All right can one of you explain the logic of those one-gear, brakeless, freewheel-less city bikes I see with hipsters balancing on them at stoplights?
You are assuming there is logic. There is none.
Big city bike messengers have looked towards bicycles that were the cheapest, most rugged, simplest and least desirable to thieves. Lowest common denominator was a track racing bicycle with no gears, no freewheel and no brakes. They can be had for a song on the used market. Built for burly sprinters, they're particularly stiff and able to take a beating where a featherweight road racing bike will dent easily if dropped, not to mention being to valuable to lock up anywhere.
Track sprinters use "track standing" as a tactical tool to stay behind another rider, forcing them to lead. Thus enabling the following rider the tactical advantage of drafting for the sprint finish a short 333m lap later. The fixed wheel can't coast so pedaling fore-aft allows a rider to balance with complete control.
Skilled couriers use the same skill to balance without putting a foot down. This gives them the jump on traffic when the light goes green (or there is simply a hole in traffic).
The standard handlebars on track bikes were steel drop bars like on road racers. Being narrow allows couriers to slip between cars easier and also help prevent being side swiped. The track bikes lack of gears means the drive train and cranks are significantly narrower, further aiding maneuverability in tight quarters. Eventually couriers began chopping the curved parts off the handlebar, leaving the short 6" or so on each side of the stem. Next step was to wrap the whole bike in fabric bar tape to make it easier to carry up flights up steps when cold and wet. Also made the frame more dent resistant and the whole bike uglier. Then came the funky bar tape and rattle can colors.
At some point hipster wannabes (rich suburban kids) saw the bikes and thought, hey, that's what I need to really stand out and express myself at the local espresso bar hangout while cruising craigslist on the free-wifi.
So it turns out that most of the bike shops around here are pretty worthless when it comes to answering the question "So, what high-end brake pads do you carry intended for use in rain, snow and ice?" Apparently, most of them consider such weather conditions to constitute justification for not riding.
Are you bottoming out the levers? If not, you can pull harder. Even the cheapy plastic brake levers, and stamped steel "calipers" I have dont break/bend. I just get to the point where I feel the cable stretch noticeably.