Women’s Hands and Brake Levers
One of my riding partners has been a little more timid on the descent than I am and it turns out that she is uncomfortable with the speed because she can’t reach her brakes very well when she is in the drop position on her handle bars. She has small hands and isn’t comfortable in reaching her brakes all the time, especially when she really needs them during a descent. We made a little temporary adjustment to her brakes for the descent, but it isn’t an ideal fix at all. If you have Shimano components, you can try that temporary fix (see below) that a bike tech told us about.
I have been thinking about this reach problem with the brake levers ever since. It isn’t only a problem for women cyclists, there are men too who have small hands. But I think we women encounter that problem far more often. There is one more issue here: our grip is not as strong as most guys which is also a factor with the brake levers. When you’re down in your drops, if you can’t comfortably reach your brakes without releasing your grip on the handlebars—you’re not going to have confidence at elevated speeds.
What’s a girl to do?
I hit the road and attended Interbike and Outerbike and talked to some of my favorite bike mechanics at my local bike shop and I am excited to report that there are some real solutions to this problem. Most of these improvements are fairly recent as component and frame manufacturers are currently addressing the needs of women. (This also means smaller framed men will benefit as well!) There are three component manufacturers: Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM. How well do their brake levers ergonomically fit women’s hands, specifically the reach for brakes?
Shimano: The new Dura-Ace has a hidden screw-type adjustment for the brake levers and Ultegra has a shim-type adjustment to address this problem.
Campagnolo: I’ve heard that they can provide a shim to adjust the reach issue, but I have not heard officially. Our local bicycle shop had never implemented it. (My e-mails to Campagnolo’s media rep have not been answered yet.)
SRAM: Has the most elegant solution. Instead of the adjustment being an afterthought, SRAM has designed the adjustability right into the brake levers and shift paddle.
SRAM makes available 3 different reach adjustment settings for their brake levers. The farthest is 10mm which I think is sufficient to compensate for most women’s shorter hands. By making the adjustment in the brake lever itself, it really addresses the problem that many of us with shorter hands have. The ability to reach the brake levers with ease translates into more confidence on the bike and more trust in your ability to handle your bike at faster speeds. SRAM has incorporated this design in their Rival, Force and Red groups.
I am actually writing this article from a research perspective as I currently do not have a lot of experience riding SRAM components but that will be changing in the next couple of weeks as my new bike will be equipped with the SRAM Force group and I will be telling you first-hand what I think about how the SRAM product work for women.
This short video/product review from Road Diaries shows how to adjust SRAM components for reach:
A Little Fix:
I remembered that a tech at my Local Bike Shop (LBS) once told me that I could adjust the little lever that I use to release my brakes when I need to remove the wheel from my bike. He stated that If I just relaxed that a little then I could stretch to grab my brake levers but that I could just hold them with one or two fingers to activate them. The result would be that the activation point on my brakes would be closer to the handle bars thus making it easier to activate my brakes.
This solution seems to work very well. The only problem is that it doesn’t really address the real root cause of the problem and that is that I can’t reach my brake levers easily.
Disclaimer: This is NOT a long term fix, for some people it may work. But there can be safety concerns if the brakes are not perfectly adjusted.