Condensed answer: A fixed-gear bike allows the rider to slow down the rear wheel via the pedals. For that reason, some people see rear brakes on a fixie as a redundancy. Nonetheless, a rear brake on a fixie isn’t detrimental and provides some positives.
The Benefits of Running a Rear Brake On a Fixie
1. Easier Deceleration
Slowing down by locking the pedals takes a fair amount of energy and stresses the chain, the axle, and the cranks. In addition, proper execution demands a greater degree of skill that isn’t in the arsenal of every rider.
Conversely, brakes make deceleration simpler and straightforward.
Technically, you get the major positives of handbrakes by installing only a front brake which provides most of the stopping power anyway.
However, a rear brake is beneficial too because it’s not as aggressive and is nice to have for slowing down.
2. More Evenly Distributed Stress On The Rims
If you rely solely on a front brake, the front rim will be overstressed during long descents. As a result, it will overheat and wear down faster along with the brake pads.
If you have a rear brake, some of the stress and thermal loading will be shifted to the rear wheel. This will prolong the lifespan of the front rim and brake pads.
3. A Backup Brake
If you’re running a solo front brake, and its cable snaps, you will be left brakeless, apart from the pedals. In cases like that, a rear brake would be quite useful because it will preserve some of the bike’s braking power.
If you don’t have an emergency brake cable, you can take the one from the rear brake and install it on the front.
Of course, the cable will be a lot longer than needed, but you can wrap the excess end into a roll and zip-tie it. Later, you can cut the cable to length a home.
4. Safety in Wet Conditions
In slippery conditions, solo braking via the front brake can be dangerous. If the front wheel skids, it’s almost 100% certain that an inevitable fall will follow.
Conversely, if the rear wheel skids due to wet conditions, there’s a much greater chance that the cyclist will recover.
5. Quick Switch to Single Speed
A fixed-gear bike allows you to stop via the pedals, but a single-speed does not. Hence why it’s recommended to run two brakes if you have a freewheel.
If you’re running a flip-flop hub, it will be a lot safer and faster to switch over to the freewheel cog if you already have a rear brake installed.
6. Better For Descents
On a fixed-gear bike, descents can be overwhelming because you can’t coast, and your legs have to move along with the pedals.
If you have brakes on your bike, you can safely lower the speed and reduce the rotations per minute to a more comfortable number.
The Cons of Running a Rear Brake On a Fixie
1. Extra Weight
A rear brake plus its cable and housing add extra weight to the bike.
The table below contains the weight of popular caliper brakes:
|Model||Weight (1 unit)|
|Shimano Ultegra BR-R800||180g|
|Campagnolo Chorus Skeleton Rim||151g|
|Shimano 105 BR-R7010||173g|
|Dia Compe BRS202||188g|
|FSA Gossamer Pro||165g|
|Campagnolo Centaur 11||162.5g|
Conclusion: On average, a rear brake would add 163.35 grams to a bike. When you account for the weight of the cable and housing, the final number gets to 200-250grams.
200-250 grams can seem like a lot of weight, but the average cyclist is unlikely to notice them.
2. Disrupted Bike Aesthetics
Another downside of running a rear brake on a fixie would be the change in bike aesthetics.
Some fixie lovers/purists want to preserve the super simplistic and clean look of a fixie and try to keep the gear and accessories to a minimum. Sometimes this means no brakes at all. It’s not a move that everyone approves of, but it is a trend in the fixed gear community.
Another hit on the bike’s aesthetics besides the brake itself is the housing. Unless your frame is designed to accommodate a rear brake from the get-go, chances are that it doesn’t have cable stoppers.
This scenario leaves us with two options:
- Run a cable from the brake lever all the way to the rear brake and zip-tie it to the frame. As you can guess, the fans of ultra-clean lines would cringe at this idea, but functionally it can work.
- Install clamp-on cable stoppers on the top tube and run the cable and housing through them. This approach is a little more aesthetic, but obviously, not as aesthetic as having dedicated cable stoppers on the frame.
Note: Aesthetics are important, but slaving to them at the expense of function and safety is dangerous.
You can meet the following problems when trying to install a rear brake.
1. No Mounting Hole
If your fixie is practically a track bike, it may not have a mounting hole for the brake. In that case, you won’t be able to install a rear brake at all simply because the bike isn’t built for one.
2. No Cable Stoppers
Another issue could be the absence of cable stoppers on the frame. As already mentioned, there are workarounds.
Why Front Brakes > Rear Brakes
During braking, the weight of the bike shifts forward towards the front wheel. As a result, the traction of the front tire with the ground augments.
The extra traction allows the rider to apply more braking power.
Since there’s a load transfer to the front during braking, the weight on the rear tire is reduced and so is the rear wheel’s traction with the ground. If you stop mainly with the rear brake, the rear tire may skid/slide due to the lack of traction.
For that reason, the rear brake isn’t as reliable as the front one.
Having said that, a rear brake is still of great help, especially when you want to slow down a bit rather than to brake completely.
Summary: What You Need To Know
1. A rear brake on a fixie can seem like a redundancy, but it provides some nice benefits such as:
- Backup braking power
- Easier to use and more stable than locking the pedals to brake
- Reduced stress on the front rim because the front brake doesn’t have to do all the work
2. A rear brake is helpful, but it’s not as important as the front one which can stop the bicycle a lot quicker thanks to the increased traction on the front during braking.
3. Some fixie frames won’t have mounts for a rear brake and/or guides for the brake cable and housing.
4. A rear brake will disrupt the simple lines of a fixie, but its function is too good to ignore in the name of unwritten fixie rules.
5. A rear brake adds close to 200-250 grams to the overall weight of a bicycle.