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For a moment forget about the current downsides of preferring UK brakes living in a non-UK marketplace:

  • Hard to test ride bikes in stores
  • Rental bikes won't be set up that way
  • Some frames might not allow for cable routing that way

Is there any particular advantage to putting the front brake in the right hand?

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    Your question could be improved by being more specific regarding what you mean by "UK style brakes".
    – frIT
    Feb 7 at 9:28

5 Answers 5

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Most people are right-handed, and having the more important brake in the better hand makes things a little easier. This isn't about strength but modulation; the front has more stopping power but needs finer control.

I find that a more important reason than the standard argument. That starts from the basis that signalling across the traffic - sticking your right arm out in the UK, left in most countries - is of particular importance. While doing so, you may need to brake one-handed (for example approaching a turn on a descent). If braking one-handed, it's better to use the back brake, as you really don't want to risk over-braking when the other hand isn't available for control or to stop you sliding forwards - slowing down hard isn't an option.

When riding an unfamiliar bike, the brakes take some getting used to even if they're on the same side as your normal. The problem comes when you either go straight into the sort of riding that requires optimal braking (e.g. a race, or technical MTB trails taken quickly), or when you're faced with the need to do an emergency stop.

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    Not disagreeing, but for me as a right-handed left-hand front braker in opposite land (a country that is predominantly RH front), when I do one hand rear brake for whatever reason it just feels wrong. I much prefer using my left hand to actuate the front brake, never ever felt like I'm going over the bars. For context, I race XC MTB, gravel and road crits. Feb 5 at 19:57
  • @LamarLatrell of course there are also effects from familiarity, as well as for preferring the front brake (you probably more than me) for its effectiveness.
    – Chris H
    Feb 5 at 20:47
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For experienced riders: there's a huge advantage if you have learnt to ride UK style: you already know how to use them, and you don't need to re-train muscle memory (that is very hard).

For new riders: it's for me the kind of discussion where you can find theoretical advantages, that are in practice marginal and being in the mainstream is the better option (because it's a common basis you can rely on, and it's very likely that most bikes around you will comply to these expectations), even if sub-optimal in some use cases.

The advantage given by Chris H is good, and probably the reason of the mandate to this style of braking in the UK (which is good, because you have "a mainstream"). But on the other hand, you should always approach crossings carefully to start with, and you'd be probably safer by having the brakes at the position you expect them.

Moving from a country to another is however not the mainstream case, but in that case, if you already have the bike, you'll probably take it with you.

There's also a (small) inconvenient you didn't mention: getting spare parts. While calipers and levers are the same for UK and other countries, cable/hose length will differ, as a longer cable/hose will be sold with the rear brake.

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    Yep I had this-No matter how smart you think you are, in a time-crunch your muscle memory will absolutely beat your conscious brain. I had a "US" brake setup on a bike I had been given. I had to do a quick stop so hauled what should be the front brake, but was the rear. I promptly skidded and got a little sideways, but my brain could not override my right hand to let go and stop skidding. No harm done but it was unnerving just how little authority I had over my reaction. Likely would be better if I had been shifting between both brake lever arrangements regularly. Ride what you know.
    – Criggie
    Feb 5 at 11:19
  • Good point on spares. The biggest issue for that is probably pre-bled hydraulic brake sets, as cables are cut and can be swapped - but I've occasionally seen pre-cabled brakes too
    – Chris H
    Feb 5 at 16:50
  • From personal experience: it's really not hard at all to retrain yourself to the alternative system. You'll be comfortable and confident within a handful of rides. Feb 5 at 17:15
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    Comfortable in normal situations, @JackAidley, however, in an emergency, instinct kicks in and the body tends to do what it knows best, whether it's appropriate for this particular situation or not. As an analogy, BTCC cars can be either left- or right-hand drive and either front- or rear-wheel drive. Drivers who switch from a team set up one way to a team set up the other way often take half a season to learn how to drive the other setup. Different drive end requires different techniques for drive, braking, cornering, etc. These are pros and it still take them months to adapt...
    – FreeMan
    Feb 5 at 18:29
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People who also ride motorcycles generally prefer the front brake to be on the right (where it belongs in a motorcycle) and the rear brake to be on the left where the motorcycle has its clutch handle.

The important thing about the clutch is that you pull it quickly and then release it much slower.

The same reflex used with the front brake leads to hitting the road with your nose.

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I have experienced:

  • riding a European setup in Europe (2 years)
  • riding a European setup in Australia (2 years)
  • riding an Australian setup in Australia (decades)

But notably, not the situation you're describing :)

There's not much in it, for me. I think I have a mild preference for the European setup. Unlike everyone else who is worried about going over the bars while braking with their right hand, I'm more worried about not being able to brake hard enough with the left.

The main downside in the "wrong setup for the country" situation is that some bike mechanics get very uncomfortable with it. I had one who almost refused to return the bike until he'd "fixed" it.

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It is not very unusual to raise a hand out handlebars to do something (drinking from the bottle, adjusting glasses or lights, pointing something out for a friend, scratching nose after the bug hit and more questionable activities that still happen, like holding a mobile phone), and for the most of the people this would be right hand, if done without thinking. On a bicycle like mine, left would stay on the front brake lever.

Now, if there is a sudden need of braking, hard-hitting the front brake alone may send you to the road over handlebars.

When the front brake is on the left, it may be better to use the hand on that side for random actions that for many people would be contra-intuitive and less convenient. Hence there is a benefit of having the rear brake on the left where the hand is more likely to stay on the handlebars.

I also agree that front brake has more power and needs finer control so using the right hand for it would be convenient for many. Likely this layout is more optimized for technical and focused riding.

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    I must be odd in preferring to keep my better hand on the bars, and use my left for drinking etc. (to the extent that I use left side entry bottle cages under my frame bags). I'm right handed but only mildly, e.g. I use a mouse left-handed
    – Chris H
    Feb 5 at 8:36
  • Experienced cyclist may probably remember in time he is braking with front brake only and stop safely. But I have really seen a cyclist talking on a mobile (holding right hand) and then falling down over the front when he needed to brake and then hit the front wheel brake alone with the left.
    – nightrider
    Feb 5 at 9:09
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    I have the same experience as @ChrisH even though I'm otherwise right-handed - I feel like frequently signalling with the left hand has trained me into keeping the right on the handlebars. Feb 5 at 9:36
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    I'm with ChrisH and keyboardcat on this one and disagree with the premise that you use your right hand for non riding stuff without thinking. It probably depends on what you have trained yourself to do. But perhaps it is a point for new riders.
    – WornChain
    Feb 5 at 11:29
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    Excellent idea, but I always wait for a "safer" area before taking a drink. Never sip while riding through an intersection, for example.
    – Criggie
    Feb 5 at 21:45

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