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I thought of it for a while now. Our brake levers look like this:

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Why aren't they designed more like this?

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Is there a purpose for the extra space? Is two-finger braking still essential in hydraulic brakes?

EDIT: Due to the misunderstandings occurring, here's the alternative lever shape I'm talking about.

enter image description here

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    I rarely, if ever, operate my brakes using only one finger. – Nuclear Wang Jun 27 '19 at 19:28
  • What do you expect to gain by shrinking the brake lever? Some quite small weight and aero savings, but anything else? – Criggie Jun 27 '19 at 20:43
  • @NuclearWang -- does that apply to hydraulic disc brakes on flat bars? – Paul H Jun 27 '19 at 20:54
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    OP, I'll quote your question which had 3 sentences before the edit: Is two-finger braking still essential in hydraulic brakes? That's what everyone understood from the question, and what we answered. – Gabriel C. Jun 30 '19 at 14:58
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    Imagine what the proposed single finger lever will be like wearing gloves or mittens – whatsisname Jun 30 '19 at 16:02
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TL;DNR - single finger levers have little (if any) advanatage and some disadvantages.

Most people do not start out cycling with XT/Ultegra quality bikes and therefore (do not) start out on bikes that have brakes good enough for one finger control. Even today, many low end disc brakes cannot reach full braking potential (i.e. wheel lock), with one finger. Also think of kids' bikes and kids' hand/finger strength. No way an average child with an average child's bike can brake with one finger.

People transitioning from those brakes would likely be uncomfortable with single finger levers during the transition, and would likely not buy a bike equipped with them. If the bike might be resold or lent out, one with single finger levers would have a smaller potential market.

Poor maintenance, accepting pad contamination can occur at any time, means even the very best brakes may require more force than a single finger to achieve full stopping potential.

Presuming the bike has good, well maintained brakes and single finger braking is how the rider rides all the time, what's the disadvantage of current lever designs? They work very well on a single finger. A rider can intuitively feel exactly where on the lever the finger is to achieve maximum performance. Changing the shape will not improve braking, and there is no weight saving to be made.

The only advantage would be aesthetics and marketing spin to sell the new shape as a premium product aimed at the cashed up MAMILs.

  • Made a few edits for clarity, but left "(do not)" in brackets in paragraph 2, because I'm assuming that is what you mean, but can you confirm by editing out the brackets i put in? without "do not" i think the meaning is different. +1 though, this covers all of the reasons I can think of... no advantage, only disadvantage. – Swifty Jun 30 '19 at 16:36
  • Cashed-up MAMILs! Ha ha! – rclocher3 Jul 1 '19 at 16:36
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A question that starts with "why" will often be hard to answer objectively, but I'd simply say that:

  • about length: making brake levers too small will make actually catching them in an emergency more difficult, and you don't want that, so they need to be at least a certain length.
  • about leverage: longer levers have more leverage (naturally) and even for hydraulic brakes, it's still a good thing to require less finger force
  • about shape: the strongest finger is the middle finger (it accounts for over 1/3 of the hand's grip strength). A good majority of cyclists have a natural tendency to use the index and middle finger because of this. Manufacturers probably design most brake levers around this fact as there is no functional disadvantage for a single finger braker to use those levers whereas the opposite isn't true. The hook shape would handle awkwardly and having all fingers inline is the simplest solution.
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    That's almost correct but the important part is the distance to the fulcrum! It doesn't matter how long the lever is as the fulcrum is a fixed position. A 5" lever applies the same force if used with a hand or a single finger. The overall length of a lever is only an advantage if you can move the pivot point. – Dan K Jun 28 '19 at 14:51
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    @DanK Please correct me if I'm fundamentally wrong, but as far as I know, even with a fixed load/fulcrum distance, a longer force/fulcrum distance increases mechanical advantage thus decreasing force required for the same work. – Gabriel C. Jun 28 '19 at 15:53
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    I did not say that shaping the lever for one-finger braking would result in shortening its length. I'm just talking about removing that extra 'finger space' towards the fulcrum and just leave the single-finger space at the end. – Gregory Leo Jun 30 '19 at 13:54
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    @GregoryLeo Did you just downvote my answer to your unclear question in spite? Just so you know, I wasn't the one who downvoted your question, and my answer was perfectly valid to what was in the question before the edit. – Gabriel C. Jun 30 '19 at 14:56
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    @GregoryLeo I'm just talking about removing that extra 'finger space' towards the fulcrum and just leave the single-finger space at the end. What's the point? That would make the lever no easier to operate with a single finger while making it harder to operate with more than one finger should the cyclist want to do that. – Andrew Henle Jul 1 '19 at 11:18

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