Ask a Mechanic: Installing Secondary Cross Top Brake Levers

Graham wants to know: Can you show how to install cross top levers on my bike?

Cross top levers are a great investment for someone who spends a lot of time on the top of their bars and is wary of having to suddenly apply the brakes. Cross top levers are primarily found on, you guessed it, cyclocross bikes. They are also commonly found on touring bikes as well. They offer the ability to apply the brakes no matter where your hands are positioned on the bar, which is reassuring to many people. The main drawback to these cross top levers is that they take up space on the bar where some people may want to rest their hands, but for most people looking into getting these levers it’s worth it. Any time you are working on something controlling braking you need to be sure it is done correctly so you don’t compromise braking performance. Here’s how you set them up.

Start by disconnecting the brake cable and pulling it out of the housing. The cable doesn’t need to be completely removed, but it does need to be pulled out far enough to clear the section of housing where the lever will be mounted. Next we can mount the cross top levers in the desired position on the handlebar. This may require you to remove some of the bar tape from the bars. Once the levers are mounted to the bar you’ll need to cut the housing to fit into the housing guide hole on the lever. Depending on the levers you buy, the housing may or may not require the use of a housing ferrule before putting it in to the lever. After the housing is cut to the proper length and put into the lever you can connect the rest of the housing section you just had to cut. You may want to trim the housing a little to account for the added length that the lever applies. The added length however is pretty minimal so it’s not 100% necessary. This section of housing requires the use of another housing ferrule before putting it into the barrel adjuster built into the cross lever. Once the housing is inserted pull the lever a few times to make sure that the housing isn’t being obstructed or interfered with in any way. If the housing moves freely without interference you can push the cable back through the housing and the lever. This may be a little difficult if the cable became frayed after being disconnected. If that’s the case just use a new cable and it should glide right through. The last step is to reconnect the brake cable to the brake, and adjust the brake to your desired pull at the lever. Most cross top levers have a barrel adjuster built in so you are able to make adjustments on the fly as well. When you’re getting the brake set up it’s important to check the pull on the main lever as well as the cross top lever. The cross top levers are meant to be a secondary form of braking, so set the cable pull on your main lever and just deal with the pull on the cross top lever.