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You Are Here: Home Gear How To Adjust Handlebar Height

How to adjust handlebar height News News archive

By David Rome | Wednesday, October 9, 2013 9.00am 2 comments


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Workshop: How to clean and
lube your bike
One of the key things we do to make our test bikes
Keep your ride running smoothly
handle better is adjusting handlebar height. Often, the
off-the-shelf bar height doesn't lend itself to optimal
handling. Workshop: How to service BB30 & Press-Fit
bottom brackets
Riders will often experiment with saddle height, tyre
How to adjust handlebar height
pressures. bar angle and suspension settings, but few are
aware of the benefits of bar height. Bar height is also known Ultimate guide to mountain bike gears
as saddle-drop, measured by how far the top of the saddle
Workshop: 10 ways to make your road bike
sits above (or below) the bars. Elite riders normally have faster
drop, where their bars sit below the saddle, whereas Most new mountain bikes will be set up at the
recreational riders usually don’t. Workshop: How to refurbish a bike frame
maximum height - with the stem in a positive
position and a full stack of spacers
Generally speaking, a lower handlebar height reduces your
underneath David Rome/Future Publishing
centre of gravity. By placing more weight over the front wheel,
you increase traction. Additionally a lower bar height provides
a more centred position between both wheels to improve bike
control, especially during climbing. These traits are even more
View Thumbnail Gallery
noticeable off-road, especially with larger wheeled bikes
(29ers).

There is a limit: going too low can make the bike difficult to
control. Luckily, experimenting with bar height is easy and
most often free. The guide below applies to modern
threadless style stems and headsets, if your stem has bolts
pinching it onto the steerer tube, it’s most likely threadless.
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Use those spacers: The first and easiest way to adjust handlebar height is by moving headset spacers.
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This bike features two headset spacers. The cone shaped piece is the headset bearing cover, you can buy
shallower versions of these if a very low bar height is desired.

The headset spacers sit on the fork's steerer tube and help preload the headset bearings during adjustment.
Generally, most bikes have 20 to 30mm of headset spacers that can be moved freely above or below the stem. All
bolts in the stem are standard threaded (‘lefty-loosey, and righty-tighty’).

1. Start with the bike’s wheels firmly on the ground and then loosen the clamp bolts on the back of the stem.

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2. Remove the top cap that sits on top of the stem. This will normally be a 5mm allen key.

3. Slide the stem off the steerer tube.

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4. Decide how much you’d like to lower or raise your bar and add or remove the appropriately sized spacer(s).

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5. Slide the stem back onto the steerer tube and replace the spacers you just removed into position above the
stem.

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Ensure there is a 3 to 5mm gap between the steerer tube and the top of your stem/spacer. This will ensure there's
enough space for the headset topcap to clamp down and preload the headset bearing. If this gap is not present,
check that you have not misplaced any spacers.

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6. Now replace that topcap and bolt and tighten till you feel some resistance. This topcap bolt is used to preload
the headset bearings. Too tight and your handlebars won’t turn freely, too loose and you will feel a rattle and
vibration through the bike.

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7. Next, align the stem with the front wheel, so the bar is at a right angle with the wheel. This may take some
patience – it helps to straddle yourself over the top tube of the bike.

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8. Once the wheel and stem are aligned, evenly torque the stem clamp bolts to the manufacturers
recommended torque. This is often around 5 to 8nm.

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9 of 15 2014.03.16. 17:45
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9. Check your headset adjustment. An easy trick to get this right is to hold the front brake and put one hand on
the headset, then rock the bars gently back and forth. Feel for rocking. If you feel any, loosen the stem clamp bolts
and tighten the top cap bolt another quarter-turn, then re-torque stem clamp bolts. Repeat until all signs of bearing
movement have disappeared and the handlebars still turn smoothly. If you've tightened the bolts too much, you'll
feel a tight spot when turning the handlebars.

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10. Go and test that new bar height.

Flipping the stem:

If spacers aren't enough to achieve the affect you wanted, you can flip the stem to make a further change to the
bar height. Most mountain bikes will be set up with the stem in a positive position, creating an upward angle, but
you can use it the other way round. This uses all the steps above with the addition of unbolting the handlebar from
the front of stem.

11. With the bike’s wheels firmly on the ground, make a mental note of the handlebar angle and the brake lever
angle. Undo the bolts that hold the handlebar to the front of the stem.

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12. Let the handlebar gently droop to the side and now follow the procedure for swapping spacers, outlined in
steps 1 to 4 above.

13. While the stem is off the bike, flip it over and then slide it back onto the steerer tube. You'll see the stem has
reversed its slope.

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14. Reinstall the handlebar, replicating the previous brake lever and handlebar angle. Tighten face-plate to
manufacturers recommended torque (generally between 4 and 8nm). Ensure that all bolts are done up evenly, a
little at a time, and that there is an even gap top to bottom with the face plate once they're tight. If the gap isn’t
even, the handlebar is being pinched.

Proceed with steps 3 to 7 above to preload the headset and tighten the stem.

You’re now good to hit the trail and/or road to test out the bikes new handling characteristic. It may take some trial
and error along with patience to find that perfect height, but once you've got it, you'll be far closer to realising the
bike's true potential.

We also previously offered some great advice on mountain bike handlebar position.

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User Comments Showing 2 comments

azi Posted Thu, 10 Oct 2013 12:49:25 GMT Flag as inappropriate

I would also recommend making small changes and then riding it for a while to see how it feels. It's incredible how much of
a difference 5mm can make.

G-S Posted Mon, 14 Oct 2013 12:29:05 GMT Flag as inappropriate

Whilst bar height is an important issue, I think this is only part of the story, if the stem length is too long (Given most
manufacturers seem to put ridiculously long stems on these days) then no amount of fiddling with the height will improve
your ride. The width of the bar is also remarkably important. I find the best thing to do is wet your hands, adopt a good
wide press-up position on a dry floor, make sure you do a correctly executed press-up, then measure the marks your
hands leave on the floor. 10mm either side of the marks on the floor should be your optimum bar width for comfort. Now
adopt all three principles of bar height, bar width, and stem lenghth, and you should be sorted for the perfect ride.

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