7

Bicycles are different in countries where people drive on the other side of the road. Suppose I have a bicycle and I am moving to a country on another continent where people drive on the other side.

I have these obvious options:

  • Sell my low-end bike and buy a new (to me) bike in the new country.
  • Ship my bike and reverse the brake controls.
  • Ship my bike and continue using it unchanged.

What is the safest option? Are there ever legal requirements?

8
  • 15
    4) Sell my low-end bike, buy a new bike in the new country, and reverse the brake controls to what I'm used to. – cmaster - reinstate monica Mar 7 at 23:41
  • 5
    Honestly, which side you put your main brake lever has much more to do with your own handedness than with driving side. I have the right lever for the front brake as I'm right handed, but if I had a child who were left-handed, I would definitely put the front brake on their left brake lever. – cmaster - reinstate monica Mar 7 at 23:47
  • 7
    I hadn't really considered this to be related to sides-of-the-road. Anyway, don't consider these thing to be set in stone. I own 2 bikes, both bought and used here in the Netherlands, and they both have the brakes set up differently. – Pelle Mar 8 at 8:42
  • 4
    I once saw a friend of mine signaling on his bike by pointing straight to the side with the arm on whichever side he's turning to. I've been doing it that way ever since. Nobody's hit me. Am I doing it wrong? – Kyralessa Mar 8 at 14:16
  • 1
    I mounted a handlebar mirror on the "wrong" side as a reminder. For goodness sake, don't mess with the brakes! – Brian Drummond Mar 8 at 21:33
23

In my opinion it is actually safer to bring the setup you are used to even if it theoretically might be less optimal on the other side of the road. Such a difference is very small. Sometimes you have to indicate to the left and sometimes to the right anyway.

When I lived in the UK for 2 years I had problems getting used to the reversed brakes and I was more or less only able to brake with both levers in the same way. I would suggest to bring your own bike instead if you do not remain in the new place for very long.

As far as I know there are no legal requirements to which brake is which. The bicycle just needs to have the brakes it is required (often two independent brakes, some countries or states may allow just one).

4
  • Agreed. I live in the UK, but in better times have ridden in France. Familiar brakes help, not hinder, though being able to brake with either hand singly is useful (as it can be at home, but more so). The only adjustment I made was to swap my handlebar mirror to the other side,but check light visibility if they're mounted off centre – Chris H Mar 7 at 13:14
  • 16
    Better keep your brakes the way you're used to. Cycling, especially in emergency situations like impromptu braking has a lot to do with habits and can prove fatal when small parameters are altered. – Carel Mar 7 at 13:45
  • 1
    @Carel It is not impossible to learn both. People switch between MTBs and MX bikes with opposite brakes no problem. – MaplePanda Mar 7 at 19:10
  • 5
    Sheldon Brown makes the point that it's entirely up to the cyclist which side to fit their brakes (see "Which brake which side"): sheldonbrown.com/brakturn.html – Kaz Mar 7 at 20:05
13

I am British living in Spain, and I ride my British bike here, so have some experience. I agree with others that you are probably best advised to ride the bike you are used to. If there are any regulations, I have not seen any signs of their enforcement in over 10 years of cycling here.

I just wanted to add that the hardest things to master are looking over your (other) shoulder (if you use a mirror, you might want to change it to the other side) and roundabouts. Riding on the other side of a lane is not such a big deal, and moving to the side where you want to turn to is quite natural, but going round roundabouts the "other" way is just weird. I imagine it would be easier to cope with these novelties on a bike which you're used to.

3
  • 2
    Welcome to SE - this is an excellent answer because it references general safety points not just focussing down on the endless brake/hand/side debate. – Criggie Mar 8 at 2:30
  • That's right, I've ridden in France on holiday and switching my mirror helps, partly because I usually look in the mirror on the way to looking over my shoulder, and the absence of a mirror is a reminder. Looking over the "wrong" shoulder can be quite regular at home depending on your local junctions - I have a few where the leftmost lane is strictly left turn only with a filter on the lights, but cars have been known to overtake on the wrong side as I pull away in the signposted lane for straight on. – Chris H Mar 8 at 15:09
  • I'd like to add to the hard/dangerous things: empty country lanes - after not meeting anyone for 10s of minutes, there's a certain danger of moving to the wrong side. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Mar 9 at 13:04
3

Bicycles are made so that when making a turn signal, one can brake on the hand not occupied making the turn signal with the primary brake, BUT with incorrect assumption what the primary brake is.

The incorrect assumption is that the primary brake is the rear brake. Thus on the right driving countries, the rear brake is on the right (because you make left-turn signal in these countries so the right hand is free), and on the left driving countries, the rear brake is on the left (because you make a right-turn signal in these countries).

My opinion is that this doesn't matter much for one-handed braking. Braking one handed either brake will do, as you can't brake hard with only one brake on the handlebars. Braking two handed, you probably want to use the primary front brake with your primary hand. Most of us are right-handed so that means the front brake should be on the right.

So, the safest option (assuming you are right handed) is to ensure your right brake is the front brake and use that setup always no matter where you ride the bike. On most of the countries, this means the brakes should be reversed.

There may be legal requirements for the default configuration of new bicycles sold, but a friendly bicycle shop will reverse the brakes on request, and you can always do whatever you want with your bike. Nobody is going to arrest you if you have two working brakes in the reverse configuration.

Note that some brakes such as V brakes have different parts for right-front and left-front setups. The right-front V brake has 135 degree noodle and the left-front V brake has 90 degree noodle. The 135 degree noodle allows for a slightly better cable setup for the right-front configuration, but this actually doesn't matter. A long time ago, I set up a V brake bicycle to have the right-front brake lever configuration, and the 90 degree noodle worked just perfectly.

11
  • 4
    I do not see a reason why right-handed people would should have the primary brake on the right. The left hand can easily be stronger even if less dexterous. – Vladimir F Mar 7 at 9:39
  • 1
    @AnonymousPhysicist The noodle information is useful to know when installing noodles, but what isn't mentioned is that it is usually trivial to swap the levers around without undoing the cable at the caliper at all. The cable heads in the lever ends can be removed and swapped around in short time without tools – Swifty Mar 7 at 12:22
  • 1
    In Continental Europe, the front brake is usually on the LEFT although from the braking logic it should be on the right. Unfortunately most standard cyclists are too afraid to use the front brake and rely on the rear brake most of the time. – Carel Mar 7 at 13:52
  • 2
    @gschenk I think it's more that signalling clearly (and perhaps for longer) is more important if turning across traffic, so signalling right (left for me in the UK) can be cursory or even omitted from a safety point of view, and more about courtesy – Chris H Mar 8 at 11:12
  • 2
    @Carel ... but that hasn't always been the case (at least here in Germany). Bikes with back pedal brake (for the rear) have (had?) their front brake lever on the right side. And back when this was standard, the rear brake was correctly considered the main brake since the back pedal brake works much more reliably than a rim brake on [often chrome-plated] steel rims that with the slightest moisture around would never get anywhere close to the braking force that is possible with a rear brake. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Mar 9 at 13:10
3

Personally, I miss some questions that I would consider first:

  • Will your own bike be the only one that you ride, and you the only rider of your bike, or will you borrow local bikes resp. lend yours to locals?
  • Do you plan to stay for a longer period of time, or is it likely that you will move back before you get accustomed to the "reversed" brake sides?
  • How important is brake layout to you, in terms of safe braking?

If you choose to reverse sides, it might be a good idea to dedicate some time to get accustomed to the new situation, e. g. do some emergency brake training, and start every ride with an emergency brake for the first few weeks. Depending on your riding style and the traffic situation, you might want to train anyway, as you need to look over the correct shoulder and in the correct directions in different crossing situations, as was pointed out before.

1

In some countries there are very strong rules (or maybe even laws) about which brake lever handles which brake.
In other countries it is up to the bike factory or bike shop.

This has resulted in my mother having the brakes reversed on her (then) new bike and the bike shop did switch them as soon as asked.

When I bought a new bike I asked the bike shop to switch the brakes as I did not use the rear brake enough to keep the cable going. Again the people in the bike shop had no problem with switching the brakes.

I see no reason not to bring the bike you are used to unless the cost is high. (In which case I might ask for the brakes to be swapped if it is not as you are used to now.
Just realize that learning to ride on the other side of the road is not natural and you should give yourself time to adjust, by riding on safe paths and low traffic roads.

3
  • 5
    Can you give a specific citation to a law which specifies which hand lever connects to which brake? – Andrew Mar 8 at 0:22
  • No, but I can not rule it out. – Willeke Mar 8 at 5:11
  • 3
    @Andrew In the UK new bikes sold must " (4) Where the bicycle is fitted with brakes which are intended to be hand operated— (a) the brake lever intended to be operated by the right hand must operate the front brake; and (b)the brake lever intended to be operated by the left hand must operate the rear brake." From The Pedal Bicycles (Safety) Regulations 2010. But this only applies when the bike is sound, it is legal to change it afterwards. – mpursuit Mar 8 at 10:05
0

While I live in the "right side driving" Europe, I have been in Japan 3 different times, once when I lived there for a semester, twice while I was there on a cycling vacation.

The first time I bought a BSO locally, the second time I took along my bike from Europe, the third time I rented a bike on the spot.

The most confusing part is to start on the opposite side of the road on day 1, but past that there is no big difference. I don't even remember I had to get used to a different braking arrangement when I used the locally sourced bikes.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.