Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 11.49.40 PM.png
Riding Tips

Switch Up Everything on Your Bike

Words Cam McRae
Date May 14, 2020
Reading time

I used to be terrible about switching things up on my bike. I wanted nothing to change, unless it was brand new and determined to be clearly better, after a lengthy vetting process. Otherwise I wanted the same grips, the same tires, the same saddle, and the same pedals. If I was away at a media camp and the bike I was testing had grips that were too skinny, I was lost. 20 years of bike testing has forced me to become much more adaptable, and this job has forced me to try new things because they arrive at my doorstep. This has thankfully moved the needle a little, because experimentation is almost always beneficial.

Every time i’ve experimented with some set up change, or taken the time to adapt between flats and SPDs in either direction, tried different tires or tire sizes or inserts, gone to one finger braking, tweaked my body position, or changed my bar width, I’ve learned something new and got a little bit better at bike riding. Despite this experience, and the positive reinforcement that should have come with it, I don’t mess around enough,

On a recent ride with my buddy, who is his son's DH World Cup mechanic, he shared some tips with me. He said that Ben told him our group of dad riders spends too much time in the attack position and that we should all be a little more upright and relaxed. I tried it immediately and even without knowing if I was doing it correctly, felt better on the bike. So I may be making some progress in this area.

Yoann talks about lever angle and accessory testicles

Braking is particularly sacred for me and I vigorously resist any tweak of my levers. For a long time I’ve been thinking about raising my brake levers like Yoann Barelli and Rémy Métailler, but that thought has produced no action at all. Both of these fast Frenchmen ride with their brake levers parallel to the ground. For Yoann it’s a testicular matter, but for Rémy it’s all about function.

Ever since I went to one finger braking, from using my ring and middle finger together and gripping with pointer and pinky,* I’ve been obsessive about lever angle and placement on the bar. I mount my levers inboard significantly so I need to reach a little for the lever hook. I also angle them downward quite a lot, although slightly less than I used to. I like to be able to engage my lever while my finger is outstretched, rather than having to inchworm my digit to yank the hook, which may put my finger at risk of slipping off the sweet spot. I told you. Obsessive.

*I was a stubborn and stupid know-it-all - even more than I am now

And it all makes sense to me. There was a time when I would ride down a rock face with straight arms and my ass way off the back of the saddle, where control is massively limited. Over time I’ve moved further toward the front of the bike so I can respond to an impact or swap lines easily, and this aligns perfectly with my feelings about lever placement. It seems to me that levers that are rolled forward force your wrists and forearms to roll similarly, making an elbows out stance all but inevitable. Or so it feels to me.

Rémy and Yoann suggest the opposite is true; that flat levers make it easier to have a strong athletic, and elbows-out stance. When I try this on the bike sitting in the workshop, the opposite seems true. Obviously I realize that these crazy-fast mofos know what they’re doing, and that they have had success with ‘flat’ levers and 5 testicles between them. It makes sense to try it and find out what they're on about, but I simply haven’t done it.

Check out Rémy's video outling his uncoventiona lever alignment

The path to hell is paved with good intentions, as my dear sweet mum used to say. I need to adopt Nike’s most famous slogan and ger ‘er done, despite my excellent excuses. Lately there hasn’t been a ride I've been on when I wasn’t trying something new; either new rubber, a tire and insert combo or a different fork. Which gives me an excuse not to mess with my cockpit. Another excuse is riding some epic newly discovered trail, riding with a slightly larger group of hooligan buddies, or descending a newly snow-free line for the first time of the year. I’m well-armed with justifications for my lack of action, but they are all bullshit.

But now I’m committing, which is the great thing about declaring things over the medium that never forgets. On my next ride, or maybe one of the ones after that, I promise to angle my brake levers much higher than I have traditionally, and report back to you. The next thing on my list is to do five days in a row with a swapped chocolate foot, to see if I can close the performance gap between the two positions.

But first levers...

Tags: Métailler, Rémy
Posted in: Features, Editorial, Videos

Related Stories

Trending on NSMB


+2 Pete Roggeman Dan
fartymarty  - May 14, 2020, 4:32 a.m.


It does put my shifter and dropper lever (modded XT shifter on Ispec mount) in a strange position due to ispec b mounts but I'll give it a go.

Edit - first ride on a steep local trail and I'm still alive.


+3 Pete Roggeman Cam McRae Dan
Greg Anderson  - May 14, 2020, 5:13 a.m.

Oh god, this again.

I've gone through 2 rounds of this "rotate your levers up" stuff in the past and Remy's video is once again making me think I'm missing something.

The thing is it just doesn't feel right to me.. like my hands are in one position naturally and to "find" the brake lever I have to rotate and reach my finger up and around, not intuitive and of all things on my bike I want to be intuitive... it's my BRAKES.

Maybe you're supposed to ride around all the time with your wrists bent like that.

Maybe you need to have steeper trails than me and need to be going downhill all the time.

Maybe I never gave it enough time to adapt.

Maybe it's like suspension setup and is more personal vs "must be exactly like the pros"

I don't know... maybe I'll give it another try, LOL

+3 Greg Anderson twk Dan
Pete Roggeman  - May 14, 2020, 7:39 a.m.

My opinion is there's an element of personalization here, and also that it requires a gradual shift. I started rolling my levers up bit by bit a few years ago and it's helped with confidence, control and body positioning in the steeps, without feeling like I give anything up in flatter terrain. 

So, don't try to do it all at once, a d don't worry if it doesn't feel right for the first few rides. Give it a try if you're curious and see what happens after five or ten rides.


+1 Pete Roggeman
Greg Anderson  - May 14, 2020, 1:49 p.m.

That makes sense. I've definitely taken the all or nothing approach with this in the past.


+2 Pete Roggeman Greg Anderson
Andrew Major  - May 14, 2020, 9:32 a.m.

What brand of brakes do you ride? 

Actually was going to write an editorial about this at Crankworx last year as, anecdotally, SRAM athletes run their levers consistently flatter than other brands of brakes. 

Confirmation bias warning: that mirrors my experience with SRAM brakes where my comfortable position is flatter than with Magura, Shimano, TRP, or Formula.

It was years ago, but Shaums March broke down lever positioning (rider to rider / bike to bike) the best I’ve heard. Start with levers in-line with your arms in attack position and then adjust upward-downward for preference. With the exception of the full flat riders I’d guess you’d find most riders are in this window. 

Bar height and reach both play a roll here and riders on relatively longer Reach for their dimensions will end up running their levers flatter with this model.

Cam McRae  - May 14, 2020, 11:29 a.m.

Rémy is on Hayes I believe. Not sure where they fit in.


+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
danimaniac  - May 14, 2020, 10:52 p.m.

That's true.

I went from Guides to the A4s recently and rolled'em down a bit compared to the SRAM setting before. But that's maybe between 2 and 5 degrees.


+1 Pete Roggeman
Greg Anderson  - May 14, 2020, 2:08 p.m.

Until recently I've always run Shimano with a quick dip into Magura and Formula.

I'm now running SRAM for the first time as my HD5 came with Code RSC... I guess your data suggests that it may work better. Right now they are ~53deg measured with an iphone level from top of grip to top of lever.

I basically start with them at what feels like a neutral extension of the index finger when in my version of attack position and adjust a couple degrees up or down until I'm no longer thinking about my wrist or brake lever position during a ride.


+3 Cam McRae Cr4w Pete Roggeman
Jeff Green  - May 14, 2020, 6:02 a.m.

My god Yoann is a treasure. He is definitely for scuba.


+3 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major Cam McRae
Rob Gretchen  - May 14, 2020, 6:16 a.m.

Currently experimenting with semi-flat lever placement... so far so good.    I get what you are saying Cam about flat levers seeming counter intuitive... but there's something to it when the terrain gets really steep....


+2 Pete Roggeman cxfahrer
ehfour  - May 14, 2020, 7:21 a.m.

Im in the semi-flat and inboard lever crew.  Helps me in the steeps and forces me to have a strong attack position..only down side is it sucks for neighborhood pedals with the kids


+2 Pete Roggeman Tremeer023
IslandLife  - May 14, 2020, 4:49 p.m.

Sounds like the perfect excuse for a new bike!  

"Sorry honey, that bike has brake levers that only work for schredding the gnar... so I had to buy another one to ride with you and the kids.  I'm always thinking about you and the kids..."

+1 Tremeer023
Pete Roggeman  - May 16, 2020, 11:09 a.m.

The n+1 is strong in you.

+2 Angu58 danimaniac
Pete Roggeman  - May 14, 2020, 7:40 a.m.

And if Cam doesn't do it on his own, I'm going to sneakily move his levers a mm or two per ride.


0 Pete Roggeman thaaad
cxfahrer  - May 14, 2020, 8:10 a.m.

I found it a bit awkward with the notorious Shimano wandering bitepoint. With the Code its a no-brainer.


+1 Pete Roggeman
Cr4w  - May 14, 2020, 8:49 a.m.

I definitely agree with the flatter lever orientation. The guys at Geometron suggested it to me a few years ago and it took a while to really get used to it but it was worth it.


+1 Sanesh Iyer
Cooper Quinn  - May 14, 2020, 8:52 a.m.

Counterpoint*, from a guy who knows some things. With specific commentary on the Frenchies.

*Edit for clarity: counterpoint to Remy & Yoann's flat levers.


+2 Andrew Major AJ Barlas
jason  - May 14, 2020, 9:30 a.m.

pretty much where I ended up a couple years ago. Not as flat as Yoann, but much flatter that I used to ride.  The longer top tubes (reach) has really changed the body position on a bike and the lever set up (moving closer to flat) makes sense.  Never have arm pump and great control.


+1 Cam McRae
Sanesh Iyer  - May 14, 2020, 12:01 p.m.

That video is really good, I wish I'd seen it before I learned this the hard way.  I had multiple ejections riding steep terrain in WBP where I couldn't hold on in the run-out compressions. A wise co-worker suggested I shallow out my brake angle. 

I now subscribe to the statement that you want your wrists straight when your weight distribution is "balanced" on the bike. As Andrew mentioned that's a function of bike geometry/cockpit setup. It's also a factor of terrain you ride. I quite like a steep brake angle for blue/black trails on fromme (easier to keep it zesty), but rotating things back for the steep and deep does sometimes happen when I remember to. Maybe you bias it to the bigger moves for safety. I notice myself playing a lot more with brake angle on my hard tail too.


+4 Pete Roggeman Cam McRae Velocipedestrian Dan
JVP  - May 14, 2020, 9:01 a.m.

Watches video about flat levers pulling the “ball cable” up, checks calendar to see if it’s April 1... nope.


+2 Pete Roggeman Cam McRae
Andy Eunson  - May 14, 2020, 9:40 a.m.

Flat levers don’t work for me because it causes me to reach up by dropping my wrist to get a finger on the lever. Too far down is another reach. I look at how my finger moves and line up the brake lever in line with that. I want my wrist straight when I’m attacking. That’s the strongest position. Boxers punch on a straight wrist. Slap shot, straight wrist. 

But experimenting is a really good thing. Copying is not necessarily good. Often you hear an argument about an unusual set up and people say “it works for them”. Like Kulhavy’s set up. It may work, but perhaps a more traditional set up might work better. Perhaps Kulhavy would have won races like Nino with a different bike set up. 

The wide bar thing is another. I see riders with their hands further apart than their elbows all the time. I m not sure that’s a good thing.


+1 twk
Morgan Heater  - May 14, 2020, 11:07 a.m.

Boxers are applying force to a very different part of their hands than where your bars rest against your palms.

Do you drop your heals in steep terrain on flat pedals? It's a similar concept.

+4 Andy Eunson Pete Roggeman twk AJ Barlas
Cam McRae  - May 14, 2020, 11:36 p.m.

That's a good addendum Andy. Copying without evaluation is useless. 

But copying is the essence of experimentation. Try to see if it works and reject or modify if it doesn't. 800 mm bars didn't work for me, although I didn't realize it at the time, but riding them taught me something about riding 29ers (more weight forward is essential to making them work). The same might be true for levers that are closer to level, but that remains to be seen. 

I also want to spend a week or a month riding with my non-chocolate foot forward. If nothing else it will give me an option when my left leg gets tired, but I'll likely improve on my right as well. Similarly I got better at table tennis right handed by learning to play with my left. 

So much to explore!


+1 Pete Roggeman
danimaniac  - May 15, 2020, 12:22 a.m.

non choc-foot forward? Impossible :D Cannot even raise the rear for an inch like that, couldn't even dream of bunny-hopping wrong way round

Pete Roggeman  - May 16, 2020, 11:15 a.m.

Bunny-hopping with your off-foot would be total mastery. It's hard enough to try to,initiate a wheelie with the wrong foot. I can usually navigate my way down a tricky section with the wrong foot forward if necessary (awkward clip-on or unforeseen pedal snag) but always switch it asap after that.


+2 Pete Roggeman Morgan Heater
Andy Eunson  - May 15, 2020, 9:07 a.m.

So yesterday I changed my brake lever angle a bit. Popped them up about ten degrees and lo and behold, I like it better. I think I had then there a while back but new bike and adjusting without really paying attention I put them down more than I should. I tried flat once and it was really awkward. Late last year I cut my bars down to 740 from 760. Liked that too. I’m not a big guy at all so wide bars never made sense. Retired those bars this spring so I tried 760 again. Nope. I like to understand the reasons why certain positions and fit adjustments work or don’t.


+2 Cam McRae twk
Doug M.  - May 14, 2020, 9:51 a.m.

I'm basically a flat lander but have been rolling my levers up a bit at a time, somewhere between flat and 45 deg now. Feels good, as if my arms are in a better position to move with the front suspension during a dip in the trail or compression.


+2 Cam McRae danimaniac
Morgan Heater  - May 14, 2020, 11:08 a.m.

I have started to run my levers quite a bit flatter, but not perfectly flat.

The change everything rule goes against my personal rule of change nothing unless it breaks though.

+1 Morgan Heater
Cam McRae  - May 14, 2020, 11:37 p.m.

I believe that is the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it rule.' In this case you are simply adjusting!


twk  - May 16, 2020, 3:22 p.m.

Compromise: Change one thing at a time to make analysis easier.

I echo the observation regarding flat levers; pumping some awkward dips became much more natural once I made the adjustment.


Greg Bly  - May 15, 2020, 9:41 a.m.

I run my clamps loose so the brakes change position during every ride. Adds some spice to my ride. I find saddle angle and position makes a difference on body position and is worth trying something new.  Rotating bars a few degrees forward or backwards can feel better/ worse. I put foam grips on my bikes. So soft and comfy.  Anyone using foam grips?  Mine are modified to use lock ons so they can't rotate.


+1 Pete Roggeman
StacheTower16  - May 15, 2020, 3:24 p.m.

My friends always comment on how flat my brakes are. Not totally flat but way higher than theirs. I saw a Yoann video and decided to try it and I liked it! I also grip towards the end of my handlebar and people always ask if if 2 finger brake. I do not. Running TRP Quadiems and Trails. The long levers allow me to modulate easily. Everyone is gonna have their thing I guess!


+2 Pete Roggeman StacheTower16
JVP  - May 15, 2020, 8:25 p.m.

There’s something to this. I rotated mine up a little bit today, and I already ran them slightly above 45*. Definitely felt good on the long descents on my Codes. I’d had some finger pain where I’d gotten tendinitis previously. This change seems to move the lever into knuckle 2 (closer to palm) vs knuckle 3 where it had been. 

Good stuff, thanks for the motivation to try messing with them. Did a huge (for me) ride today, so was a great test. I’m definitely sticking with the flatter levers.


ianterry  - May 16, 2020, 8:32 a.m.

Thanks for the inspiration to change stuff up. I've been messing with my suspension setup lately and I've already learned a bunch and made permanent changes. During this process I've realized that maybe one reason I've always been stubborn about experimentation is that I hate having that feeling of "shit, I could've been doing this better all along"... But hey, onward and upward!


+1 Andy Eunson
Reed Holden  - May 16, 2020, 4:57 p.m.

Wondering if the flatter brake lovers are also shorter riders or running higher (relative) stack. Remi doesn't look that tall, so even with his stem slammed, his bars are probably at the level of his saddle. I totally understand why a short dude on a 160mm fork would feel comfortable with flatter leavers. Also, he probably has smaller hands so the lever would feel closer to the finger when higher up.  I tried running above 45 deg and hated it - but I've had the same lever angle since 1995.

As for the chocolate foot thing - I had to start running the opposite foot as I would get knee pain on long descents on my chocolate side. It didn't take long to get comfortable running goofy. Also, running the same foot forwards all the time leads to imbalance in your hips - shortening some muscles, overusing others. Now that I swap back and forth I no longer get knee pain.


Please log in to leave a comment.