How to Adjust Bicycle Handlebars

by Wade Shaddy
Focus on the stem to adjust handlebars.

Focus on the stem to adjust handlebars.

Handlebar adjustment is important for comfort, performance and long hours in the saddle. Your arms should be comfortably stretched without pressure on your wrists. Ideally, your back should be at about 45 degrees, with your arms at 90 degrees to your back. Even though the configuration and type of handlebars differ, the adjustment of handlebars typically relies on the stem, which is common on all bikes.

Side to Side

One of the most important adjustments on handlebars is side to side. Proper alignment insures that handlebars are centered over the wheel. The adjustment is controlled by a vertical shaft referred to as the stem; where the handlebars connect to the bike frame. Look for two setscrews or hex bolts -- cyclist typically refer to them as pinch bolts or clamp bolts -- located on the stem, just above the top, horizontal tube of the bike, facing the seat. Loosen the two pinch bolts a few turns using a 4mm hex wrench. Straddle the bike as if you were going to ride it, and slide forward to hold the wheel of the bike between your legs. Sight down the handlebars in relation to the wheel, if they're shifted to one side you should be able to see it. Some handlebars have an icon or hash mark on the handlebars that centers over the wheel. Shift the handlebars to the left or right as needed to centered them. You may have to bump them from side to side with your hands, or loosen the bolts a bit more if the handlebars won't move. Tighten the pinch bolts to finish the job.

Handlebar Height, Road Bike

Handlebar height can be changed by the grips on road bikes. The grips are the pistol-shaped handles with the shifters. The grips are fixed to the handlebars, but grip height can be adjusted by tilting the handlebars. There are four horizontal pinch bolts located on the front of the handlebars above the front tire. Use a 4mm hex wrench to loosen them. Sit on the bike, grasp the grips and use a twisting motion to swivel the handlebars up or down. As the handlebars tilt, it raises or lowers the grips as needed. Check the positioning of the bars and grips by sitting on the seat. Tighten the bolts to finish the job.

Spacers, Road and Mountain

Spacers or bushings are used on both mountain and road bikes for handlebar adjustments. If you've adjusted the height of road bike handlebars by twisting them to change the grips and it's not enough, more drastic adjustment is needed. The raising or lowering of the handlebars is controlled by bushings under the stem. Loosen the four 4mm hex bolts on the stem, as if you were going to adjust the left and right positioning. Use a 5mm hex wrench to loosen the larger, vertical bolt -- the only vertical bolt on the top, above the four horizontal bolts. Remove the bolt and gently lift the handlebars and stem together, up and off the steering shaft. The handlebars are still attached to cables, so allow them to hang gently forward. Remove bushings from the steering shaft to lower the handlebars. To raise the bars, you will need to purchase a few extra spacers from the dealer and add them to the stack. Place the handlebars back onto the shaft and tighten the bolts to finish.

Pitch and Height

If you've added bushings or spacers, and your bars still need adjusting, there's one more option. The stem, the horizontal part that connects the handlebars to the steering tube, is typically slanted up or down; it's easy to see the pitch by sighting across the stem from the side. The stem is reversible to angle the handlebars in the opposite direction. Start by removing the four horizontal bolts above the front tire on the front of the handlebars. Remove them and the small plate securing the handlebars to the stem to free the handlebars. Allow the handlebars to hang gently from the cables. Remove the vertical 5mm hex bolt from the stem, and loosen the four, horizontal 4mm bolts below it. Lift the stem off the tube, turn it upside down and reinstall it to alter the pitch and height of the handlebars.

About the Author

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.

Photo Credits

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