dangers of just one brake?

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dangers of just one brake?

Postby emilmh » Thu Jan 27, 2011 8:35 pm

Hi all,

I'm trying to work out my build for my second fixie/single speed conversion, and if i go fixed I will be contemplating only using a front brake (plus the fixed drive chain as a "brake").
The reason i am considering this is purely for aesthetic reasons. I love the minimalist look. Even on my first build i modified the rear brake line to run through the top tube, which i think made a nice clean look, but i would still prefer not to have a rear caliper brake and extra brake lever if i can get a way with it.

I won't be using the bike for any hardcore riding (any 'faster' riding will be done on closed of bike trails or the local criterium), so i was wondering if this would be a stupid move (in terms of it being dangerous) or if it's not as unpractical as it first may seem. I've seen lots of fixies with just front brakes on this forum, and plenty of others with no caliper brakes at all! I can't imagine at all not have at least one caliper brake though.

Has any one gone back to two caliper brakes after just having one?

thoughts/experiences?
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by BNA » Thu Jan 27, 2011 8:49 pm

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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby nayfen » Thu Jan 27, 2011 8:49 pm

one brake works if you wear skinny black jeans, suitable tattoo and are a barista.

all other people i don't recommend riding in the rain with single brake in traffic or down hill.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby thomashouseman » Thu Jan 27, 2011 9:07 pm

I have to use hands and feet to count the number of cable snaps I've had over the years. Some of them totally out of the blue and unexpected. I'd hate to have that happen to my only brake!
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby Oxford » Thu Jan 27, 2011 9:47 pm

I run a single front on the fixie, disc brake, but its hydraulic, I have absolute faith in it, but you also need to ride to the conditions, just in case. only ever brake in a straight line, never around corners and learn to modulate your speed. I found my average speed on the commute dropped, but that is because I am modulating the speed a lot more and top end speed is lower (55km/h is hard to sustain). I also know my commute route very well so its easy to know when you can and when you cannot go faster, particularly in the wet.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby emilmh » Thu Jan 27, 2011 10:03 pm

nayfen - Apart from the sarcastic comment which is not applicable to me, I don't ride in traffic, in rain or in hilly areas. What is your actual personal experience relating to the matter?

thomashouseman - I can honestly say i would never have thought brake cable snaps to be a concern.

I appreciate the safety warnings, but the number of people that seem to ride within only a fixed drive chain and/or a single front brake made me question the practicality. When i rode motorbikes i found that i could almost ride without using the rear brake, and that involves higher speeds and more weight. (I realise they are different but still similar in principal)

Oxford - I appreciate hearing your first hand experience. May i ask as to your reason for only using one brake?

From the sounds of it i think i will be leaning towards two caliper brakes. I'd like to hear more first hand experience still, if only for interest sake.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby hartleymartin » Thu Jan 27, 2011 10:20 pm

There is always the possibility of a brake failure (snapped cable), and of course another issue is wet weather handling. In wet weather it is generally better to make greater use of the rear brake to check your speed. In my own cycling, I have developed the practice of using the rear brake first to begin to control my speed and the front brake to bring myself to a complete stop.

I've ridden around on a fixie with only the front brake in Canberra (not a bad experience actually!) but it isn't something that I would feel comfortable doing around Sydney.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby Oxford » Thu Jan 27, 2011 10:26 pm

emilmh wrote:Oxford - I appreciate hearing your first hand experience. May i ask as to your reason for only using one brake?

I could say a vain thing like looks, which is partially true (if it were really true, I'd shorten the hydro line, but I couldn't be bothered), but the frame has no disk tabs so I do not run a rear disk. Initially when I set the bike up as an SS free wheel I did run a rear V brake, but dropped it when I went fixie. never regretted it.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby drubie » Fri Jan 28, 2011 7:31 am

I run one front brake on my fixed bike - I don't ride it anywhere near as fast as I do the other bikes with gears except uphill. I think it's OK but this town is pretty quiet.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby rustychisel » Fri Jan 28, 2011 9:59 am

I commute and do fast rides (including group rides) on fixed gear with front caliper brake. No rear = no mounting point + the bike is a minimalist machine. The brake works well, I'm confident in it and I know the limitations of the bike. I've skipped the rear wheel up under hard braking (slipstreaming a bus :roll: ) a couple of times. Oh, and I've never broken a brake cable in many many years of cycling, that I can recall. YMMV
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby nayfen » Fri Jan 28, 2011 10:34 am

emilmh wrote:nayfen - Apart from the sarcastic comment which is not applicable to me, I don't ride in traffic, in rain or in hilly areas. What is your actual personal experience relating to the matter?

I appreciate the safety warnings, but the number of people that seem to ride within only a fixed drive chain and/or a single front brake made me question the practicality. When i rode motorbikes i found that i could almost ride without using the rear brake, and that involves higher speeds and more weight. (I realise they are different but still similar in principal).


I rode down a medium sized hill. car reversed out driveway. with the road still damp from rain I didn't have enough stopping power to make complete stop.

As mentioned brake cables snap but with regular maintainance this would be very rare. with your described riding habits (no hills, traffic or rain) give it a go you can always put a rear brake on later.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby stevo » Fri Jan 28, 2011 7:05 pm

I'm in the one is enough camp.

Rode a fixie when I was a young fella with no brakes at all and had no issues with it, never had a stack on the road due to lack of braking. (fell off doin wheelies and jumps a few times :oops: )

I made up a fixie a little while back to see if I liked it and I did, so I made up a better one and it only has the front brake and I find this enough even when I flip the hub over to freewheel.

I use a lot of rear brake on my motorbikes but that's not for stopping it's for trailbraking and controlling the power and tucking it in a bit tighter in a corner, don't have as much power on the fixie as my GSXR1000 has .. :twisted:
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby PeteV » Fri Jan 28, 2011 8:17 pm

I have to agree with Stevo here. I was riding mine as S/S for ages and tended to ride the rear brake a bit too much, when really it is the front that should do a majority of the stopping. Since changing over to fixed, I only ever use the front brake. The rear is still on because I haven't been arsed removing it, but that day will come soon enough!
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby ratter » Sat Jan 29, 2011 3:51 pm

stevo wrote:I use a lot of rear brake on my motorbikes but that's not for stopping it's for trailbraking and controlling the power and tucking it in a bit tighter in a corner, don't have as much power on the fixie as my GSXR1000 has .. :twisted:



Great to hear somebody else knows what the rear brake does on a motorbike, so many have no idea.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby trailgumby » Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:18 pm

Around the hilly parts of Sydney where I'm mixing it with traffic, I'd definitely want two brakes. Rear only brakes break traction too easily, even if you drop your bum back down behind the seat mountain bike-style.... and trying to do that on a fixie would be a challenge! Front only presents a washout or OTB risk in emergency situations. I'm thinking of the guy recently killed when he did an OTB in front of a bus. can't recall if that was Brisvegas or Siddenee.

You might be planning only to ride it on clsoed circuits or low traffic, flat routes, but unless you plan on taking it by car everywhere you may find you are straying outside your intended low risk usage environments quite frequently. For those times, I'd recommend the second brake.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby Nobody » Sat Jan 29, 2011 5:06 pm

trailgumby wrote:Front only presents a washout or OTB risk in emergency situations. I'm thinking of the guy recently killed when he did an OTB in front of a bus. can't recall if that was Brisvegas or Siddenee.
True, but what other option do you have in an emergency? All you can do is stand the bike up (if cornering) and modulate the front brake as best you can for the conditions you have on the road. It's one of those times when performance trade-offs for faster roll, lighter components and/or aero riding position come into question. I think most road bikes are too much go and not enough stop. I also think too many cyclist ride at a speed beyond their and/or their bike's braking ability (including me sometimes :oops: ).
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby Oxford » Sat Jan 29, 2011 5:11 pm

Nobody wrote:I think most road bikes are too much go and not enough stop. I also think too many cyclist ride at a speed beyond their and/or their bike's braking ability (including me sometimes :oops: ).
very well said and very true indeed.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby stevo » Sat Jan 29, 2011 6:47 pm

ratter wrote:

Great to hear somebody else knows what the rear brake does on a motorbike, so many have no idea.



I've seen too many customers that don't even use a front brake in the motorbike industry... could tell some hair raising stories of how inept people are but that's for another time on another forum...

Your front brake has about 70% of your braking capacity... a rear is used either for control or for people who shouldn't be riding in the first place... (that might throw the cat amongst the pigeons.. :twisted: )
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby Nobody » Sat Jan 29, 2011 7:36 pm

stevo wrote:Your front brake has about 70% of your braking capacity... a rear is used either for control or for people who shouldn't be riding in the first place... (that might throw the cat amongst the pigeons.. :twisted:)
Well, you better tell the BMX racers then. :wink:

This subject has been covered well before here.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby mitzikatzi » Sat Jan 29, 2011 8:07 pm

All you need is a back brake here :lol:
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby trailgumby » Sat Jan 29, 2011 8:08 pm

Nobody wrote:
trailgumby wrote:Front only presents a washout or OTB risk in emergency situations. I'm thinking of the guy recently killed when he did an OTB in front of a bus. can't recall if that was Brisvegas or Siddenee.
True, but what other option do you have in an emergency? All you can do is stand the bike up (if cornering) and modulate the front brake as best you can for the conditions you have on the road. It's one of those times when performance trade-offs for faster roll, lighter components and/or aero riding position come into question.

For sure, my friend, I understand where you are coming from, and agree. Image
What I'm trying to convey is that front and rear brakes together pull you up very much more quickly than 1 only, or 1 plus legs on a fixie. Having a front brake only my concern is hitting it too hard because it's really all you've got.

Nobody wrote: I also think too many cyclist ride at a speed beyond their and/or their bike's braking ability (including me sometimes :oops: ).

:lol: Oh, yes. Without a doubt. That's why I like my hydro discs, but even they have their limitations so I'm looking several cars ahead and try to always position myself with an escape route.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby Nobody » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:02 pm

trailgumby wrote:What I'm trying to convey is that front and rear brakes together pull you up very much more quickly than 1 only, or 1 plus legs on a fixie. Having a front brake only my concern is hitting it too hard because it's really all you've got.

As you know, I've gone down from grabbing too much front brake on a wet driveway. :oops:
I think I see your point. Sure, if road/path conditions are ugly, wet and/or slimy then I'd likely cautiously go for both brakes or maybe just the rear in a corner. If I didn't have that rear brake then I may be in trouble. I also believe that two brakes are better than one to control speed while signaling (which is obviously not a problem with a fixie).

My point is that maximum braking power is only available when the back wheel is just leaving the ground, if that much traction is available (which is likely on the road).

As an example; I was riding along a bit of a downhill at about 30 - 40 Km/h yesterday. Came to a back street round-about which is usually empty to find a car entering (the dangers of complacency :roll: ). Didn't have enough time to even shift my weight back as I grabbed the front brake. The back wheel came up. Modulated the back wheel down again and cleared the car easily, which kept going on its merry way. If I had grabbed both brakes, all I would have achieved in that case is to flat spot a rear tyre and make it more likely to skew my tail off-line.

Yes it was dry yesterday, but I probably would have done the same in the wet. Just more cautiously with the initial lever grab and maybe covering the rear brake just in case...
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby idw » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:24 pm

remember the 70 30 rule. learn to do some wicked stoppies and you should be fine. plus stoppies are fun :D
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby elStado » Wed Feb 02, 2011 1:26 am

I've only got a front brake at the moment on my Ninja as the rear brake I haven't installed properly yet. It rides perfectly fine without it, just riding around the local streets at slow-medium speeds. I rarely need to use the brake anyway as I slow down by using backward force on the cranks (not skids, just slowing the cadence down). However on some slopes it is good to have the front brake to help slow me down if my legs are getting tired.

I'll be fixing the rear brake tomorrow, as it's my first free day for a while. I'll barely need it, but I don't want to get caught out with a cable snap and only one brake. Better safe than sorry.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby Mugglechops » Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:28 pm

I rode my SS with only a front brake. I took it off when I went to flat bars and fixed and only fitted a front brake because I only had one lever. When I went back to SS I just left it with one brake.

I used it to ride to work which is all quite roads and no stop signs or traffic lights so it was never a problem. Only one hill that I get to about 55km/h on but it has no roads or driveways leading onto it.

Its back to fixed now and if I don't sell it it will stay with one brake.
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Re: dangers of just one brake?

Postby CheapFixed » Thu Feb 10, 2011 9:57 pm

buy a good brand front brake and a good leaver, i bought a cheap set of eBay for $40 including Us, leavers and cabels, the rear brake is a write off anyways, so no i have to put trust into this proven un trust worthy front brake! But a new ones on the way and then ill only run a front brake!
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