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Sorting Brake Levers

Brake levers can be difficult to sort, but you will find the task easier if you study the pictures and characteristics here. There are two types of brake levers, one for each handlebar type. You should take note of the differences between bar types before you sort brake levers. It might be helpful to look at a few brake levers on actual bikes as well. Sorting levers when they come with a handlebar or an entire bike is an easy task, and can prepare you for sorting levers alone.

What you will find

Looking at the handlebar types, you can see that road and flat bar brake levers have changed over time. However, in practice at the co-op you will find many old road brake levers and many newer flat bar levers. This is because of the tremendous volume of bikes with drop bars ("road" bars) sold in the 1970s and the takeover of popular bicycle sales by the "mountain bike" in the 1980s. Old flat bar levers and new road bar levers will be rare.

Flat bar levers

Below are some examples of flat bar levers. In the upper left is an old one, probably from a city bike. In the upper right is one of the cheap unused 1980s levers that the co-op has. In the lower left is a fairly typical lever from the early days of mountain bikes. In the lower right is a newer lever.

Old Road vs. Old Flat bar levers

This can be a tough difference to see, and is a common place to mis-sort a lever. Take a look at the picture below. How can you tell? Neither has a barrel adjuster, neither has any black parts. The difference here is in the clamp. The road lever, on the left, has a band of thin metal which is tightened around the bar. The flat bar lever has a thicker clamp with a screw on the side. This is the only foolproof way to sort these unless you're very familiar with them.

. There are a few characteristics which most flat bar levers at the co-op have in common:

  • The color black: You will often find black pieces on flat bar levers, and this is a real giveaway, as there is rarely black on road levers (except for rubber hoods, which are usually very obviously made of rubber). It may be black plastic, as in the upper right here, or black painted/anodized metal, as in the lower two. Older levers like the one in the upper right will usually not have black parts. Some modern road levers include the color black, but they are rare at the co-op and look very different from flat bar levers.
  • Barrel Adjusters: The three newer levers in the picture also have these. On road bikes, the barrel adjusters are usually located on the brakes instead of on the lever. The older lever on the upper right was designed to be used with road-style brakes, and needs no adjuster.
  • Solid metal clamps: Flat bar levers usually clamp onto the bar with solid pieces of metal, while road levers tend to use bands of metal which are tightened against the bar. The picture below comparing an old flat bar lever to a road lever shows this nicely.
  • Extension levers: See them here on the picture of old road bars. If you find these levers off of a bike, they will look like two levers attached to each other. These are always road levers. We often take them off at the co-op to allow for brake hoods, which can make riding more comfortable, and because they decrease stopping power.
  • Brake Hoods: Old road levers often still have old brake hoods on them. This makes them easy to spot. The hoods are always gum-colored rubber and are usually completely dry and will fall apart easily. The picture below is of the same road lever in the picture above, before the brake hood fell apart when I tried to remove it.
Road Hood