akmal's bike park

akmal's bike park

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Brake Levers - Which Side?

Avid Elixir CR - ambidextrous.
Cantilever - shown mounted RHS Front
V-brake - LHS Front
Shimano Deore M-595 - fixed LHS Front (shown RHS lever)

No matter what type of brakes you're mounting on your handlebar, you'll face this issue: Which side shall I mount the levers?

There are two options:
1. "LHS Front" - Left hand side (LHS) for front brake with right hand side (RHS) for rear.
2. "RHS Front" - Right hand side (RHS) for front brake with left hand side (LHS) for rear.

For V-brakes and some hydraulic brake models, the issue is solved for you. They are fixed to have the first option (LHS Front). Okay, you can say that you don't have options for these. For others, you're given the benefit of matching the levers with motorcycle style through the second option (RHS Front).

Hydraulic brakes hoses normally are pre-assembled to the levers and calipers and pre-installed with hydraulic liquid, giving you the no-hassle 'install and use' (or abuse).

The levers itself for V-Brakes are never an issue. Cable changing is a walk in the park with V-Brakes. However, the system is deemed as fixed to use LHS Front, due to the location of the noodle hinge placement for the front brake. Located directly below the RHS lever, it's quite impractical to have the cable routed from the noodle to it. For a good cable route with a nice radius and kink-free, it is best to have it as LHS Front. You're left with having to adapt to this.

However, I've seen instances of Vs installed RHS Front, but the noodle is jutting outwards to the front and the cable is quite long it looks awkward.

Cantilever Brakes
Okay, it's a bit ol' skool and nobody I know still using this type of mechanical brakes. Basically, they are considered flexible. You can have the levers installed as LHS Front or the other.

This is due to its cable runs down to the middle in between the brake cantilevers. So, it's not an issue whether you want the front brake to be on the LHS or RHS.

Hydraulic brakes - fixed levers
The lever design is fixed, whereby one lever is for the LHS, and the other lever for the RHS. Usually you'll find that the default assembly of the hoses is for LHS Front. Examples are those from Shimano and Magura.

The lever design does not permit exchange of sides, so if you want to have it 'customised' to have RHS Front, you'd have to disassemble the hoses from the levers and switch between them. So far I've never dabbled on hydraulic brakes' hose and fluid, so I don't have any idea on whether it would be a messy affair whatsoever. Anyway, you can always have your LBS to help you with this.

Hydraulic brakes - ambidextrous levers
A number of brake manufacturers utilise flip-flop design, or ambidextrous, which means you can have the option of mounting the front brake levers on the RHS or LHS. Examples include Avid Juicy and Elixir; and Hayes El Camino, Stroker and Prime.

The pre-assembled sets look like the manufacturer knows what you want, whether you're a LHS Front or RHS Front guy. You'll say to yourself, "wow, they really know what I want".

To the manufacturer, this sort of design would lower down the production cost. Only one design for both levers.


Why is this important?
Simply put, and primarily, it's for our safety.

The front brake is our prime stopper. It gives us more stopping power compared to the rear brake. Hence, we should be familiar with it; either to purposely use it to stop the bike, and more importantly to be aware of it - not to pull the front brake lever hard during a panic spell while going downhill (you get the picture).

My friend Gjoe was awarded with a few stitches on his chin due to this. He's a left-handed as I am (read: not normal. heheh...), and he's used to have the front brake lever on the RHS for his old 4-piston Shimano XT hydros. When he purchased his new XT hydraulic brakes, he's forced to use it as it is - LHS Front, as the brake sets came pre-assembled that way. Poor him, he pulled the wrong lever and ended up with stitches on his chin and scratches on the new brakes. Now, after the accident, he's changed the levers to what he's familiar with - RHS Front.

The other reason is for us to know our options and be prepared with any further costs ($ and time) should we need to have them modified to our preferences.

My way
I get around this problem by having it this way:
- LHS for front controls - brake and FD shifter
- RHS for rear controls - brake and RD shifter.

Okay, it is more towards fixed setting, since shifters are always LHS mounted for the FD, and RHS mounted for the RD. And, coincidentally, the same is for v-brakes. So I've got no issues on this, if I were to use Shimano hydros. Anyway, for the option freak me, I went with ambidextrous ones from Avid. Well, I bought because I got 'em cheap, primarily, and as a bonus, the design.

Also, I don't ride motorcycles because I don't have one, and that's primarily because I don't have a license (really, no kidding!). So, I don't have any issues with adapting the brake levers when I'm riding a bicycle or a motorcycle.

By the way, my Elixirs came as LHS Front. No twiddling necessary for me. Avid really knows what I want.

The thing to be aware of
The moment you're getting yourself a pair of brakes, bear in mind and ask this question - what mounting option do you have with them, and does it suit your preference? If they do need some modification done to change the mounting side, you'll have to factor in the possible costs (time and $) for doing it.

I'd like to stress here that there's no fixed side for mounting your brake levers. As long as you're comfortable with it, go that path. It's your bike. You're the one who'll be riding it. After all, mountain bikes are built custom for fit, purpose and style; to the rider, riding style and personal preferences.

Which side are you on?

Added 03.11.2014: Do read this also, interesting fact and history.

photo credits:
Avid Elixir CR brake lever from mountain.bike198.com
cantilever brake from www.diaryofamountainbiker.co.uk
V-brake and Shimano Deore M-595 - mine


kadafi said...

LHS - back brake RHS - front brake

Joe said...

I ride "moto-style", principally because when I started out biking, all bikes were set up RHS front.

With V brakes, the front brake is not that big a deal, so long as you use the longer 135 degree noodle.

Alternatively, you can get the Avid Ultimate V-brake, which allows you to switch the direction of the cabling.