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  1. #1
    Senior Member cnkjr's Avatar
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    Setting up a bike for one-handed use

    My 11 year old sone was born missing his right arm just below the elbow. He currently has a smaill (20in wheel) MTB with Thumb shifters for the rear and grip shifting for the front, with the rear brake on the left and the front brake on the right, but the brake lever pointed up so he can stab it with his stump to apply front brake.

    I think that we have the brakes set up really backwards, but his mother worries about endos if he is using primarily his front brake. So my first question is whether we ought to set him up with a front brake primary (left side) and rear brake secondary (right side)?

    The second issue is that he is now agitating for a road bike. Any suggestions on setting that up? I'm thinking that the best bet may be old down tube shifters, and a front brake only, since I can't visualize how he could use a right brake lever on a drop bar bike. Of course, we could also just go with a straight bar on a road frame, which would let him use a brake set up similar to what he has now.

    Any thoughts?
    --Body built for downhill--

  2. #2
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    How about a right side barcon shifter on the left handlebar for the rear shifter, a left side STI for the front shifter and a cable splitter to operate both caliper brakes? That'd let him operate all of the controls without taking his good arm off the handlebar.

  3. #3
    no brakes,no problem! -Blanco-'s Avatar
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    Just a thought but mayb a lowgeared fixie with a front brake? that way he could use his legs to brake aswel.
    "Everyone makes mistakes, the trick is to make the mistakes when nobodys looking"

  4. #4
    Senior Member Steev's Avatar
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    There was a thread about this recently in the road section. A number of people has some good info, skip over the others. Try doing a search there.
    As for the front brake issue, I'll link you to this article by Sheldon Brown.
    http://sheldonbrown.com/brakturn.html

  5. #5
    Senior Member Snordalisk's Avatar
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    We set up a bike like this for one of our customers. What we used was a dual-cable pull brake lever, with the same gripshift/thumbshift setup. The cables can be adjusted independently on the lever, to get the proper front:rear ratio for good braking.

    The owner used to use a single brake, and loves the new setup.

  6. #6
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    if you have the money:
    an internally geared coster brake bike would be ideal I think; only one shifter and one brake lever (for the front), everything else is in the legs

  7. #7
    Senior Member cnkjr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Retro Grouch
    How about . . . a cable splitter to operate both caliper brakes?
    Quote Originally Posted by Snordalisk
    What we used was a dual-cable pull brake lever. . . .The cables can be adjusted independently on the lever, to get the proper front:rear ratio for good braking.
    I think that y'all are talking about the same device here. But where do I get it? Would my LBS carry it?
    --Body built for downhill--

  8. #8
    Senior Member Snordalisk's Avatar
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    Just about any LBS should be able to order one, but it's not something many would keep in stock.

  9. #9
    Senior Member cnkjr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CrosseyedCrickt
    if you have the money
    That's the rub in all of life, isn't it. Seriously, though, I don't know that I want to purchase the necessary hub and then build a small wheel around it, and then rip it all apart and build a bigger wheel around the hub when he grows a little bigger. It seems like a lot less work/money to go another route, unless there are some big advantages to the internally geared hub that outweigh the cost and effort required for the relatively short time period involved.
    --Body built for downhill--

  10. #10
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    This is the kinda thing you need for flat bars... 30 English pounds from here


  11. #11
    Senior Member caotropheus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cnkjr
    That's the rub in all of life, isn't it. Seriously, though, I don't know that I want to purchase the necessary hub and then build a small wheel around it, and then rip it all apart and build a bigger wheel around the hub when he grows a little bigger. It seems like a lot less work/money to go another route, unless there are some big advantages to the internally geared hub that outweigh the cost and effort required for the relatively short time period involved.
    There are lots of advantages. You have an internal gear hub combined with a 9 speed cassette and a single shifter to operate all these gears.

    and other example for single brake lever for 2 brakes

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snordalisk
    We set up a bike like this for one of our customers. What we used was a dual-cable pull brake lever, with the same gripshift/thumbshift setup. The cables can be adjusted independently on the lever, to get the proper front:rear ratio for good braking.

    The owner used to use a single brake, and loves the new setup.
    I don't think I would bother with any kind of dual lever or cable splitter. If you set it up with any significant amount of rear brake force, the rear wheel will always skid under maximum braking. I might use a rear lever on top of the bar, or even a friction lever that could be set to drag on long downhills, but the front brake alone will stop as well as both brakes in most situations.
    The bigger problem with one handed braking is keeping contol of the handlebars. You can't stop very effectvely if you can't supprt your weight equally on both hands.

  13. #13
    Erect member since 1953 cccorlew's Avatar
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    Wow. I'm not alone.
    For my mountain bike I put both brakes, one over the other, on the same side. The rear is on top, the front under. I find I can modulate the braking power very well, making sure I don't overuse the front when going downhill. Having the rear on top means that a panic brake will not use too much front brake.
    I have the rapid-fire shifters for the rear cluster on my good side. On the other I have an old bar top shifter that I can push forward or backward with my non-gripping arm. The whole thing works really well and I think it could work for your son. I added a velcro strap to keep my arm from bouncing off the bars, but that might not work for you.
    The best part is if I get another bike I can put the rapid fire back on this one and move my bar top to the new bike.
    I also road bike, and I've just used the front brake for 30 years. I guess I could actually take off the rear and save a few ounces. I tried a two-cable lever that I got from a tandem so i could use both brakes, but it never felt right, and the friction of two brakes made it too hard to squeeze.
    Here are some photos of my mountain setup.

  14. #14
    Erect member since 1953 cccorlew's Avatar
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    more....

    After I posted the photos i have more thoughts...
    Road bike: I have downtube shifters (I ride an '87 Cannondale) and they work well for me. Gripping hand on the rear cluster shifter, the other side i can just wack into place.
    If anyone else is reading this, maybe you can help ME. I don't know what the heck to do if I get a new road bike with those fancy-schmancy new-fangled brake lever shifters. I'll be fine on the right, but the left is quite a reach.

  15. #15
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    For shifting, I've wondered about when your son gets a high-end mountain bike or road bike, a Rohloff hub with its twist shifter. Only issue is having to briefly take your hands off the bar to twist, if its configured like this:


    (photo courtsey Harris Cyclery/Sheldon Brown.)

    If you can get that twist shifter on the bar, you only need to worry about the brake levers.

    Caveat... The Rohloff will set you back over a USD grand.

  16. #16
    Year-round cyclist
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    A warning first: I'm an engineer, with some work and studies in Ergonomics, but I'm not a physician. I am also a bicycle tourist, often with two children. And I don't have direct experience with single-handed cycling.

    I don't see any problem in using a bike with road bars if that's what your son wants. In fact, as a long-time cyclotourist and user of drop bars, I would prefer to ride single-handed on a bike with drop bars rather than on a bike with straight bars. I think part of the solution is to raise the bars so that he doesn't lean too much.

    My first question is: does he uses and puts weight on his right arm? If that's the case, I would look either for:
    – some kind of receiver for his arm: a sort of prosthetic end into which he would put his arm, or
    – an aero bar towards the right side, so he could lean his right arm and elbow on it. I think it's possible to modify an aerobar to support his arm in a higher position, but I'm not an expert on this issue. Ideally, he should be able to use the drops with both shoulders at the same level.

    If he is able to control the bike effectively with both arms/hands and keep it in control with his right hand, it opens a lot of possibilities for shifting and gearing.


    Stem and handlebars

    I would favour relatively high handlebars. Look for an uncut fork, fork extender (heads-up stem) and/or a stem with lots of raise. That way, he won't have too much weight on the arms. It will always be possible – and cheap – to lower the handlebars if/when he wants it.


    Brakes

    With cantis or road brakes, you could fairly easily install two brake levers on the same side.
    For a while, I equipped my tandem with a drum brake (+ 2 rim brakes), so I needed a way to operate three brakes. So I installed two brake levers on the left handlebar.

    The two main levers are unmodified Dia-Compe 287-V levers. The third one (on the left) is installed slightly lower and turned inside. It's a basic Shimano Exxage left lever, and I had to cut a bit of the rubber hood and file a bit of the lever (the lower lip only) to make it fit. My hands are just slightly longer than average, but I can even grab both brake levers at once without too much effort. At 11, I'm sure he would be able to easily use either of those levers from the drops and maybe both at the same time (it will come soon anyway). And he would be able to use the top lever from the tops or hoods.

    Having two brake levers is the ideal solution in terms of control, especially if he rides a bit off road, on loose sand, gravel, ice... He could use the front brake most of the time, but the rear one if it's slippery, icy, etc.

    Which lever should control the front brake? My hand falls more naturally on the lower lever, so that's the one I would use, but I know most people reach more naturally the upper lever. I am also a bit at odds with modern trends in that my bars are level with my saddle and I ride on the drops 80-90% of the time and never on the hoods.

    Another solution has been covered already: use one lever to control both brakes.
    As far as I know, only one lever allows that, the Dia Compe 287 T, which is available at tandem shops (ex. Tandems East, Precision Tandems, Harris Cyclery... Visit the Tandem Link for addresses in your "neighbourhood"). One slight problem: it's the right lever that is made for dual cables. However, I just looked at my 287 V lever which is designed fairly similarly, and it would be fairly easy to file other cable-housing notches to allow installation of the dual lever on the left. Another problem: the 287 T levers are not cheap: 60-100 $ a pair, whereas basic Shimano levers are 10-20 $ a pair. And many women don't like to operate them with their small hands.

    And yet another solution would be to use any brake lever you want and a cable splitter. J-Teck Engineering makes one. If you put the splitter far on the line, it would allow you to add an auxiliary brake lever.

    I'm not sure how I feel about that, but installing an auxiliary brake lever (also called Cyclocross lever) might be a good idea. Basically, it's an extra lever that's installed on the flat part of the bar and allows braking from the top. Downside is that it crowds even more the left side. Whether he uses it or not will depend, I think, on how well he supports himself with his right arm and whether he prefers to ride with his left hand on the drops, on the tops or on the hoods.

    You could always install that lever later and decide onto which brake it should be. If you use a single brake lever + splitter, you could even install it beforehand, so the lever controls both brakes.


    Shifters:

    The Rohloff hub is indeed a very nice option, but neither lightweight nor exactly flexible if he wants to finetune the ratios. For single-handed operation, I would either install it somewhat like the Kelly Take off (see below, and you would have to adapt it, because the Take Off is not compatible with the Rohloff shifter). I also remember seeing a bar-end adaptor similar to a gripsift. EIther at http://hubbub.com or at http://sjscycles.com. Worth exploring if you have the money.

    Otherwise, I see a combination of 2-3 options.

    - My preferred option would be to use a right bar-end shifter on the left side. The only minor issue is aesthetics: you'll have the knob that selects "friction-index" on the outside, rather than on the inside. But it will work without problem, he won't have to bend his wrist unnaturally...
    When I ride on the drops, I keep my hands on the drops and have no problem shifting up (ex.: 1 to 2...) by pushing the lever down with the palm of my hand. I downshift the same way by pulling it up with my little finger. I suspect he will have to grab the lever in his hand to downshift... but that's what most people do anyway.

    - The front derailleur could either be operated by a regular left STI lever or by a downtube/bar-end lever on a Kelly Take Off. Kelly manufactures a few models, including one that allows two levers on the same side. It might be a good solution, although many people find that they have to move their hand too much to operate the lever.
    P.S. If you are friend with your bike shop, you might find a used left STI lever. They sometimes break and some people upgrade their system, and in both cases, it's the right lever that goes down the drain.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by cccorlew
    After I posted the photos i have more thoughts...
    Road bike: I have downtube shifters (I ride an '87 Cannondale) and they work well for me. Gripping hand on the rear cluster shifter, the other side i can just wack into place.
    If anyone else is reading this, maybe you can help ME. I don't know what the heck to do if I get a new road bike with those fancy-schmancy new-fangled brake lever shifters. I'll be fine on the right, but the left is quite a reach.
    You could use a Suntour Powercommand lever on the right side. Those were wingnut shaped levers that attached to the handlebar near the brake lever. The right lever has a friction mode that should work with a front derailer. That would be almost good enough for a guy with 2 hands to use. A Kelly Take Off should work also, but they were not as good as the Suntour Powercommands. You'll probably find that stuff on Ebay pretty easily.
    I agree that a rear brake isn't very useful on a road bike, but I would still put a lever on the lower bar to use on long downhills to prevent overheating the front brakes.
    em

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