For many cyclists, a coaster brake causes a sense of nostalgia because they are associated with children’s bikes where you simply push back on your pedals to stop moving forward. This simple braking mechanism is highly effective at stopping a bicycle but lacks the control of a handbrake because there’s no gradual slowing option.
However, they are also incredibly reliable and simple to repair. How do bicycle coaster brakes work?
Coaster brakes work by stopping all forward motion to the tires when you press backward on the pedals. Upon pedaling backward, a brake shoe engages and presses the inside of the hub creating friction between the rotating and stationary parts of the wheel, which prevents the wheel from reversing direction. This shoe prevents your wheel hub from moving at all.
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What Is A Coaster Brake On A Bicycle
Coaster brakes are the first type most people use since they are common on children’s bikes. However, many adult bicycles also sport these incredibly reliable brakes as well.
A coaster brake on a bicycle is a braking system with no hand grips. Instead, you simply push backward on your pedals to stop the bike from moving forward. It is very intuitive.
The brake is attached through the center of your rear wheel. It uses a small piece called a brake shoe to instantly halt the backward motion of the wheel.
Any attempt to reverse your pedaling direction causes the shoe to engage, and the rear wheel no longer moves.
Coaster Brake Diagram
Shimano is one of the most popular and widespread drivetrain parts manufacturers for bicycles worldwide.
Although they are certainly not the only ones, you will find this brand’s brakes on every bike, from BMX to hybrids. Shimano makes numerous braking systems in different styles.
You can see a schematic and diagram of its coaster brake right here.
You can locate other coaster brake styles on this page.
If you need a closer look at all the parts of a coaster brake and a visual of how each element works, I recommend this video.
Harv Woien does an excellent job of explaining the pieces and how they relate to one another.
Coaster Brake Assembly
- Bicycle Coaster Brake Hub/Bike Brake Rear Hub 36 Hole Stainless Steel
- Rear Width:110mm,Axle length:165mm; Material: Stainless steel;
- 18 tooth slice and other accessory
- Rear Hub diameter: 38mm, work with 1.5" adapter
- Package includes: 1 x Coaster Brake Hub. 1 x Accessory (18 tooth slices, screws and gasket, etc)
Installing a coaster brake assembly is relatively simple. However, choosing the right high-quality brake can feel overwhelming when you see how many options are out there.
I recommend the DONSP1986 Store Bicycle Coaster Brake from Amazon. This coaster brake assembly should fit in any bike.
You’ll appreciate how easy and intuitive it is to install this brake. Plus, the 32 hole coaster brakes are highly sought after and often hard to find.
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Coaster Brake vs Hand Brake
Control is the most significant difference between a coaster brake and a hand brake. Interestingly, the hand brake is the one that allows you to coast to a stop more easily.
Because this brake style is based on how much pressure you apply with your hands, you can slow instead of making an abrupt stop.
How hard you squeeze determines how hard the brakes clamp down on your wheels.
Meanwhile, a coaster brake is much closer to on and off like a light switch with no dimmer. You are either pedaling forward or pressing back to stop the bike.
Some coaster brakes offer a little control over a slightly slower braking process, but it’s nowhere near the level you have with a handbrake.
This means a handbrake facilitates going downhill much better.
There’s also a noticeable difference in coaster brakes versus hand brakes when it gets wet. Whether it’s a puddle or pouring rain, moisture is bad news for hand brakes.
Water works as a lubricant, and that means the clamping motion is less effective as the damp bike wheel continues to rotate.
Coaster brakes are not subject to wet slippage. If you press back, the bike stops.
As a result, the coaster brakes are far superior in places where it rains a lot or has a high moisture level in the air.
Are Coaster Brakes Any Good
There are several advantages to having a coaster brake rather than a hand brake. The list below shows you all the reasons a coaster brake is good.
If you have never tried this style before, riding a coaster brake bike is an excellent experience, and many people prefer it.
- Coaster brakes are easy to use. This style is chosen for children’s bikes for a good reason.
- You don’t need to worry about hand position on your handlebars with this brake style.
- Hand cramping and fatigue are reduced on longer rides.
- You don’t need more complex brakes.
- A coaster brake has no cables, so it doesn’t limit your steering.
- Using a more straightforward system means repairs are easier to do on the fly.
- Finally, coaster brakes work when they get wet, so you can still stop accurately.
Coaster Brake Problems
The most common coaster brake problems happen as a secondary result of a primary problem like chain derailment.
The other common coaster brake issue is tire skidding. Because there’s no gradual braking process, bikes with coaster brakes tend to slide to a stop because the immobile wheels aren’t enough to halt the momentum.
Unfortunately, this also leads to more wear and tear on your tires than on a hand brake bike.
How To Adjust A Bicycle Coaster Brake
Adjusting a coaster brake is much easier than it sounds. If you’ve never done this before, you’ll be pleased to discover you can DIY this simple adjustment in a few minutes. All you need is a pair of adjustable wrenches.
Follow the steps below.
- Locate your bearing cones. These are the only adjustable part of a coaster brake. The left cone is attached to the reaction arm, which runs below the left chainstay and is held on with a clamp.
- Now find your axle nuts on both sides and loosen them.
- Use one of your adjustable wrenches to move the axle, either moving it into or out of the left cone.
- Once the axle is adjusted to where you need it, you can retighten your axle nuts. That’s it. You’re done.
How To Repair A Bicycle Coaster Brake
To repair a coaster brake, you need to know which piece is cracked, bent, or broken so you can replace it.
Sometimes, the fix is straightforward because the chain is off and not engaging correctly. Resetting the chain or replacing it may solve the issue.
Otherwise, I will walk you through the disassembly process so you can swap out any part you need for a newer, unbroken version. Feel free to bookmark this page for easy reference.
- Secure your bicycle on a rack or flip it upside down to rest on the seat and handlebars.
- Take two wrenches and loosen the nuts that hold your axle in place by turning them opposite directions.
- Next, you need to use a screwdriver to remove the brake arm.
- Unscrew your bearings and take the brake assembly and bearings off your bike.
- Separate the parts.
- Clean out the wheel and all the other parts. A drop or two of mild detergent with grease-cutting power like Dawn dish soap will work wonders.
- Dry your parts manually with a microfiber towel and then set them somewhere warm so any remaining moisture can evaporate completely.
- Grease the bearings before replacing parts.
Pro Tip: If you are unsure about reassembling parts, stop between each step and use your phone to take a picture of what you are removing or changing. You can scroll back through the pics for a visual aid on how exactly to put everything back.
Helpful Tips To Know About How Bicycle Coaster Brakes Work
Coaster brakes are great for cyclists who want a reliable brake that stops every time.
If you enjoy DIY or you worry about doing repairs on longer trips, a coaster brake is ideal because they are durable, reliable, and easy to fix.
Here are more helpful tips to know about how coaster brakes work.
- A system where you only have to use your feet for moving and stopping means anyone who can pedal and steer can ride a coaster brake bicycle. Coaster brakes help make cycling accessible to some people who would otherwise not be able to ride. For example, a person without thumbs can steer a bike with little trouble but clamping down on a handbrake is more problematic.
- Despite the name, a coaster brake shoe is not shoe-shaped at all. The shoe is a circular or half-circle-shaped piece.
- You cannot reverse-pedal or roll backward with your foot on the pedal because pressing back on your pedal stops a bike with coaster brakes. Bicycles with this style of brakes only move forward.
Most adult bicycles come with handbrake systems now. They are considered more advanced and desirable, but hand brakes lack the qualities of a good coaster brake.
Coaster brakes work on simple and incredibly reliable principles. The brake shoe engages any time you press back on the pedal, eliminating the chance your brakes won’t work in the rain and cutting the need for brake cables.
This straightforward system is a great way to ensure your brakes do their job every time.