How to Adjust the Handlebar Stem on a Bike

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How to Adjust the Handlebar Stem on a Bike

A number of riders choose to change or adjust the handlebar stems on their bikes for different reasons. The stem, used to connect the steerer and handlebar, can be adjusted in accordance to specific riding requirements, and while there are certain guidelines to follow when it comes to stem height and length, trying a few different stems to find out what works best for any individual is a good idea. What is also helpful to know is that the same stem may not be as comfortable for everyone with similar heights and body weights because of aspects like flexibility and riding position.

Buying handlebar stems in this day and age is simplified because of online shopping portals, like eBay. Alternatively, buyers also have the age old option of going to cycle shops that deal in cycling accessories. Before buying a handlebar stem, it is recommended that buyers inform themselves about a few aspects, which include establishing which length works for them, learning about different types of stems, learning how adjustable stems work, the compatibility factor, and how to adjust handlebar stems.

Different Handlebar Stem Lengths

Stems lengths vary significantly and the most commonly found stems measure between 70 and 170 mm. These, in accordance to their lengths, are classified as short and long stems; although, buyers are also presented with, what are commonly referred to as, riser stems.

Short Stems

Steering short stems requires less body and arm motion, and some riders find that this can make their ride a little unstable. Ideal for regular and downhill riders, they can make riding uphill quite a challenge. Since these stems move the handlebars closer to the rider, they allow riders to place themselves suitably when riding downhill. Hanging back more when turning the bike whilst riding downhill is also simpler because of the minimal arm movement that is required for steering.

Long Stems

While longer stems do not offer as much control as shorter ones, they are ideal when it comes to tackling uphill switchbacks, ledges, and the like because they allow riders to put more weight on the front end. However, given that longer stems can have users' backs stretched for long periods, they can result in backache. In addition, steering with long stems involves greater movement of the riders' body and arms.

Riser Stems

Riser stems raise the height of handlebars, given that they angle upwards. Tall bikers who do not have long arms tend to favour these stems because they help to provide better balance, while also being easier on their backs. Riser stems allow riders to lean back while tackling downhills, and with suitable lengths, they can also give riders the steering feeling associated with short stems. Leaning in, when cycling uphill, however, can be more difficult with riser stems because the handlebar can be higher in relation to the chest's position, and the forward leverage provided by flat stems can be found missing.

Different Types of Handlebar Stems

When it comes to adjusting or changing handlebar stems, learning how to distinguish between different types is important, and the primary options include quill stems, threadless stems, adjustable stems, and mount stems; moreover, all of them are commonly made using aluminium, but are also made available in carbon fibre, carbon fibre on aluminium, titanium, steel, and alloys.

Quill Stems

Quill stems, also referred to as threaded stems, are those that have been around for longer, although their use is still common with inexpensive bikes, hybrid bikes, as well as high-end retro models. A quill stem typically looks like an inverted 'L', it comes with a long tube that goes into the fork's steerer, and it is held in place using a wedge or an expander. Adjusting the wedge or expander is quite easy; this is done using a long hex bolt that appears at the top.

The length of typical quill stems can be adjusted by varying the length of tube inserted into the fork's steerer, quite like adjusting the seat's height. The reason quill stems are also referred to as threaded stems is because they require threaded headsets that are held in place using threaded lock-nuts, which, in turn, are tightened around the steerer of the fork.

Threadless Stems

A typical threadless handlebar stem comes in the form of a straight tube, with clamps on both ends, and these clamps attach to the bike's handlebar and fork's steerer. As opposed to quill stems that are inserted into the bike's steerer, threadless stems are clamped on the steerer's outside by using a set of appropriate bolts. More commonly used than quill stems in mountain and road bikes, their modular design helps make them more compatible with various fork and handlebar combinations, and when it comes to adjusting them, they can easily be flipped, that is, installed upside down, to reverse the angle.

Adjusting the height of threadless stem is not easy, and can only be possible by removing or adding spacers in the steerer's stack. This adjustment largely depends on the steerer tube left extending outside the headset. These stems require threadless headsets that are held in place using expander plugs or start nuts, and these help to affix the stem to the fork's headset.

Adjustable Stems

Adjustable handlebar stems can be adjusted in various ways, and can help move the handlebar backward and forward, as well as up and down. Adjustable stems typically come with a two-piece design, and by using a bolt fastener that holds the stem in place, it can be angled in the middle. When the adjustable length is raised, it raises the height of the handlebar, while increasing the overall height. This allows riders to sit more upright, which is something that is preferred by many.

Direct Mount Stems

Direct mount stems are quite similar to short threadless stems, and vary in length between 30 and 50 mm. These stems are typically used with downhill racing bikes, wherein the good and sturdy connection between the fork and the handlebar offer a definite advantage. These stems are not clamped around the steerer, but bolted onto the fork's crown directly.

Matching the headset used in a bike to the stem type is important, and while quill stems require threaded headsets, and threadless stems require threadless headsets, users also have the option to look for adapters that make a threaded headset compatible with a threadless stem.

The Compatibility Factor

While there were numerous stem and handlebar combinations in the past, with different nations and manufacturers resorting to their own standards, the same is not the case anymore, and buyers now have four basic sizes from which to choose. The table below helps serve as indication in regard to stem diameter and its common application.

Stem Diameter (mm)



Steel bars, older mountain bikes, BMX bikes


Standard I.S.O. size, used in newer bicycles with upright handlebars


Standard issues for Italian drop bars, compatible with a few high-end drop bars


Ideal for oversized road variants

If there is no certainty about the size of handlebars and stems, guessing is not recommended, taking actual measurements is, and this should ideally be done using a calliper. Taking chances when buying a new stem is never suggested because a stem that is bent to shape or forced to fit can crack and even break due to fatigue.

Adjusting Handlebar Stems

Adjusting handlebar stems is not very difficult, although the process does vary for different system types, which is another reason that distinguishing between the two becomes important.

Quill Stems

The bolt found on the stem's top needs to be loosened a bit using a wrench, and it does not have to be removed completely. Both, the stem and the bar, at this point, move independently, and the stem can be lifted up by gently moving the bar right to left. Once the bar reaches the required height, or its maximum height, it should be realigned with the front wheel, and the bolt on the stem's top should be tightened. If the maximum height of the existing stem is not enough, a new stem becomes the order of the day.

Threadless Stems

When it comes to adjusting threadless handlebar stems, although they can be raised, what needs to be done depends on how the bike has been assembled, as well as the desired change in height. If the stem clamp comes with spacers, these can be rearranged to increase and lower the stem's length. Some stems come with little drops that can be flipped over. In other scenarios, the stem may have to be replaced using an additional angle rise. What users should be aware of when working with threadless stems is that they are normally more complex than threaded variants because the headset needs to be readjusted.

Buying Handlebar Stems on eBay

Buyers are presented with various options when it comes to buying handlebar stems on eBay. In terms of materials, options include aluminium, carbon alloys, steel, titanium, and more. The choice also extends to handlebar stems for different bikes like hybrids, tandems, BMXs, town bikes, and mountain bikes. Some of the brands on offer include: Ritchey, Deda, Savage, Axis, ITM, and FSA.

Prices of handlebar stems available through eBay do not just vary depending on the material used, but also on factors like brand and quality. In addition, there are instances when different sellers sell seemingly similar products at considerably different prices. Conducting a thorough search, therefore, is recommended. Buyers also have the option to use eBay when looking for used handlebar stems, as this realm presents buyers with scores of alternatives as well.

Looking for a handlebar stem on eBay is quite easy. Each page comes with a search box where users can enter keywords for any product for which they are searching. For example, if a buyer enters "steel handlebar stems", relevant options are made available.


Before adjusting the handlebar stem on a bike, various aspects need to be taken into account, which includes assessing the rider's existing riding position. Riders ought to remember that staying in relatively wrong fixed positions for extended durations can lead to neck and back pain as well as injury, which is why professional cyclists are seen moving around on their bikes while riding. Irrespective of how many stems are compatible with a bike, paying due attention to a handlebar stem's robustness becomes paramount. For instance, while downhill riders are known to favour shorter, more durable stems, road racers tend to prefer lightweight and stiff variants.

Paying due attention to aspects like the material used, durability, and price are equally important, and if the price of a new stem is a concern, looking at used handlebar stems that are still in good condition is suggested. What is also important is getting the measurements right simply because buying an incorrectly sized stem serves absolutely no purpose.

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