We are often asked by parents whether they should be looking for a pedal bike with hand brakes or a coaster brake.
Onto the real question: Should I buy a bike with a coaster brake or a freewheel hub? Or one that has both?
Coaster Brake: a brake on the hub of rear wheel; braking is applied by rotating the pedals in reverse until the brake engages.
Freewheel Hub: allows the pedals to be rotated backwards, just like mom and dad's "10-speed bikes"
Here are the legal details of the matter:
The Consumer Product Safety Commission mandates that any bike with a MAXIMUM seat height of 25" or less is required to be sold with a coaster brake. Any bikes on the market with a freewheel and a max seat height less than 25" are against the law and subject to recall resulting in either remedy by the brand or immediate disposal. This explains why the brands that usually "bend" this law are doing so by providing an extra long seatpost with the bike, which results in a max seat height in excess of 25". It is possible to modify a small bike with coaster brake, that is, to change it into a freewheel bike, but this adds cost because a completely different wheel needs to be purchased and installed.
Did you know there are bikes that have both Coaster Brakes and Hand Brakes?
Some brands have committed to full compliance with CPSC mandates, and have added hand brakes as a supplemental stopping system. The advantages are that kids become acquainted with both systems, so that any future bike they decide to ride is managed safely and successfully.
The BYK range of ergonomic kids bikes are a great example of this.
Check them out here: BYK Lightweight Ergonomic Kids Bikes
- Coaster brakes take some getting used to, just as hand brakes do. They have been status quo for over 100 years.
- Coaster brakes require a rider to anticipate stopping and position their pedals in advance for the reverse pedaling that is necessary.
- A bike with coaster brake will not usually have any front brakes at all, so there is the possibility of locking up the rear wheel and skidding. Remember having contest for the longest skid mark?
- Check out our full line of pedal bikes with a coaster brake here.
Freewheel Hub/Hand Brake info:
- A bike with a freewheel hub has front and rear hand brakes that function regardless of the position of the bike's crank arms.
- Hand reflexes are usually better than leg reflexes, and fingers are more precise with the amount of force they apply, than feet trying to pedal backwards.
- Launch position of the pedals is easily managed with a freewheel bike.
- Hand brakes are wired to calipers or v-brakes, which use brake shoes to stop the bike by squeezing on the wheel. Adjustment and balancing of these brake systems can be tricky and cause frustration for consumers.
- Hand brakes are inevitably going to be used by your rider on more advanced bikes purchased in the future. Teaching this skill early is important for successful and safe bike riding later on.
- Hand brakes are serviceable. The pads can be easily replaced when they wear down. Brake wires can also be replaced when they are worn.
- Check out our full line of pedal bikes with a freewheel hub here.