Monday, February 21, 2011

Right Up Front

Some readers notice that I always have the front brake lever set up on the right handlebar on my bikes and ask me why, since the opposite arrangement is more typical in the US.  The quick answer is that I find it more intuitive and convenient to have the front brake lever on the right. Having ridden bikes with both "left front" and "right front" setups, I began to notice that I consistently preferred the latter. So at some point we routed all my bikes to have the front brake lever on the right side, for consistency's sake, and I've been happy since.

Some reasons why I prefer the "right front" set-up:

. My right hand is slightly dominant to my left, and it makes sense to squeeze the front brake - which is the dominant brake - with my dominant hand. 

. On bikes that are coaster brake or fixed gear and have only the front handbrake, it likewise makes sense to squeeze the sole handbrake with my dominant hand.

. Using the right hand for braking leaves my left hand free to signal turns and traffic maneuvers. 

. This one is tricky to describe, but under some conditions I use the front brake as a "stop rolling" device when quickly dismounting my bike, and this maneuver works best when the front brake lever is on the right. 

There are different views out there regarding which set-up makes the most sense, and Sheldon Brown has a nice write-up about it here. Ultimately it is up to the cyclist to determine which feels more natural to them. And if the setup with which your bike came from the store doesn't feel right, be aware this can easily be changed by re-routing the brake cables.  

44 comments:

  1. I knew you were going to mention Sheldon! ;-)

    When I got my Raleigh Wayfarer it had the "right front" setup that is common in the UK. I thought about keeping it that way, but my other bikes have "left front". I felt that consistency is good when you have multiple bikes, as you might forget which is which during an emergency stop.

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  2. I do think, that it is best to have all your bikes set up the same way. BTW, if Velouria switches over to motorcycles in the future, she'll already be acclimated to the braking.

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  3. I agree that it's safer to have your bikes controls set up all the same.

    That said, I wish Shimano would change the rotation on their 7 speed internal hub shifters! Mine is bassackwards in that down is up and up is down!!! :()

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  4. Generally speaking, consistency is good - which is why I switched all my bikes over once I decided which setup I liked best. But it also depends on how your brain is structured. Some people find it very easy to transition back and forth, while others will keep trying to squeeze the wrong lever, which can indeed be dangerous.

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  5. All of our bikes in the household are set up for right-front braking. With the DL-1s we have no choice, others are easily convertible, usually with no spare parts necessary. And all new/custom bikes are as easy to set up for right-front and they are for left-front.

    My only gripe is that the front side-pull brake come with a cable attachment only on the right side. It would make wiring look prettier if a left side attachment was possible. I wonder how European road bike importers deal with that issue.

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  6. I'm the opposite. Even though I'm right handed, I'm left dominant when it comes to certain tasks (braking/knitting/spinning). So I keep my bikes set up left front. However, in the last month or so I've managed to strain something in my left wrist, causing me to not be able to squeeze the left lever very well, so I've been using my right hand more and finding that I'm liking that better.

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  7. Velouria--I think if I was "thinking straight" I would realize which lever is which. It's the times when I would need to suddenly stop that I worry about. And I don't want to find out the hard way.

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  8. BTW: It is not just in the UK that bikes have the front brake on the right; in several continental European countries this is the practice as well.

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  9. adventure - Right, I mean it in the same way you mean it. Some people's brains are wired so that the new system immediately becomes the intuitive system, while others' have a hard time switching. It has to do with interhemispheric communication.

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  10. Being a motorcyclist since age 11, I really got used to have the front brake at the right hand. When I graduated from coaster-braked bicycles to bikes with hand operated brakes, it took lots more getting used to than I thought. I still have issues when switching from the motor-y kind to the pedal-y. So I came up with a mnemonic that I constantly chant while riding bicycle. "Right is rear". Applies to shifters and brakes. Feel free to use it. :)

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  11. I thought I should add that modern road bikes can be hard to switch over because they will usually require re-wrapping of the bars. Alternatively, you could cut the housing (easy) and lengthen the other side (difficult) by using an adapter ferrule that holds both pieces of the housing together. Not very elegant, but better than being forced to rewrap the bars. Anything to avoid rewrapping those bars. :)

    And then you can have the fun of fishing the steel cable back into the tiny hole inside the brake lever and hope it goes inside the housing and doesn't unravel. You can bend the tip ever so slightly. If you're not a cheapskate, like me, you can get new road-dedicated cabling where the tip is soldered shut and won't unwind as you try to stick it into the housing. But like I said, ANYTHING to avoid rewrapping the bars...

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  12. Scott - We routed the shifters on my mixte so that right is front, just to see what it would feel like : )

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  13. I also prefer my primary braking lever to be on the right side, mostly for purpose of keeping my left hand free to signal.

    I also don't mind rewrapping my bars from time to time, but I don't shellac or twine or go in for any of that fuss, so it's less of a hassle for me to do so.

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  14. +1 on motorcycle "continuity". I'm right also.
    But try this: If you are most comfortable with the front brake on the right, which hand do you use when cruising with only 1 hand on the bars? My bet it is the left hand, which makes you most "rapid" with the weakest brake.

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  15. Dave - Nope, I cruise with my right hand on the bars, which is another reason the setup makes sense for me. I can be fixing my hair with my left hand and braking with my right.

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  16. I'm definitely right lever prone myself. All the bikes I set up are that way, too. I signal with my left hand, so having the braking power in the right just makes sense.

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  17. I thought the right-front braking was for the same reason as your occasional use of British spellings for some words - Anglophilia! ;-)

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  18. Anon - Jokes aside, I lived in the UK for a while, went to university in the UK, and work for EU organisations where I am required to use British spelling in documents. As a result, my "natural" style of writing is now a weird hybrid of the two and I think it's pretty hopeless.

    The bike that "turned" me as far as right-front braking goes was actually an Austrian bike.

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  19. I've got my front brake on the right side. I hadn't yet developed a preference when I build the bike, but Sheldon Brown's article convinced me to give it a try. Incidentally, it's so much easier for me to adjust my front brake over my rear (what with the seat post, fender, and rack back there it's basically a clusterfuck) so my front brake is inevitably the more reliable one.

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  20. OK, so in Britain it’s backward from what is usual in the US. But sense they drive on the opposite side of the road and signaling would be backward also, then are they not the same?

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  21. I like right - rear braking, because I’m right handed and I brake with the rear first and sometimes only. I never use my front brake first. And braking with the right leaves my left hand free to signal.

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  22. Been awhile since I’ve owned and ridden a motorcycle, but isn’t all breaking on a motorcycle on the right. Rear is right pedal and Front is right hand pull.

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  23. I set all my bikes up front right. I picked up bicycling again as an adult on UK bikes and set mine up that way for consistency. I do have a dominant right hand and it is safer to signal with a hand on the dominant brake.

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  24. My dutch bikes has the front brake on the right (as it is customary in holland) and my french and tawainese bikes on the right. I'm also a motorcyclist fo 25 years +
    The "discontinuity" has never bothered me. Different bikes, different reflex, I've never been confused.
    (OTH I've own a british motor bike with the gears pedal on the right AND the first gear upward. Now, that was disconcerting)

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  25. I have my front brake on the left side, mainly out of force of habit.

    However, someone (Sheldon?) said that your stronger hand should control the rear brake because it requires more hand strength than the front brake. If that's the case, then perhaps most bikes have the rear brake connected to the right lever because there are more right-handed people, or everyone has been so inculcated with the prejudices that those dominant-culture righties have used to colonize the world to their point of view.

    Hey, it's President's Day. I have to talk about oppression, right?

    Something else occurs to me: Maybe connecting the right to the rear is a political statement. After all, cyclists (at least in the US) tend to be a bit more politically liberal than other people.

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  26. You're absolutely "right".
    All my bikes are right front but that's because they're raliegh template.

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  27. Justine - The way I read it, Sheldon Brown wrote that there is a misconception that it is dangerous to use your stronger hand on the front brake, which is how the left-front standard developed.

    "...The theory that seems most probable to me is that the national standards arose from a concern that the cyclist be able to make hand signals, and still be able to reach the primary brake. This logical idea is, unfortunately, accompanied by the incorrect premise that the rear brake is the primary brake."

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  28. Justine Valinotti said...
    "...Maybe connecting the right to the rear is a political statement. "



    : ))

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  29. i've seen a lot of people flip over their handlebars because they grip too hard on the front brake. the rear brake is primary for slowing down and the front brake is the one which will actually stop a bike. so it makes sense to me that in order to have the left hand free for signaling, the right hand should be on the brake which is 'slowing the bike down' as opposed to 'stopping it'. . .

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  30. Anon - There are dissenting points of view on this, and it depends on how you use the brake. The Sheldon Brown article I linked to discusses that as well.

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  31. Velouria - there are dissenting points of view on everything;-)

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  32. Also a right front,(dirtbikes, motorcycles, etc...)

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  33. i am so glad you pointed out the importance of "fixing your do" while cycling........:)

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  34. Anon 7:16 - Those unfortunate folks haven't learned how to stop properly on a bike, which doesn't have traction control, abs, a phone (well, sometimes), an insulated environment or common sense.

    The front brake is your "stop right now" brake. Be sure, though, to squeeze both hard and get your weight back and low or the unfortunate will happen.

    The bicycle is the great analog equalizer--either you have the skill or you don't. I have seen so many people hurt, whether racing or sight-seeing, that I'm not glib about it.

    Jim

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  35. I'm left handed, with a strong left hand dominance, so it's the conventional braking setup for me-- left up front. I don't agree with the whole "stronger hand should be for the rear brake" argument. Rather, in my opinion, the dominant (and stronger) hand is the one that is better able to finely modulate of the brake. It is more important in my opinion to be able to have finer modulation control of your front brake than your rear.

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  36. My front (and only) brake is on the left. I'll probably move it to the right next time I re-tape the bars... err have the bars re-taped.

    Anything to avoid re-taping :).

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  37. I prefer to have the front brake on the right so I can have strong braking with one hand and signal with the left. Personally, I don't find it too hard to control the front brake with either hand, but I understand why a left handed rider would prefer front left.

    I do have one bike I haven't switched; conversely, it's convenient to have most consistent, including the DL1s.

    Angelo

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  38. Curiously, a diagnostic feature of the Sunbeam - that quintessential British bicycle - is that the front brake is on the left, the rear on the right; I believe it is the same on their motorbikes. It is also the case for Lea & Francis, a very high class British bicycle of the Edwardian period.
    John Ward

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  39. John Ward, no, british motorbikes hand controls were conventional. Foot controls were frequently "inverted", but that was more a euro thing than a british idiosyncrasy. Many italian bikes had their gear lever on the right side too.

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  40. It certainly makes more sense to have the front lever on the right, as you do -- but I'm so accustomed to doing it the other way that I never switch mine from US standard. On the other hand (oof...), my wife's 1957 Raleigh Sports came with the front brake on the right (and a coaster), and I never changed it -- which turned out to be a convenient thing when she broke her left hand.

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  41. @MDI up top: DL-1s can be changed. Braze canti studs. Less work to braze studs than to wrestle bellcranks etc. Since it's just black paint and usually low quality black paint the touchup is nothing.
    Biggest question is do you want 622 or 630 wheels?

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  42. Wow, all this talk of motorcycles and no one mentions cyclocross? Cross bikes are generally set up with the left hand controlling the rear brake so you can scrub speed while dismounting without going over the handlebars from hitting the front brake. My cross bike is set up that way while my road, mtb, and various other bikes are set up traditionally. Somehow I don't have a problem with it. To be honest, I have a bigger problem switching from weak cantilever or roller brakes to disc brakes and dual pivot road brakes.

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  43. Just out of morbid curiosity, which side will the Superba brake be on?

    Personally, I would vote for right, but it isn't really a democracy.

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  44. Right side on the Superba. But with upright handlebars it is very easy to move the brake lever to the other side, so it will really be up to the user. Harris Cyclery could do it before shipping the bike as well.

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