Coaster Brakes vs. Hand Brakes – the right one for Your Kids

coaster-brakes-vs-hand-brakes

Your kid’s bike is perhaps a special part of your life. For your kid, it may be just fun, but for you, it is a moment of seeing your child doing something on his/her own, the first step of the proverbial “standing on their legs”. So, special caution is needed in choosing the right bikes for your child. One question that comes in the minds of most parents is which brakes should they prefer- coaster or hand?

Coaster Brakes for Kids

Coaster brakes are fitted in the rear part of the bike and are activated by pedaling the bike backward. As soon as the pedals start moving backward, the brake pressure starts to get applied on rear wheels, increasing as you keep pedaling backward.

For a long time, parents had the perception that coaster brakes are best for kids in the age group of 2-5. The reason is that coaster brakes are quite easy to implement: you just have to pedal backward. The notion was so popular that even the US Law specifies that any bike of size 20″ or less must have coaster brakes installed in them.

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Advantages

  • Coaster brakes are perhaps a tad too easy to learn to implement. It makes sense for kids to use their legs for both accelerating and decelerating. This makes your job as parents a bit easier.
  • While applying coaster brakes, there are no sudden “jolts”, ensuring a smooth ride for your child.
  • In terrains where excessive braking is required, other alternatives like hand brakes exert too much pressure on the child. On the other hand, coaster brakes simply depend on your legs, which are the strongest part of your body.
  • Coaster brakes are independent of the weather conditions. So be it a rainy or sunny day, you can take your kid out for a stroll without worries.

Disadvantages

  • Coaster brakes depend too much on the legs. For kids who are not born with strong legs, this could be a nightmare.
  • Kids love to pedal both forward and backward. However, backpedaling is a no-go in coaster brakes, which kind of spoils the fun for your kids. Also, every bike your kid will ride in the future will require backpedaling, which means he/she would need extra time to get adjusted to them.
  • There is a lack of serious modulation in the case of coaster brakes. This leads to frequent skidding in rough terrains – a dangerous outcome.
  • The apparatus of coaster brakes contributes to the overall weight of the bike significantly. This is not at all a desirable feature as far as kids’ bikes go.
  • Since coaster brakes are connected to the pedals, dropping of the chain means that your child is suddenly left brakeless – another dangerous outcome.

Hand Brakes for Kids

Hand brakes are situated on the handles of the bike that must be pressed with the hand in case the rider wants to halt or decelerate.

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Hand brakes are the most commonly used brakes in bicycles. However, kid’s bikes remained an exception in this because of the general perception that hand brakes require a significant level of coordination- something that cannot be expected from small children. However, with the passage of time, more and more parents are realizing that perhaps the higher expectation of hand brakes is a misconception. In fact, children as young as 3 years are now comfortable using hand brakes.

Advantages

  • Hand brakes give a wide scope of modulation. This minimizes the chance of skidding, as opposed to coaster brakes which work on an “On/Off” mode.
  • Hand brakes ensure that the kids get the chance to backpedal too, which is an important part of the bicycling experience and definitely a fun thing to do.
  • Since almost every teenager bicycle and motorbike have hand brakes, it is perhaps wise to learn them early on, which would save your child from the trouble of it in the future.
  • In most cases, hand brakes offer a much better braking system and power as compared to coaster brakes.

Disadvantages

  • The biggest disadvantage with hand brakes is the ease of using hand brakes. Since your kid’s hands may vastly differ from other kids, it is often hard to find the bike with the right handbrakes for him. Inappropriate hand brakes would imply difficulty in grasping and pulling the brakes, leading to excess stress on your child’s fragile hands. However, most manufacturers take care of this problem now while designing the bicycles.
  • Another issue with hand brakes is that they demand a tad more skill than coaster brakes. So, as a parent, it would be more difficult for you to train your child using them.
  • Handbrakes are known to be less effective in slippery roads, often leading to skidding. So perhaps not an ideal choice during the rainy season.
  • Another problem encountered with hand brakes is that children tend to grasp a handful of the brakes while using them; this leads to them having less control over the handle. This could be a potentially dangerous scenario.
  • For children with particularly soft hands, hand brakes are not an option at all. No matter how much adjustment is made, hand brakes always require a certain level of force in the hands of the rider.
  • Hand brakes require more maintenance than coaster brakes and are more prone to damage if not of excellent quality.

Verdict

Overall, we can sum up that while coaster brakes value, comfort, hand brakes aim at learning. As a parent, you are the best to judge what is best for your child. As a personal advice, I would suggest you to go for bikes that are hybrid, i.e., employ both coaster and hand brakes. Such models extract the best of both brake systems, while limiting their individual drawbacks. Although on a bit costlier side, they prove worthy in the long run.

One thing I can assure you that there are no losers as far as bicycle brakes go. Both coaster brakes and hand brakes have their own pros and cons, but none of them are so serious that you might lament choosing the wrong brake systems.  Hope your child’s riding experience give you memories for a lifetime.

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