Road Cycling

Ask the Expert: I Can’t Reach My Brake Levers!

Adjusting brake levers for small hands isn't as easy as you might expect. We talk you through the options.

New Article Alert! We’ve got more detail and a picture guide on adjusting Shimano and SRAM shifters here. 

Question: I have small hands and when I’m riding I struggle to apply the brakes. Is this a normal thing that I’ll just get used to?

It is normal for women to find it difficult to reach the brakes, and many simply choose to continue riding until the reaching feels a bit more natural. But if it’s effecting your confidence on the bike, then there are some measures you can take.

Firstly, there are a variety of ‘shims’ out there – little pieces of plastic that you insert at the top of the brake lever so its resting position is closer to the bars. If you are finding that hard to visualise, watch this incredibly dull but informative video.

Shims aren’t hugely common, however. Here’s a set for Sora, but it’s a US website. Specialized sell shims for Shimano Ultegra and 105 brake levers. It’s always worth going into a couple of bike shops and asking if they have any shims that you could buy from them, or politely steal. It’s possible they’ll have a box of them somewhere – they’re the kind of product that are sent to shops by the box but barely available for consumer purchase. #Annoying

The next course of action is to try a different set of bars as this might make it easier for you to reach the levers. Obviously this is a more pricey solution, but many smaller women swear by the rather inexpensive Bontrager VR-S bars – they have a short drop and reach.

With some levers there are adjustment mechanisms built in – just double check that there’s nothing like this on your bike. Some drop levers have a little pin you can press left or right to change the reach… but quite often men will have this on the shortest option so it may not be helpful for those with extra small palms.

Finally, you can always install junior levers like these. You’ll have to install bar end shifters too, meaning everything won’t look quite as sleek and you’ll have to get used to a new style of shifting gear, but it’s the best (if not slightly awkward) workaround we can think of.

This question was sent to us by a reader. If you would like any questions answered, leave us a comment on Facebook!


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