Yoann Barelli's Brake Lever Position

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2/26/2016 11:44 AM
Edited Date/Time: 2/26/2016 11:44 AM

So this is how Yoann Barelli runs his brake levers. They're nearly parallel to the ground. His reasoning is that the position puts more of your palm on the grip (instead of just your thumb hooking with a more standard position) and the result is no arm pump. He feels the lever position also adjusts his upper body and ultimately his head so he's able to focus further down the trail better (which is key in riding blind enduro courses). Teammate Adam Craig has been playing with a similar setup and seems to agree with Yoann, also Adam's levers are not as parallel to the ground. When we asked Marcelo Gutierrez about the lever position, he thought Yoann was crazy : )

Yoann and Adam discuss in audio






Get more shots of Yoann's ride (and Adam Craig's) in our Bike vs Bike feature that hits the homepage tomorrow.

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2/26/2016 12:26 PM

Interesting... arm pump is an issue for me at bike parks. I wonder if this could be of help.

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I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

2/26/2016 12:58 PM

I've been playing with gradually rotating my levers flatter and flatter, and it feels more and more natural to do so. I really do like the feeling of bent wrists and more pressure on the palm area. I also find it helps when riding really steep terrain, because your levers don't make you rotate your wrists forward as much in the flatter position which can sometimes feel like you're being pulled over the bars. I've got some ways to go until they're flat like Barelli's, don't think I'll ever go quite as extreme, but I do know some other people who are almost there.

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2/26/2016 1:13 PM

When I first rode with Phil Atwill he said my levers were too steep, I already thought they were pretty flat at about 4 o clock, I moved them to be flatter like his and it gives you SOOO much confidence on steeper terrain (where the real braking control needs to happen), this is probably why Yoann's levers are so flat, since the terrain at an EWS race is so steep. It also depends where you ride most, steep vs flat trails, check out Joe Barne's brake lever setup for his local trails as well for evidence of this.

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2/26/2016 2:11 PM

Damien Otton also runs his brake lever like that.
http://www.velovert.com/information/10979/bike-check-le-spartan-de-damien-oton
That's what he says : "I wish that my years in enduro motorbike. I tried to ride with a more traditional setting like everyone else because I realized that I was alone in this configuration. But clearly I could no longer to ride. the advantage is that I am less in tension on the handlebars in long runs. "

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2/26/2016 2:13 PM

I don't ride with them quite this flat but over the years I have brought them more and more parallel. Despite lots of forearm workouts and pushups I was still getting some arm pump while riding bike parks, I did find that it helped. His reasoning makes total sense...

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2/26/2016 2:13 PM
Edited Date/Time: 2/26/2016 2:18 PM

Look at any pro motocross/supercross setup and most levers are just under parallel..Ive been riding mine high for years, although not as high as in the pics above...helps keep your elbows up and on steep sections it is so much more comfortable...

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2/26/2016 2:30 PM

I'm sure I would snap my skinny wrists if I rode like that

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2/26/2016 3:13 PM

It's funny because I grew up riding dirt bikes so I've always run my levers higher than most people. Ive always naturally ridden with "limp wrist" in bmx as well without brakes. It helps lower your shoulders which helps a lot on the climbs as well by reducing neck strain. I think I might try running my levers a bit higher just to see if it helps even more.

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2/26/2016 3:32 PM

Coming in from the motorcycle side, this seems very natural to me. I started running my levers higher on the MX bike about 15 years ago and noticed a big difference. I started running the bicycle levers this way too and it's super comfy.
I always thought you MTB guys were weird for running your levers so low.

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2/26/2016 3:51 PM

Well, in mx racing the levers are usually run to accompany the seated riding position. So much of the steering and handling of the bike is done through the back wheel, so the body position tends to be back a little further than on an mtb.

Remember a few years ago when EVERY downhiller got this notion that riding with your elbows up meant your levers had to be near vertical? And remember how EVERYONE said how much better it is for your riding? lol.... From one extreme to another.

I'm not discounting the flat lever position, but it seems we mountain bikers like to go for the extremes first then settle into something that makes sense. Be it suspension travel, wheel size, or whatever. Now it seems that we are in the "bigger tires are better" stage. But that's another story.

I've always run my levers at about the same angle that arms are at, because anything else feels too extreme of an angle for me. I always ran my levers flat on my moto because like I said, it makes way more sense on a moto due to how varied your body position can be. I tried running my mtb levers flatter and it felt so awkward unless I'm seated. My wrists were bent at such an angle that it was a struggle just to brake.

When we are descending, we are standing. So we kinda want our levers to be neutral, as in, you don't notice them. Whether your levers are flat or pointing straight down, its not a neutral position. Get on your bike, hold onto the bar, and notice what angle your fingers lay out. Like I said, I'm not discounting someone's personal choices, but it makes little sense to me.

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2/26/2016 3:55 PM

It's like 29' wheels : I was sceptic, I tried, it works, I like it ^^

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2/26/2016 4:36 PM

Been there, done that. This lever position is really awkward when riding downhills. It demotes attacking position and naturally puts your body too far back.

Then again, personal preferences.

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2/26/2016 4:55 PM

I get that people like it and it works for them, but to me it feels like I have rocks in my shoes hahahaha

I also don't like the feeling of a bar being rolled back into my lap, and flat levers give this effect.

I'm very fussy over my cockpit set up. Probably too much.

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2/26/2016 6:03 PM

As a tall guy with long fingers, I ran mine at about five o'clock. Anything higher feels awkward. The hand, when you bend your fingers, naturally makes a fist. I ran mine so that they were optimized for out of the saddle riding and able to brake in a fist like motion. When the levers are so flat, one has to flatten the grip in order to squeeze the lever thus reducing grip on the bar. I vote NO.

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2/26/2016 7:38 PM

I'm tall and don't like my wrists too bent, so to hold the brakes the way I do they have a good downward angle to them. I do have them angled up a bit more on my trail bike than my DH though for a better position when seated.
I have my lever reach in as far as I can so when the wheel locks the lever's almost on the bar. I also have the tip of the lever under the big knuckle of my finger as opposed to the tip of it, as most seem to do. This results in an almost closed fist around the bar, and I never get arm pump.
Make a fist and extend your brake finger. You'll feel the tendon linked up with the muscles in your forearm creating some tension there as long as that finger is extended. Bring it back to a fist and the forearm relaxes.
Some people get a little sketched out by my brakes since they come to the bar. But these are high powered hydraulics with big rotors, you don't need a death squeeze to stop.

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2/26/2016 8:11 PM

My wrists can't even bend like that any more!

On a moto I wrap my left finger all the way around the lever since on is a clutch after all. The other side has a throttle, its easier to reach the lever when it's high. The lever s also need to fit behind hand guards.

Bars are also much higher on a moto.

Pretty much never riding long downhills on the brakes on a moto either and when you do, they have engine braking and a foot brake.

I keep my levers inline with my arms which is around 4 o clock.

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2/26/2016 8:23 PM

Krispy wrote:

My wrists can't even bend like that any more!

On a moto I wrap my left finger all the way around the lever since on is a clutch after all. The other side has a throttle, its easier to reach the lever when it's high. The lever s also need to fit behind hand guards.

Bars are also much higher on a moto.

Pretty much never riding long downhills on the brakes on a moto either and when you do, they have engine braking and a foot brake.

I keep my levers inline with my arms which is around 4 o clock.

That's a good point about the hand guards and the bar height of a dirtbike.

No engine braking on a two stroke and a Rekluse clutch!

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2/27/2016 12:51 AM
Edited Date/Time: 2/27/2016 12:54 AM

Faction wrote:

Well, in mx racing the levers are usually run to accompany the seated riding position. So much of the steering and handling of the bike is done through the back wheel, so the body position tends to be back a little further than on an mtb.

Remember a few years ago when EVERY downhiller got this notion that riding with your elbows up meant your levers had to be near vertical? And remember how EVERYONE said how much better it is for your riding? lol.... From one extreme to another.

I'm not discounting the flat lever position, but it seems we mountain bikers like to go for the extremes first then settle into something that makes sense. Be it suspension travel, wheel size, or whatever. Now it seems that we are in the "bigger tires are better" stage. But that's another story.

I've always run my levers at about the same angle that arms are at, because anything else feels too extreme of an angle for me. I always ran my levers flat on my moto because like I said, it makes way more sense on a moto due to how varied your body position can be. I tried running my mtb levers flatter and it felt so awkward unless I'm seated. My wrists were bent at such an angle that it was a struggle just to brake.

When we are descending, we are standing. So we kinda want our levers to be neutral, as in, you don't notice them. Whether your levers are flat or pointing straight down, its not a neutral position. Get on your bike, hold onto the bar, and notice what angle your fingers lay out. Like I said, I'm not discounting someone's personal choices, but it makes little sense to me.

Totally agree on that extremes thing, the pendulum always swings one way before settling back somewhere in the middle.
I tried this set up after I noticed some Enduro guys using it at the end of last year. I could see the theoretical merits of the setup with a higher lever position but it didn't work at all for me, I got terrible arm pump and couldn't modulate my brakes properly. As always the cop out solution/ answer is do what feels best to you. I've never had much of a problem with arm pump though and I know a lot of riders do so maybe for those guys - if you haven't already - try this setup, even though it looks a little odd! We're so dynamic on a mtb compared to road bikes and everyone rides a little different and on different terrain so traditional setup guidelines don't make much sense.

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2/27/2016 11:12 AM

I tried this last year riding at thunder mountain bike park after I was getting arm pump, fixed a lot of issues I was having, makes me feel like I have a little more control behind the bars as well due to a more neutral wrist position.

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2/27/2016 11:52 AM

I don't disagree with the reasons the proponents are claiming, I just don't like the feeling of putting so much stress on my wrist at the limit of it's range of motion. But I'm hyper-mobile in general and have to watch out for the range of motion stuff.

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2/28/2016 8:40 AM

Rsi injuries, that's why people don't do this.

Too much backwards pressure on the fingers can cause serious even permanent nerve damage.

I used to ride with my levers raised, caused more aches and pains than computer and cell use combined.
Dropping the angle helped a lot.

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2/28/2016 8:50 AM

Yesterday for experimentation purposes, I angled my levers pointing down about 10-15 degrees (still not flat) and went for a ride.

Brutal. For the reason Diedre_Rashid said - way too uncomfortable and unnatural.

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2/28/2016 8:55 AM

Diedre_Rashid wrote:

Rsi injuries, that's why people don't do this.

Too much backwards pressure on the fingers can cause serious even permanent nerve damage.

I used to ride with my levers raised, caused more aches and pains than computer and cell use combined.
Dropping the angle helped a lot.

If flat levers were SOOO bad, how come motocross riders don't have any problems? They land harder and go bigger than us with flat levers, is there something I'm missing here?

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2/28/2016 9:05 AM
Edited Date/Time: 2/28/2016 9:08 AM

Diedre_Rashid wrote:

Rsi injuries, that's why people don't do this.

Too much backwards pressure on the fingers can cause serious even permanent nerve damage.

I used to ride with my levers raised, caused more aches and pains than computer and cell use combined.
Dropping the angle helped a lot.

AGR97 wrote:

If flat levers were SOOO bad, how come motocross riders don't have any problems? They land harder and go bigger than us with flat levers, is there something I'm missing here?

Until you've ridden or raced a moto, you wouldn't understand. The rider input and positioning are different on a moto, as I said earlier. You steer a lot through your rear wheel and that means you are seated a lot of the time. The position is usually quite a bit lower, so if you have lever that point down, you will be reaching for them. Whereas, we are standing most of the time (dh/enduro). MTB is more static, moto is more dynamic.

And of course as someone else mentioned, the relative bar height on a moto is much higher than on a mountain bike.

I raced moto off road and a little bit of track. Off road racing is a little different in that you are standing a lot of the time. When I did that, I would have my levers pointing down slightly, but still at a point where it wouldn't feel uncomfortable while seated. On the track, riders usually are seated more, like through the turns. It makes more sense to run flat levers because of that.

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2/28/2016 9:10 AM

Faction wrote:

Until you've ridden or raced a moto, you wouldn't understand. The rider input and positioning are different on a moto, as I said earlier. You steer a lot through your rear wheel and that means you are seated a lot of the time. The position is usually quite a bit lower, so if you have lever that point down, you will be reaching for them. Whereas, we are standing most of the time (dh/enduro). MTB is more static, moto is more dynamic.

And of course as someone else mentioned, the relative bar height on a moto is much higher than on a mountain bike.

I raced moto off road and a little bit of track. Off road racing is a little different in that you are standing a lot of the time. When I did that, I would have my levers pointing down slightly, but still at a point where it wouldn't feel uncomfortable while seated. On the track, riders usually are seated more, like through the turns. It makes more sense to run flat levers because of that.

I've ridden a Moto before, while it is different to an MTB there is still a lot of crossover IMO.

I can kind of see your point about being seated but they still take a lot of big impacts standing up, whoops for example.

MTB is more static though? Really?

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2/28/2016 9:15 AM

tried this today (thought trying it may actually give me more of an idea than blindly speculating on a web forum.. crazy right?).

fairly long ride with steep rocky technical descents, i was quite surprised at how natural it felt, its a really similar hand position to bench pressing and i think it utilises the forearm muscles better. Drops felt fine, jumps felt fine.

The only thing im still sceptical about was when manualling, the pull up felt like a strain on the remaining 3 fingers, although i will say this, my hands were aching anyway from a bouldering session on friday night.

So yeah for a fairly rough trail ride im sold, interested to see how it feels downhilling next week.

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2/28/2016 9:18 AM
Edited Date/Time: 2/28/2016 9:20 AM

AGR97 wrote:

If flat levers were SOOO bad, how come motocross riders don't have any problems? They land harder and go bigger than us with flat levers, is there something I'm missing here?

Faction wrote:

Until you've ridden or raced a moto, you wouldn't understand. The rider input and positioning are different on a moto, as I said earlier. You steer a lot through your rear wheel and that means you are seated a lot of the time. The position is usually quite a bit lower, so if you have lever that point down, you will be reaching for them. Whereas, we are standing most of the time (dh/enduro). MTB is more static, moto is more dynamic.

And of course as someone else mentioned, the relative bar height on a moto is much higher than on a mountain bike.

I raced moto off road and a little bit of track. Off road racing is a little different in that you are standing a lot of the time. When I did that, I would have my levers pointing down slightly, but still at a point where it wouldn't feel uncomfortable while seated. On the track, riders usually are seated more, like through the turns. It makes more sense to run flat levers because of that.

AGR97 wrote:

I've ridden a Moto before, while it is different to an MTB there is still a lot of crossover IMO.

I can kind of see your point about being seated but they still take a lot of big impacts standing up, whoops for example.

MTB is more static though? Really?

Totally. Its simple, just look at the legs. On a moto, the rider can go from nearly straight legs to a full 90 degree bend at the knee. Its a huge margin. And I can tell you when they're standing they're usually on the gas.

On a mountain bike, we are either standing with our knees slightly bent, or seated, with our knees slightly bent. lol! Way more static.

On a moto, most of the traction is through the back wheel, so getting your weight back there is vital. But on a mtb, we're usually riding over the front as most of our traction is through the front wheel.

I get that lever position if all you ride is super steep tracks all the time. Then your weight is more rearward and your position is lower. But for all around riding?

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2/28/2016 9:25 AM

Faction wrote:

Totally. Its simple, just look at the legs. On a moto, the rider can go from nearly straight legs to a full 90 degree bend at the knee. Its a huge margin. And I can tell you when they're standing they're usually on the gas.

On a mountain bike, we are either standing with our knees slightly bent, or seated, with our knees slightly bent. lol! Way more static.

On a moto, most of the traction is through the back wheel, so getting your weight back there is vital. But on a mtb, we're usually riding over the front as most of our traction is through the front wheel.

I get that lever position if all you ride is super steep tracks all the time. Then your weight is more rearward and your position is lower. But for all around riding?

Neary straight to a full 90 degree bend in the legs, sounds a bit like pumping if you ask me

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2/28/2016 11:48 AM
Edited Date/Time: 2/28/2016 12:03 PM

YBO wrote:

Damien Otton also runs his brake lever like that.
http://www.velovert.com/information/10979/bike-check-le-spartan-de-damien-oton
That's what he says : "I wish that my years in enduro motorbike. I tried to ride with a more traditional setting like everyone else because I realized that I was alone in this configuration. But clearly I could no longer to ride. the advantage is that I am less in tension on the handlebars in long runs. "

Just to clear up YBO's/Google's translation a bit:

"I take that from my years of riding enduro motorbikes. I tried riding with a more traditional setup when I realized that I was the only one at the races with my levers setup this way, but I never managed to feel comfortable with it. The advantage is that I have to hold onto the handlebar less tightly on long descents."

Another interesting note from that article is that Otton says that he rides 36 tooth chainring all the time no matter the terrain. Beast!

It seems like this lever position is a bit of a thing for French riders at the moment. I'm not sure if it's kosher to link to pinkbike here, but there is some more discussion of it here http://www.pinkbike.com/news/ask-pinkbike-10-6-2015.html. According to that article Barelli began running his levers further up after taking note of Otton's setup. Apparently Nico Vouilloz is also into setting up his levers that way.

Vouilloz is know for being particularly meticulous about his bike setup so if he's choosing to run his levers close to level I'd imagine that he spent some time experimenting before deciding that it has merit for him. After reading the pinkbike article I experimented a bit with my lever position and settled at about 3:20. Anything further up than that left me feeling like I was having to reach up too much to get to the levers. Right now I've go a broken hand, but once I'm back on the bike again I'll probably play around with it a bit more.

I find that I tend to be quite sensitive to cockpit changes on the bike and if its too big a change all at once its going to feel weird no matter what! Before breaking my hand I was experimenting with bar roll a bit and that was a weird one for me! I tend to ride with my bar rolled pretty forward. I tried rolling it back a bit just to see how it would feel, but I had a really hard time adjusting to the different feel!

As a side note, if anyone is having real trouble with forearm pump try getting into a climbing gym on occasion. I've been a climber for years and I can say that arm pump on the bike has never really been an issue for me. Climbing stresses your forearms like no other activity that I know of and I suspect that if you could make it into a climbing gym even just once a week for a month or two your arm pump issues would pretty much disappear.

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