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

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? 

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.

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. 

Thumbnail for a blog post why don't fixed gear bikes have brakes? (answered)
Thumbnail for A Blog Post Why Don't Fixed Gear Bikes Have Brakes? (Answered)

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.
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.

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.

Advertisements

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.

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

An image of a bike s rear wheel and rear brake. Pinterest
An image of a bike s rear wheel and rear brake. Pinterest
Bradley Knight Image
Written by Bradley Knight, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Bradley, and I've been riding fixed for years. I love all the joy and pain that comes with this unique style of cycling and the passionate community that drives it. If you love fixed-gear bikes, this is the place for you.

Jordan
Edited by Jordan May, Staff Editor

Jordan is a seasoned editor with over seven years of experience. His passion for writing and storytelling started when he was a teenager, spending countless hours reading books and creating his own stories.

Verified User Black 24dp

Fact-Checked

Every article undergoes a thorough evaluation process by our team of writers and editors who exclusively rely on reputable sources for their citations.

Event Available Black 24dp

Up-to-Date

We are committed to providing high-quality and up-to-date information to our readers. We frequently update our articles to reflect changes or advancements.

Leave a Comment

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Brooklyn Fixed Gear is your source for fixie, single-single-speed & track bike content. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions to regarding fixed-gear cycling.

What is a fixed-gear bike, and how is it different from a regular bike?

A fixed-gear bike, also known as a fixie, is a type of bike that has a fixed rear wheel, which means that the pedals are directly connected to the rear wheel. Unlike a regular bike, a fixed-gear bike has no freewheel, so you cannot coast or stop pedaling while riding. This means that you must constantly pedal while riding a fixed-gear bike, and you can slow down or stop the bike by resisting the pedals with your legs.

Why don't fixed-gear bikes have brakes

Fixed-gear bicycles, or "fixies," often do not have brakes due to their simplicity and minimalism, which allows riders to control speed through pedaling resistance. This brakeless design reduces the bike's weight, making it more maneuverable while connecting riders to the tradition and culture of track cycling. However, riding a fixed-gear bicycle without brakes can be dangerous, particularly in urban settings with traffic and unpredictable conditions, so many places require bicycles to have at least one functioning brake by law. It's a good idea to have at least a front brake installed for safety if you're considering riding a fixed-gear bike.

What are the benefits of riding a fixed-gear bike?

Some people prefer fixed-gear bikes because they are simpler and require less maintenance than bikes with multiple gears. Fixed-gear bikes also provide a more direct connection between the rider and the bike, which can make for a more responsive and enjoyable riding experience. Additionally, riding a fixed-gear bike can help improve your leg strength and pedal stroke.

Are fixed-gear bikes legal?

Fixed-gear bikes, also known as "fixies," are generally legal in most countries. However, local laws and regulations may require bicycles to have certain safety features, such as brakes, reflectors, or lights. For fixed-gear bikes, some jurisdictions require at least one functioning brake, typically a front brake, to be considered road-legal. It's essential to check the specific laws and regulations in your area to ensure your fixed-gear bike complies with local requirements. Keep in mind that riding without brakes or necessary safety features can be dangerous, and it's always a good idea to prioritize safety when cycling in any environment.