to anyone's face).

Good luck with the bike.


Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)
No brakes, one brake, two brakes?

With 3 different factions, the arguments are much more polarized than Campy vs Shimano or tubies vs clinchers.

Because of a crash that *might* not have happened if I had two brakes (miniscule possibility, but ya never know) I converted from one brake to two. Now when I brake hard the rear wheel skips a bit, something that definitely never happened with only a front brake. Am I really stopping any quicker? Who can say.

Anonymous's picture
April (not verified)
One brake (in theory)

>Now when I brake hard the rear wheel skips a bit, something that definitely never happened with only a front brake. Am I really stopping any quicker? Who can say.<


By skipping the rear wheel, you're NOT stopping any faster.

The rear brake helps to slow down the REAR WHEEL rotation quicker. But that doesn't equate stopping the BIKE itself any quicker.

In fact, friction theory suggests sliding friction is less effective in slowing down than rotating friction. How does car anti-lock brake works? It RELEASES the brake as soon as the wheel skids. And it's proven to slow down the CAR quicker!

So the best you can do is to slow down BOTH wheels' rotation WITHOUT skidding. Having the front brake definitely would help to slow down the front wheel. I doubt adding the rear brake actually does much in slowing down THE BIKE.

Anonymous's picture
Fixer (not verified)
I'll Take Two (and call you in the morning)

Applying back-pressure to the pedals is really hard on the knees, that I know from experience.

I've also read that it causes micro-tears in some leg muscles, but I'm no Robert Young.

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)

What does it do to your knees?

I have front and rear brakes, which I use for quick stops and steep descents. But I mostly rely on back-pedaling (or at least resistance) for slowing.

Also, after three fixed gear rides in the last two weeks in Westchester and Harriman, my legs were less stiff-n-sore than last year on a geared bike. I had more base miles last year as well.

Anonymous's picture
Fixer (not verified)
Snap, Krackle, Pop!

"Nasty knocking noises.

I'm not talking about letting your legs ""go heavy"" and letting their weight resist the cranks. I mean actively resisting, applying downward pressure. Not for me..."

Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)
Two brake theory

I agree with your analogy but not your conclusion.

Because it's a fixie and the pedals are always turning rear wheel braking is exactly analogous to ABS - short skips or skids matching the pedal strokes, separated by short periods of braking.

In theory, that results in better braking than a single brake. YBMV.

Anonymous's picture
April (not verified)
Not owning a fixie myself

"I can only theorize.

So the question becomes: Can you accomplish the rear ""braking"" by applying pedal pressure while still turning the crank to match the rotating wheel? Or is it simply easier to seperate the two function by having a rear brake?

I think I'm ready for a fixie myself. Where do I start?"

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
Read up

First, read up a little on the Sheldon Brown and Old Skool Track sites.

You can borrow my 50 cm Specialized on a weekend day when I'm not using it, and take it up to Central Park.

Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)
Where to start

April, do you remember Dennis Bean-Larson? Check out to see what he's been up to the last few years.

Don't be afraid to start out with a singlespeed freewheel before going fixed. You won't be the first, or the last - I know at least two people _on_this_ thread_ who did that.

Maybe a flip-flop rear wheel (fixed on one side, free on the other)?

Anonymous's picture
Mordecai Silver (not verified)
Rear brake on a fixed-gear

"April wrote: ""So the question becomes: Can you accomplish the rear 'braking' by applying pedal pressure while still turning the crank to match the rotating wheel? Or is it simply easier to seperate the two function by having a rear brake?""

Your first hypothesis is correct.

A rear brake on a fixed-gear is redundant. Sometimes it's good to have redundancy, e.g., on a self-supported tour. But for ordinary riding, as long as you have a proper track hub and lockring, a rear caliper brake is not necessary.

Besides, using a front brake alone on a fixed-gear will make you a more skillful braker on any bike:

""Some cyclists like to ride a fixed-gear bicycle, that is, a bicycle that does not permit coasting. When you brake hard with the front brake on a fixed gear, the drivetrain gives you excellent feedback about the traction situation at the rear wheel. (This is one of the reasons that fixed gears are favored for winter riding.)

""If you ride a fixed gear with only a front brake, your legs will tell you exactly when you are at the maximum brake capacity of the front brake. Once your fixed gear has taught you this, you will be able to stop any bicycle better, using the front brake alone."""

Anonymous's picture
Peter (not verified)
Actually, no

Antilock brakes do not slow a car quicker. They are purely to give the driver more control, i.e. you can't steer when your wheels are in full lock, so the ABS lets off so you can still steer. In fact, in dry weather, ABS is generally perceived to lengthen stopping distance. In wet weather, perhaps, but there's no reason why it should be shorter.

As for the fg thing, I'd say it's the skill of the rider more than any equipment that will prevent/cause accidents.

Anonymous's picture
Smiley (not verified)

"Personally, as a pedestrian, I feel safer crossing in front of a messenger (or other experienced user) on a fixie without brakes than in front of the average biker.

Why? Because most of them are ""paying attention to every element before [they] actually run a red light or stop sign"" (H. Schiffman, in a thread about running red lights)."

Anonymous's picture
John Segal (not verified)

style dictated that i remove the rear brake of my latest fixed gear.
after three weeks of commuting, it went back on.

i certainly felt that my braking ability, response times, etc, were greatly diminished by the removal of the rear brake.

brakeless is for the track. period.

Anonymous's picture
Bill Vojtech (not verified)

Could be that in general, (fixed or frewwheeled), you rely more on your rear brake to slow/stop. When you removed it it was a detriment. For someone who uses primarily the front brake, it would not matter as much, if at all.

Anonymous's picture
John Segal (not verified)

Just curious, do you ride a fixed gear?

Anonymous's picture
Bill Vojtech (not verified)

I own a fixed gear bike. I occaisionally ride it, but only in Prospect Park. It has front and rear brakes. It came that way. I keep it that way because I primarily ride a road bike and I can't see learning a whole new way of stopping just for the rare occaisions when I ride a fixed gear bike. Plus I've had an ACL reconstruction in my left knee following a skiing accident, and I've heard that trying to suddenly stop the rear wheel puts a lot of stress on the knees.

Anonymous's picture
don montalvo (not verified)
agreed...sort of...

"...i remember some years ago a track rider demonstrated in a courtroom how he could stop on a dime. not sure what the story was. i did messenger work for a couple years (in the summer time when i took time off my regular job). i never had a brake. never hit anyone. never got hit. i didn't go as fast as some of these maniacs either.

i did pay close attention to what was going on around me. i rode down the middle of the street and wore bright clothing. i looked drivers in the eye and tapped on cars when they got too close or when i needed to get their attention. common sense and good reflexes got you through the day.

now that i'm 15 years older i can't help but think...what the HELL was i thinking?! get a danged brake if you want to survive in nyc. :)

john wrote:

""brakeless is for the track. period.""

Anonymous's picture
Smiley (not verified)
For those who want to know more
Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)

"Speaking of fixies, did anyone see the guy riding his ""Mile-a-Minute-Murphy"" bike in CP last week? Thursday, I think. Biggest damn chainring I've ever seen, 72 teeth, with a 12 tooth cog - 162 gear-inches. Spin? Not!"

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