For decades, road bicycles were assembled using a set of rules that were standard in every bicycle shop and home work shop. These rules were understood as law and any mechanic worth their weight in beans respected and followed them. The brake lever position is a classic example of this. When mounting the brake lever on a pair of drop bars, the bottom of the lever was always positioned evenly with the lowest portion of the drop bar. Most mechanics utilize a straight edge (e.g., steel ruler, headset wrench) flat against the bar and lowered the lever until the bottom touches the flat edge. Tighten, done.
But in 1999-2000 riders began to roll the bars upwards, in essence, raising the location of the hoods. I have a few theories on why this was done.
In 1997, Shimano released the DA9 group and with it came the new standard for brake lever ergonomics. Shimano bulked up the hood giving it a wider, more comfortable feel and giving the end of the hood a rounder, taller profile. This increase in size gave the rider's hands more to hang onto and, during hard efforts, something to rest against and provide leverage. For the Spring Classics, the new hood design improved control and provided support on the pave.
In typical McCoy/Hatfield form, Campagnolo releases a complete revamp of the Record group in 2000. Like DA, Campy hoods recieved a make-over as well, bulking up like their DA counterparts. Absent though was the pronounced mass on the end of the hoods. Instead Campy focused on keeping it smaller and more nub-like. The new, rounder profile was a welcomed improvement over the older, pointed version. However, this difference in lever profile was the impetus for the trend of rotating the bars.
With the smaller nub on the end of the lever, the rider doesn't have the same leverage point on the lever under hard efforts or during the rough sections of pave. Enter the gradual rise of the levers position on the bars and the ever-increasing rotation of the bars. It seems that the rotation of the drops varies from 5-15 degrees and the higher position of the lever ranges from 2 mm to 1 cm above the bottom of the drops, thus bucking the traditional lever-bar relationship.
Another industry change that paralelled the new lever design was the advent of threaded headsets. Threadless systems removed the adjustability of the quill stem, eliminating the rider's option of 1-2 cm of height adjustability. Rotating the bars also increases the height of the hoods. The downside of this is that the drops also move further away from the rider.
The positional change is an easy fix for times when the rider needs an increase in bar height. The best example of this is Tyler Hamilton's bar rotation following his broken collar bone and the alterations in Floyd's 2006 Tour when his hip was causing him pain.
I'm a fan of the new bar position. The increased height of the hoods coupled with the rotation of the bar feels better on my wrists, and provides a noticable increase in the usefulness of the hoods when under a hard effort. Another bonus is the transition created between the shape of the bar and the hood itself. The added height makes the transition from bar to lever almost seemless depending on the type of bar the rider chooses.
Tom Steels and Tyler Photo courtesy Cyclingnews.com
Photo courtesy ADA Wheels - www.ada.prorider.com