Saturday, June 18, 2016

"Hands and Feet": Hybrid Braking Set Ups on Vintage Bicycles

 Hybrid Brakes: Coasters and Cables in the U.S.

In the United States, among other places, the coaster brake was was the braking system of choice for many years. Coaster brakes seem to have been popular in very flat places, like the Netherlands, and in the United States (which is sometimes flat, and  sometimes not).

 The advantages and disadvantages of the coaster brake have been discussed many times, by many bicyclists and mechanics.

I will not go through all that, but I will say that from the 1920s through the 1960s, if a company wanted to sell bikes in the United States, it had to look seriously at adding a coaster brake.

While not all consumers in the U.S. had coaster brakes on their bicycles (all-hand brake bikes certainly existed), most did.

The classic American balloon tire bikes almost always had coaster brakes. A few had a front brake, but many had only the rear coaster.

American light roadster bikes also got in on this. This 1940 Westfield Sports roadster has a rear coaster brake, a New Departure Model D.

It accelerates and brakes like any other Model D, though the lighter bicycle makes it easier to pedal than a full weight tank bike.

However, the original owner added a Philco handbrake to the front. This creates a 'hybrid' brake system where one has a coaster brake in the back, but a traditional hand brake in the front.

Today, many experts advise you have a hand brake to assist with braking using the coaster. However, the American market focused heavily on bicycles with only coasters.

Westfield also made an all-hand brake model, the Sports Tourist, while Schwinn's New World bicycles could be bought with a coaster, two hand brakes, or a combination of brakes.

English Variation: Rod Brake and Coaster Brake

This Hercules Model C is somewhat peculiar in that it is an English bicycle with a hybrid braking system.

This bicycle originally came with a single speed, Perry coaster brake in the rear, though I have swapped this for a Sturmey Archer TCW coaster brake 3 speed.

While the English made bicycles for sale in Britain with this brake set up (they actually marketed them to pipe smokers, so the rider could smoke while riding), the set up was never as common as full, front and back rod brakes.

The result here is a peculiar mixture of a front rod brake (truly English in style) and a rear coaster (very much American).

My suspicion is that this bicycle was not marketed for a pipe smoker, but that it was a variation of Hercules Model C meant for the U.S. market, where a coaster brake would be a good selling point and would make the bicycle more familiar to Americans, who were used to a coaster.

It should be remembered that in the 1930s and 40s, Hercules was one of the largest exporters of British bicycle to America, in many years exceeding even Raleigh in exports to the U.S.


The verdict here is that the hybrid system is somewhat peculiar, but not bad. Many people like the smoothness and precision of a good coaster brake, but also want the greater stopping power of a front brake. Bicycles like these let you have some of both, though the system is not perfect. These bicycles offer an enjoyable feature of mixed braking devices and add some variety to the usual dichotomy of 'coaster brake bikes' and 'hand brake bikes'.