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Singlespeed & Fixed Gear "I still feel that variable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailer? We are getting soft...As for me, give me a fixed gear!"-- Henri Desgrange (31 January 1865 - 16 August 1940)

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Old 04-25-06, 11:37 AM   #1
john_and_off
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Dangerous without a rear brake?

This is my first post on these forums, so I'm sorry if there's already a thread about this, but I've searched most the threads already and haven't found an explicit answer, so here it is:

I'm a college student who rides for fun. Biking is my main form of transportation (I go to school in Boston and don't like the T) but mostly I just ride for fitness and because I enjoy it. I've been riding road bikes for years - never as a serious racer or anything - but I'm very at ease on two wheels. Recently, some friends who ride fixed gear convinced me (by letting me try their bikes!) to convert my road bike to fixed because of the interesting feel, better traction, lots of fun to ride, etc. etc. (you know all the reasons already, I'm sure )

I've picked up all the components that should be necessary for the conversion, and I'm ready to start building in a week or two. I'm really excited to get out there on the conversion and start learning, but as lame as this may sound, my parents are uncomfortable with the idea (particularly because of the brake situation) and I want to put them at ease if I can.

For me, a big part of the appeal of a fixed gear is the minimalism of it - I love the uncluttered look of the bikes, and love the idea of it being light to carry up stairs, etc... Everything I've read would suggest to me that a rear brake is superfluous on a fixed gear, so I'm ready to toss it (I know what you're thinking, but don't worry - I always wear a helmet, and I plan on running a front brake) but my dad, who was way into road bicycling back in his day, can't be convinced that this is safe.

Am I misguided in thinking that a rear brake is unnecessary? If it truly would be an asset to me (I'm a conservative rider to begin with - no traffic dodging here) I'm prepared to suck it up on the aesthetics and keep it as a safety measure, but I'd really prefer to go with the minimalist look of a front brake if it's safe. What's your take on the rear brake? Can it be safely scrapped, given that I'm a conservative rider in a relatively flat city? If yes, does anybody know of any evidence to help put my parents at ease? Sheldon Brown actually has a whole page written on his take on the rear brake on a fixed gear (as unnecessary) so maybe that's all the proof I need, but I thought I'd ask anyway.

Thanks for the help!
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Old 04-25-06, 11:42 AM   #2
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My old conversion had a rear brake. It was nice as an alternate way to slow down when my legs got tired on long descents or in place of skipping during the few times I used the rack to carry stuff. Otherwise I didn't use it much.
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Old 04-25-06, 11:43 AM   #3
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you don't need a rear brake, your legs do all the braking you need (and 90% of your stopping power comes from the front anyway)
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Old 04-25-06, 11:48 AM   #4
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it feels really weird once you get used to your legs constantly moving to use a rear brake, especially for a sudden stop. you can slow down all you need to with the front.
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Old 04-25-06, 11:49 AM   #5
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if it were a question of aesthetics, wouldn't you put a rear brake on for symmetry?

anyway, i think you'll probably find that you don't need a rear brake, but if you ride and find that you need a rear brake, then put one on.
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Old 04-25-06, 11:52 AM   #6
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i don't think it is a bad idea to leave it on till your legs develop the power to stop the rear wheel on their own (or forever really).

but as a conservative rider i think you really won't need it, even while getting used to using the legs for braking. a front brake stops you pretty damn good!
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Old 04-25-06, 11:52 AM   #7
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In fact if you apply the front brake for a hard stop you will find it is too easy to skid the rear wheel with legs alone, but with legs alone you can better prevent a rear skid vs. rear hand brakes.
My last 'roadie' ride I did fixed with front brake, there were a few times (a few more than usual) we were riding tight at 28mph and light turned red and I stopped faster that most others several of who skidded into the intersection.

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Old 04-25-06, 11:53 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by queerpunk
if it were a question of aesthetics, wouldn't you put a rear brake on for symmetry?
It's really the look of the cable running down the frame that I don't like.

Thanks for the advice, everyone (and so quickly!)
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Old 04-25-06, 11:53 AM   #9
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If you are unsure then leave it on while you are learning. I will bet that you won't use it and will find out for your self that it is not needed, but find out for yourself.
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Old 04-25-06, 11:53 AM   #10
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If it were a question of aesthetics I'd just put a bmx lever up by the stem.
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Old 04-25-06, 12:53 PM   #11
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you don't need the rear brake. the only way it would be aesthetically be pleasing in my opinion is if you ran road levers on drops (balanced look).. but i've been fine with just a front brake for everything. its nice to have if you're going to run an ss freewheel though. also, where do you go to school? i'm at NEU.
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Old 04-25-06, 12:57 PM   #12
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I go to BU - always nice to meet other Bostonians!
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Old 04-25-06, 01:05 PM   #13
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I only run a front brake. I don't skid or skip either. You can slow down quite a bit by simply resisting the motion of the pedals, then come to a complete stop with the break.
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Old 04-25-06, 01:07 PM   #14
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The front brake provides the vast majority of the braking force anyway

Most of the time on my road bike I only use the front.
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Old 04-25-06, 01:28 PM   #15
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A rear brake would just be redundant and put more clutter on the bike.
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Old 04-25-06, 02:01 PM   #16
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I bomb down 6 mile descents in the mountains where I live with just a front brake. If it was an SS I'd definitely want a brake.
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Old 04-25-06, 02:58 PM   #17
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if you are going to put a flip flop hub to have a single speed option, then you might want a rear break. if not no need. even on my non fixed bikes i usually just use the front break. but part of that has been having breaks that hardly worked in the first place, so rear was practically useless.

edit: also once you get used to stoping with your legs, you probably wont use the front break either.
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Old 04-25-06, 03:02 PM   #18
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Your dad is right.

In the hands (and feet) of the average rider, fixed-gear bikes are not as safe as freewheeled bikes.

[Ducks]
[While waiting for them to reload]

Not as safe for the following reasons:

1) when you are locked in to constant pedaling you are not able to set your pedals when cornering or when jammed up on a curb by a passing car.

2) It takes more physical skill and dexterity than required for a typical bicycle.

3) It's hard as hel* to bunny hop over obsticles in emergency situations. Bunnyhopping is the holy grail of fixie skills to me.

4) A fixie rider has "read the road" a LOT further ahead than a typical cyclist.

5) If you ride brakeless, for one reason or another, one day, you WILL be headed down a hill that you may not be able to handle.

6) Fixies can destroy your knees over time.

So, yes, with that in mind, in the hands of the average cyclist, fixies are not as safe as a "regular" bike. If you are conviced that you can learn to handle the above situations (and convince your dad of such) then you are cool. If not, hey this IS as SingleSpeed forum, too ;-)
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Old 04-25-06, 03:14 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by carleton
1) when you are locked in to constant pedaling you are not able to set your pedals when cornering or when jammed up on a curb by a passing car.
shorter cranks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by carleton
2) It takes more physical skill and dexterity than required for a typical bicycle.
sure. but you'll get stronger over time. start with a lower ratio and work up.


Quote:
Originally Posted by carleton
4) A fixie rider has "read the road" a LOT further ahead than a typical cyclist.
wouldn't this be a safer way of doing things, not an added danger?



Quote:
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6) Fixies can destroy your knees over time.
CAN. yes, "can". they don't have to, though, and you don't have to let them.
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Old 04-25-06, 03:20 PM   #20
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Oh please. Fixies are no more dangerous than freewheels. Your post sounds like you're assuming the dudes going to go brakeless from the get go. It is no more dangerous then operating a machine for which you have little experience in.

You seem to be putting fixie riders on some sort of holier, more elite than thou pedestal which is pretty wrong. Just as there are bad freewheel riders, there are also bad fixie riders. No one group is intrinsically better than the other because of the type of bicycle they are riding.
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Old 04-25-06, 03:22 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carleton
Your dad is right.

In the hands (and feet) of the average rider, fixed-gear bikes are not as safe as freewheeled bikes.

[Ducks]
[While waiting for them to reload]

Not as safe for the following reasons:

1) when you are locked in to constant pedaling you are not able to set your pedals when cornering or when jammed up on a curb by a passing car.

2) It takes more physical skill and dexterity than required for a typical bicycle.

3) It's hard as hel* to bunny hop over obsticles in emergency situations. Bunnyhopping is the holy grail of fixie skills to me.

4) A fixie rider has "read the road" a LOT further ahead than a typical cyclist.

5) If you ride brakeless, for one reason or another, one day, you WILL be headed down a hill that you may not be able to handle.

6) Fixies can destroy your knees over time.

So, yes, with that in mind, in the hands of the average cyclist, fixies are not as safe as a "regular" bike. If you are conviced that you can learn to handle the above situations (and convince your dad of such) then you are cool. If not, hey this IS as SingleSpeed forum, too ;-)
1) is dealt with by 4. you ride smarter, you don't get smushed into a curb. If you're getting close enough to a curb to deal with pedal strike, you're probably going down anyway. And if you get pedal strike on cornering you're taking some pretty hard corners. Shorter Cranks help, yes. Ill get taken down by toe overlap way before I will with pedal strike.

2) which you learn really fast.

3) uhm... you just sort of hop. It's no leg over the handlebar skid... If you're positioning in the pedals isnt right, do a quick skip before you need tot jump.

4) which is good. if the stupid moutnain biker who ran into my leg this morning in my commute had been paying attention, i wouldn't have had to cuss him out.

5) which is why you learn how to stop by jamming your foot into your tire. or how to skid with your feet not in your pedals. I've slipped out in some monster hills, and I'm not dead yet. If he has a front brake I don't think its an issue.

6) so get a bike that fits you.
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Old 04-25-06, 03:49 PM   #22
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Thanks for the input, everyone! More or less, from everything people have said here, I've come to the conclusion that given my riding style (like I said, I ride pretty conservatively) and the fact that Boston is pretty flat, I should be fine with just a front brake.

And Carleton, thanks for the input - I appreciate that you seem to be concerned for my well-being, but I'm not going to be going crazy or racing any time soon, so I think that I'm up for the challenge Like everyone's said here, I'll just have to work my way up. Thanks again!
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Old 04-25-06, 03:56 PM   #23
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Quote:
if it were a question of aesthetics, wouldn't you put a rear brake on for symmetry?
If you followed a traditional Beaux Arts schooling you would.
If you have more of a modernist approach you'd wouldn't.

"Form follows function." -Louis Henri Sullivan

Side note: another bostonian here, I work in the architecture program at Wentworth.
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Old 04-25-06, 05:04 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by john_and_off
Thanks for the input, everyone! More or less, from everything people have said here, I've come to the conclusion that given my riding style (like I said, I ride pretty conservatively) and the fact that Boston is pretty flat, I should be fine with just a front brake.
There is one other issue that noone seems to have brought up. If you ride in crappy weather on crappy surfaces a rear brake will greatly improve saftey. There are situations where you not be able to stop as fast as possible with your front wheel as doing so would cause your it to slide and you to go down. In such circumstances back pressure on the pedals is a really crappy way to stop since it can not be applied evenly and will cause the wheel to slide and make you more likely to go down.

if you ride on surfaces like these regularly you might want to consider dual brakes even on a fixie
-wet brick
-ice
-wet leave covered crap
-sandy roads
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Old 04-25-06, 05:10 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dolface
you don't need a rear brake, your legs do all the braking you need (and 90% of your stopping power comes from the front anyway)

always hear people say this (or 87% or 93%).

makes me wonder how us brakeless types manage to stop at all really
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