Bicycle Brakes

hands of man working on bicycle brakes

The importance of bicycle brakes: Remember when you first dared to ride your bike down that steep hill in your neighborhood when you were a kid? Downhill riding can be a rush. However, stopping isn’t always as much fun. Bicycle control relies on two factors: brakes and steering. If either one is absent, you are an out-of-control cyclist and a  danger to others.

The first bikes were absent bicycle brakes. Also, band-aids hadn’t yet been thought of; therefore, the next logical step was to devise a system to allow stopping. Hence, brakes were born to assist riders in slowing down and stopping, and bicycles suddenly became highly popular. By boosting friction on the wheels, cyclists could slow down and eventually stop.

Bicycle Brakes: The Plunger

The first widely used braking system was called “the plunger.” It first appeared on the high-wheeled bicycles that were popular in the 1800s. The plunger operated on a simple principle. To slow down a bike, a lever was either pressed down or pulled up, causing a metal show to push against the outer side of the tire. Of course, the friction created caused excessive wear and tear on the tire. Riders discovered that the plunger did not work well with air-filled tires, even after protecting the metal shoe with rubber. Wet surfaces were another problem, as water diminished the friction between the brake shoe and tire, reducing the braking power.

Coaster Braking System

The subsequent significant improvement in bicycle brakes was the “coaster brake.” Many of us have used these brakes, which are still common in small infant bikes and tricycles. Various utility bicycles and cruisers also use coaster brakes. The theory behind coaster brakes is the reversal of motion. While pedaling in a reverse motion, the brake structure inside the wheel’s hub pushes outward, creating friction, allowing the bike to slow down and eventually stop. Coaster brakes are pretty strong and tend to lock up and skid the rear wheel when engaged. Therefore, they’re great for sidewalk burnouts.

Caliper Braking System

child's hand squeezing bicycle brake lever

Today’s mountain, stunt, and road bikes utilize a caliper rim braking system. A cable is tightened when you pull a lever. The cable then makes the brake pads or shoes push against the inner rim of the wheel, bringing the bike to a stop. Caliper bicycle brakes are light and reasonably priced, but they also come with their issues. It is not incredibly effective on those rainy days; when brakes are wet, it takes longer to stop a bicycle because the water decreases friction between the wheel and the break. However, caliper brakes work best when pressure is employed gently.

It is essential to balance the braking between the front and rear when riding. When too much pressure is applied to the front wheel, your momentum can throw your body over the handlebars.

Over the years, braking systems and equipment have changed, but the basics of slowing and stopping a bicycle have not. Bicycle brakes are still based on friction theory and are essential to your safety.

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About the Author: stacy hyde