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How high on the curve of the drop bars should brake levers be placed? Also, how does the angle of the drop bars affect the brake position?

If these settings are dependant on body shape and physiology, is there a way to work out the optimum position for a given person?

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I think there is a degree of flexibility here depending on your reach –  robthewolf Sep 3 '13 at 9:06
    
@robthewolf: fair call, I modified the question. –  naught101 Sep 3 '13 at 10:13
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It is largely personal choice (though most people go with the "personal" choice made by the manufacturer). Basically you want the levers to be in a comfortable position for riding the hoods, and also within (at least distant) reach when on the drops. Depends a lot on handlebar shape and your riding style. Some handlebar/lever combinations are such that there is no good position. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 3 '13 at 11:13
    
I agree, you should position your hands such that they are comfortable on the hoods. This means your wrist should be straight, and not bent when your hands are on the hoods. Any significant bend of your wrists will create extra pressure on your bones/muscles/ligaments/nerves. –  Kibbee Sep 3 '13 at 20:47
    
A good starting point is if you adjust the brake levers such that the tip of the levers themselves align with the lower edge of the drops, i.e. if you place the drops on a table, the tips of the braking levers will just touch the table. In order to find a good position, try riding them without the bar tape, just riding on the hoods and take the appropriate tools to adjust while under way. –  arne Sep 4 '13 at 11:49
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Different brands and component levels of levers have different shapes, and different bars have different amounts of drop and different curvatures. Arne's suggestion of lining the tips of the brake levers to be even with the flat part of the drops is a common rule of thumb to get you started. If the bars are already installed on the bike you can do this with a ruler or something else flat and rigid. I found a decent image illustrating just how to do this, albeit on an older bike:

enter image description here

Notice that the owner has left a quarter inch gap above level. This is where the ergonomics of the components you are running and your own personal preference come into play. If you are unsure, I would start with this basic rule of thumb and work from there. A few things to note:

  • moving the levers too far up or down on the bars is going to give you weird ergonomics in terms of hand positions and lever reach from the drops
  • once you have the levers set where you want them, be careful of twisting the bars too far up or down in the stem as this will also give you weird ergonomics. On newer setups you typically want to start with the transition from the bars to the hoods being pretty much parallel with the ground
  • once the tape is installed on the bars you only have so much wiggle room to slide the levers up or down. Ultimately if you feel like you can't move them enough with the tape in place then you're probably trying to make too big of a change- unless you started with them clamped way too low or way too high on the bars. A little change can make a big difference, so make small adjustments and then go for a good ride to try it out.
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