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 The Noob’s Guide to Cycling:  Brake/Shifter Levers, Hoods, and Handlebars.  

April 2017
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If you want to ride in pain as a noob, take your hoods (the brake levers attach to the hoods), loosen one up and lower it a good half-inch and ride lopsided for a while.  The shoulder with the higher hood will start barking at you in no time.

Did you know that your hood/break lever is designed to turn askew if the bike falls?  They do this so the lever has a minimized chance of being damaged in a fall because many models are expensive.  They’re very easy to straighten out.

The Roomba knocked my wife’s bike down…

Did you know, the average width for a man’s handlebar is 42 cm?  It’s 40 for a woman.  I have fairly broad shoulders and I ride 42’s.  Had a 44 on my rain bike and hated it.  A decent bike fitter will know the width you need just by looking at your back as you stand there.

How about brake levers….  Did you know you can get shims that will bring the brake levers in a little bit so they’re easier to reach?  Yep – and they work great too (we use them on my daughter’s bike).

The hoods are A) exceptionally easy to adjust, B) incredibly easy to get wrong, and C) meant to be your most comfortable position for your hands on the bicycle.  With that last point, if you get the alignment just a little bit wrong, imbalances can cause one to favor an arm more than the other which can lead to back and neck pain.  Been there, it hurts.  A lot.

Here’s my Trek as an example of what I’m talking about, though this is a mild example – and I rode through the winter without noticing the hoods were off slightly:

It’s hard to tell because I’m not off all that much, but the left hood (the one on the right in the photo) is a little high.  Look at the little nub where the shifter cables come out….  the right hood you can see bar tape above the nub.  The left hood, no bar tape, the nub is a little higher.

That’s more like it…

Getting the levers right and level is a fairly big deal as comfort goes, though as you can see by my example above, once your cycling muscles are developed minor imbalances aren’t such a big deal.  As a noob, a quarter-inch high on one side would have me howling in pain after a week or two (my Trek came with the hoods almost a half-inch off – it took a couple of weeks to figure it out too).

This is from the Specialized:

The level of the bike is off so don’t let that throw your perception.  The bike wheel is leaned against the leg of my desk because my trainer happened to be at home.  Other than the level of the bike though, the Venge’s hoods are right on the money.

It’s hard to tell why the Trek’s hoods were off.  When I put the bike together after having it painted I had the advantage of having the bar tape off of the handlebar so I could use the markings on the handlebar to line the hoods up:

Specialized Aerofly Handlebar

It could have been any number of things – wasn’t careful enough putting the bike in the trunk, a mysterious phantom knocked my bike over… who knows.  Whatever the case, the hoods were slightly off and I am glad I finally caught it.  My left shoulder, and more important, my neck, are happier for the discovery and subsequent fix as well.

Do yourself a favor, square your hoods up and ride in comfort this spring.



  1. mellowdave says:

    You cant overstate the value of this piece of advice, i also went through a period of unexplained pain in my left shoulder, but only on one bike. I had second road bike set up almost identically that gave me no grief whatsoever. My youngest daughter actually spotted the issue, and once fixed, no more pain.

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