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Old 03-05-12, 08:07 PM   #1
gmt13
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Switching sides (brakes, that is)

I've needed to do some quick stops on my loaded commuter over the past few months and have definitely observed that if these quick stops were "panic" stops, my braking would have been not good enough. I know that my right hand is stronger than my left, and years of cycling have given me the habit of reaching for the right lever (rear brake) first.

So I am thinking about switching to a Right=Front configuration and am interested in hearing opinions from anyone who has done the switch. Specifically: How much time did it take for you to get used to the change? Did you have any exciting moments during the learning process? Did the switch actually improve your braking?

I am using KoolStop salmon pads, CR-18 rims, and short reach DiaCompe calipers. Pads are adjusted darn close to the rim and the cables/housing don't have excessive stretch.

Appreciate the insight.

Gary
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Old 03-05-12, 08:15 PM   #2
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That's what I'd do.
My main beef with the conventional layout is needing to brake and signal at the same time. I need the same hand for hard or one-handed braking as for signalling, at least conventionally. I suppose the convention arose in the coaster brake era, when handedness didn't matter.
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Old 03-05-12, 11:46 PM   #3
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My Japanese buddy swears that they reverse it in Japan. Im inclined to believe him the first few times that I saw him try to do a panic stop and clamp down too hard on the wrong lever...

Try switching them and see how it goes. Maybe you just need a better brake with a loaded commuter...like a disc or cantilever.
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Old 03-05-12, 11:53 PM   #4
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Be careful with the new setup though. I'd hate to see you go OTB because your right hand is stronger.
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Old 03-06-12, 12:01 AM   #5
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I live in India, and here we drive on the left side of the road. Which means when I am cycling, I signal before turns with my right hand. Except when the road is very wet, I prefer to use the front brake since too much pressure on the rear brake makes the rear wheel slide around. I ride a road bike, and am yet to go OTB from hard braking - which could be partly because I instinctively stiffen my elbows and shift my weight backward during panic braking.
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Old 03-06-12, 01:00 AM   #6
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I changed the front brake from left to right about 5 years ago. In the first few weeks I had to think to use my right hand to brake in stead of my left hand.
Now I'm used to it and i prefer my right hand for braking.
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Old 03-06-12, 05:00 AM   #7
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Front-right is the standard setup here- the same as on motorcycles. I'd imagine switching sides would be similar to swapping from a left-hand-drive car to a right-hand-drive; a little odd at first, but no more difficult once you're used to it.
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Old 03-06-12, 06:12 AM   #8
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My bike came with the right hand controlling the front brake. Never even thought about it being different in any way.
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Old 03-06-12, 08:42 AM   #9
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Make sure your brakes are adjusted properly since the strength difference between your hands shouldn't matter that much as you should be able to stop your bike using at most two fingers anyway with modern brakes, assuming you're using both brakes.

Or just learn to pull both levers and leave them as they are. Also make sure you're using the proper leverage by NOT grabbing the levers too close to the pivots.

Also, don't pay too much mind to the "you only need front brake" school of thought: use both brakes, it's safer and gives you more control over your braking. Applying too much power to the front brake may result in two most dangerous "loss of control" biking situations: over the bars and front wheel skid, both rather unpleasant. While the front brake will indeed provide most of your braking power, the rear brake serves to modulate and control the braking to keep your bike in line and both wheels on the ground. Finally, many modern frames/forks are not designed for the excessive forces of front brake only.

At the same time using your rear brake only is simply inadequate, and may lead to rear wheel skid (but that's less dangerous).

So learn to use both brakes.

Last edited by AdamDZ; 03-06-12 at 08:51 AM.
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Old 03-06-12, 09:12 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by gmt13 View Post
I've needed to do some quick stops on my loaded commuter over the past few months and have definitely observed that if these quick stops were "panic" stops, my braking would have been not good enough. I know that my right hand is stronger than my left, and years of cycling have given me the habit of reaching for the right lever (rear brake) first.

So I am thinking about switching to a Right=Front configuration and am interested in hearing opinions from anyone who has done the switch. Specifically: How much time did it take for you to get used to the change? Did you have any exciting moments during the learning process? Did the switch actually improve your braking?

I am using KoolStop salmon pads, CR-18 rims, and short reach DiaCompe calipers. Pads are adjusted darn close to the rim and the cables/housing don't have excessive stretch.

Appreciate the insight.

Gary
Which hand you use is strictly personal. However, don't expect a drastic improvement in braking ability with swapping hands. Your right hand may be stronger than your left but it's not that much stronger. If you can already skid the rear tire using your left hand on the front brake, you have more than enough brake force. Technique and the position of the bike/rider center of gravity has a much more pronounced influence on the deceleration, as measured in fractions of g-force, which is the true measure of braking force on a bike.

If you brake from a normal seated position, you can develop about 0.5g of deceleration on a bike before the bike spins around the front hub...the dreaded endo. Because bikes are such lightweight vehicles and have such high centers of gravity (i.e. the rider), it's easy to spin the whole system around the front hub. If you move that center of gravity back and down by even a little bit, you greatly increase the amount of deceleration you can develop. Moving the rider back roughly 4" and down roughly 2", roughly doubles the deceleration from 0.5g to 0.9g. If you've every watched a mountain biker brake, you'll see them push off the rear of the saddle and drop down. They are doing this to increase their braking. I do it every time I stop... mostly out of habit but also because it works.

Alternatively, if you want to skid the rear tire...or do nose wheelies...slide forward on the bike as you brake. You can, with a lot of practice and maybe a few trips to the dentist, lift the rear wheel completely off the ground
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Old 03-06-12, 10:28 AM   #11
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I prefer right hand = front brake since I grew up in Australia. Only my road bike has it the other way (one day I'll switch it).
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Old 03-06-12, 10:54 AM   #12
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The rule is: You should set it up how ever you want it. If however you happen to lend your bike to somone you might want to tell them it's set up non standard.

If hand strength is really the problem you might want to think about getting a bike with disc brakes (or upgrading yours if possible?) Disc's generally have a lot more braking power and control with less hand input.
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Old 03-06-12, 11:02 AM   #13
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It's only an Issue with Hydraulic Disc Brakes , if there is a right and left lever
and you have to drain and refill the lines ..

Moto setup gets used on my Touring rig useful in the Steep get-off-and-push hills.
, Cyclocrossers have favored this too, so you can brake just before a barrier ,
to slow down, braking the rear wheel ..
even after the right leg is on the left side of the bike, right hand is on the top tube.

Last edited by fietsbob; 03-06-12 at 11:05 AM.
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Old 03-06-12, 11:34 AM   #14
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Appreciate the insight.
Well, virtually everywhere in the civilized world the right brake lever operates the front brake. That's how it is supposed to be. In USA they do it in reverse, purely out of the bitter desire to be contradictory (i.e. it is seen as some off-shoot of the dreaded metric system). This is the reason why every time a knowledgeable cyclist buys an assembled bike in USA one of the first things they do is switch over the brake linkages. And this is one of the major reason many people in USA prefer to assemble their bikes by themselves. Basically, the front brake on the right-hand side is one of those hard-to-notice, yet extremely reliable signs that tell a skilled cyclist from a newbie.

As for the learning curve... I observed lots of people who did the switch and nobody had any problems with that. I'd say that the issue has as much merit as the fear that a car driver used to drive a manual transmission will have trouble driving automatic. At first sight it appears to make sense, but in reality it simply does not happen. The same is with brakes on the bike: even if you get confused at fist, the confusion will disappear for good in 2-5 minutes of riding.

Basically, the general principle of the front brake being on the right-hand side is not debatable. What is causing some debate is whether the lefties should use the reverse cabling (i.e. stick with US-standard linkage). It is not clear whether the fact that lefties have stronger and better trained hand on the left side is a reason enough to switch the front brake to the left side. Well-adjusted brakes usually provide sufficient braking power even when applied by a weaker hand.

Returning to your original issue, if you don't want to engage into the [relatively involving] process of recabling your brake linkages, you should be able to solve the problem by adjusting your brakes.

Last edited by AndreyT; 03-06-12 at 12:20 PM.
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Old 03-06-12, 11:37 AM   #15
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One of the best ways I know to break the habit of automatically squeezing the right hand for panic stops: do some riding on a fixed-gear with only one brake, with the brake lever on the left.

(N+1 if you don't already have one in your fleet. )
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Old 03-06-12, 11:57 AM   #16
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Switching sides...

"Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Last edited by nashcommguy; 03-06-12 at 12:02 PM. Reason: spelling!
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Old 03-06-12, 11:59 AM   #17
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I wouldn't, but I've never driven a motorcycle.
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Old 03-06-12, 01:15 PM   #18
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I switched to right-front braking on my Peugeot PX-10 in 1968 and have set up all my bikes that way ever since. It makes more sense to me, but it really is a matter of personal choice.

But . . . you have to think first in order to make the change and many riders (in the U.S.) just left the right-rear set up on their bikes because the bikes were set up that way when they bought them.

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Old 03-06-12, 02:30 PM   #19
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I rode motorcycles for many years and miles, and the first thing I did when i resumed bicycling was to switch the brake levers around.
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Old 03-06-12, 02:51 PM   #20
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I like to set the right lever for the front brake. It's pretty easy to do with most brake levers, and not especially hard to get used to. I've even had different bikes set up with different brake handedness, and it wasn't a huge deal. But, as someone already said, there isn't a huge difference in braking force.
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Old 03-06-12, 04:28 PM   #21
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I would imagine that having a right lever/front brake setup would make it difficult to downshift during braking, no?
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Old 03-06-12, 06:38 PM   #22
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I would imagine that having a right lever/front brake setup would make it difficult to downshift during braking, no?
That's the best argument I've heard so far for left lever/front brake. I'll have to weigh that against trying to signal (conventionally, with left hand) while braking. Maybe I'll get over the conventional signalling part, and just signal with my right hand while braking hard when a signal is necessary. OTOH, in traffic regulations, cyclists are typically excused from removing a hand from the controls in order to signal, when it is unsafe to do so, so I've been getting by on that up to now.
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Old 03-06-12, 08:10 PM   #23
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Thanks for the advice. To answer some of the comments: Yep, brakes are set up right with minimal clearance to the rims. Other than drum brakes there are no better options for a 35 year old bike, so I am sticking with the current set-up. Shifting is not an issue since I do that with my feet (2 sp kick back IGH). Hand strength is one thing but I think it's more about how your brain prefers to signal on hand versus the other. So I always use both brakes but in an urgent situation I reckon that my right hand is getting the message more than the left. Anyhow, I have decided to do the switch this weekend and see how it goes.

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Old 03-06-12, 09:31 PM   #24
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Anyhow, I have decided to do the switch this weekend and see how it goes.
Do you mind if I take out a life insurance policy on you j/k
In all seriousness, best of luck and be safe!
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Old 03-06-12, 10:36 PM   #25
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That's the best argument I've heard so far for left lever/front brake. I'll have to weigh that against trying to signal (conventionally, with left hand) while braking. Maybe I'll get over the conventional signalling part, and just signal with my right hand while braking hard when a signal is necessary. OTOH, in traffic regulations, cyclists are typically excused from removing a hand from the controls in order to signal, when it is unsafe to do so, so I've been getting by on that up to now.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't feel safe if I try to take one hand off the bars when braking hard. I'll likely signal and coast, then put my signal hand back on the bars and do most of the braking late before the turn. I've also given up on signaling left hand=right turn because nobody seems to remember it anymore, so half the time I would be using only the front brake anyway.

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Thanks for the advice. To answer some of the comments: Yep, brakes are set up right with minimal clearance to the rims. Other than drum brakes there are no better options for a 35 year old bike, so I am sticking with the current set-up.
In addition to the suggestion to make sure you're pulling the lever as far as you can from the pivot (gaining leverage), I'll suggest trying to readjust your setup so that the pads sit farther from the rim.

Yup, really. When the pads are very close, your fingers don't have to pull the lever very far -- but they also don't get to curl very much around the lever, either, so you may only be able to pull with your fingertips. If you set the pads farther from the rim, you get more travel in the lever, and you can pull on the lever harder. Just make sure that you can still "bottom out" the levers before they hit the handlebars.
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