Can I convert from coaster to hand brakes?
May 26, 2011 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I love everything about my bike except the brakes. Can my bike, which used to have coaster brakes, be converted to have both front and back hand brakes?

A friend who is a professional bike mechanic fixed up my bike a couple of years ago. It had coaster brakes and he was going to put front and back hand brakes on it, but he told me that there were no rear brakes manufactured that would fit my rear wheel, I think because of the length between the frame and the wheel but I'm not sure. He said he could either change them back to coaster, or I could just use a front hand brake.

The front hand brake is fine, but not ideal, and I want a rear brake as well. Someone told me he could put one on for me, even though I told him that a mechanic had looked into it and there were no suitable brakes for the rear wheel. This guy works out of his home and I only met him because he found my passport in a box of stuff I left out in my backlane. I see him as a trustworthy person, but I don't know anything about his bike-fixing expertise, although I believe him that he had fixed many bikes.

The bike is a single-speed Miele Amsterdam, probably around 10 years old.

Can anyone give me guidance on what I should do here? (I can't speak with the person who originally switched the brakes for me.) I'm inclined to just let the guy try and do it, but my concern is that it might be dangerous. Does anyone know if it's true, or false, generally that coaster brake bikes can't be switched to have hand brakes on the rear wheel? Or is this something that has to be determined in person, based on the bike?
posted by pluma moos to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total)
Can't say without looking at the bike, and googling doesn't show me what your bike looks like.

It's not dangerous for somebody to try.
posted by entropone at 11:21 AM on May 26, 2011

Can you link to a picture of the bike? Rear wheel and seat stays would be most helpful.
posted by The Michael The at 11:22 AM on May 26, 2011

In the absolute worst-case scenario, you could replace the rear wheel with a disc brake hub and hook that up to a hand brake. The frame geometry might preclude a rim brake, but a disc brake should fit anywhere there's a chain stay (or fork).

The only danger I could see with the rear brake is that it rubs against the tire and causes a blow-out, but you can easily tell whether or not a rim brake is actually hitting the brake surface correctly. You still have your front brake and that's the one that's more useful anyway.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:22 AM on May 26, 2011

I'm pretty sure this is not a general feature of coaster brake bikes but rather is an issue with your specific bike frame. It is possible to purchase extra-long reach caliper brakes but they may not be sufficient for your frame (for example, even the longest I can find won't work on my old Puegeot). It shouldn't be dangerous to try as long as your front brake remains funtional, unless he plans on drilling through the frame or something.
posted by ghharr at 11:23 AM on May 26, 2011

I'm going to guess that if the bike is called "Amsterdam" and doesn't have obvious provisions for a caliper brake, it definitely doesn't have a mount for a disc brake.
posted by entropone at 11:24 AM on May 26, 2011

Yeah, pics please. Could be possible, could be not. Take a picture from this angle and from this angle.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:53 AM on May 26, 2011

Nothing is impossible, it's just a question of how much time, money and effort you want to put into this. Pictures of the rear end of the bike, looking down at the back tire behind the seat would help (like this). A side shot of the rear triangle might help too.

Best case, this is as simple as installing brakes on prexisting mounts. Worst case, you might need some braising done to your frame.
posted by bonehead at 11:56 AM on May 26, 2011

Is this your bike? (Yours in the sense that it's the same model.)
Looking at the pics, it looks like you could fit a back caliper brake, but you'll need something with a very deep drop.
Tektro used to do models for cruisers with sufficient clearance, an example is here.
The other alternative would be a rear hub with a drum brake, Sturmey Archer do a few, but I'm not aware of any that are single speed.

But yeah, it's probably do-able, even if you have to get mounts brazed onto your frame (I had this done on a BMX many years ago, any decent frame builder or shop mechanic should be able to do it).
posted by SyntacticSugar at 12:44 PM on May 26, 2011

To further add trouble, it's possible your rims aren't machined for braking, which means the brake pads wouldn't have a good surface to grab.
posted by brozek at 12:47 PM on May 26, 2011

You can swap out the rear coaster for a Shimano roller brake (cheap, powerful, just not very much feedback) or a Sturmey-Archer hub brake (more expensive, probably includes gears). Adding a geared hub at this point might not be too expensive. Shimano and Sturmey-Archer also make roller/hub front brake hubs, but you'll need to work out a way to mount the reaction arm on the fork.

You don't want rim brakes on a Dutch style fiets. Long reach brakes are not effective, and the frames just aren't designed for them.
posted by scruss at 1:01 PM on May 26, 2011

Seconding scruss' advice. Very popular construction here in the Netherlands.
posted by joost de vries at 2:36 PM on May 26, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, this is awesome, thanks, all! I don't understand a lot of this but I think I'll end up going to a trusted shop and discussing these options with someone.

SyntacticSugar - you're spot-on, that's my bike! (I had spent at least 20 minutes looking for a photo on the net before I posted the question, so well done.)

I just went out to take some photos, but my cord to put them on the computer is at work. Does it help people to know that the photos linked to by SyntacticSugar's are of the same model? They seem to cover at least some of the desired angles.

And for cost, I'm hoping it wouldn't cost that much but it would be worth up to a couple hundred dollars for me to get this.
posted by pluma moos at 4:35 PM on May 26, 2011

Scruss is correct. There are no brake bosses on that frame, so no cantis or v brakes. You might be able to find a long-reach caliper that would work now, with the resurgence of popularity in city and cruiser style bikes, but as Scruss says, it's gonna work about as well as draggin your feet. You can't use a disc brake with-out a new wheel, and frame adapters that may, or may not, work. A bike like that is worth maybe $50-$100, so I'm not sure why you would go to the expense of investing hundreds of dollars for a brake for it.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 12:38 AM on May 27, 2011

Response by poster: PareidoliaticBoy, I'm willing to put that $$ into the bike because it's otherwise perfect for me -- it's really, really comfortable, plus it's ok-looking but not very attractive to thieves. I drive it most places I go, around 1/2 the year. And I only spent $50 to get it. I have a nice new bike for longer trips, but I need something I don't have to worry about getting stolen for day-to-day.
posted by pluma moos at 5:06 PM on May 27, 2011

Makes sense. In that case you'll want to have this conversation with your alley/passport guy about these issues. A seat-stay mounted caliper brake would be the least expensive solution theorectically, so ask him if this is what his solution is based on, and what his plan is if he can't actually find calipers with long enough reach, which we suspect.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:59 PM on May 27, 2011

I'm surprised no-one else has said this yet: if you're braking efficiently, 90+% of your braking power is coming from the front brake. (Braking shifts weight from the rear wheel to the front.) I wouldn't spend time and money on improving your rear brake if you have a solution for the front.

Obligatory Sheldon Brown explanation
posted by mendel at 12:24 PM on May 28, 2011

Harris Cyclery sells "extra long reach" calipers up to 95mm long. I suspect those will work for this bike without modification. Any bike shiop should be able to get these for you, or your can mail order from Harris directly. If those aren't long enough, show you local neighbourhood bikeshop guy this: drop bolt connectors. Harris used to sell really pretty machined ones, but they don't seem to anymore. I suspect a rear brake should be doable for a quite reasonable cost.

The fact that most of the braking is done from the front, while important, shouldn't deter you from doing this. Rear braking is normally done with the right hand, and a lot of people feel they have more control and are more comfortable modulating (partial braking) with the rear than the front. Besides it's always safer to have two options for stopping.
posted by bonehead at 1:32 PM on May 28, 2011

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