I've recently increased my cycling (as a form of alternate transportation far more so than a sport). I got a nicely rebuilt old Schwinn converted to take STI shifters. Now that I've spent the time to get more comfortable riding a road bike, I would like to get used to riding in the drops for better efficiency on longer rides. My problem is that I have pretty short fingers.

Even the cross-top levers I got installed to help me get back to riding in a more similar position to my MTB when I was a kid are a little bit of a stretch. When I'm in the drops, I can barely reach the brake levers at all as they sit (adjusted to leave just about two fingers of space when squeezed to the end of their travel, as is "correct"). Which leads to my real question:

What exactly would be the problem/danger with tightening the adjuster on my brake levers to bring them a bit closer to the bars where I might be able to reach them better?

2 Answers 2


The issue with having brake levers which have travel that ends very close to the bars is that, as the brake pads wear down, the brake levers will hit the handlebars before the brakes are fully engaged.

This can be mitigated by regularly inspecting your brake pads and adjusting the brakes to compensate for normal pad wear. You could have them that close if you stayed on top of the adjustment demands, but since the average rider does not adjust their brakes this frequently or pay as close attention to this, common advice is to avoid having the levers too close to the bar.

  • 1
    Great. Thank you for the quick response. I'll have to make sure I set up reminders in my calendar to check my brakes often. Jul 17, 2016 at 19:19
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    You should not need a reminder as this should be picked up on every 'pre ride check', along with tire pressures etc.
    – mattnz
    Jul 17, 2016 at 20:51
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    As a side note to this, you might think about getting brake pad shims to move the lever closer to your fingers without losing the full mechanical advantages of the brakes. Here are some links to photos to see where they fit: cyclesolutions.co.uk/Images/Products/full34790.jpg tact.air-nifty.com/thp/images/2010/06/07/brake_spacer03.jpg I use them on my bike, and they work perfectly.
    – lulubelle
    Jul 18, 2016 at 15:30

Also a potential problem with having the brake levers too close to the bars is that cables stretch, calipers and levers flex, etc. So the amount of braking force that would give you say 2mm between the bar and lever when doing moderate braking on a flat road with no loading might have the lever touching the handlebar if you're doing emergency braking when a car pulls out in front of you while you're going down a steep hill with an extra 20 lbs in a messenger bag.

Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast rule for how much clearance to have. There's a lot of variables, but I've always tried to have at least a fingerwidth (a centimeter or so) between the lever and bar. I certainly wouldn't want to go under 5mm. As @altomnr wrote you have to stay on top of adjusting the brakes to compensate for pad wear when you run the brake adjusters on the loose side.

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