Where to put the clamp and what angle of dangle to go for
Want to go faster? Just let go of the brakes, right? Well, not exactly. You need to know how to brake. You also need to have well set up brake levers.
Words by Dirt School‘s Andy Barlow
How to set up your brake lever
Most brakes nowadays are powerful enough to allow one-finger braking, but to get the perfect setup you need to start with your hands.
Ideally you want to ride with your hands as close to the ends of your bars as you can – don’t leave more than about 10mm showing.
As you straighten your forefinger and rest it on your lever, it should sit in your final knuckle without having to pull the lever to get it into place.
Try and settle your finger just inside the nook at the end of the blade, so that you’re maximising leverage. You can move your lever clamp along the bars and adjust the lever reach to make this happen.
As for angle-of-dangle, try not get sucked into the modern trend for virtually-parallel-to-the-ground lever angles. Having said that, aim more for the 4 o’clock position (when viewed from the driveside) than the 5 o’clock position. Flatter levers do seem to reduce arm pump and fatigue but too low can compromise braking modulation.
Although your brakes essentially do the same thing – bring you to a stop – each one has a very different impact on grip, balance and control as you slow down. Knowing which one to favour in any given situation is crucial to gaining the confidence that allows you to ride faster.
they can have a very different affect on how much control you have as you slow down. Knowing which one to favour in the right situation is crucial to being confident that you can slow down properly.
Your front brake, same as a car, will do the most stopping for you. It’s the one that will respond well to loading up as you apply it, and it will stop you in the shortest distance. If you use it in the wrong situation though, you will loose you a lot of traction and reduce you ability to steer and balance. Prioritise the front brake if you’re on terrain that you can trust, or you’re going in a straight line and when you want to slow down quickly.
Your rear brake on the other hand will bring you to a stop a lot slower, but will be a lot more reliable when the ground is loose or you’re fighting for grip. This is because it allows you to come off the front brake entirely meaning that you can trust your steering. Even if you can just release your front brake for a split second to steer onto a better line, you’ll appreciate that extra grip. Try and favour your rear brake when you’re on steeper, more technical terrain and you still want to slow down. You can favour your front again once you can trust that grip.
Why is our front brake on the right in the UK?
In the UK we ride with our rear brake on the left and our front brake on the right. Most of the rest of the world run their brakes the other way round, but why? It’s actually to do with the side of the road that you drive on.
A cyclist is a pretty vulnerable road user, and one of the most dangerous things you’ll have to do if you ride on the road in the UK is turn right from a major onto a minor road. This is because you have to cross both lanes of traffic. As you hold your right arm out to indicate that you’re going to turn off the major road, you have to be able to control your bike if anything happens and a better brake to do that will in this one-armed situation is your rear brake.
If you’re driving almost anywhere else in the world then the situation is reversed and you’d be at your most vulnerable turning left over both carriageways. That’s why riders from the UK, Australia, South Africa and a handful of others run their brakes ‘UK style’, and everywhere else is switched with their rear brake on the left. It’s because we’re in the minority of countries that drive on the left hand side of the road.