Setting up MTB cockpit controls
Setting up MTB cockpit controls is critical for performance and comfort.
One of the final touches to any MTB build is dialing in the controls. While you can get it close in the parking lot it often takes a bit of fine tuning on trail, or riding experience, to know exactly where you will want everything.
In this blog we will define some basic concepts to help you take your bike’s performance to the next level.
Shifters, Brakes, Adjustable Seat Post Remote
The first step is pretty basic. That said, it surprises me how often I see this simple rule overlooked.
You should be able to reach the controls with no, or very minimal movement of your hand!
In this photo you see that I have my brake inboard for the ideal index finger positioning. I have the shifter located where a simple thumb extension will hit either paddle.
In this photo you can see the gap between my thumb and the shifter. I find that the SRAM shifter ergonomics and mounts are hard to beat when fine tuning setup.
You will also notice that I have the controls on independent mounts. Yes the matchmaker or equivalent look cleaner, however I prefer the maximum setup range with individual mounts.
Looking to simply your ergonomic setup? Match the paddle position of your adjustable seatpost to your shifter. Location, angle, the whole nine. This will provide comfortable and intuitive positioning.
In the last two photos you can see some bend between my forearm and hand.
Ideally your wrist is straight to minimize handpump, fatigue as well as maximizing power.
When will you confront handpump and fatigue most?
Going downhill. Rather than setting up my controls for a straight arm pedaling in circles around the parking lot I set them for my general descending position.
Having controls rotated too far down (towards the front wheel) is another issue we commonly see. This is typically from not taking into account position changes riding downhill. The more consistently steep trails you ride the more “up” you may find comfortable for your brake lever position.
Learn to brake with 1 finger. It will blow you away how much more control adding your middle finger to the bars will give you.
Here you see the proper positioning. The lever sits just about at the first knuckle vertically while positioning my finger at the maximum leverage point horizontally.
This positioning gives me the best modulation and power for the setup.
Unlike some motorcycle levers which are still effective running your hands inboard (at the beginning of the flat in the blade) with MTB levers you give up a lot of leverage and create some additional fit issues. More on this later.
Again, note the bend in my wrist. As soon as I head downhill I drop the saddle and lower my upper body a bit which flattens this back out.
Brake Lever Leverage, Throw, Distance…
Let’s take a look at longer versus shorter levers. (One isn’t right and one isn’t wrong – but they have different characteristics for different riders.)
The red and gold levers represent a “2-finger” brake lever. We’ve established that you’re going to ride with 1 finger at the end of the lever so “long lever” might be a better name than “2-finger” but it’s all semantics.
The longer lever maximizes a pair of performance attributes, maximizing leverage while increasing the total throw distance.
The additional leverage doesn’t put anymore power to the brake system. (hydraulic brakes have a maximum system power that’s hit at full close – unlike old cable brakes on your BMX.) However the additional leverage does reduce total fatigue during the day. Personally I have pretty bad hands and anything I can do to make their life a bit easier is an easy choice…
The increased throw (distance from max out position to max in position or greater angle slice out of the circle) gives riders a bit more control of modulation.
A potential downside to the additional throw is it requires the lever to travel closer to your grip. That’s one of the distinct advantages to the shorter lever option, particularly for riders with smaller hands.
The shorter lever (in transparent purple) is positioned as far away from the grip as the longer lever. With the piston remaining in the same bite point in both sets of levers we know that they share the same angular full out to full in dimension. However, with the shorter levers you will note the shorter total throw distance which keeps the lever further from the grip (or your middle finger).
(In this illustration we use a singular bite point but there are levers which can adjust lever reach and bite point as an FYI.)
We hope that this blog gives you better understanding when setting up your MTB cockpit. It’s always great to help a client picking up a new build find that ideal setup, or hearing about it after they dial it in on the first couple rides!
If you’re in the market for a complete bike, frame swap, or the best components in MTB check out BikeCo.com and work with our expert staff. At BikeCo we’re here to dial you in at every step of your riding journey.
See you on the trails – Nate at BikeCo.com