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The Porteur style of bicycle popular by newspaper delivery men in France in the 1940s-1960s had reverse brake levers, seen here in this diagram from an article from Bicycle Quarterly (the photo jpeg is titled rebourherseville1960.jpg):

rebourherseville1960

A bunch of manufacturers including Dia-compe used to sell brake levers that were reversed and there are also some contemporary reproductions: Reverse levers

Was this just purely for style reasons? I can't think of many advantages of a reverse brake lever (except style) and can think of major disadvantages (it will hook or catch on things as you move forward). What were the rationale for having brake levers like this originally?

Period sources preferred.

  • 1
    Seems like it's possible you could get more leverage depending on how your palms are situated and the shape of the bars. – ebrohman Nov 7 '15 at 17:40
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    I wonder if is a safety thing – would there be less likelihood of impacting the ends of the levers in a crash? – dlu Nov 7 '15 at 18:10
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    @BSOrider, just the opposite isn't it? I think the pinky will be closer to the pivot. If I recall correctly the reverse levers I've seen are sized for road bars. – dlu Nov 7 '15 at 19:32
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    If you're running aero bars, they're convenient for that. – Batman Nov 7 '15 at 22:45
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    It has the advantage that the hand grip area of the bar need not be straight for the entire length of the lever. The curve in the bar can begin before the end of the lever and the lever will still be "square" to the main part of the hand grip area. It also allows the pivot pin to be outboard, and the cable end inboard, but one would have to meditate on that a bit to see what it implied. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 8 '15 at 1:20
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If you look at drawings of old bikes, both types of brake configurations are depicted. This supports the idea that it was merely a design choice with no significant pros and cons over other configurations other than aesthetics. I suggest that it just so happens that builders in the place and time period you cited used this design because it was fashionable.

There is very limited risk here for "catching" unless the rider is literally going through shrubs (and in that situation, catching would be the least concern). Also, bizarre freak-accidents aside, no one is going to be "speared" by a reverse brake handle. Think about what would actually have to occur for that to happen.

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    Then again, if you don't give the paper delivery boy his two dollars... – Adonalsium Jun 4 at 19:41
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There can be different reasons for using this type of lever. Personally I use it because the handlebar I've chosen bends sharply close to the end of the handgrip, so there's not room for both the thumb shifters and brake levers. I've used the reverse levers for several years now without spearing or hooking anything with them, and find with a non-linear brake they perform well enough for city cycling.

  • Thx for clarifying the question. Style maybe involved, but pics in the linked BQ article suggest practicality too: Bar flex, and Adding grip positions. Longer handgrip sections flex more. Reverse levers allow shorter grip section. Also, look at the bar tape wrapping in these pics of 1940s/50s porteur bikes: These suggest the rider wants mulitple hand positions on a relatively flat bar. Reverse levers allow this, regular levers get in the way. janheine.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/singercityfull.jpg janheine.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/… – Bike Artisans Jun 28 at 23:06
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By moving the brake lever to the end of the bar, you're afforded more room on the handlebars for grips and shifters.

screen shot

The information is sourced from velo-orange.blogspot.com.

  • Welcome to the Bicycles Stack Exchange. Thank you for participating. One of our goals is to be an information resource. Good answers look a little like a very short research paper. Copy in the part of the information that pertains to the question and then provide a link to the original source. Please take the tour – David D Jun 4 at 23:17
  • I have tweaked your answer so it credits the source without depending on the source. But I can't see a lot of space being saved. One advantage might be in hand protection if the rider falls over. – Criggie Jun 5 at 1:21
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    Please don't post text as images. It can't be searched and it's inaccessible to visually impaired people who rely on screen-readers. And, seriously, it's faster and easier to copy-paste text as text than it is to take a screenshot. – David Richerby Jun 5 at 8:07
  • That’s my bad, Richard. Feel free to revert my edit. – RoboKaren Jun 5 at 17:24
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FWIW, The rental JUMP ebikes were redesigned to use these style levers to allow the entire brake cable to be internally routed to reduce vandalism to the bikes.

  • Technically, this doesn't answer the question ("What were the rationale for having brake levers like this originally?", my emphasis) but it's certainly a rationale so I'm happy that it's a useful answer. – David Richerby Jun 5 at 17:25
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A cleaner appearance. A standard lever will have an unattractive clamp. Also, the rider may wish to use multiple hand positions on the bar & the clamp could be in the way of a desired position.

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    do you have a source for that, ideally as the question asks, a period source? – Nuі Nov 8 '15 at 1:53
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These lever style are mainly used in triathlon bicycles because of their smaller profile and positioning on aero-bars. You can read more about the evolutions of these levers here: http://university.tri-sports.com/2010/08/11/stop-triathlon-bike-brake-levers/

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    As with another answer, reverse levers predate triathlon bikes by at least fifty years. – RoboKaren Jan 17 '16 at 17:26

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