How appropriate that I’m writing this as Interbike, our industry’s major trade show, is beginning. I hope all the product managers who oversee the design of small brake levers will read this.
Let’s face it: there’s a dearth of small brake levers available for dropped bars. Yes, I know integrated brake/shift levers are hogging some of the real estate since they incorporate a lot of “innards.” Shimano does have a reach adjusting screw in their levers (can’t speak to SRAM since I’m not as savvy about their line), but…is it enough? More on that later.
How about just plain old brake levers that don’t have any shifting capabilities — ones that just actuate the brake itself. Some manufacturers have “ergo” levers that are supposedly downsized for small hands, but when one is trying to design a bike for a rider with truly small hands, these are still a reach (no pun intended). Thank goodness for cross top brake levers — they may be the only things stopping the bike.
I started searching for small brake levers even though I knew none were to be found. In the process, I found this delightful thread on the Cycling UK Forum from (!) 2011. Thank you, JonMcD, who offered a thoughtful, analytical look at the difference in size between his two Tektro levers — one the Junior Road Racing lever and the other a “standard” Tektro R200. Surprise! No real significance in reach and none at all in the hood size. Amazing — it’s now five years later and we still have no solution.
But JonMcD made me think about how the industry could give us hard, cold numbers about the size of their small brake levers. Words like “junior”, “ergo”, etc. just don’t cut it. And asking a tech person to tell me the distance from the front of the lever to the back of the handlebar is an apples to oranges comparison. Where is the lever mounted on the bar? What kind of bar — anatomic, round…??? All of these things will affect the reach.
So, dear industry, how about establishing some criterion that will let bike designers compare brake levers? Here’s my idea. Mount the brake on a straight piece of tubing. Then publish the measured distance between the tubing and the nearest part of the the lever. Granted, this tells us nothing about the reach of the lever when mounted on a handlebar, but it gives us a good idea of how levers stack up against each other. And with this information, it’s not difficult to approximate the actual reach of the lever on a handlebar.
Now, about that adjusting screw in Shimano’s “brifter.” One of the sources I checked while looking for a small lever was Islabikes. Don’t know Islabikes? It’s the company founded by Isla Rowntree, well-known in the U.K. for her cyclocross achievements — British National Cyclocross champion for three years and British Veteran Cyclocross champion for two years. She saw a huge gap in the market for children’s bikes — the need for lightweight, serious machines. With that in mind, Islabikes was born.
Islabikes uses Shimano brifters on their Luath Pro series of bikes. They’ve replaced the stock reach adjustment screw in the brake/shift lever with a longer screw so the lever can be snugged in closer to the handlebar. I’m not necessarily recommending this, but just sayin’ … why doesn’t Shimano do this?
Frustrating — but some enterprising company will look upon this as an opportunity. “If you build it, they will come.” It’s never failed. Anyone up to the challenge?