in

Why Don’t Fixed Gear Bikes Have Brakes? (Answered)

Why would anyone want to ride a bike without brakes? In this post, we will discuss why fixed gear bikes don’t have brakes. Let’s ride!

An image of a bike's rear wheel and rear brake. Source: Viktor Bystrov, Unsplash.
An image of a bike's rear wheel and rear brake. Source: Viktor Bystrov, Unsplash.

You probably just found out that fixed-gear bikes have no brakes. Or you’re a longtime writer who’s just curious. Either way, why would anybody do this? Is it safe? The truth is that there’s a good reason for fixed-gear bikes not having brakes. So why don’t fixed-gear bikes have brakes? 

Fixed gear (or fixie) bikes typically don’t have brakes because they are most commonly used in velodrome competitions. As a result, there is little need to brake or slow the bike down. In a controlled environment like this, speeds are much higher than riders typically achieve on the roads. This is the main reason why fixed-gear bikes don’t have brakes. 

But there is more to it than that, so in this article, you will learn why fixed-gear bikes don’t have brakes, and why some people prefer to ride without brakes.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 13, 2022, to include additional information about fixed gear cycling and track bike racing.

Before learning why they don’t have brakes, let us first understand what a fixed-gear bike is.

Advertisement

What is a fixed-gear bike?

A fixed gear bike is a bicycle with one gear and no freewheel. This means you must pedal the bike to keep it going. It also doesn’t have brakes, so riders must be careful when biking on the street. Additionally, they’re perfect for those who want an intense workout.

If you are interested in purchasing a new bike and are interested in a fixie, my personal favorite is the State Black Label V2 fixed gear bike*.

Why don’t fixed-gear bikes have brakes?

Fixed-gear bikes originated from the racing world. They were most commonly used in velodrome competitions. On a track, braking and slowing the cycle down are not necessary. As a result, speeds are much higher than on the road. This is the main reason why fixed-gear bikes don’t have brakes.

You also don’t want people in front of you slowing down. Riding close to others at high speed is dangerous enough without worrying about the rider in front of you suddenly braking. Such an action could lead to a severe pile-up and injuries.

Additionally, the lack of brakes decreases the bike’s overall weight, improving performance. 

Over the years, however, some track bikes have been transitioned onto the road, and nowadays, several manufacturers are actively catering to the fixed-gear road bike trend. Today, riders can choose from traditional track bike designs (no brakes) or fixed-gear bikes with either a single front brake or front and rear brakes.

Cyclist at velodrome illustrating why fixed gear bikes have no brakes.
Advertisement
Cyclist at velodrome illustrating why fixed gear bikes have no brakes.

Depending on where you live, you might be required to have a front and rear brake on your bike at all times. Check out your local laws and always consider safety when riding.

Why would anyone want a bike with no brakes?

There are various points of view on this. Some people prefer to ride fixed (brakeless) bikes because they feel the riding experience is purer. You get a better connection between the bike and the road, making the riding experience more engaging. 

Others, myself included, prefer the cleaner, more streamlined bike appearance without all the excess gear (cables, pads, discs, etc.).

And then there’s the fact that a bike with no brakes is easier to clean and maintain. There’s less to worry about and fewer moving parts to break, fail, or cause problems.

As previously mentioned, track bikes originally had no brakes to avoid causing a pile-up when racing on the track. But a road-going fixie with no brakes is something seen as being macho. Riders will tell you that they can stop quickly, even without brakes. They claim they can read the road conditions and traffic around them and anticipate the need to brake.

It’s somewhat similar to the divide between those who wear safety helmets and those who shun them because they’re not cool. Of course, both have their arguments, but at the end of the day, it’s very much a personal choice.

People also ride brakeless fixed gear bikes because they do tricks that require spinning the handlebar. Having brakes installed prevents you from spinning the handlebar. 

Are you interested in buying a fixie? Check out the best fixies here.

Is it illegal to ride a fixie without brakes?

No. Riding a fixed-gear bicycle equipped with brakes is legal. However, you must have at least one brake-equipped in many states and countries.

Advertisement

What are the benefits of riding with brakes?

Safety is, of course, the most significant consideration. When you can stop faster, you can avoid dangerous obstacles that might pop up at a moment’s notice. 

Slippery road conditions are also where the brake comes in handy, as your weight doesn’t shift as much. However, many fixie riders would say that on slippery roads, it’s always safer to use the concept of engine braking mentioned previously to slow the bike down or bring it to a stop.

And finally, there’s the consideration of legality for road use. While some states have no specific laws, others stipulate the need for at least a front brake on any bike used on a public road.

If you’re looking for a new set of brakes for your fixie, check out some of these below.

What are the benefits of riding without brakes?

Fixies provide riders with a ton of benefits. Using brakes involves a severe weight transfer to the front of the bike, which can sometimes cause the rear tire to skid along the road. Most of the braking power comes from the front brake, so naturally, your weight shifts forward, making the rear wheel lift. Using your cadence (pedal stroke) to slow the bike down gives you more control. 

Another benefit of having no brakes is reduced components, which, if you ride every day, can reduce cleaning, maintenance, and mechanical failure issues.

How do you stop a bike with no brakes?

A bike with a freewheel but no brakes is very different from a fixed-gear, non-freewheeling bike with no brakes. The first would require you to do something called “skidding.” This involved locking the wheel to skid to a halt or even crashing into something to bring the bike to a stop.

I’ve seen riders on BMX and fixed-gear bikes with no brakes throw their bikes sideways into a skid to bring it to a halt. Granted, they rode on dirt trails, not on an asphalt surface. Even so, it’s impressive that their feet never came off the pedals, and they showed great control. Impressive stuff!

On a bike with a freewheel and no brakes, you have no choice but to introduce friction somehow as a means of ‘braking’ the bike. On a fixed-gear bicycle that doesn’t have a freewheel, you can slow down by pedaling slower, making the bike go slower right away.

That’s why there is no need for brakes—the pedaling speed controls the bike’s speed. So you can stop on a dime by not pedaling. It’s similar to engine braking in cars, where you shift gears to slow the engine rather than use the brakes to bring the vehicle to a stop.

Man with blue jacket and shorts riding a white fixed gear bike.
Man with blue jacket and shorts riding a white fixed gear bike.

Do all fixed gear riders ride brakeless? 

Not all fixed-gear riders ride brakeless; many states and countries require brakes to be shipped with any bike sold. The fixie purists, of course, will receive the front brake (at their own risk), but many riders still prefer having an additional brake on fallback. 

Should I ride with or without brakes?

Although there are arguments for and against brakes on a fixed-gear bike, you should choose whatever you feel most comfortable with. For the purist, who may have track experience, a fixie without brakes may be the most natural thing in the world. On the other hand, other riders transitioning from road bikes to fixies may feel more confident with brakes.

My fixed-gear bike is equipped with both front and rear brakes, although neither is used frequently. But I like knowing I can use them if the need arises. Having brakes on a fixed-gear bike doesn’t ruin the riding experience. You still get the main benefit of a fixie (a more engaging ride).

You’ll see some fixed-gear bikes on the road or elsewhere without brakes. But it’s very much a personal choice by the rider. Of course, not all fixies come without brakes, and if you feel more confident with brake levers at your fingertips, you can easily find a selection of fixed-gear bikes that come fully equipped with front and rear brakes. But, again, it’s a matter of personal choice.

Here’s an awesome video for those looking for extra tips on riding with or without brakes called “Fixed Gear Tips & Riding Brakeless.” from the Dave Noakes YouTube channel.

A video called Fixed Gear Tips & Riding Brakeless? from the Dave Noakes YouTube channel.

Is it possible to add brakes to my fixie?

Yes. Fixie brakes are available for both the front and rear wheels. Furthermore, you can equip your fixed-gear bicycle with caliper or v-brakes. The front brake is used the most by the majority of cyclists.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Below are some commonly asked questions regarding why fixed-gear bikes have no brakes.

Why do people ride brakeless fixed-gear bikes?

People ride brakeless fixed gear bikes for many reasons. First, the cyclist might be a velodrome racer, meaning they race their bikes on an indoor track where brakes are discouraged for safety reasons.

People also ride brake fixed gear bikes because they do tricks that require spinning the handlebar. Having brakes installed prevents you from spinning the handlebar. 

Do fixie bikes have brakes?

Fixed gear bikes typically come with brakes from the manufacturer. However, a fixed bike can slow down by simply backpedaling, so sometimes, riders remove their brakes and only use their legs to stop or slow down. This is why you typically see these bikes without brakes.

Why do fixies only have front brakes?

Fixie cyclists typically tend to use only one front brake because the front brake is the most powerful brake on the bike. And they tend to want to keep the bike as minimalistic as possible to reduce weight and maintain the minimalistic aesthetic.

Do fixie bikes have back brakes?

Typically, no. A fixed-gear bike allows the rider to slow down the rear wheel via the pedals. As a result, having rear brakes on a fixie may seem redundant to some. On the other hand, a rear brake doesn’t hurt a fixie and makes it easier to stop.

How do you slow down a fixed-gear bike?

There are no front or rear brakes on a fixed-gear track bike. You can slow the bike down by resisting the direction of the wheels with your pedals. But you must be careful not to press too hard, as this can lock up the rear wheel and cause a skid.

Conclusion

In short, fixed-gear bikes don’t have brakes because they are descendants of track bikes that operate in velodromes. Velodromes discourage the use of brakes to enhance the safety of other riders and reduce overall weight.

This article covered why most fixed-gear bikes don’t have brakes and their advantages and disadvantages.

Key takeaways 

  • Fixed gear bikes are descendants of track bikes.
  • Track bikes are used on velodromes that don’t require or advocate handbrakes.
  • Riding in some states requires at least one brake to ride on the road.
  • Some cyclists also do tricks like barspins, which aren’t possible with brake cables. 
  • Riding with brakes is safer than riding without.
Advertisement

So, do you ride with or without brakes? Let us know in the comments below (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on everything fixie. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.

Helpful resources

Written by Bradly Knight

As a native New Yorker, Bradley is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He’s been riding fixed for over ten years. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including playing guitar, video production, and photography.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Image of a man with an apron repairing a bicycle in bike shop.

Top 5 Best Fixed Gear Bike Shops in Brooklyn NYC (2022)

Image of a black Unknown track bike leaning on wall. Source: Joshua Warman, Unsplash

Why Do People Love Fixies? And Are They Still Popular? (2022)