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I recently bought a MTB with hydraulic disk brakes, and am finding really hard to adjust to the braking system. From the very beginning I was cycling with the front lever on the right. But now it’s reversed, and it’s really confusing me a lot.

I asked my mechanic about this and he says front brakes on the left is the European style of braking. So I should get used to it.

But, why exactly are brakes reversed on such bikes? And to add up, my mechanic claims that the brakes cannot be switched. Is this true or, am I just being punked?

  • This is a US/European thing, apparently. No reason why disk brakes would be forced to be one way or the other, though, other than perhaps a slight simplification of front hydraulic line routing one way vs the other. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 28 '12 at 2:42
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    If your mechanic can't make the switch, find a new mechanic. – Ken Hiatt Aug 28 '12 at 3:39
  • @KenHiatt, So it can be switched? – Starx Aug 28 '12 at 5:08
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    What brand/model is the bike? – Mac Aug 28 '12 at 5:24
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    @Starx yes, you may need some new hydraulic lines, but unless you have a weird setup (hydraulic front, cable rear), the brake levers are not Left/Right specific. – Ken Hiatt Aug 28 '12 at 14:37
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It's not for hand signals. "Left hand only" signals were originally designed for cars. You couldn't use your right hand out the window, so you could only use your left. Using both hands to properly signal on your bike is far more clear. It's used on motorcycles due to the fact that the throttle is on the right hand, so you want to keep that engaged at all times.

Reversed brake routing (front on the right, back on the left) is called "moto" routing and is primarily used in MTB and cyclocross bikes. On a CX bike, it's done so you can have greater controlled braking with the left hand on the back brake while your dismounting your bike for a barrier and your right hand is on the top tube. The front brake offers more power, while the back offers easier minor speed control while approaching a barrier.

To answer your initial question, there is absolutely no reason the brakes cannot be switched on your bike. Either the mechanic is lazy or doesn't know how to work on hydraulic brakes. In either case, you should take it to another more capable shop.

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    "Using both hands to properly signal on your bike is far more clear" -- but was not legal in most states until the past 10-20 years. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 28 '12 at 15:44
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    Back when I was riding a motorcycle and biking regularly, I swapped the brakes on my bike to keep the front brake on the right side on both vehicles. After I moved and got rid of the motorcycle, I swapped them back, it took a while to get used to. – Johnny Nov 8 '12 at 20:10
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    Using both hands to signal isn't legal in Australia at all, you're required to keep at least one on the handlebars at all times. – Móż Sep 14 '15 at 3:48
  • @Móż Obviously, one does not signal with both hands at the same time, but with the left hand to turn left and with the right hand to turn right. You keep the other hand on the handlebars. The problem with the motorcycle is that you have to show both turns with the same hand (always left or always right). – Vladimir F Dec 26 '18 at 11:24
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My mechanic claims that the brakes cannot be switched.

You route the cable/hose to the lever on one side of your bars instead of the other. Maybe you have to swap mismatched levers from one side of the bars to the other. Either way, it's a trivial change. Get a new mechanic.


So should I get used to it?

Even though I'm American, I wire all my bikes so that the right brake lever brakes the front so that I can signal left while having a hand free for the strong front brake. I think it's more important to be able to easily signal while merging left into traffic to take a left than to easily signal right where I don't have to cross lanes.

If you ride in traffic much, I'd suggest trying it for a while and seeing if you like it better once you've adjusted.

  • Yeah, it seems he tried to fool me. I never used hydraulic brakes before and had no clue about it. I will consult with another mechanic. But can i change the brakes myself? – Starx Aug 28 '12 at 11:14
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    It's not a cable, of course, it's a hose. And while rim brakes can generally be reversed at the wheel (though perhaps requiring replacing parts), so that crossing over the cable is unnecessary, the bosses for disk brakes are universally on the left side of the frame, so not easily reversed. This means the hose must be crossed over, complicating hose routing. But of course, the hose is not much larger/stiffer than a brake cable (though a little more fragile), so crossing shouldn't be a big deal. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 28 '12 at 11:40
  • (One wonders, though, why the front disk brake bosses have traditionally been on the left, since US bikes have the front rim brake cable approach the wheel on the right and the rear rim brake cable on the left. Do European style rim brakes have the cable approach the front wheel on the left?) – Daniel R Hicks Aug 28 '12 at 11:45
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    I would think that the disk brakes in the front are on the left so that they are on the same side as the ones on the back. The back brake has to be on the left so that it doesn't interfere with the rear cassette which is always on the right. Having both brakes on the same side would be advantageous if you were adjusting both brakes, as having them on opposite sides would mean you'd have to walk around to the other side of the bike stand, or even possibly remove the bike from the stand and turn it around, depending on your working environment to work on both brakes. – Kibbee Aug 28 '12 at 12:27
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    @Starx, Hydraulic brakes depend on an incompressible fluid so air bubbles in the hose can prevent the brakes from working. Unless you have experience bleeding air out of the system, I wouldn't muck with them. – Mike Samuel Aug 28 '12 at 17:03
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I'm not sure about Europe/UK, but in the US, the left hand controls the front brake as well as the front derailleur. The right hand controls the rear brake and the rear derailleur.

Personally, I like the front brake on the right hand. It's more consistent when I'm riding my bicycle or my motorcycle. (Right hand front brake)

On my mechanical disc brakes, it's easy enough to swap the cable over, leaving the levers in place. On my mountain bike with hydraulic disc brakes, it's not as easy. I could swap the levers, but then the bleed hole is upside down. To do it correctly, I would need to disconnect the lines into the lever and swap the lines. This would require a minimum a complete bleed of the system. It may even require new hoses, depending on your brake system.

I'm sure your mechanic understands this and is guessing that if you get use to it, you'll be fine because most bikes are setup this way. If you jump onto a friend's bike, more than likely it will be setup left front/right rear.

People hate borrowing my bikes because of my brake setup (Which is fine by me!!)

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The connection between the right/left brake levers and the front/back brakes are dictated based on which side of the road the bike is designed to be ridden on. This question has more information.

Generally bikes destined for driving on the left side of the road or the right side only vary based on which lever goes to which brake. So there should not be any reason you can't switch the hydraulic lines from each lever to the other levers. It will be a little more complicated since it will need bleeding after installation, but I'm not aware of any technical reason why it couldn't be switched.

  • Here is the link to the bike – Starx Aug 28 '12 at 5:33
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I rented a bike in London some years back and had swap the brake levers because they were set up with front braking on the right hand side. Despite riding a motorcycle I can't deal with "moto style" brake setup on any bicycle. If you don't like it, you don't like it, and I suggest you swap the levers.

I'm having a really hard time coming up with any hydraulic levers that have side-specific reservoirs. Every pair I've ever seen, used, worked on, or sold were identical on both sides. Makes sense from a financial standpoint for the manufacturers not to have different tooling for left vs right lever bodies.

I believe your mechanic is mistaken.

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    "any hydraulic levers that have side-specific reservoirs". My Hope mono levers do (example - not mine). There are others as well. – Holloway Feb 18 '15 at 12:54
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    Don't lots of levers, like Shimanos, have a cover plate that needs to be kept on top? The way I understand it is that the levers can be connected to either front or rear calipers, but they still are left and right hand specific. – Gabriel C. Jul 23 '18 at 13:00
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Using the phrase "Primary Hand" instead of Right/Left would clear up a lot of confusion regardless of the technology of your brake.

If you want to stop as fast as possible, you use your front brake, and modulate the stop by subtly varying the pressure. The best hand for this job is your strongest hand which is frequently your preferred hand, or the right hand for 70-90% of the population.

So set your brakes up that the front brake is your primary hand. For shared bikes, the front should be the right side by default, or the levers need labelling and/or a small percentage should be set up as left-handed bikes. Same idea as some left-handed scissors.

Doesn't matter if your brakes are hydraulic or bowen cable, cantilevers/disks/caliper or whatever. Your bike is for you, and should be set up for you.

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    Why a down vote? I like this answer, the road side, lever side stuff is pretty flimsy. – alex Apr 4 '16 at 8:41
  • @alex SE is all about the answers, and the best ones "bubble to the top" If someone thinks this answer is not right or not good, then downvote, and that's perfectly okay. Its not like the answerer owns their answer. – Criggie Apr 5 '16 at 8:23
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    Still nice to know why, B.SE is typically a bit friendlier than SO. – alex Apr 5 '16 at 13:51
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    @alex Yes, it is friendlier; I've given up on most of the others. I'm not the down voter (I almost never down vote), but from my perspective Criggie's answer doesn't really add much, and IMO the strong hand has nothing to do with it because of the mechanical advantage in the brake system. Of the various bikes cluttering my lounge room and garage, 3 are wired one way, 4 are wired the other way, and the track bike has no brakes. More important is that brifters and friction shifters are consistent: front derailleur and front front brake one side, rear derailleur and rear brake the other. – andy256 Nov 18 '16 at 6:57
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    "For shared bikes, the front should be the right side by default" No, the front should be the default side by default. What side is the default varies by country. – David Richerby Nov 18 '16 at 10:18
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The text quoted below is taken from Barnett's Manual, 4th edition. They are my bible for bike repairs and maintenance. Barnett's are a US company and it would seem to say the right hand controls the rear, where in the US or Europe. I Suggest it could be very dangerous to have an unusual setup, at least if you lend the bike or sell it on later.

Normal routing:

It is normal that the cable from the right lever go to the rear brake. It may be changed at customer re- quest, but not because the shop decides that the un- conventional routing is better and should be the shop standard. Anyone that has ever ridden a bike with hand brakes expects the right lever to operate the rear brake; it would be dangerous to surprise someone with a bike that had levers set up opposite from the norm.

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    As previously answered, this is not universal, but instead is very US centric. – Rory Alsop Dec 26 '12 at 12:23
  • @RoryAlsop It's not just US specific. Also at least here in Germany (I don't think it will be different in other european countries) the lift lever normally controls the front brake. – Benedikt Bauer Jan 1 '13 at 23:17
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I'm in the UK - the norm is right hand lever - front brake/rear gear change; left hand -rear brake/front gear change. I've just bought a bike delivered from Asia, with the brakes the other way, and given that I'll still be riding my other bikes, didn't believe I'd readily be able change my lifetime habit, let alone go between bikes safely, so I needed to change them. I'm no mechanic, believe me, but it took me 6 minutes to swap them: no tools required (although a spanner was used for final adjustment/tightening). I realise how irritating it may be to read this, if your set up doesn't allow easy modification - I'm merely responding to the question - and, of course, all bikes are different. This new one is a relatively inexpensive (ironically-named!) Eurobike.

  • Hello, and welcome to bicycles.SE. We have some newer and unanswered questions, perhaps you would like to have a look at them. – ojs Dec 23 '18 at 13:05
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1) I can't think of a reason hydraulics can't be swapped however it might be that your particular brand comes one way or the other from the factory. The hydraulics on my motorcycle can't be swapped but they involve steel braided lines and a front suspension and such.

2) Another reason for "moto routing" -- and why some of us prefer it -- is that we also ride motorcycles.

Left hand on contemporary motorcycles is the clutch, right hand is the front brake. When you take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) class you learn to do a controlled emergency stop using the clutch to disengage the engine (left hand), the front brake (right hand), and a wee bit of the rear brake (right foot). (MSF ==> "Motorcycle 101", usually cheap/free, and it gets you out of the written exam in most US states.)

So my safety training is all about the right hand == front brake, swapping my cable brakes to moto was pretty trivial. I've had to "emergency stop" on all my two-wheeled vehicles and I'm pretty happy that I haven't replaced "emergency stop" with "high speed low side drop and a trip to the ER".

  • "moto routing" is what exactly? Bicycles lack the need for a clutch lever. This question is about swapping hydraulic levers betweens sides of the handlebar. – Criggie Aug 28 at 20:04
  • @Criggie "Moto routing" is reversing the standard setup of bike brakes, front on the right and rear on the left. It's a relatively common name for what the OP is wanting to do. It's called that because, as jet indicates, the front brake is on the right on motorcycles. It's reasonably common for people who ride both motorcycles and bicycles. – jimchristie Aug 29 at 15:31
  • @jet Welcome to Bicycles SE. This site does not operate like a typical forum. It operates on a Q&A basis. This post does not answer the OP’s question. "I can't think of a reason...however it might be that your particular brand..." essentially says "I don't know." The rest of your post is not relevant to the question of whether or not this is mechanically possible. I suggest reading How do I write a good answer in the Help Center for information on how to compose a good answer. – jimchristie Aug 29 at 15:37
  • @jimchristie ahh ok thanks - I guessed moto-routing involved the clutch lever. – Criggie Aug 29 at 18:05

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