I am trying to calculate maximum force various braking systems can apply and for that I need the ergonomic data as to how much force fingers can apply.

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    I guess it depends on how strong your grip is. A strong man would have much more grip strength compared to a small woman, on average. Hand brakes on bikes for small children (5 and under) are next to useless because they lack the hand strength to operate the brake effectively. – Kibbee Sep 11 '15 at 16:40
  • I am looking for the force an average adult male might apply.. I need a number to start my calculations. – Ninadg Sep 11 '15 at 16:41
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    Take a brake level and tie some weights to it. Find an average adult male and see much they can lift. – paparazzo Sep 11 '15 at 17:14
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    Yes, it would be fairly easy to set up a handlebar with brake lever, and run the cable out to a rig that has some sort of a weight. A bucket of sand would be a good adjustable weight, eg. But you could approximate fairly well by visiting a store that sells weighlifting stuff and trying out those hand grip exercisers. Some are fairly well classified by force. (And, FYI, they come in ranges to over 200 pounds.) – Daniel R Hicks Sep 11 '15 at 17:50

If your question is about the maximum hand grip can applied to brake so that the braking system will not be broken apart, then it is as another answer.

However it has little value on designing a braking system.

How I interpret the question is: how much force is typically applied to the brake lever to stop the bike.

There are many designing considerations and I only list a few main one:

  • Maximum force on to lever that a person feels comfortable at gripping for a long duration (for me it's about 5-7 kg or 50-70N)
  • Modulation how well the spread between the the force at which the bike starts to decelerate, and the Maximum force. This depends on the braking technology, the pad/rim surface/rotor. But in general, disc brake is superior because of the (more) linearity in braking.
  • Linearity: how linear the stopping power versus the force applied by brakes? This is interesting and thus somehow explains why road bike is equipped with caliper, hybrid with cantilever, and mountain bike with disc brake. Linearity improves as we go from caliper-cantilever-disc. The discrepancy is large when higher stopping power is required. But at smaller (required) stopping power, a caliper is not that much different front disc brake for a given braking range.
  • Maximum stopping power This is safety feature, but it should not be easy to flip the bike with too little gripping onto the brake lever. This has to take into account the bicycle geometry, and that is why road bike is normally equipped with caliper brake. Even some (supposed-to-be) road bike has disc brake, the rotor/leverage/cylinder was designed so that it has much less stopping power than a mountain bike disc brake.

Well, it depends on type of brake and how fast you would like to stop the bike, at what speed, and at what momentum.

If you just want a number to work with (for your home work?), I can give you. A normal cable brake on flat handle bar would need about 40-50 N (3-4 kg) for hard stop, about 20-40N (1-2 kg) for normal deceleration.

Same stopping power with drop handlebar and caliper brake would need about 1.5 to 2 times as much (comparing Figure 1 and 2), depends on hand position (leverage). Typically hands at hood position requires more force for same stopping power in comparison to hands at drop position.

Same stopping power with hydraulic disc brake needs about 0.5-0.7 fold. This depends on the rotor size/pattern and type of ceramic and thus it is hard to quantify. But the general still holds, if you are designing a disc brake that has an enormous stopping power for normal stopping, you actually degrades the modulation ability of said brake.

Braking force required onto lever in cantilever brake

Figure 1a. Normal barking force on drop position of drop handlebar

Braking force required to lever on emergency stop on drop position of drop handlebar Figure 1b. Braking force required to lever on emergency stop on drop position of drop handlebar

Braking force required onto lever in cantilever brake

Figure 2a Braking force required onto lever in cantilever brake for normal stop

Braking force required onto lever in cantilever brake Figure 2b Braking force required onto lever in cantilever brake for hard stop

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    The force needed to activate a brake is a function of the leverage of the entire system, and not significantly dependent on the specific technology. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 11 '15 at 17:53
  • @Daniel So what did you disagree on? The stopping power is about 1.5 to twice as much, using the same grip is what I'm saying. – Nhân Lê Sep 11 '15 at 17:56
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    I'm disagreeing with what you're saying. Tribology tells us that the "stopping power" is a function of force per square inch, the frictional coefficient of the surface, and the number of square inches. In no system that I know of is the force applied to the brake pad identical to the force on the brake lever -- there's always some "leverage" involved, and that can be easily adjusted, within reasonable limits, by the designer. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 11 '15 at 18:01
  • But the question is about force applied by fingers to brake, isn't it? – Nhân Lê Sep 11 '15 at 18:11
  • Yes, and it's a long way from your fingers to the brake pads. What happens if you change the diameter or the hydraulic cylinder, eg? – Daniel R Hicks Sep 11 '15 at 18:13

Nasa says 58 lbs is 5th percentile (I think they use 5% bc they want to make sure that devices can be operated by the weakest of possible people)

State of WA puts avg at 106 lbs

BMC Musculoskelet Disord has average of 153 lbs

I'd guess someone who trains their grip can get into the hundreds of lbs.


I suggest your analysis is flawed
Finger strength to cable pull has a lot of variability:
- internal leverage in the brake lever mechanism
- where on the lever the force is applied
- on the brake mechanism itself you have different leverages

Most mountain brakes are used with two fingers and many levers are not even long enough for 4 fingers

On a drop bar are you on the hoods or in the drops

If you want some good numbers then you need to put a weight on the brake cable

And most brakes can skid a tire. Once you skid the tire (rear) or go out font (front) the max does not come into play.

What are you trying to accomplish here?

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    Don't even need two fingers on some of the MTB brake setups. I can lock my MTB up and get myself thrown over the bars with just one finger. – Glenn Stevens Sep 11 '15 at 21:16
  • @GlennStevens - It's all a matter of leverage plus the coefficient of friction. You put real soft "sticky" pads on a BSO and you lock up the brakes. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 12 '15 at 1:35

I did a search with Google for "male grip force" and got quite few hits that look reasonable, one, the International Encyclopedia of Ergonomics and Human Factors, Second Edition, has an article on Hand Grip and Pinch Strength – perhaps that will help you get started.

Adding the term "bicycle" to the search finds an interesting looking article called [][2], but you have to register for an account to read it and they seem to only be open to providing accounts to researchers.

If you are working on a bike related project it might be useful to use actual handlebars and brakes to collect your own data. I suspect that typical riding grips on brakes are not typical of what is published, but it would not be hard to rig a brake cable to a spring scale to measure force.

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