How To Raise Mountain Bike Handlebars

Proper adjustment of your bicycle handlebars will ensure optimum comfort for the rider and will enable road and mountain bikers to achieve maximum performance.

Riders will often experiment with saddle height, tire pressure, bar angle, and suspension settings, but only a few are aware of the benefits of adjusting the handlebars, despite them playing a crucial role in the way your bike handles when mountain biking.

In addition, growing children also need to have their mountain bike bars adjusted each year to suit them best. Luckily, all you really need is an Allen key, some spacers, and 5-10 minutes to get your headset perfectly adjusted.

Bar Height

Bar height, otherwise known as saddle-drop, is the measurement of how far the top of the saddle sits above or below the bars.

Generally, a lower handlebar height reduces your center of gravity. By placing more weight over the front wheel, you increase traction.

Additionally, a lower bar height provides a more centered position between both wheels to improve bike control, especially during climbing. These traits are even more noticeable off-road, especially with 29ers.

Going too low can make the bike difficult to control. A lower handlebar can also negatively affect handling in steep terrain.

On the road, elite riders normally have a significant drop, where their bars sit below the saddle. This is typically done to provide a more aerodynamic position.

Recreational riders are usually best served by a handlebar that is in line with the saddle or above it. This usually gives a very comfortable position.

When choosing the rise, two determining factors are the rider’s position on the bike as well as the purpose of the bike. For taller riders, if the handlebars feel too low, a riser bar may be appropriate.

Experimenting with bar height is easy and most often free, so you can adjust to your heart’s content until you find the right position for you.

How to raise mountain bike handlebars

The method used for raising handlebars on your mountain bike will depend on which type of setup your bike has.

Whether your mountain bike has a Threaded or Threadless Headset Stam, the process will consist of loosening the bolts with an Allen key or a wrench and adjusting the sizing before securing it back together.

What you will need:

  • Allen keys or multi-tool
  • Torque wrench. If you have a carbon fiber frame then a pre-set torque key will work better
  • Some manufacturers of stems won’t use Allen bolts, instead, it will be Torx keys. If this applies to you, you’ll need a T20 or T25 Torx key
  • For quill stems, you may need a hammer

Raising mountain bike handlebars with a threadless headset stem

Threadless headsets have one big bolt on the top and two smaller bolts that help clamp the stem down. If your bike only has one continuous piece of metal connecting the bike to the bars then you have a threaded headset.

Step 1: Adjustments

.If you prefer a larger change to your handlebar height, you will need to purchase a new stem. If you have serious comfort issues, such as reaching too far or not far enough to your bars, you should consider a longer or shorter stem.

Step 2: Height Adjustment

Adjust your stem height to your comfort level, not a “right” location. Let your body be the best judge of where you need the Mtb handlebars.

Your back shouldn’t be too hunched or bent and your arms should be slightly bent at the elbows. Otherwise, ride how you feel comfortable.

Have a friend or family member hold the bike in place by gripping the front wheel between their thighs as they climb into the seat to test the handlebars. Generally, regardless of mountain or road biking:

Riders who race have low handlebars so they can crouch aerodynamically. They are usually below the seat 2 to 4 inches.

Comfort riders or cruisers and beginners will have handlebars level with the seat or higher.

Step 3: Loosen Cap

Loosen the stem cap, which is the bolt pointing up to where the stem meets the bike.

Do this by taking an Allen key or Allen wrench and removing the bolt on the stem cap. This bolt keeps the handlebars on the bike, and you need to remove it to raise or lower your bars.

Remove the long bolt and take off the cap, then set them both aside safely for later.

Step 4: Loosen Stem Bolts

Loosen the bolts on each side of the stem, by using an Allen Key to loosen the two side screws on your handlebars. 

They will be on the part of the stem closest to your seat. Loosen them enough so that you pull the handlebars and stem of the tube in the frame.

Step 5: Remove

Pull the stem off of the bike frame and slowly remove the handlebars.

Be careful not to stress or bend any of the wires attached to the brakes and derailleurs. These usually have a little bit of extra slack, but to be safe you should roll the bike up to a table or chair and place the handlebars down carefully, close to the bike.

Step 6: Stem Riser

Add or remove the circular risers to bring the handlebars to the desired height.

These headset spacers are all you have to adjust the height on threadless headsets. They are small rings that you add to gain height and remove to lower the bars.

The conical piece that the bottom of the stem and connects to the frame, however, is the bearing cover and cannot be removed

You then have to slide the bike handlebar stem back over the spacers. Don’t worry too much about aligning the bars perfectly just yet.

If you remove any spacers, put them on top of the stem so that you don’t lose them. The stem cap bolt will then cover them.

The stem or spacers should be slightly above the top of the steerer tube, approximately 3 millimeters. If they are flush with or below the steerer tube, headset adjustment will be impossible.

Step 7: Tighten

Insert the stem cap bolt and tighten it by hand.

You do not need to crank the bolt down, as hand tightness is perfectly fine. This top bolt does not affect the side-to-side movement of the handlebars, so you should tighten it before trying to get the handlebars aligned again.

If you are working with delicate pieces, like a carbon fiber frame, you should have a torque wrench to make sure you don’t crack anything.

Make sure you can turn the handlebars freely. If not, you should loosen the head bolt slightly until you can easily turn the bike.

Step 8: Align

Align the stem with the front wheel by standing over the bike with the frame between your legs, and squeeze the front wheel so that it is facing directly ahead.

Close one eye and adjust the handlebars so that the centerpiece is aligned exactly with the front wheel. You want your wheel and handlebars to be in line for proper turning control.

If you are having trouble keeping the bars in place, tighten the nuts a quarter turn so that you need more pressure to spin the handlebars, yet they still move independently of the wheel.

Tighten the bolts when you are done and the handlebars are aligned.

Step 9: Headset Alignment

Check your headset alignment. The headset is the entire collection of pieces, like the handlebars, stem, fork, and front wheel, that turn your bike.

The top bolt attaches to the headset of your bike, which affects your turning. To check it, stand with the bike between your legs and clamp the front brake lever down.

Turn the wheel back and forth and feel for any rocking or odd movement beneath your hands. If you feel any, loosen the side bolts, tighten the top bolt a little more, then retighten the sides to check again.

If you are struggling to turn or feel a “tight spot,” loosen the top bolt a little.

Raising mountain bike handlebars with a threaded headset

Threaded headsets have one continuous metal piece, or the stem, that comes up out of the frame, bends forward and then attaches to the handlebar.

There is a nut where the stem leaves the frame that holds it in place and one bolt at the top of the stem. These stems are easy to adjust and are common on single-speed, fixed gear, and older bikes.

Some bikes do not have a hex nut by the frame, and just have the bolt on the top of the stem.

Step 1: Loosen Bolt

Loosen the bolt on the top of the stem.

This bolt, pointing straight down, creates the pressure that holds the stem in place. Use an Allen key to loosen it, though you don’t need to remove it entirely.

Step 2: Loosen locknut

Loosen the locknut with a wrench.

Disengage the hex nut, which is the “ring” where the stem meets the bike frame, by loosening it with a wrench.

Step 3: Pull handlebars

Pull the handlebars out of the frame. 

You may need to wiggle, twist, and pull to get them out. If this is a new bike, mark the location where the handlebars used to rest with a marker or measurement so that you can return to this location if you need.

Step 4: Grease

Wipe down and grease the stem lightly.

Then clean off any gunk on the stem with soapy water and then dry it with an old rag. To prevent the stem from getting stuck in the frame, later on, apply a little anti-seize grease around the bottom 2-3 inches of the stem.

Step 5: Adjust

Consider the kind of riding you’ll be doing when deciding a new handlebar type.

Proper handlebar positioning largely depends on the type of bicycle you’re using. That said, the number one concern when picking a height is rider comfort. You should put the handlebars where you can comfortably ride every time

Mountain bike handlebars should be lower than the seat. This gives you a lower center of gravity and better balance when negotiating rugged terrain.

Handlebars on a racing bike or road bike should be slightly lower than the seat to provide optimum aerodynamics and control at high speeds.

Step 6: Return Stem

Place the stem back at your desired height and tighten the hex nut and top bolt.

Hand tightness should be fine, especially with the top bolt. You don’t want to crank on the bolt, making it so tight that you can’t remove it later.

Raising bicycle handlebar by adjusting the angle

Check if your bike has adjustable stems.

Adjustable stems have a single bolt running perpendicular to the bike where the stem meets the frame. You can loosen this bolt, adjust the stem angle, then tighten it back to quickly move your handlebars.

If you have this option, adjust the stem and test it before moving on — it may be enough to get you comfortable.

Step 1: Loosen Screws

Loosen the four screws at the end of the handlebar stem.

The stem is the piece running perpendicular to your handlebars that attaches your frame to the handles.

On the front of the bars, as if you were looking at the bike from straight ahead, are four screws, usually clamped to a small square plate on the center of the bars. Loosen these and the handlebars will be able to rotate up and down.

Step 2: Determine height

Know how high you should angle your handlebars.

You should feel like you could comfortably play piano on your handlebars. You want your arms slightly bent and you should be able to quickly and comfortably reach the brakes. Your back should be at a roughly 45-degree angle from your waist.

Have a friend support the bike while you climb onto the seat and check your handlebar position.

Angling the bicycle handlebar is a minor adjustment. If you are in the right-hand position but can’t reach the brakes, have to bend over uncomfortably, or must extend your arms all the way, you will need to purchase a new handlebar stem. You may also be riding a bike that is too big for you

Position the brake levers so they’re pointing at a 45-degree angle toward the ground rather than keeping them parallel.

Step 3:  Angle

Angle the handlebars to a comfortable height, lightly tighten them, and test by having your friend hold the bike, or try a quick practice ride in a small area.

Make sure you remember to tighten the bolts before beginning, however, as your weight could force the bars to angle suddenly down and cause a crash

If you’ve been having finger numbness when riding, consider tipping your bars up a little more. This puts less pressure on your palms that may cut off some circulation.

Step 4: Tighten Bolts

Tighten the bolts by hand once you’ve set the right angle.

Hand tightens them enough so that the bars don’t move when bike riding. However, you do not want them to be so tight that you cannot remove the bolts later or the screws become stripped.

If you have a torque wrench you should set the bolts to 5nm strength.

Be sure to tighten the handlebars completely, or you may strip the bolts holding them to the stem and make your bike unsafe for cycling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should bike seat be higher than handlebars?

Your handlebars should be at least as high as your mountain bike seats, or even above them, so you can ride upright.

If your handlebars are lower than your seat you’ll be pushed into your handlebars, and you’ll place more stress on your wrists, arms, neck, and back.

What is the correct height for bike handlebars?

The general rule for adjusting handlebars is that they should be set above the height of the seat for a more upright and comfortable riding position, and below the height of the seat for a more forwarding-leaning, performance-oriented position.

Conclusion 

A proper bike fit is important for people who cycle on a regular basis or ride longer distances.

Regardless of whether you have a regular or flat handlebar, carbon handlebar or carbon bars, enduro bike, mountain bike, cruiser or road bike, you have to adjust the handlebar angle and seat height to improve comfort, visibility, to reduce the possibility of injuries and to improve bicycle performance.

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By George