Posts Tagged ‘coaster brake’

at swansea

This is my re-vamped old Speedwell – a bike that was already old when I was given it by my grandfather  in the early ’70s. I’ve now converted it back to a coaster braked single speed from it’s 3-speed conversion in the late 70s.

But this post is more about the virtues and vices of single speed versus gearing than about my old bike itself – so what do I think now I’ve had some long rides on it ?

I have deliberately left the gearing low, at 40T x 18T – that’s around third gear equivalent on my ten speed commuter. Why ? Because I find that gearing too high puts a strain on my knees on the local uphills on long rides, while faster spinning seems to better alleviate that.

To compensate for this low gearing at speed a technique that I sometimes use when wanting to ride faster than my comfortable cadence allows is to spin then coast, spin then coast … I think it’s good to practise mastering a faster cadence too, as it can help improve pedalling action and control at all speeds.

in town

On the steady uphill of the Fernleigh track this gearing is about as high as I would want. I could manage a 16T cog if I needed to, but for now it stays as is. Of course, if you are unwilling to get off and push occasionally on hills, a single speed is probably not for you anyway. I can stand up and pedal if necessary, but personally prefer to remain in the saddle or push it up the steep ones.

Otherwise, I will just cruise along more slowly on the flats and downhills. On my work commute though, I do like to pedal continuously down hills to maintain a higher average speed, and you can’t really do that without a good top gear. This bike is therefore not used for such “timed” commuting.


This new hub has some real braking bite that is lacking in my old restored pre-’70s coaster hubs, and so I reckon that the “modern” coaster brake really is the thinking person’s single speed – it has operational silence and reassuring wet weather braking with fine low speed control while still having the freedom of the freewheel to coast.

Unlike a fixed wheel, your gearing is not restricted to higher ratios by the “eggbeater” effect down hills. With the addition of a front handbrake you have an easier way of braking while dismounting as well as a backup brake for sudden stops. And don’t forget that while they aren’t common, you can have coaster brakes with hub gears too …

All this perhaps with only one cable !

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Today I had time to take the restored Malvern Star 2-star for its first decent ride of around 15km on mostly flat terrain. It has been quite a while since I have ridden a single speed coaster braked bike on public roads, and today’s adventure was mostly about coming to grips again with this type of brake. Firstly its gradual nature, as the fifty year old Perry hub is not the last word in stopping power – the name of the game is anticipation, or the fine art of “what if ?”.  This comes naturally to me from my motor cycling days, trying to first guess the traffic. Having said that, this isn’t the bike for cut and thrust city traffic and all of its surprises. The brake stops reasonably well when one has the pedals in the quarter to three o’clock position, ready to stand hard on the back pedal, but the time taken to get to that position adds extra stopping distance as well, if not anticipated – as sometimes happened.

This is a bike for flat back roads and cycle paths, where the hub is silent when coasting, like the Nexus 8 on my Gazelle, and the big wheels soak up any stray bumps – (it’s the only bike I’ve tried the Electra spinner bell on that doesn’t let it ring loudly over bumps) – it is also the lightest bike I own partly due to the minimal accessories. The gearing is about right for me at 48-20, and riding single speed is all about large variations in cadence and pedal pressure. I would rather push it up the steep hills than stress the poor cotter pins too much. The Brooks B18 is firm but comfortable so far, and looks a treat. The bike rolls freely and tackles smaller hills quite well. Getting used to having to position the pedals by hand sometimes before starting off took me back in time too, though I must say it is a pleasant change to be able to roll the bike backward without the pedals turning and catching the kick stand  – there are swings and roundabouts here. I am also starting to appreciate the simplicity and clean, cable-free appearance as a real virtue.

Problems ? Well, the left hand pedal spat its ball bearings into the end cover, so it’s new pedals unless I can sort it. No luggage capacity.  And some toe overlap on the front guard that I have to compensate for. Otherwise, a rewarding old-world ride, the first of many, I wish !

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