I have been asked that question since I started posting pictures of my bike on this blog.
It came up again when I posted a picture of my now wrecked bike last Thursday.
Why is my front brake lever on the right?
The simple answer is that I have always had my brakes set up that way since I started riding back in the 1950s, and it is what I am used to.
From the 1930s through the 1950s the most popular side-pull brake was the Swiss made Weinmann 500; the caliper arms were opposite to most current side-pulls today. The front brake caliper arms were on the left, so with the brake lever on the right the cables crossed.
You can see this in the picture of me, circa 1953.
I did not put the front brake on the right just so the cables would cross, but rather followed the style of the day and did what people with far more experience were doing.
As I remember, it had a lot to do with the fact that both front and rear derailleurs were shifted using the right hand, leaving only the left hand to operate a brake.
The front derailleur was operated by a lever whereby you reached down between your legs with your right hand. Now dubbed, suicide shifters, although I don’t recall this ever being a problem.
The picture on the right is of a Huret front derailleur that was very popular in the 1950s.
[Picture from The Racing Bicycle.com]
Campagnolo did not come out with a brake set until 1971; when they did, it was opposite to the Weinmann and most other side-pulls of that era. It had the front brake caliper arms on the right.
Campagnolo quickly became the brake of choice among racing cyclists and enthusiasts world wide, and as a result, other side-pull manufactures copied the Campagnolo style.
An observation I have made is that many people who like me started riding in England in the 1950s have their front brake lever on the right. Others who started later in the 1970s have the front brake lever on the left.
There is also a theory that the English, front brake on right set up, can be traced all the way back to the Ordinary (Penny Farthing) bicycle that had a single spoon brake on the front wheel only, operated by the right hand.
Early "Safety" bicycles had the same front brake only set up, so when rear brakes were added later, people were already used to having the front brake on the right.
Old English roadster bikes with roller brakes had the front brake on the right. The explanation for this could be as simple as the rod operating the rear brake went down the left side of the frame to keep it clear of the chain and chainwheel on the right side.
Some could argue a right and a wrong way to set up brake levers, but I only speak for myself when I say I continue to set mine up the way I always have. Simple as that.