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?
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"
There are more reasons to select a freewheeling bike (with hand brakes) than there are reasons to select a coaster brake bike.
Coaster Brakes info:
- Coaster brakes take some getting used to, just as hand brakes do. It does not come naturally.
- Coaster brakes require a rider to anticipate stopping and position their pedals in advance (usually horizontally in the 3 & 9 o'clock positions). A child that is not attentive to their need to brake could be caught off guard and fail to stop.
- Coaster brakes make it difficult to position a bike's pedals in the "launch position" (again, 3 & 9 o'clock) for effective propulsion from a stop. The pedals cannot be rotated in reverse while stopped, to get them oriented for a successful start.
- 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 dangerously. This is especially true in downhill situations when too much (panicked) force is applied to the pedal while stopping.
- Coaster brakes develop a "dead space" over time, meaning that engagement of the braking will require more and more reverse movement of the cranks to engage the brake- a dangerous situation, especially if kids are sharing their bikes with friends unfamiliar with the level of "break-in" that has occurred.
- Coaster brakes are not serviceable. Once the internal workings of the coaster brake hub are worn, it's time for a new wheel, because repair will cost at least as much or more than a new wheel.
- A very small 12" or 14" pedal bike with coaster brakes will have very short crank arms. This means a reduction in leverage when pedaling and when braking. If leg strength is not sufficient, coaster brakes will not perform.
- Coaster brakes are usually found on low-end bikes with economy prices. It's the brake of choice for a few reasons, but one of them is that coaster brakes do not require a bikes wheels to spin true or round, as with a bike that has hand brakes. This usually means that the bike with coaster brakes has very inferior wheel quality.
- 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. The tolerances of this system are such that a quality wheel is required, without any of the lateral dancing or out-of-roundness evident on inferior bikes.
- 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.