Southpaw braking

Why do us Brits use the left hand for the back brake and almost everyone else the right? Well they’ve got it wrong, obviously.

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And why us Brits don’t have them the other way round, like the rest of Europe and North America? It’s a question that’s bugged some of us for years, especially those of us who’ve hired bikes abroad and had to have the lever bodies swapped over.

Well, we scoured the internet to find out, and found… nobody really knows.

At least, nobody can really agree. Some say it’s all about history. Early French bikes from the 19th century had a rear brake only, but they took your whole hand to operate so it made sense to use your more powerful right. In the UK though coaster brakes were the norm meaning no lever was needed. Then when front brakes were added UK bike builders put them on the right hand side, while the French only had room on the left.

That makes perfect sense, except that US bike builders went for the French model, despite chiefly importing bikes from the UK. The internet is also pretty vocal that it’s all to do with signalling — if you drive on the right you want your left arm free to signal across traffic and you right able to grab the rear brake. Others say it’s all about consistency with motorcycles, where your right hand controls the front brake, meaning it makes sense for bikes to mimic this system… except of course they don’t in the US and most of Europe.

The answer then is that we just don’t know. Any ideas?

Poll: Which paw do you use for your rear brake?

Results: 77% left to 23% right.

“I didn’t even know this was a thing, right hand only you savages!” – Matthew Austin

“Makes way more sense to have the rear on the left! If you have ever ridden a motor bike anyway.” – Kev Barwick

“Anything else is just foolish, like left hand drive cars, driving on the right.” – Andy Hepworth

“I don’t use brakes.” – Sota Solo

“I believe right for rear has a better combination with the rear shifting at the right as well.” – Tolga Cimen.