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  1. #1
    sqrl misskaz's Avatar
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    Small hands - options for improving braking power with brifters?

    I've got a 2008 Bianchi Volpe that I use as my commuter and touring bike. I love that bike; it was a long search to find something that fit me - I'm 5'1" with short legs and long torso/arms.

    But the hoods for the Shimano Ultegra brifters are gigantic! I can barely wrap my hands around them to reach the brake levers, so if I'm in city traffic where I need to brake a lot, I end up riding with my wrists twisted out with most of my weight on the inside of my thumbs so that I can reach them. Not so comfortable after a few miles.

    It's more than just the big hoods though - the pivot point of the brake lever is really far down the lever, so I just don't have good leverage. Even my (5'10" with normal sized hands) husband has tried them and says they are very difficult to engage.

    I've done some research and some people say to get shims or the Shimano short-reach levers. Others say the short-reach levers are the same thing just with the shims anyway. To me it seems like all shims do is reduce the travel of the brake lever, but that's not really the problem exactly. They could have barely any travel at all and still not be in the right position to give me good leverage to squeeze them. I have great leverage from the drops, but prefer riding on the hoods in city traffic.

    I do almost all my riding on the hoods so I would prefer not to add cross-style brake interrupters. Plus it's busy enough up top with the light and computer.

    I'm starting to realize how dangerous it is for me to be riding like this for the past year. It got better as my grip strength improved but I still absolutely cannot bring my bike to a skidding stop as it currently is. So I'm looking for my options. New handlebars? Move the existing levers up or down the bars? Am I wrong about shims and I should try them for the existing set? Buy the short-reach levers? Give up the brifters and get bar end or down tube shifters? I'm handy and we have a decent set of beginner bike tools, but I also have an appointment for a tune-up at the end of the month and can have my LBS do stuff at that time.

    Here's a picture of me riding the bike so you can see how small my hands are in comparison to the hoods. You can see it best on the right hand. Apologies for the camera strap in the photo - my friend took it while he was riding.


    bianchi by kazbo, on Flickr

  2. #2
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    First of all, most of us have problems doing a full stop from the tops of the hoods. I have the hand strength of a gorilla, and have good leverage from the tops of the hoods and I really have to work at for a full stop in that position. For that reason, among others, always descend with your hands in the drop position. In normal city riding condition your reflexes for a quick reposition to the drops in case a child should run out in front of you.

    The top of the hood position is great and affords plenty of control on the open road, so as long as you can manage scrubbing off speed from there that's OK.

    You'll also get less wrist strain if you keep your brakes adjusted very close, so you don'y have to move the lever as far for braking.

    As far as reach goes, you can modify it (sometimes) by moving the lever a bit on the bar. Most bars have variation in the bend radius going into the drop and putting the lever lower often brings it in closer.

    BTW- if you have dough to spend, Shimano offers smaller levers, or levers with adjustable reach (yours may have the feature), so that may help, but it won't make any improvement in braking from the top of the hood, which will always require strength in the wrist, and the outer part of the hand.

    Also, you might get improvement by using higher friction shoes, and keeping them and the rims clean. With your next replacement, consider a pair of Kool Stops in the Salmon color (their highest friction compound).
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  3. #3
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    Have you tried of getting hold of an adjustment block for you brifters, its item #9 on the techdoc for your STI unit

    http://techdocs.shimano.com/media/te...9830609302.pdf

    The current generation of brifters have 2 spacer options.

  4. #4
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    First of all, most of us have problems doing a full stop from the tops of the hoods. I have the hand strength of a gorilla, and have good leverage from the tops of the hoods and I really have to work at for a full stop in that position. For that reason, among others, always descend with your hands in the drop position. In normal city riding condition your reflexes for a quick reposition to the drops in case a child should run out in front of you.

    The top of the hood position is great and affords plenty of control on the open road, so as long as you can manage scrubbing off speed from there that's OK.

    You'll also get less wrist strain if you keep your brakes adjusted very close, so you don'y have to move the lever as far for braking.

    As far as reach goes, you can modify it (sometimes) by moving the lever a bit on the bar. Most bars have variation in the bend radius going into the drop and putting the lever lower often brings it in closer.

    BTW- if you have dough to spend, Shimano offers smaller levers, or levers with adjustable reach (yours may have the feature), so that may help, but it won't make any improvement in braking from the top of the hood, which will always require strength in the wrist, and the outer part of the hand.

    Also, you might get improvement by using higher friction shoes, and keeping them and the rims clean. With your next replacement, consider a pair of Kool Stops in the Salmon color (their highest friction compound).
    Don't speak for all of us. I have no problems coming to a full stop, even a panic stop, from the hoods. I seldom brake from the drops and certainly don't drop down to the drops during a panic stop...there's little time since it a fast stop. About the only time I brake from the drops is when I'm scrubbing speed on a long downhill, i.e. not stopping.

    You also seem to be missing the point of misskaz's problem. The point is that the levers are so far away that her small hands can't reach them from the hoods. Moving her hands to the drops moves the lever further away. Moving the mounting place on the bar would have the same effect. She needs to move the lever itself closer to the bar.

    misskaz, I'd suggest talking with your shop about the shifters you currently have. They look like they are older Ultegra and I'm not sure if you can get spacers for them or not. Newer models have a reach adjustment and the shims may work on your shifter but it's hard to tell...and Shimano is notorious for changing stuff from year to year. You might get lucky but the shop where you bought the bike is the best place to start.

    Changing to a new shifter would be expensive but I also understand your issues (I have a set of munckin hands at home). I have similar levers on my commuter bike and the levers seem big to me. You might try a set of interrupter levers on the bars. They are still large and have other issues but they are a cheaper alternative to a full set of new levers.

    Another alternative if you can't get the shims is to go with a small hand lever and bar end shifters. Those two items have their own issues but they are cheaper than a full set of STI.

    Good luck.
    Stuart Black
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    Don't speak for all of us. I have no problems coming to a full stop, even a panic stop, from the hoods.

    You also seem to be missing the point of misskaz's problem. The point is that the levers are so far away that her small hands can't reach them from the hoods.
    Life is too short for this BS. I'll just stay off the forum and let you respond to every post since you know everything.

    BTW- I didn't misread the OP... She says she cannot get sufficient braking from the top of the hood position. Shimming the lever to bring it closer to the bar will actually make it worse since she'll need to wrap her hands farther around. Her post implies she knows that already, even if you don't.

    It doesn't matter what you or can do from the hoods, it only matters what the OP can do. I like to try to offer folks useful responses to their real problems, but if it only results in long BS arguments, I'll move to a different forum with a less argumentative following.

    To the OP. Sorry for the anger. As you're already aware shimming the lever, won't help. Possibly moving it up might, but that can make the reach from the bottom worse (depends on the curvature of the bars. My best advice is to visit a knowledgeable shop, have them review your position on the bars and the levers, and experiment to find the best options. In the meantime keep the brakes adjusted close to minimize the lever throw required.

    BTW- if you need a referral PM me I know many of the shops in the Chicago market very well, or can possibly have my sales rep, or the local Shimano rep give it a look.
    Last edited by FBinNY; 04-08-11 at 03:36 PM.
    FB
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    The Shims in question don't reduce the travel of the brake lever, they bring the brake lever closer the the bar, but the travel is the same.

    This is what is used on Terry bikes, a Female Only bike Co, check what they say about shims

    Isis uses the Shimano Ultegra compact group, 50/34 chainrings paired with an 11/28 10-speed cassette. Twenty gears with enough high and low to accommodate a variety of terrain. The shimmed Shimano brake/shift levers give you an easy reach to the brake levers.

    http://www.terrybicycles.com/Bicycle...mance/Isis-Pro

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    Bikepedia shows your bike with 9 speed. If this is correct, you could look at 11 speed Campy brifters. Apparently they will work with 9 speed Shimano and seem more compact. Otherwise, the Tektro levers and bar end shifters might suit you.

  8. #8
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    BTW- I didn't misread the OP... She says she cannot get sufficient braking from the top of the hood position. Shimming the lever to bring it closer to the bar will actually make it worse since she'll need to wrap her hands farther around. Her post implies she knows that already, even if you don't.
    She can't reach the lever from the tops because the lever is too far away and she has to twist her hand so far outward that it's uncomfortable. I've watched my own small handed wife do exactly the same thing. I've also see what happens when the levers are moved closer to the bar. It doesn't move the lever away from their hands but, instead, makes the lever point closer and the lever easier to reach. It's not the best situation but it's workable.


    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    To the OP. Sorry for the anger. As you're already aware shimming the lever, won't help. Possibly moving it up might, but that can make the reach from the bottom worse (depends on the curvature of the bars. My best advice is to visit a knowledgeable shop, have them review your position on the bars and the levers, and experiment to find the best options. In the meantime keep the brakes adjusted close to minimize the lever throw required.
    I was somewhat remiss in not pointing out that Shimano's levers for small hands aren't any 'smaller' but use shims to move the lever closer. Essentially, adding shims to the existing levers would give the same result, although that era Shimano lever is very long. Newer ones are slightly shorter but they are also wider.

    Notice also that I didn't post something in disagreement with you. I did offer suggestions on possible solutions including exactly what you did above, i.e. go to a shop and have them help find a solution.

    I have years and years of experience dealing with exact the the problem that misskaz is having. My wife is actually smaller than she is...at least in height.

    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    I like to try to offer folks useful responses to their real problems, but if it only results in long BS arguments from A-holes like you, I'll move to a different forum with a less argumentative following.
    Odd response for someone with this challenge in their signature line
    WARNING, I'm from New York. Thin skinned people should maintain safe distance.
    There is nothing in the forum rules that says I have to agree with you. You don't have to agree with me. There are forum rules that say you have to be respectful. I have not called you names. I have not dismissed your arguments because of who you are. I have disagreed with your arguments because they are wrong and not based on first hand experience with the problem at hand and what I read as a misunderstanding of the problem at hand.

    I have also, with the exception of the above slightly snarky jab, always been respectful as I always try to be in all of my posts. I'll pigheadedly argue a point with anyone but I won't call them names. I expect the same courtesy.
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  9. #9
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Misskaz,

    Look here to see what changing the lever position does to the distance of the lever from the handlebar. One thing I might add to Georgina Terry's comments is that if you move the levers too far up, you'll end up trying to brake with a very difficult angle to your wrist.

    Looking at your picture, you already seem to have the levers and the handlebars adjusted for a more upright riding style. Moving the levers down would result in a less upright position and actually move the levers away from your body. You look like you already have your arms extended quite a bit (the locked elbow is a clue) and moving the brake further away wouldn't gain much.
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  10. #10
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    Specialized bicycle make shifter blocks and most any Specialized dealer will have them, come with a lot of there bikes. They run about $10.00 and are specific to the model of shifter you have, tiagra,105 and 9 or 10 speed ect.

  11. #11
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Yes, those hoods are large. Another thing you might consider is splitting the braking and shifting functions by going with old-style aero levers and bar-end shifters. Not a terribly expensive switch-out and maybe you can ebay your used brifters. There are small-hand aero levers made, but I don't recall by whom. FB will probably know. They all have much smaller hoods, in any case. If it were me, I'd put safety first, convenience second. I really hate getting injured. Second on the Kool-Stop salmon pads. Also wipe your rims with alcohol every couple days. This makes a bigger difference than one might think.

    I have powerful hands, and I can't skid my wheels from the hoods, either. The most important things are constant situational awareness, leaving everyone else enough room to screw up however they're going to, and never assuming anything.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
    ...There are small-hand aero levers made, but I don't recall by whom. FB will probably know. They all have much smaller hoods, .....
    the smallest lever measuring from the saddle of the hood to the fulcrum is the Dia Compe AGC 252. Still availlable here and maybe other places. They come in 2 types. The compact uses the same body, but the lever is bent inward to bring it closer to the handlebar. For the OPs needs to improve power from the top either is fine, but the compact will be better if mounted high in the drop as it'll come back to the bar a bit more.

    Campy's standard aero levers, which are more readily available aren't much bigger. If the right barcons exist, this may turn out to be the OPs best options. Plus it'll give her bike a certain cool factor as one designed around the owner rather than cookie cutter machine.
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    Senior Member DannoXYZ's Avatar
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    I vote for short-reach levers. They have more bend in the lever which makes hooking your fingers under the bend and squeezing easier from the tops. Also closer to the bars in the drops as well.

    I'm not familiar with the Dia-Compe levers, but the Shimano short-reach levers have a different cable-pull leverage ratio so that they end up pulling the same amount of brake-cable. That is, they will pull the same amount of cable as the regular-reach brakes, unlike shimmed regular levers which ends up pulling less cable.

    A lot of riders, and a higher percentage of women riders, don't have the hand-strength needed to hang onto the brake-lever hoods when they're at maximum-braking and lifting the rear-wheel. Making it a regular practice to move into the drops when there is a higher likelihood of needing emergency or maximum-braking is a good long-term safety strategy.
    Last edited by DannoXYZ; 04-08-11 at 06:01 PM.

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    Sell the Ultegra, buy the cheaper Dura-Ace or Sora brifters that come with a reach adjusting screw.

  15. #15
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    misskaz, I replaced my older daughter's shifter/brake levers on her Volpe with a set of Sora integrated shifters. While she hadn't commented about the old levers, she liked how the slightly slimmer area between the handlebar and the 'knobby' area of the levers fit her hands, and she has small hands also. See how a set feels at a bike shop for yourself.

    Really tough to compare in a picture:

    1990 Volpe RHS - Copy.JPG

    Brad

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    Brifters suck almost as bad as suicide levers. Non-aero levers + bar-end shifters are where you want to go. Dia-Compe makes adjustable-reach road brake levers just for your situation.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    the smallest lever measuring from the saddle of the hood to the fulcrum is the Dia Compe AGC 252. Still availlable here and maybe other places. They come in 2 types. The compact uses the same body, but the lever is bent inward to bring it closer to the handlebar. For the OPs needs to improve power from the top either is fine, but the compact will be better if mounted high in the drop as it'll come back to the bar a bit more.

    Campy's standard aero levers, which are more readily available aren't much bigger. If the right barcons exist, this may turn out to be the OPs best options. Plus it'll give her bike a certain cool factor as one designed around the owner rather than cookie cutter machine.
    A compact lever is a good way to go. The AGC 252 is okay but less available than the Tektro RL-341 or the Cane Creek SCR-5C which you can get anywhere. The Diacomp AGC 252's that my wife had a very soft return spring so the levers lacked snap. There were times that it felt like you had to return the lever to open by pushing on it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by RI_Swamp_Yankee View Post
    Brifters suck almost as bad as suicide levers. Non-aero levers + bar-end shifters are where you want to go. Dia-Compe makes adjustable-reach road brake levers just for your situation.
    It's true... they suck so bad... except for the easier shifting, ability to shift without moving hands and shift and brake in rapid succession. THey suck so bad that the vast majority of people riding use them as a sort of ironic protest against the obviously superior non-aero brake levers not made since the early 1980s.

    Although in the OPs scenario, some small-hand aero brake levers and bar end shifters (or bar end shifters converted to work on the bar tops with Paul's Thumbies) is probably a really good idea.

  19. #19
    Senior Member cyclist2000's Avatar
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    Another option

    switch to a campy brifters, the newer campy levers come with a shim to bring the levers closer to the bars.

    the pivot point on the my campy chorus levers (2011) are 5-6 mm shorter than my shimano 105's (2009)

    Yes this option is expensive but you may be able to use the campy levers with the shimano drive train using a jtek shiftmate #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by DannoXYZ View Post
    A lot of riders, and a higher percentage of women riders, don't have the hand-strength needed to hang onto the brake-lever hoods when they're at maximum-braking and lifting the rear-wheel. Making it a regular practice to move into the drops when there is a higher likelihood of needing emergency or maximum-braking is a good long-term safety strategy.
    I can brake from the hoods, but it's awkward and I don't particularly like it. Whenever I'm in traffic or in a situation I feel I might need to slam on the brakes I put my hands in the drops. I also have my brake levers (old school levers, not brifters) further down on the bar making it easier to reach from the drops, but more difficult to reach from up top.
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    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    I just skimmed the answers after the first couple so excuse me if this is a repeat of anyone's posts.

    If you can't fine a brifter that fits you well and given that you "shamelessly admit" that you ride the hoods the majority of the time I have an alternative to offer.

    Switch your bike over to bullhorn bars with TT levers. The position that bullhorn and TT brake levers put you in is very similar to riding the hoods but even MORE comfortable. And the brake levers fall readily to finger and do not require any "big hands" to use. For shifting you have a couple of options. One is some Paul's Thumbies adapters and downtube shifters up high. The other would be a small center cluster cut down from a set of aero bars with bar end shifters. The options for shifters isn't all that clean an install but with some care it can be done to look fairly tidy.

    The big advantage will be with the rider's grip position and how nice and easily the brake levers fall to hand and how they pivot which totally does away with the hand gymnastics needed with small hands and fat brifters. The braking action switches from a side pull of the fingers as with brifters used from the hoods to a pure squeezing action.

    The riding position may not seem as aero as riding in the drops but really if you move your hands forward and wrap around the very ends of the TT lever caps and bend strongly at the elbows you can bend forward into nearly as aero a tuck as drop bars allow. And in fact for myself I found that the bullhorn bars and TT lever setup on my single speed bike actually works better for me. I'm not one of your svelte riders so reaching down to the drops on a regular road bike has me bent hard over my somewhat noticable "Molson Muscle" (Molsons being a well known Canadian beer maker. Substitute Michelob Muscle for you US riders ) But when I lay out over my bullhorn setup I reach forward instead of down. This forward reach really stretches my upper body and allows me to breath more easily from a stretched chest instead of a compressed chest. Having tried this setup on one bike I'm not going back to drop bars ever again. I just need to find a nice way to set up shifters on TT lever equipped bulhorns now.
    Model airplanes are cool too!.....

  22. #22
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I have very large hands. I prefer to do my serious braking with my hands on the drops. When I set my levers/hoods so that they afforded the most comfortable place for my hands on the tops of the bars I felt that the reach to my levers was longer than I wished. I bought a couple of shims from Specialized that brought the levers back. There was still plenty of room before the levers hit the bars. Problem solved.

  23. #23
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    As to the desire for Top mount levers , but already have accesories in that spot ,

    buy an accessory bar, , to move them to and make room for the top mount levers..


    DiaCompe / Cane Creek have a recurved brake lever ... + bar end shifters..

    is another approach.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 01-05-14 at 09:49 AM.

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    Eureka!

    Yes, smaller levers and separate shifters will give your small sized hands a better angle of attack on the brakes, but that is not the main problem. If your full-sized husband also says the brakes are hard to actuate then something else is going on. I took a closer look at the picture posted and I think the problem also lies partially with the setup of the brakes...

    To get good stopping power with less force at the levers with low-profile canti brakes like the cane creek SCX-5, you must have the straddle cable lower... the cable yoke, which thankfully appears to be the adjustable type on your bike, must be down closer to the end of the brake cable and the straddle cable must be shorter. THis will make a huge difference to the braking power available. The lower the straddle cable the more power you will have. In your case the straddle cable should be almost touching the fender until you actuate the brake.

    Read this article: http://sheldonbrown.com/canti-trad.html, pay closest attention to the section on mechanical advantage.
    Also make sure you have some good brake pads on there - Koolstop salmon coloured pads are quite popular and can make a difference to how hard you have to pull the lever to make the bike stop... but proper cable setup is key for cantilever brakes, and, judging by the photo, you have a long way to go before you have the setup optimized.

    Good luck!

  25. #25
    Senior Member DannoXYZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LarDasse74 View Post
    Eureka!

    Yes, smaller levers and separate shifters will give your small sized hands a better angle of attack on the brakes, but that is not the main problem. If your full-sized husband also says the brakes are hard to actuate then something else is going on. I took a closer look at the picture posted and I think the problem also lies partially with the setup of the brakes...

    To get good stopping power with less force at the levers with low-profile canti brakes like the cane creek SCX-5, you must have the straddle cable lower... the cable yoke, which thankfully appears to be the adjustable type on your bike, must be down closer to the end of the brake cable and the straddle cable must be shorter. THis will make a huge difference to the braking power available. The lower the straddle cable the more power you will have. In your case the straddle cable should be almost touching the fender until you actuate the brake.
    Good catch from looking at the photos! Yes, lowering the yoke so it barely clears the fender will improve braking-power significantly. She may need to get a longer brake-cable if it's trimmed short right after the yoke though.

    And it appears she may already have short-reach levers on that bike.

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