How to Raise Handlebars on Mountain Bikes

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Mountain bike enthusiasts come in all shapes and sizes and so should their bikes. 

Whether you’re looking to make adjustments because something doesn’t feel right on a new bike, a young rider you’re helping has grown, or you’re just experimenting, you’ll need to know a couple of things before you get started. Especially how to raise handlebars on mountain bikes.

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When to Raise Your Handlebars

The bottom line here is that you should raise your handlebars when their height is causing discomfort in some way. Although mountain biking can be intense exercise, you don’t need to accept all pain afterward as inevitable. 

For example, your back may hurt because you need to raise the handlebars on your mountain bike. Even if your bike is set up for someone with your precise height, maybe a slight difference in your proportions or posture makes that height too low for you. 

You should, in general, raise your handlebars when your goal is to increase the comfort level. Competitive racers may want their handlebars positioned below their saddle height for aerodynamic purposes, but there is a tradeoff between comfort and performance. You don’t want to be excessively hunched forward on your bike, either. 

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Threadless or Threaded? How to Tell the Difference

Once you know that you do want to try raising your mountain bike’s handlebar height, the first step is knowing what kind of headset stem your bike has. 

The stem is the L-shaped part that holds your handlebars onto your bike’s frame. Check out how many bolts are on the stem if you’re not sure what type you have. 

If your bike has a threadless stem, you’ll know because you should see three bolts holding the handlebars (one larger and two smaller bolts). A threaded stem will only have one bolt.

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Raising Handlebars on Threadless Stem Bikes

All you need for this is an Allen key and spacers.

A threadless stem bike is a bit harder to adjust because your only way to do it is to add spacers. Plus, you have a delicate balance of three bolts to carefully calibrate the tightness on once you replace the stem and handlebars.

Fear not, though! Raising the handlebars on a threadless stem mountain bike is achievable at home, with just an Allen key and enough spacers:

  1. First, remove the stem cap and the bolt holding it on. This is the part that points upward at the top of the stem.
  1. Next, you’ll want to loosen the stem’s side screws and pull the stem and handlebars off. 
  1. You should now be able to add spacers (metal rings) to increase the handlebar height before you replace the stem.
  1. With your spacers in place, replace the stem and handlebars. Tighten the three bolts you loosened by hand, but not as tightly as possible. You may need to experiment with this slightly because you need to be able to turn the handlebars. You will be tightening these bolts again in the next step once you’re fully done. 
  1. Finally, you’ll need to re-align your handlebars with your front wheel. While you’re standing over the bike, use your legs to hold the front wheel straight and turn the handlebars to get the centerpiece in line with the wheel. Once you’ve got everything aligned again, you can tighten the bolts more, and you’re done!

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Raising Handlebars on Threaded Stem Bikes

You’ll need an Allen key, wrench, rag, and anti-seize grease.

Threaded stem bikes present slightly less of a challenge to adjust than threadless stem bikes. The mechanism to adjust the height is essentially just pulling the handlebars up once you have the bolt and locknut loosened, but you may face issues like the stem getting stuck or not being able to determine where your handlebars were originally if you don’t mark the spot. 

Here’s how to do it correctly:

  1. First, loosen the bolt on the top of the stem with the Allen key, then the locknut with the wrench. 
  1. Pull the handlebars off, optionally marking the spot where they originally were for reference. This is highly recommended!
  1. Before replacing the handlebars at a greater height, it’s a good idea to clean the stem (soapy water will work) and then add the grease on the bottom three inches or so of the stem. This maintenance ensures that any further height adjustments will go smoothly. 
  1. Replace the handlebars, using your marker for reference to ensure that your handlebars will be higher up. 
  1. Tighten the bolt and locknut again once you have your desired height, and you’re done!

Conclusion

No matter your bike’s stem type, raising the handlebars on your mountain bike is a relatively easy task that you can perform at home. Don’t be afraid to experiment with handlebar height if anything feels off or you want to tweak your bike’s performance. You may find that your previously uncomfortable bike is a dream to ride. 

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