Bikes are very personal things. Despite every child pretty much being able to draw a representative bike with just two circles and a diamond, it’s surprising just how many ways there are to make the bike you ride truly yours.
I happen to think this process of personalisation goes through three stages:
It starts with the idea of buying a bike in the first place. Some people spend hours over this, checking different specifications, reading up about the subject, choosing a bike that’s right for them. Regardless, it’s pretty rare that the rider choosing a bike for the first time isn’t swayed by the colour and graphics on the bike.
Look at me for example.
I started off with something that looked the part with a deep green paintjob and ‘mountain’ graphics (this was a long time ago!) but turned out to be made of pig iron and running cantilever brakes.
Next I graduated to a ‘proper’ Marin hardtail, with a much more sophisticated metallic green finish and RST pseudo forks. After that, a grey Rift Zone with red 28mm Manitou forks.
All basically stock bikes that sounded good, looked the part but were in no way personalised to me.
The second stage of bike personalisation sees the rider moving into the area of customising his or her ride in order to make it suit their needs better. This is often seen with the rider changing handlebar width, stem lengths or going for a layback seatpost to help the bike fit them better.
Maybe along the way comes a switch to clipless pedals, maybe even the expense of an upgraded fork that promises to take their riding up a level or two.
Then there’s tyres. But that’s a subject for a post or two of it’s own…
Finally, we reach stage three of bike personalisation. By now the rider probably has a pretty good idea of what suits them. Frame sizing and geometry knowledge gleaned from multiple not-quite-right bike purchases leave this rider reasonably informed. A few sensible kit upgrades have got the bike so it suits them just fine. In many ways the bike can’t be bettered.
Except; how to make it just a bit more personal to them?
This is where the theme bike comes in. You know what I mean. Take a theme for a bike and pimp it for all it’s worth. Maybe it’s by using the same brand of finishing kit for the whole bike. Maybe it’s going to a SRAM-free or Shimano-free drivetrain build. Maybe it’s about lining up your tyre labels just so.
Or, more likely, it’s by picking a colour theme and following it through to it’s logical conclusion.
I’ve done all that myself.
For example, I’m quite proud of my pink and white Inbred singlespeed. Pastel pink seatpost clamp, pink Straitline bashring, pink Superstar spacer kit for the rear cog, pink Azonic handlebars, teamed with white everything else, including white Avid Elixir brakes, white grips and as a long term ambition, a white saddle. Now that’s a personalised bike!
That’s great I hear you say, but where do the Straitline brake levers come in then?
Well, long story short, I’ve just bought a 29er Inbred off DaveC. It’s great, seems to work well for me despite rigid forks and currently, some rather old-school looking Easton riser bars to get the riding position to my liking.
Dave’s plan for this bike was black and gold, in a JPS stylee (that’s John Player Special cigarette branding, as it adorned Lotus F1 cars of the ’70’s, for our younger readers. Not the current faux-Lotus running around F1 tracks of today). This theme meant black frame and wheels with a smattering of gold bits here and there.
When Dave built this up an opportunity arose to buy some Straitline replacement brake levers in gold for his Shimano brakes.
Personally I’ve never got on with older Shimano hydraulic brakes. Too underpowered for me, too vague and more than anything, the lever itself always felt far too thin and flexy to my liking. I’ve always preferred something with a more precise on-off feel to it, which is why Elixirs seem to suit me just fine.
With these thoughts in mind I have to admit to being very surprised when I first started to put miles in on the Straitline brake lever equipped Inbred. Straight away I could tell that the Shimano brakes were quite a step forward over designs I’ve tried in the past, with most of this improvement seeming to be down to the Straitline levers.
The Straitline levers are very solid, being milled out of a chunk of aluminium – and quite a thick chunk of it too. They are anodised in a wide range of colours (I’d personally prefer a different colour to the gold), and laser-etched with three rows of grip enhancing dimples milled into the surface where your fingers come into contact with the lever.
The shape also gives the option of either one finger braking using the farthest end of the lever – which has a pronounced lip at the end to stop fingers sliding off, or you could brake using two fingers since the contact surface features two clear detentes for your fingers. It’s all down to personal preference, with mine being to move the levers slightly inboard and use just one finger if I can.
So the Straitline levers provide a nice size and shape to grip firmly, especially compared to the stock items. What you also get is a step up on performance. With the lever itself being slightly thicker there seems to be far less flex, meaning more of your effort is transferred into the braking system, which in turn means better feel and modulation and greater outright power. Straitline claim less forearm fatigue which makes sense although long brake-dragging descents in the Surrey Hills are few and far between for me to test that out.
All in all, these replacement levers tick the right boxes – better performance, lovely workmanship and the option of several anodised finishes (alas, for my next bike build, lacking only a pale lime green anodised option). This might move me toward the rather sumptious orange instead… but you’ll have to wait and see. And yes I’ve noted they do pastel pink!
The only downside, and the reason for the lower star rating here, is the price, which will easily set you back some £60 for a pair of replacement levers. This is not inconsiderable when you think most people never even think to replace their levers. There are clear benefits from the Straitline levers, and they can be had for less by looking around, but they are certainly at the top end of the market.
But if you want a really personalised ride with upgrades that both improve performance and look great, who cares about all that?