Sunday, September 27

Alternate Bicycle Braking Universe

Blogger Carmelina wrote in response to this post when I was grousing about the awkwardness of hand stop signals:

I find the easiest way around this is to put the front brake cable on the right (switching the normal arrangement on new bicycles). I've done this on almost all my bicycles, for the same reason. Also if I want to signal a left turn, I'll frequently have to wait for oncoming traffic, and want to have most of my braking available. This is an easy change to make yourself, especially since you seem to work on your own bicycles.

Indeed, why not? In fact, when I took delivery of Buddy, the brakes were set up that way - the bike was set up to be ridden by a motocrosser. Considering that most of us are right handed (sorry Erin, but it's true), why are bikes set up for the left hand to operate the front brake? As it turns out, it's probably an accident foisted off on cyclists by mistaken notions and antiquated thinking. Motorcycles are set up exactly opposite from bicycles.

The late, esteemed Sheldon Brown suggested that cyclists ought to improve their bicycle braking by using the dominant hand to control the dominant (front) brake. His argument may be seen here. By the way, his entire article is well worth the time to read, but today I'm only talking about an alternate braking universe.

Currently, Buddy is set up the way that Big Brother intended - with my left hand operating the front brake. Why? Well, there are really two reasons. First, my other bikes are set up that way, and consistency is more important than anything else. When ONE bike was set up differently than the rest, it led to inconvenient moments when the "not usual" bike was being ridden. Second, I was making a lot of right turn signals (right arm not on the brakes) compared to anything else. My left hand on the rear brake tended to give me jerky braking while signaling because the lower traction rear tire would lock up easily, leading me to swerve left. It wasn't something you'd notice watching me, but it bothered me. The condition was exacerbated by Buddy's strong V brakes.

Bottom line - I switched back to "normal" when I needed to replace a brake cable housing that started to fray. I think, however, that Carmelina  and Sheldon have a very valid point. Doubly so, now that I'm going to try to remember to signal my stops more consistently. I've done it both ways and the jury is still out in my book. I'm definitely open to further influence. Part of me is attracted by the notion that setting up the bike "wrong" may be superior.

Whatever you do, set up all the bikes you use the same way. If I go "wrong braked," I'll do it with every bike I ride. Just as with British cars, having ONE that's RHD leads to occasional attempts to shift gears by grabbing the window winder...

7 comments:

Doohickie said...

My left hand on the rear brake tended to give me jerky braking while signaling because the lower traction rear tire would lock up easily, leading me to swerve left. The condition was exacerbated by Buddy's strong V brakes.

That's actually a good part of the reasoning why the brakes are set up as they are (with the non-signal hand hooked up to the rear brake). If you over-apply brakes to only the front tire and it locks up, you're more likely to go down. If the back tire locks up, it skids but the bike is more likely to remain stable. At least that's the theory.

In my case, my bikes are not consistent. Three of my bikes have the American standard (right hand to rear brake) setup while the other, my Raleigh DL-1, is set up in the English fashion.

Hugh said...

I think it is a great idea to make the switch.And I agree if you are going to do it, you should make the change to all the bikes you ride.Back in my motorcycling days I had bikes that were left side shift. And a few that were right side shift. It was impossible for me to keep it straight 100% of the time. Fortunately it never caused me to crash. But I had a few moments when it could have gotten me into serious trouble.

Dottie said...

Interesting! I'd never thought of that before. Bikes are the same with shifters - always on the right side if there's only one. My husband put his shifter on the left side after wondering the same thing about keeping his dominant hand on the bars.

Rantwick said...

My fixie has only a front brake, and I operate it with my right hand. This single brake setup helps me to avoid jamming on the front brake of my winter bike with disc brakes, which is set up "normally". I have no difficulty with transitioning between the two. It makes sense to me, since on snow and ice I can't really afford to brake much on the front anyway.

Steve A said...

I have to admit Rantwick makes a good point. If "normal" is great, why do fixies have RH brakes?

Rantwick said...

I've never stopped to look at how other fixed gear bikes are set up... that's just how I did mine.

Steve A said...

Checking out eBay, the authority on such things, it appears that some are RH brake - and some are LH brake. Today, I kept thinking how my "normal" setup was all wrong. Perhaps the solution is to switch to a car where you just mash the single pedal down and it stops - at least in theory...

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