Safety Levers – a special set of brake levers designed for braking from the top position of a road bike’s drop bars. They’re called safety levers because they allow the user to brake even when his hands are away from the main levers. Without them, the user will have to grab the regular levers. The eliminated time for reaction is the main motivation behind the name.
The Problems Behind Safety Levers
- Poor Leverage
Safety levers have a smaller mechanical advantage (leverage) because they are pulling the brake indirectly. (They’re pulling a piece which then pulls the brake.)
- Interference With The Main Lever
Safety levers are essentially an add-on that operates in conjunction with the main lever’s mechanism. As a result, it could be notoriously difficult to remove the main levers from the bars due to obstruction caused by the additional attachment parts.
Furthermore, safety levers pre-pull/pre-load the original lever. Or in other words, the brake lever is partially applied. This limits the main lever’s available amplitude and hurts the brakes’ modulation (control over the braking force).
- Encouraging Too Much Riding In The Tops
By having a set of levers on the tops of the bars, the rider is encouraged to ride in the middle of the handlebars more frequently. This position is less stable and increases the drag created by the body.
If the ride is casual, this isn’t a problem, but if a solid descent is in front of the rider, counting on the safety levers is too risky due to the possible loss of balance and the reduced braking power.
- Poor Attachment
Another weak point of safety levers is the way they attach to the main unit. The attachment system often becomes unstable and in some cases, it may even fail.
- Not Compatible With Hoods
Safety levers were never designed to operate with standard drop bar hoods. Moreover, it’s not possible to run bar tape around safety brake levers as it will prevent the levers from moving.
- Can’t Match The Competition
Interrupter brake levers (inline levers) are a newer concept that matches the function of safety levers while eliminating the drawbacks.
Interrupter brake levers are essentially an additional set of levers controlling the brake cables. Consequently, they have a lot of leverage and can trigger a decent amount of stopping power.
The greater efficiency of interrupter brake levers makes them a preferred choice over safety levers.
- Bottoming Out
The handlebars prevent the safety levers from moving enough to trigger maximal braking.
The phenomenon can be illustrated by squeezing the safety levers and then pressing the main brake levers.
The main brake levers will move a bit even though the safety levers have been maximally “activated”. This shows that the safety levers are prevented from moving the brake cable sufficiently.
To avoid this issue, interrupter brake levers have a special shape positioning the end of the levers further away from the handlebars.
- Encouraging a Poor Fit
One of the reasons for the boom of safety levers was the illogical desire of casual cyclists to have road bikes with aggressively positioned drop bars. Eventually, many people realized that the racing geometry is too aggressive for standard cycling and relied on the safety levers most of the time because they allow a more relaxed back angle.
In other words, safety levers indirectly stimulate cyclists to ride bicycles that are too aggressive and/or large.
Safety levers do not look sporty. Consequently, you will never see them on a performance bike.
- Extra Weight
The additional weight is negligible, but people who want the lightest possible bicycle will consider the extra grams harmful to the goal.
- Interference With Handlebar Bags
A handlebar bag will prevent the proper operation of safety levers. Hence why safety levers are rarely seen on bicycles used for bike-packing.
FAQ: Why are safety levers sometimes called “suicide levers” or “death grip levers”?
Safety levers are sometimes called suicide levers because they don’t trigger as much braking power as the main levers and can therefore result in inadequate stops.
Another name for those levers is death grip. The motivation behind this name is the lower braking power forcing the rider to grip the levers with maximum strength to slow down.
Summary: What You Need To Know
The main reasons why safety brake levers are no longer found on most bikes are:
- Safety levers have a subpar mechanism and design in comparison to modern interrupter levers which accomplish the same function. Consequently, the only incentive to use standard safety levers would be the desire to keep the vintage appearance of a bike.
- Safety levers add bulk to the bike and make it non-compatible with accessories such as handlebar bags.
- Safety levers encourage riders to spend too much time in the middle of the tops which is an unstable position, especially when riding downhill.