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One of the key things we do to make our test bikes handle better is adjust the handlebar height. Often, the off-the-shelf bar height doesn’t lend itself to optimal handling, nor is it dialled in for fit. With that in mind, here’s our guide on how to adjust handlebar height.

Riders will often experiment with saddle height, Tyre pressure, bar angle and suspension settings, but few are aware of the benefits of adjusting bar height, despite the handlebar playing a crucial role in the way your bike handles.

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

Generally speaking, a lower handlebar height reduces your 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 noticeable off-road, especially with 29ers.

There is a limit; 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.

Luckily, 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 adjust the handlebar height on your bike

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.

We also cover how to adjust the height of a quill-style stem below.

  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Skill rating: Easy
  • Cost: Free

Tools you’ll need

  • A multi-tool or a set of Allen keys
  • A torque wrench or pre-set Torq key is recommended, especially if working with carbon or lighter parts
  • Some stems, such as those from Zipp, Ritchey and Syncros, will use Torx keys rather than Allen bolts and so a T20 or T25 Torx key will be required
  • Possibly a hammer for some quill stems

How to add or remove headset spacers

How to adjust your handlebar height
This bike features four headset spacers. The piece below the fourth spacer is the headset bearing cover and should not be removed. 

The first and easiest way to adjust handlebar height is by moving headset spacers.

Headset spacers sit on the fork’s steerer tube and help pre-load 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 (i.e. ‘lefty-loosey, and righty-tighty’).

Step 1

How to adjust your handlebar height
Loosen each of these bolts, a little at a time, one after the other until you feel no resistance. 

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

This is a good time to add a little fresh grease to the top cap bolt, which can easily become seized in place.

Step 2

How to adjust your handlebar height
The top cap bolt will most often require a 4mm or 5mm Allen key. 

Remove the top cap that sits on top of the stem.

Step 3


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