Making Your Current Bike Fit You: How to Adjust Bike Handlebars to Fit

Do your knees, shoulders or back hurt from riding your bike? Learning how to adjust your bike handlebars might help you fix the problem.

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Whether you are buying your first bicycle, your twentieth bicycle, or you’re getting your old bike out of storage, Dave Glowacz provides the tips for riders of all ages and levels of experience in Urban Bikers’ Tricks and Tips (Wordspace Press, 2010). This excerpt, which explains the ways to improve the comfort level on your bike by adjusting your handlebars is from Chapter 1, “Choosing a Bike.”

Typical Fit Problems

Lots of people have bikes that don’t fit right. Usually the frame is too tall, short, or long. A bad fit can hurt your back, neck, or shoulders. Or it can just make you feel strange. So should you get a different bike? Maybe not. First decide whether moving the handlebars and/or seat will fix the problem.

blue and white illustration of a man riding a bike

• Bending head up hurts neck
• Too much stretching hurts shoulders
• Too much weight hurts arms
• Too much knee bend hurts legs. (Knee pain can also result from not shifting gears.)
• Leaning over hurts back

Adjusting the Handlebars

Why: You sit straighter and don’t stretch as far.

Trick #1 is easiest. If it doesn’t work, try #2, then #3. But for #2 and #3 you have to take apart your handlebar assembly. If you don’t know how, ask a bike mechanic to do it for you.

1. Raising your current stem. Loosen the bolt at the top of your handlebar stem. By twisting the handlebars, pull them up to a comfortable position. If they won’t get there without leaving two inches of stem inside the frame, you should replace or extend your handlebar system.

illustration of the handlebars of a bicycle

2. Extending your stem. Get a handlebar stem riser. Risers come in several heights and diameters. Installing one requires a socket wrench with a six-inch extension, and you might have to replace some cables.

illustration of bike posture

3. Replacing your stem. Get a stem that goes higher or closer to your body.

illustration of bike handlebar measurements

Road stems have the least riser height and the most forward length. Cruiser stems have high riser height and/or no forward length.

ATB stems (for mountain and cross/hybrid bikes) have moderate riser length and height.

Want to learn more cycling tips? Check out these articles:

Making Your Current Bike Fit You: Adjusting the Seat
Bike Maintenance: What to Check Before Riding
Finding a Comfortable Bike Seat

book cover with an illustration of two people standing next to a bike

Reprinted with Permission from Urban Bikers’ Tricks and Tips by Dave Glowacz and published by Wordspace Press, 2010.

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