Left Hand Rear Brake evaluation by Chris Moss

September 26, 2014/in Reviews and Tests /by Burt
Product Review by Chris Moss (Mossy)
Regular viewers of the ATRC site may remember me mentioning a handy little device I fitted to my BMW G450X a while ago. Dubbed quite simply as a ‘left-hand rear brake’, unsurprisingly, just as its name suggests, it’s a rear brake activated by your left-hand! Ah the simplicity of it all.
LHRB_mainNow that might sound quite basic and, as the opinions of several narrow-minded riders have suggested to me, a bit pointless. Let me assure you though, it’s nothing of the sort. I’ve only used it for about six rides so far, but I’ve already felt its benefit on numerous occasions. Better still, because the more I’ve used it, the more I’ve felt its advantage, I reckon I’m still a long way off appreciating it to its full effect.
I’ve wanted to try such a device for around four years now, which co-incidentally is about the same time I’ve been off-roading. That desire has turned out to be a real plus point. It’s given me a positive attitude, really helping me to get the best out of the brake. But more of that later. In the meantime, as Mr. Max Bygraves used to say, let me tell you a story.
The early days
Just as I started making enquiries about whether a hand-operated rear brake existed, I got a fortuitous call from Alan Buchanan from Smokn limited offering me one. The call was timely. I’d long thought trying to use a sometimes difficult / occasionally impossible to get to rear brake pedal was regular restriction to progress. Several frustrating crashes proved evidence of that. Why? I thought, when you couldn’t always reach the pedal, did anyone think it was a good idea to position it where it was? And given that even when you can get to it, you have to operate it with a heavy and bulky boot, I reckoned an alternative set up seemed much wiser. And so the LHRB was fitted, which turned out to be a fairly straightforward job thanks to the quality and fit of its well-made parts.
My first outing didn’t go as well as expected. I wasn’t surprised to discover trying to use both the clutch and rear brake lever unusually sited on the same side of the handlebars a bit tricky. It was more the issue of losing hydraulic pressure just as I was getting used to things that bothered me most. Luckily a quick trail-side bleeding session restored a firm feel at the lever. However, having a couple of more falls and losing the pressure again made me realise the system might have needed a bit more care than I’d given it when first fitting it.
Read the bloody instructions!
A call to Alan revealed that to be the case. I could sense his frustration when it became obvious that I’d not read the LHRB’s fitting instructions! I’ve really never been a fan of the written ‘how to do it’ guidance. Which is probably why all my model planes and ships ended up with lots of spare bits when I considered them ‘finished’. I just don’t have patience, preferring to ‘work it out’ by myself.
But without following the directions, and taking time and care, there’s a lot less chance of getting the LHRB to work well. I’ll spare you the details of my obvious mechanical ineptitude, but after a couple more enforced conversations with Alan (who suggested perhaps while I was sat down in the little boy’s room I should take the chance to study the instructions to get the device working fully) I finally got things sorted.
LHRB_operationLearning new techniques
With a firm lever, plenty of bite and, most importantly the position of the clutch and rear brake levers sorted perfectly, I got the chance to take advantage of the LHRB.
Using it is the easy bit really. It’s the teaching of your head to pull the lever instinctively that’s quite hard to begin with. With two fingers busily trying to operate both the clutch and brake simultaneously, using the LHRB feels very alien at first. Slowly but surely though, just as I would if I was learning to play a saxophone, I began to get the hang of things and grew to like the device.
Actually, that’s not strictly true as the very first time I used it I thought it was a winner. Running my bike down its ramp out the back of my van was a totally controlled affair for once, even when the gearbox was in neutral. That was a mini bonus for me, but it was out on the trails where the advantages of the set up were numerous and enjoyed the most.
Many plus points
Rear wheel braking can be done much more sensitively and with more control using a single finger than it ever can with a weighty booted foot. In deep ruts where you want to run with yourfeet off the pegs, you now have a rear brake option. Down a steep and very slippery rutted slope on the Beacons Rally, I felt way better being able to stick my legs out as stabilisers, controlling the speed with the LHRB. If I’d touched the front brake lever I’d have instantly locked the wheel and been down for sure. Whatever your position on the bike, you’ll always be able to get to the bar lever.
It’s also good at a standstill. When I recovered my bike from an uphill fall recently, standing on its left hand side meant I couldn’t get to the brake pedal. Without the bar-mounted rear brake lever, my Bee-Em would have careered off down the slope as soon as I put it in neutral. Hmm, maybe that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing!
Getting the hang of it
I’ve now got to the stage where I don’t have to think about going for the lever rather than the pedal – though it should be noted the rear brake pedal still remains live on this system. The LHRB is an addition rather than a replacement.
Doubters and sceptics
Now despite my affection for the LHRB I’m amazed at the number of people who dismiss it as either a gimmick or plain needless. Mind you they all have one thing in common – they haven’t tried it! I have to admit because I wanted a LHRB in the first place, I’ve always viewed it positively and that outlook has no doubt also helped with the early challenges of learning how to use it. But now that I have, I find comments like, ‘it’s an unnecessary complication’, and the really acidic, ‘what a totally stupid idea’ rather baffling. The fact is, the LHRB works well and gives an advantage in many scenarios by making you more competent, faster and safer. I guess it’s one of those things you need to try really. But once you’re used to it, I’d be amazed if you didn’t think it was worthwhile. And that’s true however skilled or experienced you are in the first place.
The options
The LHRB fitted to my bike is the stage 1 kit which can be fitted to a totally standard machine. The bar-mounted lever is an additional device used to activate the rear brake, the rest of the bike controls (including the rear brake pedal) remain exactly as they were.
The stage 2 kit is primarily designed to compliment an auto clutch set up. It allows you to switch your original Brembo factory-fitted clutch master cylinder to operate the LHRB. This gives a more useful balanced feel and weight to the very similar shaped front and rear brake levers. The smaller after-market lever assembly is then used to work the clutch whenever you might want to use it manually. The rear brake pedal again remains fully functional.
A LHRB is widely regarded as vital on bikes fitted with an auto clutch as you can’t put the engine ‘in gear’ to stop it rolling away from you on a hillside after a failed climb.
The stage 1 kit retails at £165 plus postage, and the stage 2 kit can be had for £195 plus postage.
Kits are available for most motocross & enduro models

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