Road Cycling

How to: Adjust the Reach on Road Bike Shifters for Small Hands

If the distance between bar and shifter is too great it can ruin your ride, but this can be adjusted

It’s not uncommon for women to buy a new road bike, and struggle to reach the brake and gear levers when riding in the drops.

The result is often nervousness and quite understandably a hesitancy to ride in the drops – which are best used when descending and often cornering.

The good news? It’s actually very easy to adjust your shifters to bring the lever closer to the bar – which is exactly what people with smaller hands need. Doing this will infinitely increase your confidence on the bike as you’ll feel significantly more comfortable handling your bike when you know you can brake with ease when required.

We’ve taken a look at how you can adjust the reach when using Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo shifters – though Campy users might be disappointed with what’s to come.

Shimano Shifters that are Shimano 10 speed or older

Before you do anything, it’s best to let off your brakes, as the changes you make will alter the cable tension. When you’re finished, you’ll flick the brake back on and use the barrel adjuster to ensure the brakes are responding as quickly as you’d like without dragging on the rim.

Flick the lever up to take the brakes off

In the case of older Shimano shifters, you will use a small rubber ‘shim’ to adjust the reach.

Shims are available to buy, but you need the right shape and size for your shifters and they can be a bit tricky to find. Your best bet is to ask a local bike shop if they have any, or if they can order some in.

Once you’ve got your mitts on a pair of correctly fitting shims, you simply need to pull back the brake lever cover, and place pressure on the brake to open it.

You’ll notice a slim piece of rubber just below the hood. Grab hold if it, and apply a little pressure – it should slide out easily. Replace it with your new shim, and you’re done!

The difference may seem minor, but your new shim will move the shifter position enough to bring the levers closer to the bars in a way that you’ll notice when riding.

All this done, flick the brakes back ‘on’ and adjust them using the barrel adjuster so that they’re not rubbing on the rim, but stop the wheel quickly when you apply the brakes.

For newer Shimano 11 speed shifters

Newer Shimano shifters have seen an update that makes the whole process even easier – in that you no longer have to hunt down the relevant shim.

As with any lever adjustment, flick the brakes into the ‘off’ position, as your changes will alter the cable tension. You’ll readjust this when you’re finished.

Flick the lever up to take the brakes off

Pull back the hoods, and locate the adjustment bolt. This will be operated by an Allen key or screwdriver, depending upon the grade of shifter you use.

Shimano 105 and Tiagra both use a 2mm Allen key, whilst Dura Ace and Ultegra use a 3mm slotted screwdirver and Di2 uses a 4mm slotted screwdriver.

Turning the bolt clockwise will bring the shifter closer to the bar – remember – righty tighty, lefty loosey!

Once you’re done, replace the rubber cover so your shifters don’t have to feel naked any longer, and readjust the brakes so that they’re not rubbing but stop the wheel quickly enough when you spin it.

We got our Shimano demonstration from the guys at Maison du Velo – a local bike shop with stores in Cranleigh and Reigate. They serve a pretty mean flat white and cake duo, too.

Adjusting the reach on SRAM shifters

SRAM shifters can be adjusted much like newer Shimano shifters. They also allow you to move the shifter and brake levers independently – so you can have a greater or shorter distance between the two levers if you like. Rumour has it that before the days of eTap, Lizzie Armitstead liked to have her gear shifters closer to the bar to allow quicker changes in a sprint.

As per Shimano shifters, let the brake off before making changes and remember to adjust the cable tension when you’ve finished.

You must always start by adjusting the shift lever reach.

You’ll find the adjustment bolt on the inside of the shifter paddle. You need to use a 2.5mm Allen key to adjust this one. Turn the bolt clockwise to bring the lever closer.

This done, you can work on the brake lever adjustment. Pull back the rubber covers on the hoods, and again use a 2.5mm Allen key, tuning it clockwise to reduce the reach.


Finish off by finessing brake cable tension using the barrel adjuster, and you’re good to go.

There’s more advice in this video from SRAM. 

Campanolo shifter adjustment – no can do. Sorry.

Unfortunately, there is no adjustment for those wishing to reduce the reach of Campy shifters. You can increase it with a replacement shim, but that’s not much help.

There are, however, some alternatives…

How to reduce reach without adjusting levers

  • Using a shorter stem will bring the front end of the bike closer to you. This will however reduce overall reach, putting you into a more upright position, as opposed to simply cutting down on the distance between bar and lever. A shorter stem does alter the handling of a bike, making it more twitchy. It’s best to get a bike fit to make sure you’re not ruining an otherwise good set up, before doing this.
  • Narrower handlebars will also reduce the risk – and if you’ve got handlebars that are too wide, this is a very good idea. Most unisex bikes come specced with handlebars designed for men, who usually have wider shoulders. A bike fit will help with this too – but alternatively you can measure your shoulders and go for bars of a similar width.
  • Handlebars come in many shapes and sizes. A bar with a shallow drop and reach will be best for those with smaller hands. There are many brands with options, but at TWC we’re pretty big fans of the collection from Specialized.

If you’re suffering from pain in your hands, wrists or shoulders, we would always recommend a bike fit at your local bike shop.

We’ve also got some more advice to help you out – check out these links… 

Fitting a Female Body to a Unisex Bike

How to Prevent ‘Fizzy Fingers’ on your Road Bike

Common Cycling Niggles and Bike Fit Fixes

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