Hand Brake vs Coaster Brake: Which is Better for Your Child?

If you are in the market for a kids bike, you might be overwhelmed by all of the options available.

It used to be that you went down to the local discount or hardware store and bought the bike with the coolest colors (bonus points if it had pegs!) and rode it out of the store into the parking lot.

One new aspect to kids bikes that you might not be used to is the decision between buying a bike with a hand brake vs a traditional coaster brake. If you’re unsure which type of brake is best for your child, keep reading so you can learn a bit more and make an informed decision.

What is a coaster brake?

The coaster brake is probably what your bike had when you were growing up. When you pedal backwards, the coaster brake engages and causes your bike to come to a stop. 

One of the biggest concerns about coaster brakes is the lack of incremental braking pressure. It’s pretty black or white: you are either braking or you are not. 

This can be frustrating for new riders because, when learning to ride, kids will naturally pedal backwards sometimes. This will cause them to come to a sudden halt, which can be both frustrating and dangerous. 

Not only is the coaster brake frustrating, it also adds a ton of weight to the bike compared to other braking methods. When your kid is riding a bicycle that already weighs half as much as they do, the added weight of a coaster brake can be enough to make the bicycle incredibly heavy and difficult to control. 

Traditional wisdom goes that kids lack the necessary coordination for hand brakes, but after seeing tons of kids using them successfully, we are beginning to see that stance crumbling away.

Coaster Brake Pros & Cons


  • Makes the initial purchase price cheaper
  • Requires low levels of coordination to sue 
  • Works in all weather conditions 


  • Adds unnecessary weight to the bike
  • Braking at high speeds can cause tires to skid out
  • If the chain falls off you can’t pedal backwards to slow down
  • There is no gradual braking: you are either 100% braking or not
  • Can’t backpedal to get the pedals back into position to start pedaling forward again
  • Hinders the hand brake learning process which kids will eventually need to learn anyway 

What is a hand brake?

A hand brake’s name is self explanatory: you use your hands to pull levers which apply friction to the wheel, slowing you down. Most adult bikes use some variation of this type of hand brake, and it is also commonly used on toddler balance bikes (bikes without pedals) because there is no other way for them to slow down. 

The biggest concern with hand brakes is teaching kids not to rely solely on the front wheel brake. Pulling this brake too hard, especially without the rear brake, can cause riders to go heads over handlebars and crash -- which is not a fun experience for you or for the rider. 

Some experts argue that kids are not coordinated enough to use hand brakes, but with properly fitted brake levers and quality components (such as the Tektro dual-hand brakes used on all Belsize kids bikes) kids as young as 2.5 years old are able to ride safely with no issues. 

Although hand brakes require some extra coaching and training for kids to master, in the long run, they tend to be the much safer option compared to coaster brakes. 

Hand Brake Pros & Cons


  • Simple transition from balance bikes, which also have hand brakes 
  • Kids need to learn to use hand brakes anyway, so why not start them out early 
  • Two separate braking systems don’t rely on the chain for braking, so if the chain were to fall off you could still safely stop 
  • Easier to backpedal which is essential for off road riding and getting into the proper pedal start position
  • Easier to maintain or replace if they become damaged


  • Higher upfront cost, but much easier to perform maintenance 
  • Requires more upfront coaching and skill than a coaster brake
  • Too much pressure on the front brake can cause riders to fly over the handlebars 
  • Can be slightly impacted by wet weather conditions (but you usually don’t ride in the rain anyway)

Our Winner: Hand Brakes

After weighing all of the pros and cons, we think the hand brake is the safest option and the best option for long term riding. 

Although there is a steeper learning curve for new riders, especially if they never used a hand brake on a balance bike before, the long-term advantages of learning how to use the handbrake at an early age far outweigh any cons. 

Coaster brakes may be the tradition, but there is a new brake on the block for kids bikes, and that is the hand lever. 

At Belsize, we equip all of our kids bikes with high-quality Tektro hand brakes, which are some of the safest brakes available on the market today. 


But don't just take our work for it! Check out this excerpt from Michael's review of his Belsize 16" Kids Bike on Amazon:

...hand brakes for children, as opposed to coaster brakes, have become a most desirable way of braking due to their strong braking power on both front and rear wheel whereas coaster brakes only brake on the rear wheel. Also, the absence of the coaster brake on the crankset, results in children not stopping suddenly if they should pedal backward accidentally (which children often tend to do when learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels – their reflexes cause them to pedal backward when they are trying to ride and balance the bike and this causes them to stop and fall off the bike). Lastly, with coaster brakes, you cannot freely move the pedals backward so it’s harder for a child to get the pedals in the 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock position when they are trying to start off riding and want one of the pedals in the up position. In short, hand brakes make it easier for them to rotate the pedals and step and go.  

If you're ready to give your child the best kids bike with hand brakes, head over to our bike page to choose the correct size for your child.

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