cruiser bike with hand brakes

Cruiser Bike with Hand Brakes vs. Coaster Brakes

Do you find yourself struggling to choose between a women's or men's cruiser bike with hand brakes and one with coaster brakes? Or do you want to get one of these beach bikes with coaster brakes and handbrakes (have your cake and eat it too)?

It's about time we talk about something important. In our opinion bicycle hand brakes shouldn't be an option for bicycles, they should be an essential component. That's why all of our bikes, like our step through dreamer (below)and diamond frame dreamer, are outfitted with gears and hand brakes.

Here are some of the cruiser bikes we offer for sale online:

Our Diamond Beach Cruisers








In our opinion, a coaster brake, also known as a back pedal brake, or foot brake bike, no matter whether it's single, 3, or 7 speed just doesn't give you the control of hand brakes. Coaster brake bikes have a coaster brake hub that allows you to brake by pedaling backwards and are usually for sale at a cheaper price.

Hand brakes are an easy fix to this problem.

In this article, we are going to look at the major differences between a beach cruiser with hand brakes and one with coaster brakes.

Cruiser Bike Brake History

Cruiser bike with coaster brakes

Image via Dave's Vintage Bicycles

One of the main reasons why cruiser bikes still have coaster brakes is more to do with tradition, and less to do with functionality and practicality.

Cruiser bikes first gained popularity during the Great Depression. However, in order to sell bikes to struggling families, companies simplified them and gave them less features.

It was at this time that brands started including coaster brakes with their cruiser bikes.

Today, there are several braking options available and almost all of them are better than coaster brakes.

A cruiser bike with hand brakes tends to be safer than one that has coaster brakes overall.

Cruiser Bike with Hand Brakes Types

The two most popular types of hand brakes that come on a cruiser bikes are side-pull caliper brakes and direct-pull cantilever brakes (V-brake).

Still, both hand brake types function in the same way. They simply push against your cruiser's rim in order to stop your bike.

Direct-Pull Cantilever Brakes

With direct-pull brakes you will stop your cruiser by activating the hand brake levers. As you do this, the brake cable will activate the mechanism, pulling the noodle and pressing the brake pads against your rims.

This setup requires cables, the two hand brake levers, the V-brake itself, and the brake pads. The only parts you need to change with regular use are the brake pads, the cables if they wear down, and potentially the noodle.

Side-Pull Caliper Brakes

Tektro C326 Hand Brakes

Consider side-pull brakes like these Dual-Pivot Tektro C326 Brakes available at Niagara Cycle if you are looking to purchase a new cruiser bike with hand brakes.

Side-pull hand brakes are a great option for your cruiser because they are less intrusive. They are also easily installed by attaching them to a single bolt on your bike's frame. Sheldon Brown does a great job of explaining this.

Caliper brakes come in several varieties, including, single-pivot, dual-pivot, and centerpulls. Most newer bikes come with single- or dual-pivot, while centerpulls are featured on older bikes.

Peace Bicycles' cruisers come equipped with durable dual-pivot caliper hand brakes.

Pros of a cruiser bike with hand brakes:

  • Learn how to brake properly
  • Two methods of braking, front and rear
  • Easy to fix if they wear out or break
  • You can back pedal and coast

Cons of a cruiser bike with hand brakes:

  • More parts to replace should they break
  • Takes practice to master proper braking technique
  • Struggles in wet conditions
  • More expensive

Cruiser Bike with Coaster Brakes

coaster brake

Coaster brakes like the Shimano Nexus 3-Speed Coaster Brake above appear on the other side of the braking spectrum. Have you ever seen a cyclist slam their pedals backwards and skid to a stop? Those are coaster brakes.

Coaster brakes are favored by cyclists who want a bike that is minimalist in style.

A lot of things can potentially go wrong with coaster brakes because you often have to skid your tires and lock your legs to stop. We're not totally saying to stay away from coaster brakes, as they do make like quite simple for the rider, but it's good to know the differences.

Because of this, we recommend a cruiser bike with hand brakes. You should definitely consider hand brakes if you are a new rider.

Pros of a cruiser bike with coaster brakes:

  • Lightweight and minimalist
  • Keeps your arms free so you can focus on steering while braking
  • Easy to learn
  • Works reasonably well in all weather conditions
  • Bike looks "cooler" with no brake levers

Cons of a cruiser bike with coaster brakes:

  • Your cruiser will only have one method of braking
  • Takes longer to stop the bike
  • More likely to skid out or over-brake
  • Lack of a freewheel means you cannot coast
  • Pedals will smack your legs on a hill unless you properly transition between braking and riding
  • Does not teach you technical braking skills
  • Hard on your joints
  • Braking suddenly can cause your chain to drop

Hand Brakes vs. Coaster Brakes on Hills

cruiser bike with coaster brakes

Image via

We touched on this briefly above, but hills are a major area where hand brakes shine over coaster brakes.

Hills are challenging for riders of all experience levels. If you are taking on a steep hill, coaster brakes can be extremely dangerous.

A cruiser bike with hand brakes can easily conquer a hill because hand brakes let you ease in and out of braking. If the hill is steep. simply apply more pressure to increase your braking power. As you near the end of the hill, you can ease out of your braking and resume pedaling. While all of this is happening, your feet are firmly planted on the pedals and you are able to focus on braking and getting to the bottom of the hill.

In contrast, your experience will be completely different on a cruiser bike with coaster brakes. When you start going down the hill, you can only stop your bike by jamming your pedals backwards. However, if you brake too hard, you will skid out and risk crashing. On very steep hills, your pedals may build up too much momentum and smash you in the legs. None of these scenarios are fun and they can be extremely dangerous.

You simply have to ask yourself one question, what type of brake would you prefer in this situation? The obvious answer is to go with a cruiser bike with hand brakes. Here's a great guide on how to bike up hills from Totalwomenscycling.

Get a Cruiser Bike with Hand Brakes

cruiser bike with hand brakes

We cannot stress enough how important your safety is. When purchasing your next cruiser bike forget tradition and go with a cruiser bike with hand brakes. The goal of cycling is to have fun and be safe, but if hills are not an issue, then by all means go right ahead.

Here are several additional reasons why you should choose a cruiser with hand brakes like our Dreamer Diamond frame above:

  • Safety: We've mentioned this already, but this is the main reason. A cruiser bike with hand brakes is:
    • Equipped with two brakes
    • A lot safer
    • Doesn't skid as easily
  • Control: When you use hand brakes, you simply have better control over your bicycle. You can choose when to apply more braking power and when to ease up. Hand brakes can also be tuned to provide more brake power should you require it.
  • Options: With so many hand brake options out there, you can find a set of brakes that suits your cycling style. The same cannot be said about coaster brakes, because they only come in one style.

Remember, if you are going to buy a stylish beach cruiser bike, don't cheap out on the brakes.

All of our beach cruisers come equipped with dual-pivot caliper brakes because we value the safety of our riders.

If you have any questions about hand brakes, how to install them, what types to choose for your beach cruiser, or anything else at all, do not hesitate to leave a comment below.

Also, check out these cool beach cruiser accessories to make your bike your own and our Ladies cruiser bike with basket guide for tips on choosing the right basket!

Eric Carriere


  1. Kimmie

    I am an adult and am seeking a total beginner bike. I have purchased a couple used ones and they both were
    normal 26 inch bikes (One road , one mountain). I have discovered that my legs are slightly short for my over
    all height and in a “Box store” A 24 inch bike fits me most comfortably. I live in a small town and am very
    limited on where I can purchase a bike.
    As I am learning for the first time, I am seeking a 24 inch $100 or less bike. I can upgrade after I am good on it
    if I enjoy biking for exercise.
    Do you have any recommendations?
    The ones I have checked out all have coaster breaks but I would just be road biking and there are only small
    hills for the most part.

    1. Peace Bicycles

      If there are only small hills you will be just fine. Yes, for that price point many bikes come with coaster brakes.
      Otherwise, just do a google search for “24 inch bike under 100 with hand brakes” 🙂

  2. Doug Murphy

    We’re looking for a bicycle for our son that was born without a functional right hand negating his ability to use
    a hand brake. Too bad you don’t pursue an adaptive option like, for instance, a reliable coaster brake.

  3. Anonymous

    I think it’s an okay idea to
    have both brakes. I would say
    that the two coaster brake
    bikes I have had, have a hand
    brake which allows for two
    ways to brake. If you have
    both, you can have the
    benefits of both.
    Also, I’m not entirely sure by
    what you mean when you say
    that you can’t coast with
    coaster brakes (Doesn’t
    coasting mean being able to
    go foreward (usually
    downhill)without pedaling?)

  4. Sam

    I could use some help. I got a 20″ beach cruiser for one of my daughters. It came only with pedal brakes
    and she needs hand brakes. Can someone point me to hand brakes for a smaller bike that fit over the
    fender and do not need a side mount as her firm strong model is not equipped for that


  5. Maria Shell

    Thank you for the great article! It was super helpful. I think I am in a bit of a pickle. I just purchased a
    Giant Suede Crusier. It is brand new, but old stock. (Which I did not understand at the time of
    purchase.) And I must admit, it was a bit of an impulse purchase. After riding it for a day and realizing
    the hills in our neighborhood are quite substantial, I started researching things and found your article.
    We live on the hillside in Anchorage, Alaska. I am now thinking I really need hand breaks, but my
    cruiser did not come with hand breaks. Can my husband (who is very handy) and/or a bike tech install
    hand brakes on this bike? And if the answer is yes, what kind would be best? Thank you so much for
    your help!

  6. Liz Marin

    I am an Older adult that is leaning to
    ride a bike. I have a cruiser without
    hand brakes. I am looking just to ride
    around my neighborhood. Is it easier to
    learn if I put hand breaks on this bike or
    just stick with what I have?

    1. Peace Bicycles

      I’m assuming you have a rear foot brake? If you have hills this may be a problem, otherize it is perfectly adequate. If learning, this may be a problem and can lead to falling because as you go to brake and slow down you won’t have both feet on the ground… Hand brakes will allow for stopping with your hands while having both feet on the ground as you slow down. Does this help?

  7. Laura WILSON

    Hi. I already have a cruiser bicycle that I
    really love. It only has coast brakes. I live
    in a very flat beach area, so hills are not
    an issue. I would, however, like to add a
    rear hand brake for extra stopping power.
    Is this very expensive or difficult to do
    yourself? What type would you
    recommend for do-it-yourself?

    1. Peace Bicycles

      Hi Laura,

      You might want to look into getting a front brake instead. If you have the coaster that should be enough for the rear side. Otherwise, if your bike is compatible with a rear why not. Any local bike shop will be able to help you with this 🙂

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