I’ve seen this subject raised a lot on various forums but with no definitive answer. Lots of opinions but no hard data.

My questions are:

  1. Is there a measure of lever suitability for small hands? (Specifically interested in braking ability)
  2. If not, what factors might be used to determine this?
  3. Where can I get this information?

I've been thinking about this for a while and so far my answers are:

  1. No.
  2. Hood dimensions, pivot position relative to hood, reach and brake type (mechanical, hydraulic).
  3. Scale drawings or measurements.

I would like to have a way of comparing different shifters and ultimately come up with a list of scores for common models.

  • 1
    There's a factor you're missing: brake type. Hydraulic disc brakes require significantly less force at the lever than cable actuated brakes. Thus a "bad" pivot position on cable actuated brakes might be favorable on hydraulic brakes.
    – Paul H
    Apr 26, 2022 at 22:31
  • @PaulH At the same time, the body of a hydraulic shifter is significantly larger than its mechanically braked counterpart, which may be a problem for someone with small hands.
    – MaplePanda
    Apr 27, 2022 at 4:57
  • @MaplePanda absolutely. All of these things need to be considered together.
    – Paul H
    Apr 27, 2022 at 5:02

1 Answer 1


Here's the problem. Your levers need to pull a certain amount of cable in order for the brakes to travel the right amount. If you could move the fulcrum to increase leverage, you'd decrease cable pull per degree of lever rotation, which would make it easier to apply the brakes but would reduce braking power. If you moved the fulcrum the other way, the brakes would grab quickly, but the levers would need more force. This web page discusses cable-pull requirements. (The story is similar with hydraulic brakes, except the pivot point is at the end of the lever, not 20% or so along its length, and you're pushing a plunger instead of pulling a cable. You still need to displace a certain volume of hydraulic fluid.)

In theory you could compensate for reduced braking power by swinging the lever through a longer arc, but that would either require that it start out farther away from the handlebars, make it harder for a person with small hands to use, or the lever would bottom out on the handlebar before it reached the end of its arc.

You could also compensate by making the lever longer, but again, this is contrary to making the levers easy to use for people with small hands.

  • This. In short: You need a certain amount of force and travel at the brake pads. To achieve this you need force and travel at the brake lever. The “translation” happens via lever ratios (or piston diameters when it comes to hydraulic brakes).
    – Michael
    Apr 27, 2022 at 5:56
  • This does not answer my question. I understand there are differences in pull ratios of different types of brake lever. I am specifically interested in STI-style integrated road levers and how the relative pivot location and hood shape affect ease of use by people with small hands. Apr 27, 2022 at 9:34
  • 1
    My point is that because of these constraints, there's not a lot of margin for variations between levers.
    – Adam Rice
    Apr 27, 2022 at 12:36
  • From my reading, certain levers (mostly SRAM) appear to be more popular with people with small hands. This suggests to me that there is a noticeable difference between levers. I would like to know if there would be a good way of quantifying this. Apr 27, 2022 at 18:00

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