What Is A Coaster Brake On A Bike? Coaster Brake vs Hand Brakes

by Media Heroes.

If you’re looking for a new bike for your child, you might be wondering about the difference between a coaster brake and a traditional hand brake. What is a coaster brake on a bike, exactly? And is it the better option?

In this article, we explain what a coaster brake is, provide a summary of how it works, and a breakdown of coaster brakes vs hand brakes, so you can decide which is best for your son or daughter.

What is a coaster brake on a bike?

Coaster Brake Hub

A coaster brake hub on a bike’s rear wheel. Image from Wiktionary

A coaster brake is a brake that is activated by pedalling backwards (also known as backpedal brakes). The harder you pedal backwards, the stronger the bike will brake. If the pedals are pushed backwards while the bike is stationary, it will reverse, which is why you can usually find coaster brakes on kid’s bikes and cruiser bikes, which need to go backwards. They tend to be installed on single-gear bikes, but there are exceptions.

The coaster brake itself is located on the inside of the rear wheel hub, and bikes with these types of brakes do not have regular hand-activated brakes.

Some kids and adults may find coaster brakes more intuitive than regular brakes—going backwards is the opposite of going forwards, after all. They also tend to have fewer parts which makes them less expensive, and braking isn’t affected by wet weather. On the other hand, they can feel a bit awkward when switching from acceleration to braking.

How coaster brakes work

A coaster brakes work by pushing a brake shoe against the inside edge of the wheel’s hub, creating friction between the rotating and stationary parts of the wheel. When this happens, the wheel can no longer rotate, forcing it to stop and allowing the bike to brake. The entire mechanism of the coaster brake is obviously much more complicated, involving a clutch, brake pads, a rotating hub, and much more. Check out this excellent video from RJ The Bike Guy for a full technical explanation of how they work.

Coaster brake vs hand brake

If you’re wondering which type of bicycle to choose for your child, here’s a breakdown of coaster brakes vs hand brakes, so that you can make the best and safest decision.

Coaster Brake

Hand Brake

The brakes can feel more intuitive, so are easier to use

Less natural, so may be harder to use

Brakes can be more sudden, which can make the ride more dangerous

Braking can be more gradual, which prevents accidents from happening

Can be easier for young kids, seniors, and disabled people who may lack the hand-eye coordination for hand brakes

Can be a little harder to use

Work perfectly regardless of the weather

Don’t perform as well in wet weather. The bike may skid during braking

Foot positioning can be awkward because the pedals must between 2 and 4 o’clock, or 8 and 10 o’clock for optimum leverage

Pedals can go backwards, so foot positioning is smoother and easier 

Bikes with coaster brakes tend to be cheaper

Usually more expensive than bikes with coaster brakes

Heavier than traditional brakes, which makes pedalling harder

Lighter than coaster brakes, making pedalling easier (but also easier to go fast)

Fewer parts, so likely to last longer

Requires more maintenance, and may need to be replaced sooner