Moto vs bike: right-hand vs left-hand front brake

Hi Lee,

Since you ride both bikes and motos, I know you’ve had to deal with this conundrum, and I’m curious as to your take on it.

A long time ago I rode motos, mostly dual sport (and mostly on the street). I’m a newbie to MTB, and I think I’ve also decided I want a moto. (I’m 5’6″ — a TTR 125 maybe? But that’s not what this letter is about.) So here’s my question: how do you deal with the fact that motos have the front brake on the right, while MTB’s have it on the left (unless you’re in Europe, of course)? When I got my mountain bike, I decided since I was already used to using my right hand for the front brake, I’d just swap the right and left levers. But it occurs to me if (more like when) I ride a friend’s bike, or rent a bike (can you say lift-assisted DH? :-), it’ll be backwards, which could get me all balled up (literally, maybe. lol). And I’m not real up for going the other way and swapping the clutch and brake levers on my moto when I finally get it.

Help! How do you deal with this problem?

Love your site (and your book).

Kevin G
Gaithersburg, Maryland

Once you get them to the top of the hills, motos are like big, awesome downhill bikes.


Disclaimer: Because I have two infants and 18 jobs, I sold my CRF250R motocross bike and CRF450X trail bike. Moto doesn’t fit into my life right now, but hopefully it will in a couple years.


I also gave this issue real thought:

– I could have switched my bicycles to moto-style levers, or vice versa, but I ride lots of clients’ bicycles, and they ride mine, so I had to keep the MTBs normal. I also expected to ride other people’s motos — we were planning to race Baja 1,000 as a team — so I had to keep the moto normal.

– When I first started, I sometimes grabbed the Honda’s front brake by mistake — with exciting results — but that was temporary.

– As soon as I got used to riding the moto, the control differences became a non-issue. There’s a big difference between a Stumpjumper and a 450X. My brain and body switched back and forth without issue.

That said …

The ultimate setup for an MTBer who only rides his moto would be a Rekluse clutch with a left hand brake kit. Since the Rekluse is an automatic clutch (no stalling!), you don’t need the clutch lever. Connect the new left brake lever to the front brake and the right brake lever to the rear brake. You’d end up with a motorcycle that never stalls, has no clutch and brakes just like a mountain bike.

That would be pretty sweet. In a couple years …

— Lee

Know more. Have more fun!

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7 replies
  1. Robyn@VintageRedline says:

    For rental DH (or XC) at Winter Park and Keystone, they will swap the levers to moto style no problem, you just have to ask. Run your bike moto style if you want, maximize your enjoyment for the time you are on your bike…

  2. marz says:

    As Brit, therefore right hand front brake from birth, I just can’t understand why you’d want your weaker hand to control your primary brake.

    But then again I borrowed a friends bike a coupe weeks back here in the US and found myself skidding on almost every corner and just didn’t feel in control. I guess it’s best to just stick with what you know.

  3. Richard says:

    I didn’t realise that the US ran brakes on the opposite side to NZ when I visited and rented a bike a couple of years ago. Took me 20 mins of skidding the rear end out on the Slickrock Trail wondering why the hell this slickrock stuff was the least grippy substance I had ever encountered. I was constantly locking up the rear but not getting the braking force I wanted. Solution – apply even more right brake (which I thought was the front brake). Result – even more back end sliding. I felt a bit sheepish when I eventually figured it out! However, the point is that once I realised it wasn’t too much of a mental adjustment to make.

  4. Walt says:

    For real??? Other countries run their mtb brakes opposite of the US? What could be there possible reasoning why the US and Europe arfe different? I often thought of changing my brakes around because I ride offroad motos too. But I’m with Lee, your body learns to recogonize the difference between the two sports. But I’m not sure on that Rekluse clutch thing and switching levers on a moto. It’s a bad idea. You are better off just changing the mtb around if you are going to do it all. Also, real riders say no to Rekluse clutches. It’s like cheating.

  5. Eric says:

    When I first started MTBing I had been a Moto guy for years so I swapped levers to moto style. I had a couple oopsies on other bikes and some friends bite it on my bikes. All good fun. Then I ended up managing a LBS and between working on all the repairs, building new bikes and (the real reason) riding freestyle BMX and Flatland I switched to lefty/front righty/rear brakes.
    Now it’s no big deal switching mentally.
    The whole US vs. the rest of the world is because you’re supposed to hand signal with your left hand, thus leaving your right hand able to brake and the government folks decided that you can’t flip yourself OTB if you’re using the rear brake. Dunno know if that’s the real answer but is the most likely IMHO.

  6. SlackBoy says:

    states is backwards, the rest of the world and the really fast riders, ride moto brakes.
    I think you will find it also comes from what side of the road you ride/drive on. Proper countries like England, australia (marginal) and NZ drive on the right.

  7. Tom says:

    For me it’s a lot easier if the front brakes are on the right side. I definitely feel in much more control this way. Though, if I borrow a friends bike I can adapt quite quickly.

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