Friday, May 28, 2010

Bicycle Commuter Tip#5: Brakes

Brakes on bicycles as a blog post can generally be seen two ways, either it is such an obvious and simple subject that it is unworthy of mention or it is a fatal error that the subject has only now come up.  For a while, I was allied with the first school of thought, but now I'm not so sure.  From a logical perpsective, virtually all bicycles come with brakes and anyone who has learned to ride should have acquired an appreciation of the need and importance of the ability to stop by the time they have reached any level of proficiency.  Unfortunately, everyday living teaches that what should be obvious is not necessarily so in practice.

Bicycle commuting in NYC places great demands on a bike's brakes.  "Stop and go traffic" is mainly thought of with respect to automobiles, but cyclists have their share of braking to do in city traffic as well.  The sheer density of the city demands it.  When city cyclists complain about obstructions I find it rather silly--they're biking in the wrong place.  I certainly understand the annoyance, but it can't be helped.  Good, working brakes are a necessity and keeping them well-adjusted is just as much of a necessity.  The need to stop will come unexpectedly, inconveniently and far more frequently than desired.  I repeat maintain your brakes, do not forget about them and see that they are adjusted as needed. 

Pretty simple and straight-forward so far, right?  Well, it happens that there are some folks who insist on not using brakes.  Yes, it's true, some folks insist on not using brakes.  These have typically been messengers on fixed gear bicycles, but the fixed gear trend has spread some.  I have nothing against it, but I am opposed to cycling without brakes!  Fixed gear bicycles do not have to be brakeless and often they are not, however, sometimes they are.  These cyclists use their feet against the pedals to stop their bikes, which does work--eventually.  This may be fine for racing, or cycling in low-density areas, but for urban cycling it's an absurd risk to take.  I just don't get it.  If we count the foot braking as a rear brake, then adding a front rim brake is the least one should do.  This lack of brakes may also explain why some folks come tearing down the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge endangering both fellow cyclists and pedestrians alike.  I happen to know that the Councilmember who represents that district is unhappy about it and such persistent displeasure leads to more regulation and enforcement--when it happens I will say, "I told you so."

Incidentally, I have never owned or used disc brakes, but heard much about them--I'd love to know the opinions of those out there in cyberspace who've experienced both rim and disc brakes.


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