2 Things You Can Buy and Instantly Improve Your Bike Handling!

2 Things You Can Buy and Instantly Improve Your Bike Handling! By BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton

That’s right, your bike set-up can improve your riding!

I have spent the last 15 years studying bike handling and how bike setup effects bike handling. In that time I have kept and open mind and experimented with bars as narrow as 22″ and as wide as 32″ and stems from 150mm to 30mm. I didn’t invent a single skill or bike set-up theory myself I tired what other, “better riders” suggested. Everything I teach I have learned through others (world champions like Marla Streb and Greg Minnaar, motorcycle coaches, ski coaches, gymnastic coaches) and then personally tested out their ideas and had many of my top students (Pro racers like Ross Schnell, Chris Van Dine, Lynda Wallenfells, Mitch Ropelato, Sue Haywood, etc.) test these theories.

Wider handlebars and a shorter stem give you more control. 27-32 inch handlebars depending on your height and a 50-80 mm stem provides the best handling.  Handlebar height is important too, your bars should be 1”-3” lower than your seat when it is raised to optimum climbing height.

Your handlebars are one of the main inputs of control and wider bars give you much more control (because they are more stable (think of doing a push up with your hands 21″ apart and then 29″ apart. If I were trying to knock you over would I have more luck with your hands 21″ apart or 29″?). We have all hit a rock that wanted to violently twist our front wheel to the side. Can you see how a wider bar would give you more leverage to fight this?  I understand many of you have fear issues related to going through narrow trees and riding scared is a recipe for disaster but narrow handlebars create a twitchy, unstable ride.  Do you want to set you bike up to function well on the 3 or 4 narrow tree gaps or the rest of the trail.

Wider bars also allow you to keep your arms bent and chest down allowing you to ride in a more athletic, neutral position.  Perfect for riding smoothly and adjusting to anything and everything the trail throws at you.

Your stem is a not a bike fit device, it greatly effects the control of your bike.  Motorcycles don’t have stems for a reason, a long stem puts you out of balance (too much weight forward) straightens your arms (taking you out of a neutral position) and the long lever of a stem more than 90 millimeters long makes your steering “flop” to the side instead of being precise.

So for a more controlled ride go with a 50 to 80mm stem and 27″-32″ wide bars.  I know this goes against tradition so please try this set up for a week before commenting.  If you understand correct body position, how bikes turn and how to manual or wheelie correctly (using no upper body strength) you will love the control this gives you.

The coolest thing you will notice is how much this helps with technical climbing, no more wheel swerving all over the place. Your bike will track nice and straight.  The best technical climber I know runs a 30mm stem. I run a 60mm stem on all of my xc bikes and a 40-50 mm stem on my downhill bikes.

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171 replies
  1. Jen says:

    How are short women (e.g. 5’5″ and under) supposed to get a front cockpit on a bike that is 1″-3″ lower than their seat? Are you saying we should get a deep drop stem and flip it?

    A 3″ drop seems excessive and uncomfortable, not that I have ever had a mtb with bars lower than my seat.

    How does this affect going downhill and the tendency to endo?

    Also, wouldn’t a drastically shorter stem mean you might suddenly be too big for your bike?

    Lastly, it seems like bar sweep and rise would need to be factored in. Bar sweep (e.g. the 9-12 degrees you can get today in XC bars) would effectively bring the bars closer for a given stem length.

    Can you comment on these? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Jen,

      The 1-3″ is based on height, for you 1″ drop would be great. Ryan Trebron who is 6’5″ or 6’6″ has probably a 6″ drop on his bike!

      The short stem and wider bars put you in an a more neutral position so less chance of endo.

      If your bike is already on the short side you may want to go up a frame length but for many people the wider bars leave them in a similar position as they had with narrow bars and long stem so there is no need to change.

      Reply
  2. stripes says:

    While you’re right about this, the one thing you leave out is you may need to up your frame to the next larger size if you go with this setup or it’ll be waaay too twitchy.

    I did do this, but I didn’t see the benefits until I upgraded to the next frame size up. Now I’m rocking 711mm bars with a 50mm stem and it feels great.

    Reply
  3. Rob Lawrence says:

    Very interesting. I have just measured my Mojo which I use (badly) for intermediate trail riding.

    I am 5 ft 8 and have a medium frame, ( I seem to fit squarely into the medium frame area) and my stem is currently 80mm and the bars 27.25″. The cente of the bar at the end of the grips is about even with the saddle height for climbing.(I have the end of the bars upswept a little)
    I am guessing about 1″ down would be close?

    I have broad shoulders, so should I get wider bars for my height as a result?
    If so that would be 29″ ? and perhaps a 60-70mm stem. My arms and legs are pretty normal length for my height.

    I had been wondering about lowering handlebar, (easily done as the bike has a very short head tube length) along with a shorter stem but as nobody much else does this I had delayed the “experiment”

    And thank you for your very helpful emails :-)
    Maybe one day you might be over here in New Zealand!

    Cheers

    Rob

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Rob,

      Yes, a 60mm stem and 29″ bars would keep you in about the same position but give you more control. 27.25″ is not super narrow but your trail allow you to get away with the 29s you will like them. Lowering your bar will also help with control.

      Wow, I must have 20 subscribers in New Zealand! I have always wanted to check out NZ so maybe a working vacation is in order this Jan. or Feb.!

      Reply
  4. Christian says:

    Hi Gene.

    If going to a shorter stem, is there any adjustment needed to saddle position? If I go from a 90mm to an 80mm stem, should I shift my saddle back 10mm, or is saddle position irrelevant?

    Also you’ve mentioned that 50mm-80mm is a good range for stem length. Do you have a rule of thumb regarding picking an appropriate stem length within this range, or is it just trial and error?

    Lastly- do you have any advice regarding flat bars vs riser bars.

    Cheers,
    Christian.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Christian,

      You shouldn’t need to adjust your saddle position as it is important for seated pedaling. You might have to hinge at the hips a little more though. I and many of my coaches and students feel 50-60 is best and 70-80 for those whos top tube is a little short and would feel cramped (knees hitting bars) any shorter.

      Flat bars vs. riser bars. Until recently it has been hard to find wide flat bars but now a lot of manufacturers are stepping up and making them. What matters is your bar height relative to your seat height so use the bars that give you that 1-3 drop I mentioned.

      Reply
  5. James says:

    I currently run a 100mm 10 degree rise stem with riser bars and my bars and saddle height are about the same. I am going to try a shorter stem based on your recommendation and see how it feels because I do feel like the bike “dives” into corners to hard and I feel as though I am constantly correcting in the turns.
    Here is my question; to achieve the 1”-3” saddle/bars offset does it matter how I accomplish this as long as the 1”-3” difference is there? I can remove some spacers to lower the stem on the steerer, I can flip the stem or go with a non-rise stem, I can go to a lower rise or flat bars all of which would get me to that 1”-3” difference but I assume each option has a different affect on the steering. Which option is best in your option to get optimal steering feedback while still achieving the 1”-3” difference?
    Thanks – James

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi James,

      Interesting question. I honestly don’t think it matters how you get the bars to that level. I will ask some of my coaches and more advanced students what they feel about this.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  6. James says:

    Hey Gene, were you able to find out any answers on my question? I’m looking to make some changes this weekend and I want to make sure I head down the best path.

    Thanks,
    James

    Reply
  7. Jeff says:

    James,
    If you got an shorter stem with no rise you would lose about 3/4″ with that alone and then you could easily remove spacers to play around with getting it lower.
    Jeff

    Reply
  8. Gene says:

    Hi James,

    Yes, it doesn’t matter how you get the bars at the right height.

    Have fun this weekend.

    Cheers,

    Gene

    Reply
  9. Josh says:

    Hi,

    I am on a medium size Santa Cruz Heckler. I am 5’10″. I ride my bike All Mountain and even cross into the Light Freeride range. But as an all mountain biker I do still spend quite a bit of time climbing.

    I recently went from a 90mm stem to a 50mm stem. My bars are only 26″ wide.

    The biggest thing I noticed is that when I am climbing very technical terrain my bike gets really twitchy up front (wheelies, front tire stops tracking straight, etc).

    Coming downhill my bike has never felt better.

    Will going to a 29″ handlebar make the bike climb better? What else can I do to still benefit from the 50mm stem (love the DH now), but still allow my bike to climb like it used to?

    I have the Lyrik Coil U-Turn Fork, so I am able to adjust my fork height. When I drop it to 115mm it feels great for climbing, 160mm it feels great for DH..but maybe dropping it all the way to 115mm is causing the effective top tube to be way too short for climbing?

    Thanks for any input,

    Josh

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Josh,

      29 inch bars will help in the climbing department as will getting a little further forward on the saddle and/or lowering your chest a bit more (it is wheelieing because there is not enough weight on the front of the bike). The whole goal of the u-turn fork is exactly what you are doing with it. At 115 it effectively lowers the handle bars and steepens the head angle when climbing and at 160 it brings the bars back to normal height and slackens the head angle when descending.

      Reply
  10. Keith says:

    Found this post at a very timely moment.

    I am riding a Kona The King 18″ frame. But with a 110mm stem and probably 640mm or 660mm bars.

    With this set up I have a very twitch front end on steep climbs.

    I was look at going to 80 or 90 stem with 725mm bars. Does degree of rise on the stem matter? I was looking at the basic 5-7 degree range of stems

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Keith,

      the rise of the stem is somewhat important as you want the bars 1″-3″ lower than your seat (when seat is at climbing height). Remember the widers bars and shorter stem will help a lot but you still need good body position.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  11. Roberto Sanchez says:

    Hi Gene:
    I am 6’1″ height and my frame is large, at present my stem is 110 mm and handlebar 24.5″. I want to try your theory for more control, what size you recommend to me for stem and handlebar?
    Thanks a lot, regards

    Roberto

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Roberto,

      I am 6’3″ and ride a large with a 60mm stem and 30″ bars I would start with those sizes, give at week and see how it feels.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  12. chris says:

    How does head tube angle play into all this? While i understand the benefits of a shorter/wider setup it will quicken up your steering quite a bit in some cases.
    As an example my current rig has a steep 71 HA and going from the stock 110mm (i have went as long as 120mm)to a 90mm made the bike extremely twitchy to the point (imho) of being almost unrideable.
    Now that people are starting to feel these longer stems should go the way of the Dodo does the same apply to steeper head tube angles even on shorter travel, XC focused bikes?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Chris,

      Good question. Steeper head tube angles really need to go the way of the dodo! They help you in really steep climbs and really tight switchback but scare the heck of riders on the downhills and creat a twitchy front end. A short stem at least puts you more centered on the bike and less weight way out in front of your front axle. The stem length did not make the bike twitchy, the head angle made it twitchy.

      Create a more in control riding position,

      Gene

      Reply
  13. chris says:

    Thanks Gene. It will be interesting to see how the geometry of XC bikes evolve over the next few years. Considering what you said I can see why a skilled rider would still opt for the longer option for straight up XC racing which,as far as i can tell, is won on the climbs.
    A quick side note of possible interest: The bike i actually ride, the Giant Anthem X, was designed by Adam Craig and specced with the steep 71 HA. He now runs (and supposedly many others) a 20mm longer fork to slacken it out a bit. Even with the change he actually still runs a 120mm stem which makes me assume the downhills do not scare him too much!
    Thanks

    Reply
  14. Ryan says:

    Gene, I am getting ready to get back in to mt. biking after years of lots of cycling. am looking at 29er hardtails, if that matters. big concern is my size. im 6’5″, 190ish. Frame will be an XL (20″ – 21″), what should i be looking at for stems and bar widths?

    Thanks,
    Ryan

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Ryan,

      I am 6’3″ and ride 30″ bars so I would say 31″ is a good starting point for you. I personally feel a 40-60mm stem is optimal.

      Have fun,

      Gene

      Reply
  15. Jeff says:

    Just because Adam Craig runs a certain set up doesn’t mean it’s best for us mortals, that’s like saying we sould run the same skis and binding set up as Bode Miller.

    Reply
  16. Steve in Boise says:

    Fabulous! I’ve been teaching recreational downhill/technical skills for many years and have used this very formula for bike setups. I can tell you that it has had instant results for many. Frame and stem sizes have been evolving from road bikes much slower than suspensions and brakes. Trust the advice you find here. Longer wheelbases, wider bars, shorter stems slow down all the forces that create anxiety. Thank you for this site!

    Reply
  17. Dan O says:

    Good advice. This guy knows what is up. I ride alot of both XC and downhill and was told about the shorter stem/wide bar thing when I first started downhilling 7 years ago. The difference is pretty amazing.

    Reply
  18. Randy says:

    OK I am no downhiller so should I still ride wide bars. The longest I have been able to find that will not break the bank are Easton Monkeylite Carbon DH bars. They are right around 28 inches. I am 6’2″ and ride a 21″ Rocky (current Race Face bar is 25 inches). Would those be wide enough? If so what size stem would you recommend? I ride XC and lately have been hitting BMX parks. I am desring to get into some All Mountain more technical stuff. So thought? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Randy,

      I am 6′3″ and ride 30″ bars on my xc bike and 31.75 on my dh bike so I would say 28-30″ is a good starting point for you. I personally feel a 40-60mm stem is optimal. Your bike shop will probably laugh at you but if you get into the correct body position you will feel the stability and control right away.

      Have fun,

      Gene

      Reply
  19. Chris Cornelison says:

    Gene,

    I’m wondering about stem length on a cyclocross bike. I suspect the same principals are a work although the handle bars allow for different hand positions. If your on the hoods, your really far out over the steering axle. I changed to wider bars with flared drops last year (big improvement in stability), and I will probably try to find a 60mm stem to experiment with. Just wondering if you have any experience with this or know anyone who has experimented.

    Thanks,
    Chris

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Chris,

      Good question. A lot of the same physics would apply the bars are way different. Let me know how this works out.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  20. Seth says:

    Hey Gene thanks for all the information you have presented here.

    I have my bike (now my wife’s) set up exactly like you recommend, sort of by accident.

    The frame is a Trek Fuel 80 17.5″ frame with 80mm rear travel, 130mm travel forks, 26″ bars 70mm stem with 6 degree rise. The bars are 2″ lower than the seat and with the longer travel forks the bike has a longer wheel base and great geometry for downhills.

    Thanks again for the great article. I am now convinced that I will set up my current build exactly how you recommend.

    Reply
  21. Randy says:

    Hey Gene thanks for your reply. I have another question. I want to use carbon bars and the widest I can find are Easton ML DH 28″ or Race Face SIXC 28.5″. Do you know of a wider carbon bar than that anywhere if I want to go wider? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Randy,

      28.5 is the widest carbon bar I have heard of. right now if you to go wider you suffer a weight penalty and have to go to “downhill” bars. 28.5 is a good width if you are under 5’11″ (approx. depends on shoulder width, arm length, hip mobility), a little narrow if you are taller than that.

      Reply
  22. Chris Cornelison says:

    Gene,

    Finally had a chance to try shortening the stem on my cross bike. Went from 110mm to 60mm. It had exactly the same affect as on the mountain bike. Way less twitchy!!! A much better handling ride. With the long stem, when I dropped a plumb line from where you would place you hands when riding on the hoods, my hands would actually be directly over the front axle. With the short stem they are almost a inch and a half behind the front axle. I pretty sure this makes all the difference.

    Chris

    Reply
  23. Jeff says:

    The new ODI Flight Control Bars start out at 29.5″ and you can add 1/2″ or 3/4″ to each side for a max of 31″. ODI gave me a weight of 330g for the bars without the extensions. Come in lots of colors. I’m not a gram counter but that doesn’t seem to heavy to me for their width.

    Reply
  24. JOSE says:

    hi, i try what you recomend and it was bad,my bike is specialized pitch pro head angle 67 i run wide handlebars 30, i change the stem 70mm for a 50mm, thinking it will handle better in the downhills and it was so bad goin down the bike feels so nervius almost imposible to control, and also the climbing was a nightmare, i need more energy to control the bike moving forward all the time, i change to 100mm and it was like another bike climbs perfect every pedal stroke goes right in the cranks you dont have to move to much forward in step climbs and you have more power whit your arms whit longer stem, also goin down is much better i think because whit longer stem you put more wheigt in the front tire so handle much better and you dont feel the bike that nervius, i realy think and thats my opinion that you need some weight in front tire goin down,

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Wow Jose. That is really odd. All of the best riders in the World that I have learned from (World Cup Overall Champions Greg Minnaar and Nathan Rennie) and the riders I coach like Mitch Ropelato love their 50 mm stems, especially for descending. Sounds like your bike is too short for you or you don’t have the correct body position down. You want you weight center on the pedals when descending. It took me a week to get used to my short stem (after 10 years with a longer one I was really used to the long one) but for the last 15 years I have loved my short stem.

      Reply
  25. John says:

    Hi Gene,

    I haven’t gotten a nice wide bar yet, but I did go from a 90mm to a 60mm stem on my single speed. I think it feels better. I’m not sure that lowering my handlebar will help for SS’ing though. I may have to raise it a touch for my style. Have any comments about the difference between FS and SS?

    Also, geometry differences between 26″ and 29″ frames should be considered. I LIKE 72* head tube angles with 47mm rake on my 29er. (Maybe I would like slacker if I could try it though)

    Thanks,
    John

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi John,

      SS bikes require that you are in the wrong gear for most of the ride often requiring you to use a lot of arm strength instead of just leg strength. Otherwise a mtn bike is a mtn bike descending on a rigid bike requires the exact same technique and body position as descending on a downhill bike. As for liking a 72 degree head angle, of course you do, it is what you are used to. A slacker head angle would feel much better in most situations though (assuming you are riding in the correct body position and actual looking 20-50 feet ahead not thinking you are looking ahead but actually looking about 2 feet in front of your wheel (like I did for years). I didn’t invent the idea of wide bars, short stems and slacker head angles. I am just teaching what I have learned from the best riders in the sport and through experimentation with what they do/believe.

      Reply
  26. John says:

    Fair enough. That comment also covered my question about the Gravity Dropper post too.

    What are the good wide (light?) bars out there? I can’t seem to find many in the 28.5″ length (I’m 5’9″).

    Thanks Gene!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi John,

      I don’t remember if it was Monkey light or Easton but they are the only company making 28.5″ carbon bars. Most other companies make slightly heavier dh bars. The wider the bar the more leverage so weight does have to go up (to make the bars strong enough).

      Reply
  27. Roberto Sanchez says:

    Hi Gene:
    Me again, your recommendation to my height was 30″ wide for handlebar and a 60 mm for stem, but the problem is that I only can get 27″ wide and feels really better. Should I get anyway a 60 mm stem o can be 80 mm? Because I think there is a relation between wider and shorter. Thanks a lot.

    Roberto

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Roberto,

      80mm is at the long end of my short stem size but a decent stem length. A 60mm stem will likely handle a little better as would slightly wider bars depending on your height. 27″ bars are great if you are under 5’4″ and/or ride a lot of trails with narrow tree gaps. My head coach Andy is 5’6″ and runs 29″ bars on his xc bike and am 6’3″ and run 30s.

      Reply
  28. Jay says:

    Hey Gene, great info, thanks. I ride a 29-inch Specialized racing hardtail with steep angles that often sent me over the bars going down. I flipped the 90mm stem, and it made a huge difference. Now, I’m considering getting a 50mm stem with the same 10 degree rise as the 90mm. First question, does the short stem philosophy hold with 29er’s in terms of handling?

    I’m 5’8″, bike is 17.5 inch medium, bars are flat, 26″ wide. Second question- given my height, should I consider wider bars in combination with the shorter stem?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Yes and Yes. The stem length and bar length is even more important on 29ers. The heavier and larger wheels require more leverage to turn and/or keep straight when hitting a larger obstacle. The usually steeper head angle on a 29er make them a little twitchy and scary on steep descents both of which are greatly reduced by a short stem.

      Reply
  29. Jay says:

    I should have looked at the link below on Feed the Habit- he uses the carbon version of my bike, the Specialized Stumpjumper 29 which needed “stem surgery”. I guess that answers my question about shorter stems on 29ers, although any other info you have on that would be appriciated.

    Reply
  30. Randy says:

    Okay Gene so I finally got my new bar and stem. I went with the Easton Havoc DH which is 750mm or 29.5 inches and I bought a Thomson 50mm stem. My original bar was 25 inches and stem was 115mm. So this was a big change. I have not ridden on a trail yet but just around my yard and my street I can feel a good difference turning and standing up pedaling. It feels a little weird sitting down but once I get used to it I think it is going to be great. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply
  31. Randy says:

    Me again back to back :) I am wanting to make sure my wife’s set up is right for her. She is a hair under 5’2″. Her current stem if i measured correctly is about 63mm and her handlebars are 24″. I have a set of 25″ handlebars (the ones I took off of my bike) that I could put on. what would you suggest for her? Thx!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Try your 25″ bars and let her ride them for at least 5-7 rides and how they feel, I bet she likes them.

      Reply
  32. Bill says:

    Hi Gene,

    I have 2 questions about shorter stems and wider bars. 1. Does the also apply to 29ers? I am getting ready to build one up and want to select the right components. 2. What is optimum climbing height for the seat?

    I recently went from a 90mm stem and 26″ bars to a 75mm stem and 27″ bars as well as putting a larger tire up front and WOW! what a difference. I am 5’11″ and will be looking for the parts to go wider on the bars and shorter yet on the stem. What do you think would be the optimal set up for my height? (Getting ready to lower the bars slighly as well. They are just below even right now)

    Thanks for all the great tips!

    Reply
  33. Roberto Sanchez says:

    Hi Gene:
    You must be very proud for your coaching skills, because I did follow your recommendations about wider handlebar, shorter stem and downhill technique. Yesterday I really feel the innovations. Thanks a lot for help me to increase my self-confidence, feel more in control and confortable too, I really enjoyed the ride.
    Thanks again, I will reading.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Roberto,

      Glad to hear following my advice is paying off! I love helping others improve and it is really neat hearing from someone I have met. Thanks man, you made my day.

      Reply
  34. Tom says:

    Do you try to get handlebar height 1″ to 3″ below the seat for shorter riders on smaller bikes as well? Do you ever use a flat bar to help get this height lower? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Tom,

      For riders 5’6″ and under strive for a 1 inch drop which often requires flat bars. Sometimes for riders under 5’2″ the best they can do is get the bars even with the seat.

      Reply
  35. Ollie says:

    I’m really enjoying the control and stability of my new 70mm stem and 725mm bars – but I feel like I may have shortened the cockpit too much. I tend to get some lower back stiffness after longer rides – especially with lots of climbing. Can I move the saddle back to compensate without upsetting pedaling/balance – or should I look for a size up on the frame? thanks!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Ollie,

      Not being there to observe, the lower back pain could be do to a lot of things such as an unstable core, seat angle that forces you to use your lower back when pedaling, etc. It could also be because of your shorter cockpit, if you believe that to be the case definitely look for a bike with longer “front center” measurement. If you go to a longer frame you will probably find the ride is more stable too. Good luck and let us know what you end up doing.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  36. Michael says:

    Gene,

    What about the seat angle causes one to use their lower back when pedaling?

    Also I fairly short 5’7″ and ride a 29er. My seat is an inch ABOVE my bars. I run a straight bar. There are a few spacers I can move around to get the bar close to the level of the seat. The geometry of the frame and rider prevent me from going lower than the seat.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Michael,

      For me it was that my seat was tilted back so when I was climbing it was tilted even further back. This made it so my hips were rocked back and I wasn’t able to use them for power and instead I was using my quads and lower back. By tilting my seat forward my hips are not rocked back allowing me to use them correctly instead of my lower back.

      Your seat should be 1″-3″ above your bar so it sounds like your bar is in a good place.

      Reply
  37. chris says:

    Gene,

    when you say the seat should be 1″-3″ above the bars…is that where the hands grip the bars or the center of the bars? my bars have a rise to them so there is a difference.

    thanks,
    Chris

    Reply
  38. Jana Kammerer says:

    Gene,
    Can you eat ben and jerry’s while biking?
    So awesome that you’ve followed your bliss and are doing what you love. <3
    All the best to you,
    Jana

    Reply
  39. Ian says:

    Hello Gene,

    I’m glad I found this site.

    I am looking to get a new full suspension 29er.

    I currently ride a medium stumpjumper 26er full suspension bike.
    My current setup has a 100mm stem and I slide my seat back on the rails to get a comfortable reach.
    I doubt I’d be able to change my current bike to follow your recommendations due to the frame size.

    I’m 5’10″ with a 32″ inseam and typically have a choice between medium and large frames.

    On mountain bikes I’ve always gone for the medium frame. Reasoning that the smaller frame is easier to manuever, especially on technical trails.

    I’m starting to rethink this approach.

    Right now I am trying to choose between getting a Trek Rumblefish in a large frame or a Niner Rip 9 in a medium frame.

    I have tried the medium trek rumblefish but it feels a little cramped (same TT as current bike) and would require a 100mm stem and probably the seat slid back, like my current bike, to get a comfortable reach.

    The large trek has the same top tube length as the medium Rip 9 but the trek has ~20mm longer wheelbase.

    The chainstay length is very close for both frames so the extra length on the trek is on the front triangle. Both headtubes are ~69 degrees.

    When I ride the trek it feels like a bigger bike because it is.

    My question is on 29ers is it better to go with a longer wheel base or a shorter wheel base if the other fit factors (like TT length) are roughly equal?

    Should I be concerned with my initial impressions of a frame feeling large or just trust that being able to comfortably run a shorter stem and configure it as you recommend will allow me to “adjust” to this type of setup?

    I’m trying to be open to new ways of sizing that may help my riding skills. I already know there will be a learning curve for going from a 26er to a 29er.

    And I’m not sure if I should totally trust what feels comfortable since I’ve been riding a more old school setup on a 26er.

    Thanks,

    Ian

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      100mm stems are just wrong, size your bike around a 50-75mm stem. At your height you should be on a large. Specialized has a new “Evo” stump jumper 29er with a 68 degree head angle, that is the bike I would buy right now.

      Reply
  40. JoeXC says:

    Gene,

    I am on board with you with short stem and wide bars. I am going to change out my 100mm to 60mm and see how it feels. I already have long bars.

    Also, is your above recommendation of the Evo specific to a particular type of riding? i.e, XC, All Mountain, FR, etc. The reason that I ask is because I am considering buying a 29er with 68 degree HTA frame that also has short chainstays. However, I am in Texas and not sure if the two combination will help me.

    Here is why I think that it will help.

    Short Chainstays: People tend to feel sluggish on 29ers because of their longer wheelbase(naturally to compensate for the bigger radius of the 29 wheelset). Short CS would benefit me as I have read that it makes the bike more agile and great for cornering because of the weight distribution. The most important is because I have read that this makes the bike for fun.

    Slack Geometry: I have ridded a Yeti ASR SL since 2004 which has a slack HTA. I do not recall the exact HTA but know that I like it. I have tested other XC bikes and I cannot stand the 71 – 73 degree HTA. I feel like I am going over the handlebars even on flat ground.

    What do you think about this for flatland Texas?

    Reply
  41. JoeXC says:

    Darn, I forgot to add a piece of info.

    The only bikes that I have found with both slack HTA and short CS are really beefy since their original intent was for Freeride and AM. Although, I am not a weight weenie, I think these 4 – 5 lb hardtail frames may be too much for endurance racing in Texas.

    Your thoughts?

    Reply
  42. roberto sanchez says:

    Hi Gene:
    I wrote in 2010. I had a Marin bike with a large frame and you recommend me a 60mm stem, (I am a 6 ft tall) now I change my bike to Specialized Epic full suspension large frame too, but I dont feel to comfortable as in the Marin, I need a shorter stem? I feel the handlebar little far.
    Best regards,

    Roberto

    Reply
  43. Stacey says:

    Gene,
    I am in the process of building up a 19″ Redline Monocog Flight rigid SS 29er. I am 5′ 9.5″ tall with a 32″ inseam. I got this size frame b/c I thought it would be on the upper edge of what would fit me while using a short stem/wide bar combo. I plan on using a wide, flat sweep bar and am looking at two bars right now: One bar is 740mm wide with 12deg. sweep and the other is 710mm wide with 9deg. sweep. I was thinking of trying out the 80mm stem due to the width and sweep of the bars. Do you compensate for the sweep of the bar with a bit longer stem than you would normally recommend or does the width cancel the sweep out? Should I go with a shorter stem? Which bar width would you recommend for someone my size? This site is very informative and this particular post has been extremely helpful. Thanks alot.
    Regards,
    Stacey

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Stacey,

      I am about to write an article about bars with a lot of back sweep, I dislike them. The more back sweep a bar has the more it moves your elbows in, putting you in an nonathletic position (elbows in). I have your ever ridden an old 3spd with bars that bend straight back towards you? They are very twitchy. I feel you should go for 740mm minimum, 780mm better (you can always cut it down if you don’t like it after 5-6 rides) with 6 degrees or less of back sweep.

      Reply
  44. Tom Conlon says:

    Hi Gene,

    Today I test rode my bike with the shorter stem. I went from a 100mm to a 60mm. Let me qualify my abilities by telling you that I am an intermediate cross country trail rider who has been mountain biking for 20 years. No pretensions to being a racer.

    I have to say that I was amazed at the difference in handling that 40mm could make. The bike was twitchy and was pushed around by even small rocks. I had expected that I would be able to lift the front end more easily over big rocks but it actually felt more difficult. Certainly my riding technique needs improvement but as far as instantly improving my skills by changing the bar stem, I found the exact opposite. It was downright scary while riding on the edge of a steep hillside.

    I know you said to give it a week but I won’t risk wasting another ride. I’m going back to the stock stem. I’m interested to read if other better riders found similar results.

    Best regards,

    Tom

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Tom,

      It is very hard to defend a long stem. It definitely does all the bad things I have said in my article. Is hard to believe that you put a 60mm stem and 29-31″ wide bars on your bike and it got twitchier. Usually riders are astounded at how much more stable the bike is and how much more control they have when they widen the bars and shorten the stem. Then again you didn’t mention wider bars nor did you follow my advice about trying it for a week (anything new after 20 years is going to feel weird!). I would highly suggest you read my article again and follow all the advice (which may mean buying a bike with a longer reach depending on your current bike) and really test out the wide bars and shorter stem for a while, if you don’t like it after 5 or 6 rides you don’t like it go back to your old set up.

      Here is what BetterRiders typically say in our camps: Me: “Cool, you went out last night and got a shorter stem and wider bars! I know it feels weird but give it a few days and you will love it.” Students’ responses usually go like this, “feel weird?, it feels great, so much more stable and way more control”.

      I do not sell or have stock in handlebar or stem companies so I do not benefit from passing on this advice that was handed down to me, so why would I put it out there if I wasn’t certain it worked? I do because our students love riding better and it is satisfying to hear them say things like this: http://www.bikemojo.com/speak/showthread.php?92241-Betterride-net&p=1067353

      Reply
  45. Philip Madeley says:

    I am 5′ 11 and ride a 2007 specialized rock hopper with a 19″ frame.

    I am excited to go to wider bars, but not sure how to decide on stem length. I do XC trails and competitions.

    Do not have the money right now to test out different stem lengths…

    What size stem do you recommend? I am good with change, so happy to jump in and experience what you recommend.

    In good shape and have good body flexibility.

    One day I will have enough cash to do one of your clinics.

    Thank you for all that you do.

    Philip

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Philip,

      Though to advise without seeing you on your bike but my favorite stem length for xc bikes is 60mm. I ride in Austin and Dallas a lot my 60mm stem 30.5″ bar combo work great on the trails I ride there (and pretty much every where I ride). Looking forward to seeing you in a camp one day. Save your money, it will be the best investment you have ever made in your riding!

      Create your best ride yet,

      Gene

      Reply
  46. Lindsey says:

    Hi Gene,

    That’s so awesome of you to keep up with these comments and help us list souls :) I have a short girl question too in light of this information. I’m 5’1.5- maybe 5’2 with shoes on. I’m looking at buying the new Trek Lush. I’m getting recommendations for size of both the 14.5″ and the 15.5″ sizes. I’ve never owned a bike that isn’t Gary Fisher, so I’m a little lost on what size. They both seem to fit with the 14.5 having a 20.8″ top tube and the 15.5 having a 21.3″ top tube. With its stock stem at around 75mm and bars at 24″ I think, the 14.5 is a smidge better… But if I want to immediately go down to a 50mm stem with say 26″ bars cause of my 14″ shoulders, would I want to go with the bigger 15.5 size, thus getting the slightly longer wheelbase and more cockpit room for a shorter stem? Inseam doesn’t seem to matter here as the only difference between the two sizes is .5 length in the toptube/wheelbase, the stack/height is the same on both. And just like one of the other blog entries here, I feel like this is the blind leading the blind at the couple shops here. I feel like a realitive noob being out of the sport for a while, but feel like they still don’t know or have much to offer in advice at the few shops around here. Thank you!! -Lindsey

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Lindsey, it is tough to give advice on this without seeing you ride both bikes (leg length, torso length and reach can vary greatly on people of the same height). My best advice would be the longer frame with the shorter stem for a more stable ride but make sue you have enough standover height!

      Reply
  47. Michael says:

    I did this, worked great! Still waiting for an even wider bar in the mail but at 60mm and a 700mm bar its an improvement. Though even with the stem inverted can’t seem to get the grip position at 1-3″ below seat level. Hoping the new flatter bar will get me there.

    Thanks!

    Michael

    Reply
  48. Kazie says:

    I’ve waited for more than 400 miles to post my comment. Now I’m a believer.

    I was riding 110mm stem + 580mm handlebar, when I found this article. Initially I was skeptical, because I was believing the long stem + narrower bar made me leaning better in the corners for whatever reasons. Nonetheless, I gave it a shot. I purchased 70mm stem and 680mm bar for my 17.5″ 2011 Specialized Epic 26″. Oh, I felt weird at my first ride. But about the time I finished the trail, the feeling was actually gone. A few rides later, I realized how it was easier to lean the bike more aggressively with the new set up. By now, even going through a narrow slaloming section feels much easier, because I can swing the bike right and left effortlessly while it follows the curve. (It is my interpretation of Gene’s “more control.”)

    Because I liked it so much, I went a little further this week and got 60mm stem + 720mm bar. This setup is probably my optimum, being 5’7″. And the combo instantly increased my average speed at a trail from my previous best 9.95mph to the new best 10.26mph. I can’t stop mountain biking. Thank you, Gene!

    //Kazie

    Reply
  49. Neil says:

    Hi, I am currently running a 100mm stem with and 635 mm wide low riser bar. I would like to run with a shorter wider combo like u suggest. I’m 6ft and I’m on an 18″ xc hard tail. I’m probably at the limit size wise already but am not in a position to buy a larger bike at present. I also run a fairily high seat post already and a wary of stooping too much over the bar if I reduce the stem. What combo would u suggest

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Neil,

      You are right about being at the limit of your bike for your height, when you can afford a new bike go for a 20″ frame. If you went to a 60-75mm stem with a 720mm riser bar you would gain a lot of control without cramping up your cockpit too much and the riser bar would keep your bars at the same height. Remember, it will probably feel weird at first and you might have to experiment with stem length to get it dialed.

      Create a better bike,

      Gene

      Reply
  50. John says:

    I just switched from 100 to 80 mm on my XC 29er and found that the bike felt so much better, I sve 690 mm bars on the bike so I think if I went down to 60 I would hav to get wider bars for more control. I have tcouple of questions, do you think the switch would make a big difference can I stay with the 690 mm bar I am 6 ft tall ?And why are bike manufacturer selling their bikes with longer stems and narrow bars if short and wide is so much better?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi John,

      Great question, I used to ask that question all the time and have three answers. Manufacturers often spec long stems and short bars because, A. They are behind the times and base their designs on tradition (remember, the original mtbs were convert beach cruisers so often they used what was available and no one had really studied technique (as in any sport) in the first decade of the sport), B. They have boat loads of long stems and narrow bars they need to unload before producing new ones. and C. which I find most interesting is consumers often want a bike that feels just like their old bike (even if it is the only bike they have ridden for more than an hour) and according to many friends that work in shops actually come in and say things like, “I want a bike with a 70.5 degree head angle, a 120 stem and bars cut to my shoulder width (all old tradition) and my friends politely try and educate the customer on how newer geometries will give them more control but they aren’t having it!

      It is really similar to shaped skis. When they first came out most ski racers and coaches said they would never be good for racing, maybe okay for recreational skiers. Now no one rides straight skis anymore.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  51. dan says:

    That is a great tip, my first bike came with a 110mm stem and 670mm wide bars, i’ve changed to a 720mm bar and 70mm stem, it made a huge difference in handling, took a while to get used to the wide bars on the trees, i’ve clipped a few times but now i just love it.

    On my current bike i run the same 720mm bar with a 60mm 8º angle stem, even considering a shorter stem 50mm maybe.

    I have one question, on the stem heigh adjustment, my bike is currently almost as low as you can go on the stem height, there is a 5mm spacer between the frame and the stem.

    Does the stem height affects how easy is to manual on a bike? would a lower stem be harder to manual than a higher stem? Or it doesn’t matter?

    cheers,
    dan

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Dan,

      You can get rid of the 5mm spacer if you feel that would help (just put it above your stem). Lower stems make manualing a little easier as you need less of a weight shift to achieve the same height of wheel loft.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  52. Evan says:

    Great page, thanks for sharing your wisdom Gene!

    I had been riding a 635 mm (25 in) bar and 90 mm stem on my XC bike for 2 seasons. I just (like 3 weeks ago) switched to a 685 mm (27 in) bar and 80 mm stem. The wider bars definitely provide more control and leverage, but the steering is noticeably slower (understeer).

    I just ordered a 70 mm stem to (hopefully) quicken up the steering and was wondering if you have some formula or guidance based on your experience to relate increasing bar width to decreasing stem length? Something like, “If you add 2 inches to your bar, you should reduce stem length by 20 mm to get the same steering quickness”?

    I’m all for trial and error but it can get expensive and time consuming! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Evan,

      I am always confused by the term “steering quickness” as you only turn a bike by “steering” at really slow speeds such as in switchbacks (above 5-6 miles an hour you cannot turn a bike by steering). In general, the shorter the stem (down to around 50mm) the more control you have and the easier it is to maintain proper body position. All of the great riders I have learned from like world champ Greg Minnaar run between a 50 and 60mm stem on a dh bike and a max of 80mm on an xc (they only use 80mm stems when their sponsor makes frames that have too short a reach for them.

      Often you don’t want the same as what you are used to, just because you are used to it doesn’t mean it is correct or optimum. Some rare shops will let you try different length stems. I personally always run a 50 on my dh bike and a 60 on my xc bike.

      I hope this helps.

      Gene

      Reply
  53. Jim says:

    I am drinking the wide bar, short stem Kool-Aid with a 760mm bar and 50mm stem. It is a massive improvement in control, but after long rides I have significant thumb discomfort, particularly when shifting. I though that it might be the shallow rear sweep of the bars (5 degrees) and my shifter setup. I have the brakes and shifters set up as you have recommended, but it seems like my thumb has to travel a long distance to shift to the larger rings. Any recommendations or thoughts?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Jim,

      Just saw this. Move the shifter in towards the grip and/or rotate it until you find away that doesn’t hurt. It may be that you are putting weight on the bars when you ride too, keep your weight on your pedals when standing. I hope this helps.

      Gene

      Reply
  54. Jimmy V says:

    Gene, this is great stuff. Thank you.
    I am 6’0″, I ride a Large AnthemX29er. I just swapped the 100mm stem for a 70mm.
    I’m looking at the Easton Havoc or the RaceFace Atlas bars.
    The specs are nearly the same, the price is nearly the same, $70 or so.
    Do you have a preference? Am I missing anything?
    I hope to attend one of you camps in the Oklahoma area or North Texas within the coming year.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Jimmy,

      Thanks for letting me know you enjoy our blog. Those bars are really similar but the RaceFace has 1 degree less back sweep so I would go with it personally but I really don’t know if I would notice one degree (you could roll the Havocs a hair further forward and they would feel about the same).

      We are looking forward to coaching you, it will be the best investment you have ever made in you riding.

      Create a great ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  55. Bicycle Motard says:

    Hi Gene,

    I feel like I’ve found a gold mine of knowledge here. Thanks for your website.

    Prior to finding this website tonight, last week I put a 29-1/2″ wide bar and a 50mm 0* rise stem on my Giant Trance-X bike. This is the best thing I’ve done on a MTB, but I have a question about the handlebar height. I’ve had a weight problem but thanks to riding MTB I’ve lost 43# this year. Unfortunately, I’m still 70# overweight with a goal to lose this by the end of next summer. Because of my weight, I still tend to endo…a LOT. I’ve got the pressure in my fork so high it is almost like riding a rigid frame so the front end doesn’t dive, but if I hit a big rock or root I still tend to go over the bars, especially when descending. Would a high rise bar help in this case until I can get my weight closer to my ideal weight?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Motard,

      Congratulations on the weight loss! That is impressive, pat yourself on the back (I know you have a ways to go to reach your goal, but reward yourself for have far you have come!). The weight isn’t causing you to into, it is your body position. We coach a rider who is 6’8″ and weighs a good 260 and he doesn’t endo. Please read our blog articles and free mini-course on common myths and how to correct them! The steep head angle on your Trance isn’t helping either (please read post on ideal, confidence inspiring bike). A high rise bar may help if you current bar height is more than 3″ below your seat (when your seat is at optimal pedaling height) what would help the most is riding in the correct, non-intuitive body position we teach, no one one has ever endoed while in control and in balance (again see free mini course). Also a dropper post would help but a dropper post and new bars are just things, they will not improve the main cause of your endos which is poor body position (although the dropper post really helps you get into the proper body position!).

      Create even more weight loss and a safe, in balance and in control ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  56. Ken H says:

    Gene, I read your post with interest. I am a trail rider mostly, on a bike considered by most to be more of an XC Race bike. I am finding I really enjoy more of an all mountain type riding. Even though I am just over 50 YO, I ride a fair amount of Mountain stuff, some pretty steep. I have a 680 bar, 110 mm stem. I’m 6’2, 32 inch inseam, and my arms are almost locked out and fully extended on this size L bike.

    After reading this thread and think about it for some time, I understand I should have more bend in the elbows. And I would like to be more confident going down steep stuff, yet I still like to climb. I am thinking of getting a 80 mm stem. Do you think there will be a HUGE difference going from a 110 down to an 80 in feel, and hopefully a little more confidence on the steep? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Ken,

      A 60mm stem and a 710-760 bar would really give you more control and make descending much less scary. Unfortunately the other thing that makes your XC race type bike terrifying to descend on is the steep head angle. A bike with 68 degree or slacker HA (I prefer a 66 or 67 degree head angle for all mountain, 63 -61 for DH) will feel WAY better on the descents and climb all but the absolute steepest climbs fine (in other words THERE IS NO DOWNSIDE TO A SLACK HEAD ANGLE).

      Create a safer, more fun ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  57. Ken H says:

    Gene, the head tube angle on my Stumpjumper FSR S-Works is 68.5 degrees, and while that’s not “slack”, it should not be too steep right? I just ordered an 80 mm Stem, and I’m hopeful that will be a vast improvement over the 110 mm I have now. I’m looking for some more confidence in the steep, and quicker steering, as well as a more natural “attack” position with the elbows bent. I’m hearing 30 mm should be a pretty big difference. Any additional thoughts? Thanks again.

    Reply
  58. Wes says:

    Gene,

    I’m 6’3 and have a XL Santa Cruz tall boy. I just got fit and we extended my stem from 90mm to 110mm. So if I go to a 60mm stem and wider bars, won’t I be sitting a lot more up-right? I can see the handling benefits. However, what benefits do I lose on the climbing aspect of XC racing? I know you mentioned adjusting your body position makes up front this. So does that mean just leaning over your bars more and bending your elbows? Can you elaborate more on this. In addition, can you recommend a specific stem and bar combo to purchase? Since I’m the same height as you, what are you running?

    Thanks,

    Wes

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Wes,

      Sorry to hear that your bike fit person knows little about bike handling. Please reread the first paragraph of this article for a little on my background and the great people that I have been fortunate to learn from.

      At least once a year I have a returning student show up with that relic of the past 110mm stem that kills bike control and puts them in a very poor position bike handling wise. I always ask, “you liked our coaching so much that you are back for a second camp, yet you didn’t listen the first time, what is up with that giant stem?”! They always reply, “I got a bike fit and the bike fit person recommended it”. To which I say, “but it destroys your ability to get in a neutral balanced position and hurts your bike handling”. Then the student ALWAYS says, “yeah, it does feel really weird and I did notice that I wasn’t riding as confidently after the bike fit”.

      Long story short, most bike fit people are great for setting your bike up for producing power, being comfortable and decreasing your chance of getting an over use type injury (from sitting in the same position for 2-6 hours). However, on a mountain bike the rider is standing for almost half the mileage (100% of the descents) and even while seated a mountain slides way forward on the saddle for steep climbs, and moves around quite a bit more than a roadie.

      Something we always ask our students (from our World Champion students to recreational riders) is, “would you rather your bike be set up so you produce the most power or so you have the most control?”. Every student has said control, that is why they are taking the camp. Fortunately I have been taught (and believe) that a shorter stem and wider bars give you more control and the same amount of power as a longer stem with narrower bars!

      You mention the shorter stem will make you sit more up right, why? I can hinge my hips with my hands behind me (not that I am recommending putting your bars on the back of your bike) not sure how stem length forces me to sit up straight? You nailed the answer, replace “leaning” with “hinging” forward over your bars and bending your elbows.

      Now doesn’t bent arms, ready to absorb shock, take the sting out of little tire hits and put you in a neutral position sound better than straight arms?! Why would I ever want to ride with straight arms? Would you take all the sag out of your suspension?

      Many bike fit “professionals” know little to nothing of bike handling skills which is sad. Your new set up (going from a 90mm stem to 110mm stem) as but you in a dangerous body position and taken away a lot of control on your bike! And you paid someone to do this to you! How can you descend a steep hill with all your weight on the pedals when your arms are straight and way out in front of the bike? Don’t believe me (although I have spent the last 18 years of my life studying how to ride bikes with more control) ask World Champions Ross Schnell, Sue Haywood and Greg Minnaar and thousands more of our students if a 110 stem is better than a 90 or better yet 60.

      I run a Specialized 60mm stem and Smac Innovation handlebars. Thompson and pretty much every stem company makes stems from 30mm up.

      Read this article on climbing body position: http://betterride.net/blog/2011/mtb-skills-tip-w-pic-technical-climbing-wandy-winohradsky/

      and this article on bike design: http://www.bikeradar.com/news/article/exclusive-mondraker-unveil-radical-new-centre-stem–32859/

      I hope this helps.

      Create an in control and in balance ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  59. James B says:

    Hi Gene,
    I followed your advice and put a shorter stem and wider bars (60mm&740mm) on my Giant Reign. It transformed the bike. Thank you.
    My question for you is I have an older steel hard tail with a ridged fork that I really enjoy riding from time to time. If I recall, it has a 70.5-71 degree head tube with a 100mm stem and pretty narrow bars? Would it benefit having a shorter stem in the 60-70mm range and some wider bars? I know you disapproval for steep front ends and I understand now why. Not sure if going to a shorter stem plus wider bars would prove beneficial with the steep front end.
    I am looking forward to taking a class in May or June in So CA. Can’t wait.
    Thanks again,
    James B

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi James,

      Yes, that bike will greatly benefit from a shorter stem and wider bars. It will make a great dirt jumper/pumptrack bike too. If you found a fork that was an inch longer putting it on would slacken the head angle by a degree making it much safer/more fun on trail.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  60. Joe says:

    This is a tremendous amount of over generalization.
    Bar width and stem length are only part of the formula.
    Proper frame size and fit are more important. Proper fit is part of having the the proper stem and bar width combined with the proper reach.

    Rules of thumb are used by sales people to sell. This all sounds like you’re out to sell handlebars and stems.

    It would be more productive to have a more complete article on proper bike fit than just on changing handlebars and stems.

    Reply
  61. Anthony says:

    Hi Gene,
    I am riding a pretty downhill oriented bike. However I dont ride downhill trails, I ride mostly all mountain trails (Singletrack climbs, long power line climbs, technical descents, singletrack descents). My bike is very heavy and has alot of travel on the front and back. I feel a little bit uncomfortable when descending and want to see if a new stem and bars will help me. The stem is a little bit long (111mm) and the bars are around 27 inches (685mm). I want to put on a 45mm stem and a 31 inch (790mm) bar. But I am worried that if I do go with that set up I will struggle to climb. I am 15 years old, I weigh close to 120 pounds and am about 5,7. Do you think I should go with that set up? Should I leave it as it is? Or is there a better set up? What is the best option in your opinion?
    Thank you in advance, Anthony

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Anthony,

      That bar stem combo will be great for descending and should be fine for climbing. Stem length as no negative effect on climbing if you understand proper body position. 45mm is on the short end though, if you feel that will cram your knees into the bars go for a 60mm stem.

      Create a better handling bike,

      Gene

      Reply
  62. Kaitlin says:

    Hi Gene,

    I am 4’11″ short, 100lbs. I started out XC but discovered I enjoy trail/all mountain riding and use my XS Pivot Mach 5.7C for this. I am at the short end of the spectrum for my bike (range is 4’11 – 5’5″). My bike wants to go fast and I would like to keep up with her. In addition to acquiring more technical skills what else can I do to gain more control when descending fast technical terrain? I have a 55mm stem paired with 680mm bars. How wide can I go before it’s too wide for my size? I was considering 711mm.

    Thank you,

    Kaitlin

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Katlin,

      Great bike for all mountain riding! I can’t say how wide you can go (depends on the width of your shoulders and length of your arms). A great way to find out is to do the widest push up you can do while keeping the lower arm (elbow to wrist) vertical (not sloping in from wrist to elbow). You might want to think about an even shorter stem, Thompson and many other companies make 30mm and 35mm stems. Let us know how this works and have fun on the trails!

      Create a stable ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  63. Grant says:

    Hi Gene,

    I look forward to giving this a try! I currently have a 100mm stem & 27″ flat bars. I have a 55mm stem on order, but wondering if I should go for a wider bar off the bat or should I stick with what I have for now? I’m 6’2″ if that makes a difference…

    Thanks,

    Grant

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Grant,

      Yes, wider bars and that 55mm stem will make a huge difference in your control and body position! try 30″ bars, might take a day or three to get used to but you will love the stability and control!

      Create an in control and in balance ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  64. Grant says:

    Hi Gene,

    So I ended up getting the Race Face Atlas bars which are more like 31.5″ figuring that I’d cut them down if I didn’t like them. Today I went out on a 30-miler with plenty of technical sections, both up and down and I gotta say I’m a huge fan of the set up. It definitely gives tons of leverage for climbing with my 1×9 29er. Traction felt amazing climbing and descending! I could dive into corners much harder on descents and stay seated on climbs that would normally bring me out of the saddle. I uploaded the ride to Strava and got 29 personal records! I did bang my hands a couple of times on trees, but I’m sure I’ll get a better sense of my positioning in short time.

    I would liken the feeling of descending to skiing where the poles are planted for balance at around the same position that wider bars puts your hands. Best upgrade I’ve ever made and that includes tubeless, a dropper seatpost and wide Stan’s Flow rims. It almost feels like cheating it’s such an improvement.

    Good stuff!

    Grant

    Reply
  65. Russell Smith says:

    Gene

    Just found this article and the web-site today and thankful that you have kept this specific thread alive for so long!! I am a newb, though riding bikes for years, just started true mountain biking and xc last year, its been fun, but alot of trial and error :) . I am 6ft 5 inches tall and 280lbs (down from 320..thanks to riding) my standover height is aprox. 35 inches. I ride a Marin Alpine trail with a 110mm stem and found a 33 inch (840mm I believe…it was the longest I could find) handlebar two years ago that greatly improved my riding, after reading this I am looking for a shorter stem now too. Honestly, I am a little afraid of going to 50mm…not sure why, it all makes sense really, and I am going to ask my LBS owner if I can borrow a couple different ones, just to check it out.

    I am having trouble understanding the 1-3″ seat location and the stem angle part….I do not know if this is adjustable on my bike (stem angle). But the it seems that the taller the rider, the closer to 3″ your wanting to be (after adjusting the seat correctly). So, if my angle is not adjustable…will cutting the fork stem help any?

    Any help you can give me would be great….sure it is about to get busy for you this time of year :) I am reading and absorbing other articles on this site, but this one specifically has done more for me then anything I have read in the last year or so. Again, thanks for keeping it going…hope to hear from you soon and I will keep reading.

    Thanks
    Russ

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Russ,

      Congratulations on the weight loss. You will love the control and more centered position a 50mm stem gives you. I’m 6’3″ and now run a 35mm stem on my new XL Stumpy Evo.

      Not sure what you mean by stem angle? In the article I state the bars should be 1-3″ lower than the seat when the seat is at climbing height. In other words if the seat is 36″ off the ground the bars should be 33-35″ off the ground.

      At your height you definitely need an XL 29er or 650B with a “reach” measurement of at least 460mm. Where did you find the 840mm bars (who makes them?)? We have a student who is 6’8″ (rides a triple XL!) and he would love those bars.

      Create a great spring riding season,

      Gene

      Reply
  66. Dustin says:

    Hi Gene, I just switched to a easton havoc 750mm bar and easton haven 55mm stem from a 711mm with a 70 mm stem. I am experiencing some wrist pain after my rides and wondering if the bars are slightly wide or just different muscles being used? I am 5’10.5″ riding a pivot firebird all mtn setup. Thanks for any advice!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Dustin,

      It is unlikely the bars are too wide, our head coach Andy runs 765mm bars and he is 5’6″. It is tough to say why you have wrist pain, there are so many variables at work. My first thought is check the back sweep of the new bars compared to your old ones and try rolling your bars a little more forward (as that lessens back sweep and provides a little up sweep. You might be dead on that you are just using certain muscles differently or using different muscles. My advice is to experiment, give it a few more rides and if your wrists still hurt try rolling them forward or buying the same width bars with different sweep. Also make sure your shoulders are not scrunched up by your ears, think shoulders back and down.

      I hope this helps.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  67. BoZ says:

    Hiya Gene,

    You mention a 1″ to 3″ drop of handlebar height below the seat. I tried what you said and it didn’t feel at all comfortable for me.. I’m 6″6 and 102 kilos and 46 years of age.. Could my age have anything do do with being more comfortable the more upright I am? I’ve read somewhere that people get more vertical the older they get. I do a lot of downhill and feel that the lower HB height makes me go OTB or is that just in my mind.
    I do have long legs and my arms seem pretty short compared to most people my size. I checked out that Ryan Trebron bloke you mentioned and he looks heaps lankier than myself. And Damn is his seat high.
    I’ve recently converted from 100mm stem to 70mm with 30 degree lift and all my spacers are under the stem so the stem fits flush with the top of the head tube…. I feel there might be something strange about this, yet it feels good.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey Boz,

      Great point that I may have failed to mention in my article. A 3″ drop or more takes a lot of hip mobility as you should hinge forward at the hips, not bend forward at the belly. Definitely as we age we lose mobility (unless you do a lot of yoga, foam roller work, stretching, etc). If your arms are short for your height or you are just really uncomfortable raise the bar a bit and it should help. It may cause a few problems on steep climbs (front wheel wondering or getting light) and on descents (weight getting too for back) but if you probably won’t ride at all if it hurts! Find the best compromise between pain and the bars being too high.

      Thanks for the great question,

      Gene

      Reply
  68. BoZ says:

    Thanks for the reply Russ, much appreciated mate.

    I just caught wind of something a bloke a few paragraphs up left, and your reply: “At your height you definitely need an XL 29er or 650B ”

    I bought my bike a year ago, It’s a 26″ XL frame … do you think I should sell and go for a larger wheel? Me being 6″6.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  69. BoZ says:

    Crap, I meant thank for the reply “Gene” , Not Russ. He was the bloke you gave that reply to.

    sorry mate.

    Reply
  70. Gene says:

    Yes Boz, at your height I would definitely recommend a 29r or at least a 650b. I just got a Stumpy EVO 29r XL (I am 6’3″) and it is like cheating. It floats over stuff that used to hang me up and just plain rolls faster. After 25 years on 26″ bikes is does feel weird but so far that weirdness hasn’t slowed me down! I call it the aircraft carrier because it is massive and feeling massive isn’t something I have ever thought of being a plus for a mtb but again, it sure works well despite the giant feeling. After only 6 rides it is starting to feel more normal and it has really restoked me on the sport.

    Reply
  71. BoZ says:

    You sure are quick with replying, I’m very thankful.
    I’ll do it then.. I have been considering it that’s for sure.
    Before I bought my bike I’d stopped riding for awhile and was pretty naive on 29ers, so i dissregarded them, I’ve had about 25 stacks on this new bike and couldn’t figure it out, mostly OTB. Just got a new stem and wider bars and wanting to see if that helped me. Please remove this link if it’s not allowed, but I put it here because there are 2 crashes here the 2nd one mine and this is what I’ve been doing a lot of. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHLeecnzBKQ

    I just looked up the Stumpy you mentioned, Nice looking bike, but $6,700 here in Australia…. WoW!

    Reply
  72. Jon says:

    Gene,
    Thanks for keeping this discussion open, its very informative. I just recently built up a Canfield Yelli Screamy xl and went with a 60mm stem and 740mm bars. I’m also running a 140mm fork and the confidence I have downhill is amazing. My only conern now is getting used to the handling with the axle sofar in front of the handlebars. Today washed out the front end by getting wide on a turn and dropping it over the edge of the trail. I feel like now my front wheel is out in front and harder to keep tracking right in the twisty stuff if that makes sense. Any advice?

    Reply
  73. Jon says:

    BTW I’m 6’2″ with long arms and legs and was waffling between large and xl. Went with the xl. The fit feels good, but I always second guess myself.

    Reply
  74. Thor says:

    Hi Gene

    Thx for still answering questions tho the thread is three years old… Thumbs up ;-)

    I’m in the finishing process of my new mtb bike build. Went from a 26″ Trek 8500 size 19,5″ to a 29″ On-One Lurcher 19,5″.

    I’ve allready decided to go with the flat Ritchey WCS trail 2x bar 72cm so a big shift from my WCS 58cm flat.

    I took the length seatbolt to center crank frem the Trek and installed the seatpost+saddle in the same length on my 29″. (legs haven’t got shorter/longer since last ride ;-)

    When I ride my Trek the front hub is close to disappear under the bars, but still the bars is a little bit infront of the hub mabey concealing half the hub.

    Here are some messurements for you:

    Me: I’m 6’1.6ft and inseam 2’11.6ft

    Trek 8500 26″:
    Toptube= 24.6″
    Stem= 110mm
    SAddletip to bar center at stem= 23.2″
    Seatpost 20mm offset

    Lurcher 29″:
    Toptube= 24.4″
    Seatpost= 20mm offset

    As someone mentioned I’m affraid that the “cockpit” is going to be cramped – or mabey I’ve just been riding superman style all those years with a stems that has been too long!

    I just think that it’s pretty radical going from 110 stem to a 60.

    BTW I’m a XC guy with the normal XC decents/drops etc etc.

    So pls let me hear some of your stem length thoughts.

    Regards

    Thor

    Reply
  75. Bru says:

    Hi Gene, I recently went from an Ellsworth Moment frame running a 710mm bar and a 100mm stem to a slacker bike, the Specialized Enduro and am running a 50mm stem and 750mm bar but I am fining my weight to much on the front of the bike…does this make sense, should I go shorter on the stem; 35mm?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Bru,

      Just saw this comment. There are lot of different reasons you may feel there is too much weight on the front of the bike, body position, frame length and suspension set up. That being said, I love my 35mm stem on my XL 29r EVO!

      Reply
  76. Bryan Dorsey says:

    Thanks for this article. I just bought a Niner Air 9 and was just about to put a longer stem on it when I read this post. I ended up putting a 60mm RaceFace Turbine stem (15mm shorter than what it had) along with wider Salsa Pro Moto 2 bars and wholly crap does that sucker steer and handle better. Shorter and wider was definitely the ticket.

    Reply
  77. ED JACK says:

    I had 80mm stem and went to 60. then new bars(answer pro taper 780 1/2″ rise) made me want a 50mm stem. best wheelies ever with a short stem !feels good cornering too.

    Reply
  78. Rob Fitzsimmons says:

    You are so spot on. Great advice this is soo important. Thanks for vetting this info out. First thing i did when i bought my anthem x29 was toss the narrow stock bars and replace with 30′ cromag fubars and to get rid the crazy 100mm stem .. turned it in to a new bike. U have my respect going to check out the rest of your site

    Reply
  79. AJ says:

    Gene,

    It’s a great thing that you do with sharing your experience and information with ask of us. I was blown away to see that you responded to everyone, my hats off to you sir.

    I currently ride a 2010 Felt Virtue 2, size large 19.5 frame. Physical statistics are height 5′ 10.5”, shoulder width 18.5”, reach 31”

    Current Stem 5° Rise @ 110mm
    Current Bar Width 27”, 25mm Rise, 8° Bend, 4° Sweep

    I love the bike minus the fact that it’s more twitchy than a 5 year old hopped up on speed and my thumbs go numb during lengthy rides.

    Having supplied that information could you please recommend a good stem and bar size/set up for me please. I do like to push this bike on steep, technical and fast single track terrain and climbs as well. I would love to have a more centered feel to my bike. It makes perfect sense that having a better stance and more control will help with fatigue and increase ride enjoyment. That being solved I also think that power would follow.

    I’m happy to have come across your article and thanks for your time.

    AJ

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Thanks AJ! I enjoy helping others. I HATE 110 stems, they should be banished from the universe! I love my 35 mm stem on a bike that truly fits me and 50mm stems on bikes that are a little short. If you go to a 35-50 mm stem and 30.5 inch bars you will be amazed at the stability and better handling your bike will have.

      Create a stable, in control ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  80. Mike says:

    Gene,
    What are your thoughts about handle bar angle and tilt, and how do you see the change in bike handling from rotating riser bars either forward or back. I’ve been playing with this on the last few rides paying lots of attention to how weight is distributed over the front wheel while cornering. For me, when I rotate the bars in a more upright position it’s easier to keep the front wheel weighted more. But, I’m sure there is a sweet spot for a more balanced ride.

    Thoughts? Thanks.
    Mike

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Mike,

      There are so many variables, frame reach measurement, stem length, handle bar height, rider height, arm length, shoulder width, etc. it is tough to say what is right for each person. Bars rolled either too far forward or too far back cause problems. The middle ground is where you want to be and rolled forward enough that it is easy to get your elbows out where they should be (when rolled to far back bars tend to bring your elbow in towards your sides). As for weight on the front wheel you want equal weight on front and rear wheel, weighting the front wheel is a recipe for disaster.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  81. Gustavo says:

    Hi Gene,

    I am 5’8″ tall with 33″ inseam, I guess my torso is short in relation to my height. I have been riding MTBs for 18 years and have the necessary skills and fitness to push myself hard.
    However …. I am always open for improvement: I recently purchased a Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc size M 29er, 69.5 headset angle and 23.1″ top tube. Fork with 140 mm travel. Steerer tube have spacers that allow me to play with 30 mm’s with 5 mm spacers.
    The bike came with a 710mm wide / 20 mm rise / 9 degree sweep handlebar (easton haven). I currently have with me 70 mm / 80 mm and 90mm stems with 5 degrees angle and one 90 mm stem with 10 degree angle to play with.
    My seat height is 74 cms (top of seat to center of bottom bracket) and my seat is far back so that my knee is within around 5 mm behind the pedal axle or over the axle. (with this set up I can not move my saddle back anymore).
    I am having trouble finding the right set up for my bike that allows me to climb very fast and do technical climbs and go down on technical terrain with confidence and speed on terrain that I have done it before and many times faster and with better performance that I thought I could do but not anymore !
    I have been changing set ups with stem lengths, spacers above or below the stem and initially finding right seat height and documenting the specific set up combination and performance obtained (speed, riding time, average HR) and note general comments as technical performance, comfort, etc.
    With none of the stem combinations I can get my seat / bar height to the 1″-3″ gap, that is why yesterday I ordered a 685 mm / flat / 9 degree sweep easton ea70 bar…. until I found your website and opened my eyes.
    What do you suggest for my specific situation? go crazy !
    What is the right distance from seat to bar?
    If one of you recommendations is for me to change the bike, please give me suggestions for this bike as I may not be able to change it right away but need to continue riding.

    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Gustavo, move your seat way forward so you aren’t so far off the back of the bike when seated and climbing (as you bike tilts upward your seat goes back relative to the cranks). A flat bar will hep and have heard a few companies are making drop handle bars now which will really help people under 6′ on 29rs get the bars at the right height. I would run your 70 stem or better yet purchase a 50mm or 35mm (I run a 35 on my EVO 29r and love it) and 30″ wide flat bars with as little back sweep as you can find.

      Create your best ride yet,

      Gene

      Reply
  82. Harry says:

    Hi Gene,

    Reading your article, you say you’ve been studying this bar/stem phenomenon for 15 years. In that time frame geometry has changed a great deal.
    Would you suggest the same wider bar/shorter stem for someone using bikes from that long ago?
    I’m curious as I have a few older bikes (hardtail and FS) I still love to ride but don’t want to throw $$ at them if the benefit isn’t there, I’m curious what your take is on making this change on the older geometry bikes.

    Thanks!

    H

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Harry,

      Yes, this will really help on an older bike with a steeper head angle! I’m all for saving money and don’t feel bikes improve much year to year but suspension, geometry, shifting and brakes improve greatly over 5-6 periods so if you bike is much older than that you might be amazed at the improved ride. Please read my article on the ideal confidence inspiring bike. The steep head angles of the past are scary to ride and many bikes still come with scary steep head angles. Look for a 26″ or 27.5″ bike with a 67 degree or less head angle and a 29r with 68 or less degree head angle. You will instantly have more confidence descending! (at no harm to your climbing).

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  83. Luis says:

    Hi Gene,

    I’m 6′ 0″ and ride a medium size Intense 6.6. I probably should have bought a Large, but that’s not an option for me anymore, so I have to do the best I can with what I have. I rode with a 70mm stem and 710mm (28″) wide handlebars for a while, which was great for downhill performance, but I was never comfortable on long rides with lots of climbing. I tried a 90mm stem and was a lot more comfortable on long rides and climbing, but I didn’t like the way my bike felt going downhill. 90mm was definitely no good. I was thinking of trying an 80mm stem, but after reading your article, it might be better to go back down to a 70mm stem and try even wider handlebars. Even though 70mm was too short for my comfort before, if I go wide enough I might find a good setup. I’m thinking of trying either a 735mm (29″) wide bar, or a 787mm (31″) wide bar. Maybe something in between. What do you suggest?

    Thanks,
    Luis

    Reply
  84. Luis says:

    Okay, so I went with a 70mm stem, and 735mm (29″) wide handlebars. Hopefully that’ll work for me. It’s only 1 inch wider than my original set-up, but that might be enough to not feel so cramped. It will also be 1 inch lower than before, which will put me closer to 1.5″ lower than my saddle height (climbing position), so I’ll be right in the middle of the range that you recommend. Here’s a few more facts about my set up: The top tube length on my bike is 22.8″, and the head tube angle is 68.5 degrees. (although I think it might be more like 67.5 degrees with my 160mm fork) I would love to go down to a 50mm stem, but I really don’t think my knees have the space to go any shorter than 70mm, regardless of how wide I go with the handlebar. Anyway, hopefully 735mm is wide enough. I don’t know if it matters, but I did some push-ups and then measured the distance where I placed my hands (outside to outside), and the distance was 27 inches. This is why I didn’t go for the 31″ wide DH bar. Most of my riding is All Mountain / Enduro type riding with lots of long climbs and steep high speed descends.

    Luis

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Wow Luis, that top tube seems awful short for a 6 foot guy! I’m 6’3″ and have 25 inch top tube! (with 31 inch bars that I now regret cutting them down from 32″ like on my DH bike) I hope the new set up is working well!

      Create a fun ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  85. Douglas says:

    Hi Gene. Awesome site. Finally someplace with real info. Thank you! Very much appreciated. Hoping that maybe you could help me out with something. I’m 6’1″ and riding an XC race hardtail with a flat 22″ bar and whopping 130mm/10deg stem! Realizing very quickly that I’m riding way too stretched out. Taking your advice and thinking about upgrading to a 29″ bar with 70mm/0deg stem. Problem is my current bar to seat drop is nearly 4″ (and stem is cut) — worried that the new setup will only increase this drop. Does that seem like too much drop for someone of my height? Or should I perhaps be looking at a riser bar? And if so what would be a reasonable drop to shoot for? — Douglas

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Douglas,

      Wow, that stem and bar combination is straight out of 1989 and really scary! At 6’1″ I would go with a 30″ bar and 50 or 60mm stem (I’m 6’3″ and run a 35mm stem and 31 inch bars on my xc bike). I would definitely go with some riser bars to keep the seat to bar drop between 2″ and 3″. SMAC Innovations makes great rider bars that come stock in 32″ width! http://smacinnovations.com/bars.php

      Reply
  86. Mike Hufhand says:

    Hi Gene,

    Any issues with using grip shifters and wide bars? I recently tried a 740mm bar on a rental bike (Pivot 429 carbon) and loved it. I’ve been running 25in on my riser bars for years, but no more, I’ve seen the light!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Mike, glad you have seen the light! No issue with grip shifters on wide bars, many of my friend run them.

      Reply
  87. Rodney says:

    Hello Gene,

    Found this blog by accident while trying to find an easier way to get my MTB front wheel off the ground. I’m 6 ft and recently bought a Specialized Rockhopper 29er. I’m pretty comfortable on it but trying to manual or unweight the front wheel for going over obstacles is a nightmare. It has a 80mm stem stock – would my feel and ability to raise the front greatly improve by switching to a 60mm stem?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Rodney,

      The shorter stem will help a little but it sounds like a technique issue to me. Done correctly lifting the front wheel requires no upper body strength and zero pulling with your arms. Doing either the pedaling type wheelie or coasting type (often called a manual) is not intuitive at all. Both take knowledge of how to do them and some perfect practice to get good at.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  88. Mike Hufhand says:

    By going the route of shorter stem/wider bar, is there an acceptable amount of cockpit length thats being reduced? To what point is a rider just on the wrong frame? For example, Im 6′ 2″ and both my hardtail 29 and FS29 have 25 inch top tubes and I’ve traditionally ran 110 stems/25in wide 40mm riser bar. Ran a 29 inch wide 15mm riser bar and 100mm stem this Saturday and WAY better handling. But my comfort was a little off. I attribute that to having more saddle to bar drop than I usually like. I normally like to have my bars at the same level as my saddle. I have a long torso w/ long arms. Do you think body shape (short torso, long legs and vice versa) makes a difference with that 1-3″ drop number?

    Thanks for all you do Gene.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Mike,

      More drop (from seat height to bar height) will almost always be slightly less comfortable (but usually feel better on the climbs) just give more control (if the body can handle it). Try raising the bars a bit and going with a shorter stem like a 60 or 75 so you aren’t so stretched out.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  89. Marc says:

    I bought my first mountain bike last January and a bike fitter put me on a Thomson 90 mm, 10 deg and 710mm haven. He said it was the “only anatomically correct position for me”. I’m a doctor and I never argue with anatomy…

    Then I went to Gene’s camp at Northstar. I followed his recommendation: short and wide. I got a 60 mm stem and 785 mm Bar. I’m 6 feet. Result: no difference in climbing after 5 min of getting used to it. 15% faster on downhills, and I feel much more in control. Very comfortable set-up even for long climbs.

    Beware of some bike fitters out there, what a waste of money. Thanks Gene!

    Reply
  90. Mike Hufhand says:

    After trying several wide (740mm) carbon bars, I’m finding that I really don’t like the “standard” sweep of 9 degrees. Very uncomfortable on my hands and lessons the increased control you get with a more modest sweep. Hard to find though. Pivot made one I really liked, but you can only get them with a bike purchase. Ritchey makes one that works pretty good, but I’d like more of a rise. Any ideas out there?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Mike, I agree with you! First trying rolling the bars a little more forward and spend time on them, change feels weird. Spank makes an 8 degree bar and I think someone makes a 4 degree bar which I think would be great.

      I hope this helps,

      Gene

      Reply
  91. john says:

    Hi Gene,

    I just changed my set up to a 60mm with a 27 inch bar and it seems to be working fine for me, maybe a bit twichy, but I am concerned about moving to a wider bar as the area that I bike in has a lot of tight tree sections and even with the 27 inch bar it feels tight in some spots. Do you recommend that I stay with my current set up and I will adjust, (have only been on 3 rides with the new set up) or should I go wider or perhaps try a 70mm stem?

    Thanks,

    John.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi John, I have ridden many trails with my 31″ bars where locals told me you need 26″ or less bars to ride them. Go out and measure the tree gaps, most likely they are wider than you think. At some trails I definitely have to slow down more than someone with narrower bars for a few tree gaps but I enjoy having way more control than they do on the other 99% of the trail. Honestly 27″ bars are terrifyingly narrow, watch some downhill videos from the late 90′s and compare them to DH race videos of today, top world cup riders like Cedric Gracia look so twitchy in the old videos compared to today!

      Create a stable ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  92. barry says:

    I have raced mt bikes for 40 years and can say a swept back bar gives more bike control when getting air because you can control the lift of the front and the rear with your wrists pulling the back of the bike up with a little twist and also I find the energy from the bar goes to the wrist through the forearm from the thumb and first two fingers where the wrist is straight and stronger verses the flat bar that makes your wrists pitch at an acute angle and therefore week and susceptible to injury and not in alignment with your arm. It is old school but that is what I like.

    Reply
  93. John says:

    Hi Gene,

    I took your advice and got 740 mm bars instead of the 27 inch bars I had on the bike and it has made a huge difference, I feel like I have a lot more control and stability. I don’t think I could go any wider because of the tight trees where I ride, but so far I have been ok on all of my regular trails, sometimes it’s a bit tight but I manage to get through the trees, as someone else on this thread said it almost feels that because of the better control I have I am more confident going through the tight tree sections.

    Reply
  94. Dan says:

    Hey Gene,
    I am around 5’9′ and am currently running a Thomson stem which is 90mm with 10 degrees. The bike I am riding is a Turner 5-spot and it seems that I am riding with my arms extended and practically no bend in them. I need to lean forward to get a bend and I would imagine that is not correct unless I am going up something steep. What size stem would you recommend? Also, my handlebars and seat are currently level, how much should I lower my bars in regard to my current height? This bike is my do everything bike and climbing is always in the mix with my rides. Thanks for your help!

    Dan

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey Dan,

      If you are that stretched out with a 90 I would go to a 50mm stem (35-50mm stems are ideal as long as the bike is long enough). 50mm stems have no real rise so it should lower you bars a bit too. At your height I would aim for 1-2″ drop from the top of the seat to the top of the bars.

      A shorter stem with a little more drop should keep you centered on the bike much better allowing you to stay in a more neutral position! The shorter stem will also handle much better. It might feel weird at first (change always feels different) but give it an entire ride and you will be loving it.

      Create a more balanced ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  95. Curt says:

    Gene,

    I recently purchased my first new bike, a 29″ FS, and am looking at swapping the stem and bars as you suggested. I recently rode a friend’s bike with a similar set-up and really dug the handling, especially downhill. I want to know your opinion though on a 0° stem versus a 5-10° with regards to impacting the ability to manual to elevate the front wheel. Coming from riding a 26″ FS for the last 5 years, I have really noticed the increase in effort needed to raise the front end (though with the larger wheels it seems like I don’t need to get the wheel as high)

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Curt,

      Great question and you seem to already know the answer. One of the few but big drawbacks to 29ers is the bars are simply to high (I’m 6’3″ and my xl 29r has a tall head tube which in my opinion has ruined the bikes handling) this has huge effect on handling and especially wheelies. Get a zero stem and flat bars (no rise) and wheelies will be a little easier! (the long rear wheel, longer contact patch and longer chainstays make 29rs harder to wheelie in the first place.)

      Loft that front wheel like a champ,

      Gene

      Reply
  96. Jascha says:

    I am 5’5″ tall with a 29″ inseam. I ride a 2008 size small Stumpjumper FSR. I have inverted the stock 70mm stem, set it at -16 degrees, removed all spacers from below it, and installed a 5mm rise Spank Oozy bar with 4 deg. upsweep and 6 deg. back sweep. The bar is still about 1/4″ higher than the saddle. The saddle is set so that my leg is straight with my heel on the 6 o’clock pedal. What can be done? Does this mean I cannot ride a 29er? Thanks in advance for the reply.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Jascha,

      That is the tough thing about wheel size and height. There are 29ers made to fit you but they have tall front ends as well as tall wheels yet I know riders who love them. I’m not your height so I don’t know what it feels like to ride a 29er with bars that high but it looks awkward and hard to maneuver to me. Still might be a great set up for xc racing but as far as being agile and playful I’m not sure. Test ride one and see! As for your bars being 1/4 inch higher than your saddle on your 26er that isn’t too bad, just a 1/4″ higher than optimal height. You should be fine (and those optimal heights are ballpark numbers everybody is built a little differently).

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  97. Mark says:

    Hoping you can help me with my bike setup. Im 6’2″ tall with long legs 34″ inside leg. I have recently purchased a new bike which i find very twitchy, I’m constantly having near off moments (big fall today) This is was never a problem on my old bike. Reading through your article I’m thinking my bars aren’t wide enough and i need more height on them but this won’t help with twitchiness? The bike just feels very unforgiving. Any help appreciated.

    Mark

    Reply
  98. Ken says:

    Hi Gene. I just got a 2013 Epic Marathon XC Bike. I am 6’2, with a 32″ inseam. I really like the size Large over the XL. The bike came with a 105mm stem. I had the shop swap it for a 60mm, and it feels slightly tight in there, but WAY better than the 105mm. I am thinking of a 75mm F109 stem. Also, the bars are 680mm. I am thinking perhaps 710mm or so on the bars, and the 75mm stem. This should give me some bend at the elbows like I have not, perhaps slightly less with the 75mm stem. Any thoughts on this setup? The bike is light and steers quick with the Carbon wheels, so I’m pretty comfortable even with the 680 bars I have now. Thanks in advance…

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Ken,

      Try the wider bars with the 60 stem first as wide bars will stretch you out a bit. If after a few days of testing it still doesn’t feel good then bump up to the 75 mm stem. I now run 820 mm bars on all my bikes with either a 35 or 50mm stem, 50 mm on my large enduro 29er.

      Create an in control and in balance ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  99. Kenny from Dallas says:

    Hi Gene,

    I am about 5’10 (175lbs )and have a Specialized Epic Carbon that came with a 680mm bars with a 90mm stem. I knew I needed to upgrade these items for improved handling. I just bought a Easton Haven 711m carbon with a 70mm stem. My torso is long but legs and arms are not. Should I have gone with a shorter stem and wider bars or is this setup ok? I ordered all the items online so I imagine its not too late to either send back or change something if need be. I believe I will see some improvement but am I really getting the most bang for the buck since I would rather not re-buy items again again to accomplish one goal.

    Best Website I have found that goes into detail about this

    Thank You so much for you help

    –Kenny

    Seat Tube Length – Center to Top 424mm
    Top Tube Length (Horizontal) 589mm
    Top Tube Length (Actual) 559mm
    Seat Tube Angle (Actual) – Low Setting 69.5°
    Seat Tube Angle (Effective) – Low Setting 74°
    Head Tube Angle – Low Setting 70.5°
    Wheel Base 1109mm

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Kenny,

      We feel a shorter stem (35-50mm) and wider bars (730-780) will make your bike handle even better. There is so much resistance to change in this industry it is sad. We encourage riders to first learn the correct in balance and in control techniques, second actually become able to do those techniques (Big, Huge difference between knowing and doing) and third experiment using data not just feeling to find out what really works.

      Create your best ride yet,

      Genr

      Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. [...] and short (50-80 mm) stem which is also recommended for better control in this article “2 Things You Can Buy and Instantly Improve Your Bike Handling!” By BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton. Cancel [...]

  2. [...] up and see what you like best. Also, check out Gene Hamilton’s suggestions on stem length at BetterRide.net (which I agree with [...]

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