Why Do Brakes Differ From Country To Country?

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If you’ve ever ridden a bike outside of your home country you may have noticed that the position of the front and rear brakes differ depending on which country you’re in. For example, here in Australia the front brake is located on the right-hand side of the handlebars, and the rear brake is on the left-hand side. In fact, all countries that I’m aware of that drive/ride on the left side of the road are set up this way. Of course you can change this quite easily which doesn’t make it illegal.

On stock bikes entering Australia, this comes from the following Australian Standards clause:

Australian Standard AS1927 – 1998 Pedal Bicycles – Safety Requirements, page 16 Section 2.14 Braking System states the following: Handbrake lever location: The brake lever for a front brake shall be positioned on the right-hand side of the handlebar, and that for a rear brake on the left-hand side.

In North America and many parts of Europe this is the opposite. You ride on the right side of the road and your front brake is on the left-hand side, the rear brake is on the right-hand side.

Do you know why this is? A brief history of time…

Cycling hand turning signals originated from the same signals that cars used before they had indicator lights. For example, in America when a car wants to turn left, the driver (who sits on the left side of the car) put his left arm straight outside the window. If the driver wanted to signal right, he had to make a “L” with his left arm out the window (because he wouldn’t be able to reach out to the right side of the window with a straight arm to indicate a right turn). Similarly in places like Australia and the UK where you drive on the left side of the road, the driver (sitting on the right of the car) would have extend his right arm straight out the window to turn right, and same arm in a “L” shape to signal to turn left.

These turning signals were adopted by cyclists and the national standards organizations in each country got involved. There was concern that the cyclist should be able to make hand turning signals and still be able to reach the primary brake. The logic is accompanied by the premise that the rear brake is the primary brake. These standards organizations misunderstood braking and thought that using the front brake was hazardous and would cause the cyclist to abruptly topple over the front when hitting the front brake (endo!). In reality, very few accidents result from braking from the front.

There’s a mildly interesting piece of trivia to start your Thursday.

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