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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 05-12-08, 11:58 AM   #1
boorambo
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single speed, coaster brakes for commuting

Hello,

I'm new to the whole biking scene and have a question about the appropriateness of a single speed coaster brake bike for commuting around town. It is a left over from the Little 500 race in at Indiana University. I was really comfortable on it, but it is a bit more than I wanted to pay for a bike and so I want to be sure that I will be happy with it at least for the next few years. Any thoughts? Thanks!
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Old 05-12-08, 12:02 PM   #2
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Hello,

I'm new to the whole biking scene and have a question about the appropriateness of a single speed coaster brake bike for commuting around town. It is a left over from the Little 500 race in at Indiana University. I was really comfortable on it, but it is a bit more than I wanted to pay for a bike and so I want to be sure that I will be happy with it at least for the next few years. Any thoughts? Thanks!
Sounds fun to me, I rode one when I went to visit some friends in Richmond, VA and I had a blast on that thing, it was nice just to be able to push my feet down to stop, simple riding. If you end up not liking the coaster brake you could always get a new wheelset and ride it fixed or singlespeed with brakes in the front and back.

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Old 05-12-08, 12:47 PM   #3
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A coaster brake is fine for commuting on flat (or near flat) ground. Apply the brake while going down a steep hill and the hub will go up in smoke, especially with heavy loads. I ride mine to the local stores with no problems all the time.
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Old 05-12-08, 01:26 PM   #4
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Don't do it. 80% of your braking power comes from your front brakes, just like in a car. Put on a front brake, if you can't do that, then don't ride it over 10 MPH in traffic. I am serious. If you get it going 20 MPH and a car pulls out in front of you, you are toast. Your stopping distances are easily triple with rear brake only. We do this exercise all the time in Road One classes, and it always works out that way.
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Old 05-12-08, 01:39 PM   #5
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Don't do it. 80% of your braking power comes from your front brakes, just like in a car. Put on a front brake, if you can't do that, then don't ride it over 10 MPH in traffic. I am serious. If you get it going 20 MPH and a car pulls out in front of you, you are toast. Your stopping distances are easily triple with rear brake only. We do this exercise all the time in Road One classes, and it always works out that way.
+1
In addition to the above comments if your chain jumps off you have no brake at all except for your loud screams emitting forward from your mouth, until that rapid stop as you hit something.
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Old 05-12-08, 01:43 PM   #6
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So ok, Not the best bike for commuting I guess. I did enjoy site seeing around Richmond on one though and I rode through a pretty hilly area with it.

It felt like it could stop on a dime, either way I would probably ride one. No biggie
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Old 05-21-08, 12:14 PM   #7
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I ride the same type of bike and coast down steep hills, so I know of those concerns. Get a front brake installed ASAP and watch for your coaster brakes on downhill stops or the hub's grease will disintegrate from all the friction and could result in brake failure. It can be very enjoyable ride but watch yourself, man.
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Old 05-21-08, 12:27 PM   #8
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Outside of North America, this is the bike that the world commutes on. If you don't have steep hills, it may even be the best bike for commuting.

In my experience, the brakes are perfectly suitable up to at least 15 -20 mph. That's faster than you are going to ride with a singlespeed. As mentioned, you can get brake fade on long, fast, descents. The remedy is to use the brake lightly through the decent, giving the airflow time to cool them. Don't coast down a hill at 40 mph and expect to stop quickly. It is correct that a broken or slipped chain results in a loss of braking, but so would a meteor strike. It's not happened to me in 50 years of riding.

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Old 05-21-08, 12:38 PM   #9
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It may have FELT like it would stop on a dime but as said this is just an impression and has nothing to do with the reality of the situation. Weight transfer during a stop puts much of the weight onto the front wheel and lifts weight off the rear. So when you apply the rear brakes they become pretty easy to lock up and then you can't stop very well. This weight transfer takes place even when you only use a rear brake. And the harder you are braking the more transfer there is and the less you can use the rear brake. So the stopping rate limit is reached very quickly with a rear only setup.

However if you commute in sloppy weather then a coaster rear and regular front combo could be a real winner. I've found that even in slop the front end stays fairly clean but with the rear riding in the disturbed water and muck from the front the back brake and rim gets worn and really grotty very quickly. My solution was discs for my sloppy weather bike but a rim front and coaster rear would likely work pretty nicely as well.
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Old 05-21-08, 12:56 PM   #10
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Actually, I'm interested in the same thing for my son who's going to college in the fall (which is flat). I'd like to get him a single speed bike with fenders and rack and coaster brake. Looks like Sid and Nancy Schwinn's do it. Are there other decent bikes that do this?
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Old 05-21-08, 01:43 PM   #11
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wait? you all use rim brakes instead of coaster brakes? those things are dangerous! a cable can snap without warning. levers can fail. if you lose one brake pad the whole brake is suddenly useless and the whole aparatus is attached to the fork of your bike by only one tiny little screw: if that comes undone your stopping power disappears. heck, i actually had a friend spend a month in the hospital because he applied his rim brake continuously on a long descent. the heat from constant braking melted his tubular tire glue and he lost his front tire at 50 mph!

that sounds unreasonable and alarmist, i know. and that's how the anti-coaster-brake posts here sound to those of us who know and use these beasts.

the coaster brakes of today (new shimano ones and, if you are super lucky a velosteel) are powerful and effective. they work in all weather and are much less prone to dramatic and sudden failure. yes, you shouldn't use them on monster hills. and yes, you shouldn't expect to stop "on a dime" when travelling at high speeds (which is the same thing as using them on monster hills, really), but coaster brakes are perfectly safe and effective provided you:

a) use them for their intended purpose
b) maintain them properly

and is there any technology out there, bicycle brake or otherwise, to which those two caveats don't apply?
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Old 05-21-08, 01:46 PM   #12
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Nothing wrong with a coaster brake IF you can stay mostly out of traffic, on safe bike trails, and don't go fast or on steep hills. If you want to ride fast, or in traffic, you want better braking. Of course, adding a front caliper brake to a coaster bike is cool too.

Another option is a single speed with a freewheel or flip-flop hub and hand brakes. That gives you the simplicity of single-speed riding and the option of fixed gear (which lots of people like). And you can always add fenders and racks.
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Old 05-21-08, 05:14 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by kf5nd View Post
Don't do it. 80% of your braking power comes from your front brakes, just like in a car. Put on a front brake, if you can't do that, then don't ride it over 10 MPH in traffic. I am serious. If you get it going 20 MPH and a car pulls out in front of you, you are toast. Your stopping distances are easily triple with rear brake only. We do this exercise all the time in Road One classes, and it always works out that way.
I think your over reacting a bit. People have been riding coaster brake bikes forever. How many of us bombed around on Schwinn Typhoons and the like during our youth. Used an abused, they kept right on going.

If you like the bike, buy it. Know your limitations and ride accordingly.
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Old 05-21-08, 05:18 PM   #14
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Just add a front brake to it. I'd love to have one of the leftover's from the Little 500.
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Old 05-28-08, 10:43 AM   #15
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I ride the same type of bike and coast down steep hills, so I know of those concerns. Get a front brake installed ASAP and watch for your coaster brakes on downhill stops or the hub's grease will disintegrate from all the friction and could result in brake failure. It can be very enjoyable ride but watch yourself, man.
Is something wrong with my above quote? It's usually some kind of chain failure that causes brake failure, right? The internal brake shoes would just wear out and diminish braking performance and increase stopping distance. Then again, that statement could be somewhat inaccurate too. Spooky....
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Old 05-28-08, 11:13 AM   #16
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I think your over reacting a bit. People have been riding coaster brake bikes forever. How many of us bombed around on Schwinn Typhoons and the like during our youth. Used an abused, they kept right on going.

If you like the bike, buy it. Know your limitations and ride accordingly.
Sure, I used have a bike with a coaster brake and a slick on the back. As kids we used to see who could skid the farthest and kick up the most dirt/dust in the process. Not exactly an endorsement of their stopping power.
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Old 05-28-08, 11:31 AM   #17
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I use a road bike sometimes set up with a coaster brake and front rim brake as my main commuter. I agree that adding a front brake to your bike would allow you to brake more effectively, though they are not nearly as necessary as some posters have made it seem. Thousands of urban fixed gear riders can ride effectively in traffic at high speeds with only a rear wheel brake; all it takes is practice and a reckless nature.

Don't worry about riding hills with a decent quality, well-lubricated coaster brake. It takes a mountain descent where you are constantly applying the brakes for a really long time to start boiling off the lubricant. Modern greases will hold up even after the hub body has started to discolor from the heat. Anyway, you can avoid this heat build up if you do a series of skids to scrub speed instead.

Oh, and losing your chain does mean you lose all braking. Pressing your shoe tread against the rear tire works very well in slowing or skidding the rear wheel. Check out Ted Shred on YouTube. The guy's been commuting in SF on those steep hills for years with no brakes except his feet.
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Old 05-28-08, 11:56 AM   #18
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Thousands of urban fixed gear riders can ride effectively in traffic at high speeds with only a rear wheel brake; all it takes is practice and a reckless nature.
and bicycle messengers/fixed gear riders value safety above all else.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Coaster brakes work but just by virtue of being on the rear wheel they aren't the best choice. It's kind of like using the hand brake to stop a car, -it'll work given enough time and if you aren't going too fast.
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Old 05-28-08, 12:05 PM   #19
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Just add a front brake to it. I'd love to have one of the leftover's from the Little 500.
+1

I'd love to have a bike that was ridden in the Little 500... and autographed by it's riders.

I grew up riding old single speeds with coaster brakes, still ride an old Columbia cruiser with a coaster brake to pull my granddaughter's Schwinn Runabout and ride with my wife on a Schwinn Twinn that has a 3speed coaster brake hub. There's nothing wrong or dangerous with a coaster brake just as long as you use it within it's intended limits. That means no drafting semis or riding hilly roads like rt119 from Sunnyside down to Boulder Colorado.

With anything nearing or exceeding "spirited riding" speeds a front brake is recommended.
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Old 05-28-08, 07:41 PM   #20
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I have ridden old cruisers with just a rear coaster for a few years now. I road them when I was kid too. They are safe but the reason they work is that they don't go fast. My bike pedals to speed quick which is topping out a little over 12 mph. So my momentum is not that high, so when I lock up the rear brake there is not as much tendency for it to lift off the road. Still if I could find a hand brake that could be added to it I probably would. Generations road these things.
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Old 05-28-08, 07:53 PM   #21
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Lame anti-coaster brake crowd here, I have coaster brake only townie that I use almost everyday. It works fine.
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