Those new to BMX may be wondering – do BMX bikes have brakes?
Most types of bikes, such as mountain bikes, have brakes – for a good reason, as it would be somewhat dangerous not to – but are BMX bikes different?
Yes and no.
BMX riding differs from standard bicycle riding, but safety rules still apply.
Typically, a standard BMX bike will only have a rear brake – or none at all. That said – some BMX racers like to have both front and rear brakes or just a break at the front.
It all comes down to the individual racer and their personal preferences and what they perform on their bikes.
Why Do BMX Bikers Disable Their Brakes?
Okay, so now that we’ve established that some BMX bikes are sans brakes, let’s look into why the rider opts for this – and how they stay safe.
BMX riders disable their brakes because they believe it allows them to perform various tricks and stunts flawlessly by allowing them to land the bike without the need for brake power. It also slightly lessens the bike’s weight, making it easier to achieve air stunts.
The relationship between BMX bikes and brakes can be complex, but riders will disable their brakes because they can interfere with many freestyle tricks and stunts.
While many BMX bikers have no brakes on their bikes (a source of pride in that particular area of the BMX community), those who wish to compete professionally have to have at least one brake on their BMX bike for safety.
The Benefits of Riding BMX Bikes Without Brakes
To the untrained eye, riding any type of bike without brakes may seem inherently dangerous and foolish, but there are, in fact, some benefits to doing so.
Performing Tricks & Stunts
Certain types of BMX tricks require the bike’s handlebars and the rest of the frame to rotate 360 degrees, such as tail whips, bar spins, and dirt jumps, and having a brake wire interferes with these because you will then need to reset or recalibrate the bike’s control, post-stunt.
While it may seem mind-boggling and counterproductive that an absence of brakes may actually be safer, in reality, sometimes the brakes on a BMX bike can cause an accident.
This is because the presence of brakes may make it harder for the rider to grab their handlebars directly after performing a stunt (namely, if the handlebars get caught within the brake wires or levers), which can be extremely dangerous.
The Benefits of Riding BMX Bikes with Brakes
The general rule with any vehicle – including BMX bikes – is that brakes allow the driver/rider to pause the vehicle immediately, which can be vital for safety.
Many countries do not allow new BMX bikes to be sold without brakes and prohibit riding a BMX bike in a public area without at least one functioning brake. Being caught without brakes in a public space can result in the rider being fined.
This rule is applicable in various parts of Europe, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom.
In short, brakes are designed to prevent accidents (which can be fatal) on the road.
Do BMX Bikes Have Brakes?
Yes, all new BMX bikes have brakes, which a rider may choose to disable once they’ve purchased the bike.
If a rider wishes to compete in BMX competitions, they will need to reattach their brakes, as professional BMX bikes are required to have brakes in the event of an emergency.
Generally, standard (non-competitive) BMX riders will opt for one of the following:
- No brakes at all.
- Front brakes.
- A rear brake.
- Front and rear brakes.
How Do BMX Bikes Stop Without Brakes?
So, you’re probably wondering how BMX riders stop their bikes without brakes.
There is no magical way to halt your BMX bike once it’s in motion without at least one brake, so your other (and only option) is to use your feet to stop the bike.
Many BMXers will use the soles of their feet to wedge the rear wheel while simultaneously placing the top of their foot onto the back triangle of the frame’s tip to stop the bike.
Conversely, a rider can use the sole of their foot to halt the front wheel. This is, however, considered a far more dangerous tactic (especially for those riding at speed) and shouldn’t be attempted by an inexperienced BMX rider.
Freestyle BMX Bikes & BMX Racing Bikes
Most freestyle riders prefer to be brake-free.They use their foot and press it against the back tire to slowly bring the bike to a halt.
This, too, is risky, as it will not bring the BMX bike to an immediate pause in the event of an emergency, and – again – should only be attempted by seasoned BMX riders.
Types of BMX Brakes
The most common types of BMX brakes include:
- Coaster brakes
- V brakes
- U brakes (most new BMX bikes will come with these)
- Caliper brakes (although most modern BMXs won’t come with these)
Most BMX bikes have brakes made from aluminum, a strong but lightweight material that will endure frequent usage without adding to the weight of the BMX bike.
When it comes to brake pads, you have two main options: soft pads and tough pads. Soft pads provide a good grip but wear out faster. Tough pads are thicker and more durable.
BMX Bike Braking Systems: A Break-down
Sometimes known as peddle brakes, coaster brakes are mounted in the bike’s rear hub and work when the rider pedals backward.
They are called ‘coaster brakes’ because they allow the rider to move forward without needing to touch the pedals (AKA, coasting). Once the rider attempts to ride the BMX bike backward, the coaster brakes immediately kick in (no pun intended).
While these types of brakes are now considered rather outdated in the BMX community, they have some advantages over other types:
- They are low maintenance.
- No wires or cables that may interfere with riding.
- Neat looking (not messy!).
Sometimes known as ‘direct pull brakes,’ V brakes are more common than coaster brakes and can be found on both sides of the bike frame. They are called ‘direct pull brakes’ because the brake arms and cables have no mechanisms.
This brake requires rubber pads, which can be found across the tire’s rim. Unlike a coaster brake, V brakes have cables that activate them, with the brake lever attached along the bike’s frame. Because of these cables, this type of brake provides instant and powerful braking power but is lightweight and doesn’t bump up the bike’s weight too much.
The downside to these brakes is that they’re not fit for freestyle BMX bikes, as the braking mechanisms are very exposed and may come into contact with the rider’s clothing, potentially causing an accident.
As we mentioned, U brakes are the most common (and popular) type of BMX bike brakes.
They are a robust and straightforward rear brake, and the tidiness of their cable structure means they are safe for freestyle BMX riders (as well as Flatlands BMX bikes). The cable structure of the U brake is considered 90% “out of the way,” so the rider can generally perform their stunts without a brake-related accident (e.g., the cables getting caught in their clothing).
Generally, U brakes are located at the rear of the bike.
Detanglers, otherwise known as the Gyro brake system, are designed specifically for freestyle BMX riders.
The Gyro brake system has an extra component between the head tube and the stem which splits the cable system into two parts. Other brake types on BMX bikes don’t have such additional accessories. The additional component allows for stunts such as tailspins and other freestyle tricks requiring a 360-degree handlebar spin. BMX bike riders can safely perform these without tangled cables (hence the name detangler!).
BMX Bike Safety
Those in the early stages of their BMX journey may be tempted to remove the brakes from their bikes to delve into tricks and stunts, but as a newbie, it is strongly advised you refrain from this until you have become well-seasoned in BMX riding and have more practice under your belt.
A BMX novice biking without brakes is dancing with danger and runs the risk of injuring his/herself and damaging the bike. You also put others around you at risk too.
Also, if competitive BMX racing is part of your agenda, you will need to get used to having brakes on your bike if you wish to take part in any shows or competitions.
If freestyle riding or BMX racing piques your interest, consider investing in a good Gyro brake system for race bikes.
Related: Are BMX bikes good for cruising?
BMX Bike Brakes: FAQs
When can I take the brakes off my BMX bike?
There aren’t any strict rules regarding when you can take the brakes off your BMX bike, but you’re well-advised to wait until you’re experienced.
Seeking advice from a BMX community could be useful.
Do BMX bikes have front brakes?
Some BMX bikes will have a front brake, but many won’t. Most BMX bikes sport rear brakes instead.
This is because front brakes can interfere with the fluidity and freedom of a rider’s movement, particularly during stunts. They also add to the overall weight of the bike, which can hinder tricks and stunts because the lighter the bike, the easier it is to perform tricks.
Is it necessary to remove the braking system from BMX bikes?
No, not at all. Actually, if anything, it is merely considered an industry trend by most BMX riders. Removing the brakes can be unsafe and unnecessary. If you plan on competing, you’ll need to get used to riding or freestyling with brakes.
Related: How much does a BMX bike weigh?
Many BMX riders like to ride brakeless, but this is more of an industry trend than a requirement.
Some BMX purists insist that brakes can hinder freestyle BMX riding styles, but nowadays, brake systems are designed for tricks and stunt work that do not impact BMX bikes’ safety, agility, or weight.
While riding brakeless is still popular within the community, it is best avoided until you are an experienced rider – and don’t even think about riding out in public (or in competitions) without brakes – it’s prohibited!