How to Raise the Handlebars on a Mountain Bike

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Mountain biking is a favorite pastime or professional sport for many people globally. The exercise is good for the heart, and you can enjoy the fresh air of the great outdoors.

However, the handlebar height plays a crucial role in the overall bike handling. And off-the-shelf handlebars will not be adjusted for optimal handling or customized for a specific fit.

If you’re conflicted about the height of your bike’s handlebars, look no further than this article. We’ve detailed the steps on how to raise the handlebars on a mountain bike.

The Importance of Raising Your Handlebars

Here are some reasons why mountain bike handlebars may need adjustment.

Improved Visibility

When biking, good visibility is of utmost importance to help reduce the severity and the number of accidents. When your handlebars are too low, you may be hunched over the handlebars as you ride and steer the bike.

By design, the handlebars are positioned slightly lower than the seat, which does make the rider look as though they are slightly hunched over. However, the correct position of the rider should include a comfortable grip and elbow position (unlocked elbows).

On the other hand, being positioned slightly lower accounts for a desired center of gravity, depending on the mountain bike design. But being too low will cut off your field of vision, and if your vision is reduced or distorted in any way, you can become a liability to yourself and those around you.

Comfort and Lessen the Likelihood of Injury

Comfort is another motivating factor to adjust your handlebars, as feeling comfortable on your bike enhances the riding experience. Mountain bikes are not engineered for the rider to be excessively hunched over, which reduces visibility and can cause adverse effects on your body.

Make sure to adjust the handlebars frequently to avoid cramps, pains, aches, and other issues associated with incorrect posture caused by improper handlebar height.

Improved Performance

Occasionally, the handlebars may require adjustment to help keep the bike in great condition. Well-adjusted handlebars accommodate more control over the bike for easier and safer riding on rugged off-road terrain.

Regifting or Recycling

Adjusting the handlebars can be part of the preparation to regift or recycle them. Mountain bikes are incredibly versatile and, when well-maintained, can quite easily become the gift that keeps on giving.

Accommodate Growth

A common reason for adjusting the handlebars is to accommodate the growth of a teenager or child. When purchasing a bike for an adolescent, there will always be the risk of sizing changes within six months to a year.

Therefore, the handlebar height should be raised on a child’s or teenager’s mountain bike at least once a year. However, depending on their growth rate, this may need to be done more frequently.

Handlebar Height

The handlebar height is also referred to as “saddle-to-bar drop.” This is the distance between the top of the saddle’s (seat) position below or above the handlebars. Again, a bike fit may be the best way to achieve the proper bar height.

A lower handlebar height will reduce your center of gravity, and more weight placed over the front wheel increases traction. Furthermore, a dropped handlebar height improves bike control by offering a more centered position between the wheels, especially when biking uphill.

However, when the handlebar is too low, it will have the opposite effect and can negatively impact handling on steep terrain.

Man standing with a bike on a hill

Type of Rider

Professional and experienced riders generally have a considerable handlebar drop. The bar positioned under the saddle creates a more aerodynamic position.

Recreational mountain bikers are typically more comfortable when their handlebar is above the saddle or in line with it. This offers a relaxed position and a great starting point for experimenting with handlebar height.

Fortunately, you can experiment with your handlebar height as much as you like when looking for a suitable position.

How to Raise Handlebars on a Mountain Bike

Our guide is for modern threadless style headsets and stems. Your mountain bike is likely threadless if the stem has bolts squeezing it onto the steerer tube.

Time: Approximately 15 minutes

Difficulty level: Easy

Tools Required:

  • A set of Allen wrenches, or a multi-tool will suffice in most cases
  • A torque wrench

How to Add a Headset Spacer

A simple way to raise the bar height is by adding headset spacers. They are positioned on the fork’s steerer tube and assist in pre-loading the headset bearing during adjustment.

Usually, bikes have 20 to 30 millimeters of headset spacers to be moved liberally below or above the stem. Adding more than 30 millimeters is not recommended as it can strain your steerer tube and cause it to fail. Follow these steps to increase the handlebar height on your bike:

  1. With the bike wheels securely on the ground, undo the clamp bolts on the back of the stem.
  2. Remove the top cap from the stem and hold the fork to stop it from falling.
  3. Remove the steerer tube by sliding the stem.
  4. Decide how much you want to raise your bar height, and add the appropriately sized spacer(s).
  5. Place the stem back onto the steerer tube, then replace the removed spacers above the stem. Ensure a 3-5 millimeter gap between the steerer tube’s top and the stem’s edge. There should be a sufficient gap for the pre-load of the headset bearing and the headset to clamp down.
  6. Replace the top cap and bolt, then tighten.
  7. Line up the stem with the front wheel, ensuring the handlebar is at a right angle with the wheel. It may help if you straddle over the bike’s top tube to get this right.
  8. Using the torque wrench, equally torque the stem clamp bolt to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  9. Test your headset amendment. You can achieve this by holding the front brake, placing your hand on the headset, and gently swaying the bars back and forth. First, check if you can feel the steerer rocking inside the head tube. If so, undo the stem clamp bolts, make the top cap bolt tighter with one more quarter-turn, and re-torque the stem clamp bolts. Do this until you no longer notice bearing movement and the bars turn smoothly.

Taking Your Handlebars to New Heights

The handlebar greatly influences your mountain bike’s overall stability, handling, and reliability and can make or break your biking experience. The right handlebar height for you ensures your comfort, versatility, control, leverage, and aerodynamics.

The easiest way to raise the bar height is to increase the stem height using headset spacers. This is typically a 15-minute job that can be done using a set of Allen wrenches.