Coaster Brakes are the pinnacle engineering for citizen cyclists

[Looking for an unbiased bit of information about coaster brakes? Check out Lovely Bicycle’s post on coaster brakes.]

Miscellaneous Cycles
The above photo is from Amsterdamize’s unbelievable collection of images of Amsterdam’s citizen cyclists.

A lot of the bikes we sell come equipped with coaster brakes (you know, the kind that make you pedal backwards to stop the bike), and we always run into a big wall of, “I hate coaster brakes” when people come in looking for a new bike. From our $1,300 Pilen Lyx bikes all the way down to our lowly $120 Firmstrong beach cruisers, the moaning about how “weird” these brakes are never stops.

Ah, coaster brakes. I myself am a fan of them and I think I have figured out what to say to let people know that they are actually a pretty bad ass thing to have on your bike.

A Bright Day
Another image of “How people that ride a bike everyday ride bikes” and not “How people think others should ride a bike”. Viva La Coaster Brake. Image via Amsterdamize.

First, raise your hand if you’ve ever ridden a bike with a cell phone, umbrella, frosty beverage, bag, surfboard, musical instrument, or child in one hand. If you have, get thee on a coaster brake bike to feel the difference!

Have you ever tried using a hand brake with only one hand on the handlebars? It is a disaster! The instant you apply force to the hand brake, the bars begin pulling in the direction of your hand – and you have to quickly shift your weight to keep from twisting the bars in front of you. So, first and foremost, coaster brakes allow you to ride irresponsibly – carrying stuff, drinking stuff, talking on the phone, etc. and still have the ability to slow down smoothly. A coaster brake can be the difference between your surfboard or your groceries dumped on the ground on top of your bike or simply swinging a bit at the motion of you bringing your bike to a controlled stop.

I used my coaster brake equipped beach cruiser in college to ride from my house in Isla Vista to my physics classes on the other side of campus no handed during the winter months. The judicious application of a soft back pedal in the turns kept my hands where they belonged on those cold Santa Barbara mornings: stuffed into the front pocket of my hoodie.

So, before you dismiss them, think about the possibilities: sipping coffee without fear in Downtown astride your bike; blithely talking on the cell phone on the boardwalk bike path; swinging a gallon of milk in your left hand while the right hand does the steering; or, best of all, safely picking a booger out on a dry day of cycling (yes, I am being gross – but who hasn’t had to do this on a bike?!). All of this awaits you in the wonderful world of coaster brakes!

Coaster Brake Challenge | Charlie
Charlie from Team Flying Pigeon on his custom Flying Pigeon Racer in Race #2 of the January 2011 Coaster Brake Challenge. Image by Mikey Wally.

Second, brodies dude, brodies. That is, you can bust some awesome skids with a coaster brake.

Case closed.

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  1. Jim Cooper
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Ohhhhh, great memories. When I was a lad (8-10), I had a JC Higgins coaster brake bike. It was just hideous. It had a springer front fork but it did not look cool like the Schwinns. The spring was upright and looked like a bee-hive. That bike took me everywhere. It never let me down or stranded me. After being abandoned outside during the winter, if the tires held air in the spring, it was good to go. And Brodies – everybody on the block could brodie- In formation. If we got into real trouble, we all knew how to Bail. No worse than bailing out of a swing. Sprains and an occasional broken bone were of no consern. I don’t know how Lawyers got by back then. I stripped that bike down to the bare bones and it still weighed more than me. One word comes to mind – Momentum. Isaac Newton was not a problem for me in later years. Once moving, it could and did COAST a long way.
    Then the so-called 3-speed “English Racer” came along to be followed by the 10-speeds and mountain bikes, and my coaster bike was forgotten.
    Well! At this moment I am building a Coaster. If my Spokes come in tomorrow, I might have it ready for the Brewery Ride. In any case, I will see you then.
    Have fun, Coop

  2. Jim Cooper
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Oh, another coaster story. Last February I went over to Mesa Arizona to visit with my brother and his wife. Now, my brothers’ wife is a serious cyclist but she also has an old American Standard girls coasterbrake bike that she bought for garden art. While I was there I was invited to go on a bike ride with several people and I asked if I could ride the coaster bike. This did not go over very well but could make a fool out of myself if I insisted. Now, these people with their Bottechellybiancanios with corncobb cassetts became quite annoyed when not only did I keep up with them, I kicked some of their butts. I love it when the light turns green and the index shifting system on a $4200 bike just goes down the hole. The last humiliation came when one of the riders got a flat and all of the fancy CO2 gizmos and superslime failed to work . Josef, you should have been there, you are the flatmaster, 10 minutes and back on the road to the brewery. But, I saved the day by sprinting back and bringing back, God forbid, a CAR to the rescue. After the ride, I said that next time I would bring a proper multispeed bike but I have a feeling that there may not be a next time.

    Ain’t Life Great? Coop

  3. Phil Miller
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I grew up with a Schwinn Stingray with a two-speed kick-back Bendix coaster brake. I loved it, but abused it. There was a caliper hand brake on the front too, but after a few months of never using it, I took it off. Dad – a physicist – wasn’t happy about that…
    Do you have two-speed kick-back coasters? Could you build up a wheel with Sun CR-18’s? I think it would be perfect for my teenage daughter, who does just the stunts you describe!

  4. Jim Cooper
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Alright, you’ve got me on a roll- a coasterbrake roll. I notice over on Lovely Bicycle a lot of crybabys’ and panseys’, going on and on about how dangerous coasterbrakes are. I don’t remember ever throwing or breaking a chain on my Coaster, but I have thrown many chains on my multispeed bikes. When was the last time that your coasterbrake plowed through most of the spokes on the righthand side of your rear wheel? And, have you ever had the quickrelease on your coasterbrake- release in the middle of a fast descent? My coasterbrake never fell into a false neutral. After that Sturmey Archer 3-speed SW, I was surprised later that I was able to father 2 son’s.

    In the mid 1950’s we used to ride our coaster bikes down Rosecrans Blvd to where it dead ended into Highway 39 to a place called “Motorcycle Hill”. We would go down Motorcycle Hill on our coasterbrake bikes using a series of broadside skids somewhat like downhill skiing. Did we suffer casualties? Yes– The worst one was when Leland Dong got pointed straight down the hill and had a “runaway”. He was in a coma for 2 weeks- small price to pay, we thought at the time. When Leland snapped out of it he was still smarter than the rest of us. After the coma he figured out how to get two sprockets on a Sturmey Archer 3-speed, and with a homemade rear sprocket changer he had the only 6-speed in town.
    The only significant downside of a coasterbrake bike that I can remember was that my rear tire was nothing but a series flat spots. After the amazing things I see kids doing with bikes nowdays, anybody who can’t quickly master a coasterbrake bike has no right to complain about anything. Maybe they can qualify for an electric sitdown scooter.

    Anyway, have fun, Coop

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  1. […] Our survey at the end of the show, “Coaster brake or freewheel?”, was a disaster for the honorable coaster brake. […]

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