The Importance of Handlebar Height & Why It's Often Overlooked

May 28, 2021
by Seb Stott  

Not many people talk about bar height. Perhaps that's because you can't really "sell" a particular bar height in the way that you can market a wheel size, stanchion diameter or fork offset. The thing is, in my view bar height makes a much bigger difference than any of those things.

In my job I do a lot of back-to-back testing of different bikes, components or setups. But to be honest, in a lot of cases it's splitting hairs. In contrast, even a 5mm change in bar height can have a noticeable effect on how the bike handles, yet this tuning option is often overlooked. And because of the way bikes are designed, I think a lot of people are not running the optimum bar height.

The right bar height is important for maintaining enough bend in the elbows for traction at the front, without feeling forced too far forward or too far back.

Why is bar height important?

The main thing is to keep a good amount of bend in your elbows while in the attack position. You want enough of a bend so that you can push the front wheel down into down-slopes and holes to maintain pressure on the front wheel, but not so much that you have less room to absorb impacts. This arm movement is a bit like sag in suspension - you need enough elbow bend to allow you to extend your arms to maintain grip, but leave enough room to absorb impacts.

If the bar is too low you might find yourself hyper-extending your arms while trying to push the bike away to maintain contact with the ground on steep steps or downslopes. It also makes it harder to look up to see further down the trail, and it's harder to manual too. If the bar is too high, your weight can feel pushed back off the front wheel, or the bar feels too close to your chest. To me the subjective feeling is one of being disconnected from the front wheel and too upright - like riding a Segway. A bar that's too high can also make the bike feel slower to change direction in tightly alternating turns.

So important is bar height that I believe it's been hiding at the heart of the wheel size debate all along. If you go from a 26" bike to a 29er the axle is taller and the fork is longer, which means there's a very good chance the 29er bar is much higher. I think this is a big part of the reason why 29ers were said to create feeling of being "in the bike" and more reluctant to initiate a turn. The reasons usually suggested for this are bottom-bracket drop and gyroscopic stability, neither of which hold much water. I also think that one of the main effects that occurs when changing the geometry of a bike with a flip chip is the difference between the bar height and bottom bracket (the effective stack) increases in the low position. This usually goes unmentioned, but is arguably more important than a 0.5-degree change in head angle.

Here's an extreme amount of saddle-bar drop to illustrate the point.

Why saddle-to-bar drop is like sag

If bar height is mentioned at all it's usually measured from the ground to the grips, but this is far from ideal. For a start, it doesn't take into account bottom bracket height, which can vary by as much as 20mm between bikes with similar travel. A better measure is what I'll call the effective stack - the vertical distance from the bottom bracket to the grips. This is just as important as the effective reach - the horizontal distance from the bottom bracket to the grips.

What really matters is the effective stack in relation to the height of the rider. A good guide for this is to look at the saddle height with the dropper extended to "proper" pedaling height. The saddle height takes BB height into account, and the distance from the BB to saddle is a very good indicator of the rider's leg length, which is strongly correlated with their height.

Road cyclists occasionally talk about saddle-bar drop - the difference in height between the saddle top and the top of the handlebars. Of course this measurement has a direct effect on the ergonomics of the position when riding seated, but it's also a good guide to how the bike will feel when descending with the saddle dropped because it indicates how the effective stack relates to your height.

Colorado USA. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Damien Otton bike check
In these bike check shots, Richie Rude (left) is running a small amount of saddle-bar drop, while Damien Otton (right) looks to be running slightly negative drop (the grips are higher than the saddle). I'd say both are within the normal range for trail/enduro.

After trawling through dozens of bike check photos, it seems like most enduro/trail bikes are set with the grips roughly level with the saddle top when it's at full extension (so zero saddle-bar drop), and personally, this is about where I find my ideal bar height. XC race bikes (as in the diagram above) are sometimes setup with a lot of saddle-bar drop, but the setups of pro XC racers is not necessarily representative of most mountain bikers' needs. This makes handlebar drop a useful benchmark, because for most riders setting the grips level with the saddle could be a good starting point.

Of course this won't work for some riders. For many reasons including limb proportions, flexibility and (perhaps most of all) what you're used to, you may prefer your grips significantly above or below the saddle. But that doesn't stop saddle-bar drop being a useful metric. As an analogy, setting suspension with around 30% sag is usually a good starting point; you may want to go stiffer or softer depending on your riding style or bike setup, but sag precentage is still a useful measure because it takes into account your weight and how much travel you have. Similarly, running your bars level with the saddle is a good reference point because it takes into account your BB height and your leg length/height, but some riders may want to go a bit higher or lower.

Sam Hill Overall Winning Bike
Nukeproof
Sam Hill's 27.5" Mega from 2017 (left) and 29" Mega from 2019 (right). It's hard to be sure because of the camera angle, but it looks as if both bikes are running a similar amount of saddle-bar drop.

Caveats

There are a couple of problems with saddle height as a reference point. Firstly, the effective seat angle affects saddle height, but won't affect your ideal bar height when descending. But for an average BB-to-saddle distance, the difference in saddle height between a 80-degree and a 75-degree effective seat angle is only about 13mm. Secondly, suspension sag. Of course it only matters how your bike handles once you're actually riding it, but if you have a full suspension bike and the suspension is well-balanced, the BB and grips should drop a similar amount under sag when in the attack position. Of course this isn't true when braking, so a higher bar height might be ideal for steep tracks.

The relationship between stack and reach

Another factor which might affect your ideal stack height is reach. The distance measured directly from the BB to the grips (in 2D space) is the hypotenuse in a right-angled triangle made up of the effective reach and stack. This distance is known as spread; it dictates how roomy the bike feels.

You might imagine that as reach increases you might want to decrease stack in order to preserve a similar amount of spread. However, I've found the opposite to be the case. A given effective stack on a long-reach bike can make the position feel too stretched-out like Graham Obree, making it harder to get your weight back, manual and look down the trail. The same stack height on a short-reach bike can feel too upright like Easy Rider. I find that the more reach a bike has, the higher the bar height I want. So far from preserving the spread, I'm closer to preserving the same angle between feet and hands, or in other words the same ratio of effective stack and reach. But while reach numbers have got longer in recent years (and that's a good thing), stack hasn't changed as much.

On the subject of stack and reach, trigonometry tells us that for every 10mm spacer under the stem you'll gain about 9mm in vertical effective stack but lose about 4mm of effective reach because of the slope of the head angle. So if two bikes have the same frame reach on paper but different stack, the one with less stack will have a shorter effective reach once you've added spacers to bring the bars to the same height. This is worth bearing in mind when comparing bikes because those with a low stack height will feel shorter than the reach number alone suggests.
16.04.21. Pinkbike Forest of Dean Rider Seb Stott. PIC Andy Lloyd www.andylloyd.photography
Fitting 10mm of spacers under the stem (or adding 10mm to the head tube length) brings the stem backwards by about 4mm for a 65-degree head angle.


Frame size matters

Nobody would put up with an incorrect saddle height, so the seat post insertion is hugely adjustable to suit a wide range of leg lengths. But at best, there's usually only a couple of centimetres of adjustment in the bar height via spacers.

Tech Tuesday
Oh great. Two very similar bar height options.

And while the seat tube length varies by a lot between frame sizes, so the range of available saddle height scales with the rider, the stack height often changes very little between frame sizes. You can only make a head tube so short before it becomes weak, and small riders still want 29" wheels and plenty of fork travel. I'm not sure why XL or XXL bikes don't have longer head tubes, though I suspect it has a lot to do with aesthetics or showing a longer reach number on paper. But for whatever reason, the head tube length, and therefore stack height, changes very little between the largest and smallest size.

Isabeau Courdurier
Crankworx Enduro 2018
Courdourier (left) has her bars visibly higher than her saddle, while Connor Hamilton (right) has his much lower. This is typical for riders on either end of the height spectrum.

For example, the new YT Capra 29 has a five-size range going from small to XXL. YT recommends the small to riders around 160cm, and the XXL to riders of 197cm - that's a difference of 23% in rider height. Across that range the reach goes from 427mm to 507mm - a difference of 19% - but the stack goes from 625mm to 652mm - a difference of just 4%. Another way of looking at it is the ratio of stack to reach goes from 1.46 in the small to 1.29 in the XXL. Surely both can't be right. And I'm not picking on YT here; my point is this is entirely typical.

As I said earlier, it's the effective reach and effective stack which matter for ergonomics, but bikes are usually fitted with the same handlebar rise, stem length and number of spacers across the size range. So a lot of short riders probably have their bar height too high, and a lot of tall riders have theirs too low. Changing handlebar rise can compensate in many cases (at 190cm tall I'm fitting a 40mm-rise bar to most bikes I test) but if you're particularly small or tall this may not be enough so you might want to avoid bikes with too much or too little stack, respectively.

Conclusion

A friend of mine was scratching his head because he felt more comfortable ripping his 29" hardtail down steep turns than his 27.5" enduro bike. Was it the wheel size, the head angle, the fork offset, or something else that he didn't like about his bigger bike? It turned out the 29er had a much higher bar height relative to the bottom bracket, so I gave him a 40mm rise handlebar for the 27.5" bike and that seemed to cure the problem entirely.

There's no "right" bar height, but just paying attention to this important adjustment is a good start. Nobody would put up with whatever saddle height their bike had out of the box, yet many riders never change the bar height. If the stem spacers don't provide enough adjustment range - and there's a good chance they won't - then a higher-rise or lower-rise bar could be the best upgrade you'll ever make. Measuring the height of the grips relative to the saddle at full pedaling height is a good place to start because it takes into account your BB height and leg length. But remember small differences can be noticeable so it pays to fine-tune with spacers too.


269 Comments

  • 187 9
 The giraffe and fox don't have helmets
  • 65 0
 Corgi tho.
  • 6 2
 @BrambleLee: Looks more like an elephant to me.
  • 86 1
 They're also not wearing pants
  • 62 16
 OR MASKS
  • 42 22
 But a reliable source says they both have butt plugs
  • 2 0
 Are they riding e-bikes or not though, I can't tell? Wink
  • 5 0
 Maybe they are riding gearbox bikes...
  • 3 0
 @p-m-z: Maybe it's a Driven sneak peek
  • 3 0
 The coyote doesn't have a tail.
  • 21 2
 Next up from the Pinkbike realm of knowledge: Pedals - you need them
  • 8 0
 @Molesdigmyjumps: You all missed the dual stage dropper as the Giraffe runs a XL butt plug.
  • 11 0
 @dldewar: it's like a clip in saddle.
  • 3 0
 the legs on that giraffe have scarred me for life
  • 8 0
 @BrambleLee: as a corgi owner, I can attest to them not needing helmets.....skull so thick nothing gets in there. lol
  • 2 10
flag endurocat (May 29, 2021 at 3:14) (Below Threshold)
 Waste of time. This is the same argument of clips vs flats or front brake vs rear brake dominance while riding.
  • 2 0
 @prfilms: Me neither.
  • 3 0
 @crazyXCsquirrel: The fox used to have a tail. Until making contact with the 29 inch rear wheel.
  • 2 0
 Running upside down road bars on my DH bike 2022 status!
  • 47 7
 This is exactly the same thing Lee McCormack as been doing with the concept of 'Rider Area Distance (RAD) for several years. He even posted an article here a number of years ago about it.

It is great to see others, especially a pinkbike staff member, promoting this concept considering how messed up bike sizing is right now. I have used this method for a number of years and it has taken the guess work out of choosing which frame size to get. I know what Spread or RAD measurement i want, then from the reach and stack of the frame I can tell if the frame will allow me to set up my bike how I want it to be.

Lets get away from just using reach to determine if a bike will fit because a frame with a 450mm reach and 600mm stack is much different than a bike with 450 reach and 640 stack.

I would love to see companies publish the effective down tube measurement (BB to top of head tube) of a frame plus the range the Spread or RAD of the bike set up how it is intended.
  • 3 1
 I've used Lee's Dialed method to create Excel documents to analyze the geometries of bikes based on riding category and my Dialed preferences. It has helped me narrow down not only what size of frame, but what bike, spacers under the stem and bar height to get. Now I've got a bike that just feels right after decades on the wrong size bikes.
  • 2 1
 I tried the Lee fitting formulas for bars, reach and RAD. the bar width calc put me at 720 and I run 740. I’m really short at under 5’4” but somewhat broad shouldered relatively speaking and long limbs. His formula for reach was spot on for what I’m riding but the RAD is way out. As in 7cm out. At my height and limb lengths, 31” inseam I’m pretty sure I’m an outlier.

This is a really good article though. I’ve had many of the same thoughts about fit but this crystallizes his thoughts better than I had. I have thought about steeper seat tube angles too. I think as the bb moves under the saddle the rider will need a higher bar position to maintain a seated balance while riding flatter terrain with the seat up.
  • 3 1
 He did a video with Joy of Bike on Youtube recently that really simplifies the RAD concept. They also had a video on handlebar width.
  • 2 1
 Watched the RAD videos from Lee. The info seems legit. In 36 years of riding I've had some good ones and a lot of ugly ones. My current GOAT ride... spot on. Checked out my 2011 SC Highball (oldie but goldie)...and it too is spot on!

My 2 favorite bikes fit the formula, so I'm buying.
  • 3 1
 @Someoldfart: Ya the handlebar formula seems broken but the RAD measurement dealio has some merit (I came across another video that did the measurement in riding shoes, standing properly but with a handlebar at your preferred width rather then holding a marker). My RAD is 840mm, my main bike comes in at 880mm. While I really love the bike, I have been having on/off back and hip issues which I figured were because I have been riding more frequently, further and harder. I finally got to see my physiotherapist for the first time in over a year and while chatting with him after doing range of motion tests I am convinced that being over stretched on my bike is a major factor to my discomfort. I am going to play with stem length and bar height to try to reduce the RAD into atleast RAD+ (860mm-ish) to see if it helps, otherwise I will have to look at going down a frame size (which based off of the manufactures suggested size based off of my height I am too tall for). Food for thought...
  • 8 0
 @Someoldfart: his handlebar formula dosent scale well for tall people, it would put me at 830-840mm smth bars
  • 12 1
 I have read the Dialed book, and my conclusion is meeh, does not compute. I am 185 (that's 6'1" in weird land), and I would en up with a very short bike with a very wide (820) bar. I have settled on 780... He may have found something useful for him, but his generalizations and interpolation just won't fit everyone. He is, as far as I know, short and really focuses on what works for wheelies and his training machine.
  • 8 0
 I got the book, even have a Google spreadsheet for calculations. But this method simply states that people with longer arms need shorter bikes, which is absolutely opposite to common belief and practice. It worked for me since I have long legs and standard arms. Also the rad angle recommendations (so the bar height effectively) were off for me, I am in the DH zone according to this book. But it helped me after all, because it let me realize I need a bigger bike.
  • 2 0
 Formulas are never going to give you anything other than a decent starting point for individualization, but the concepts Lee is promoting are solid and really helpful - even if, like me, you choose to go with a little longer RAD on your enduro bike over your trail bike.
  • 5 0
 On his website, Lee has updated the formulas from tbose in the book. Also even he claimed that the formulas are just for get you into the ball park, you either need accurate measurements and/or experimentation to score the right set up for you.
  • 1 0
 @baronKanon: I got exactly the same conclusions.
  • 2 1
 @Tobsa: I think Lee would say that bike companies don’t scale parts and frames well for tall people
  • 3 0
 @deez-nucks: pretty sure he said "works for anyone" in the video
  • 1 1
 @clinder So devils advocate, couldn't you just figure out a general stack and reach that works for you? I bought a SC Bronson last year because I specifically didn't want a super long trail bike. Reach is only 455 and I'm 6'0 with a long torso. It definitely felt too small at first but I adjusted my riding position I think for the better (pivot at the hips folks! Yoann Barelli says so!!). For my riding style I don't think I'd be happy with over 470mm reach, and it was pretty easy to figure out an ideal stack height by just playing with spacers when I first got the bike. Maybe the formula is helpful if you're new to biking but it seems like if you already had a bike it'd be pretty easy to figure out what you do/don't like based on your current setup.
  • 4 0
 @friendlyfoe: you can guess or you can measure. No formula involved. If you go by trial and error you may be close or you may be way off. You will get used to where you put your bars if you ride it long enough

Using assumptions to fit a bike like long torso, long/short arms/legs gets confusing very quickly. If you know what your neutral RAD/spread is you can make an informed decision of frame size, bike set up and know what effect will occur when you make a change.

People frequently are riding bikes that are ill fitted because the Size charts are all over the place from company to company. While it may not be perfect it provides some clarity.
  • 8 0
 No this is not exactly the same. LM recommends looking at RAD same as SS looks at Spread... but sounds like SS considering that angle to preserve between bikes, rather than the distance RAD/spread
  • 1 0
 @clinder: "I find that the more reach a bike has, the higher the bar height I want. So far from preserving the spread, I'm closer to preserving the same angle between feet and hands, or in other words the same ratio of effective stack and reach. But while reach numbers have got longer in recent years (and that's a good thing), stack hasn't changed as much." -Seb Scott ^
  • 3 0
 In an ironic way Lee’s RAD measurement doesn’t take bar height into account.
For example on my bike I can get the same RAD measurements with a 60mm stem slammed as a 50mm with 10-15mm of spacers underneath.
Lee’s method is correct in my opinion as it’s how I’ve always set up my bikes but there’s still an element of trying out different ways of achieving the RAD number and seeing what works best for you.
  • 1 0
 @RobertGrainier: Lee incorporates bar height. He measures the angle that the RAD measurement makes and calls it RAAD.

It is harder to really effect the bar height while staying with the same RAD because effective stack is partially set from fork axle to crown and head tube length. bikes with longer travel will automatically have a higher effective stack because of this. Basically presenting the angle of the RAD/Spread. Think XC vs DH bike.
  • 1 0
 This! I just wish Lee would stop posting the height based formulas. People put in their heights, get crazy and inaccurate numbers, and dismiss Lee's fit system. Lee of all people should know that proper bike fit can't be determined with a simple formula based on height and "average" human proportions.
  • 1 0
 No it isn't. If I used Lee's metrics, I'd need a 45 degree stem (rising) and my grips would be directly above the top center of the head tube - for cc riding. This article on the other hand promotes experimentation to see what works for your body dimensions and riding style. Although much more vague, it makes much more sense. I think it should be mentioned and recommended somewhere to invest in a cheap adjustable stem - both length and angle.

Aside: Love how the goofball stupid comments get the points to get to the top. I thought PinkBike had less immature clowns than MTBR.
  • 35 0
 I changed my handlebar wide from 780mm to 760mm on my enduro and its so much better to ride. And it has a backsweep of 12degress totally love it. its not for everyone but its worth to try different width etc.
  • 21 0
 Man, sweep is Soo important...I'm on 11deg and have the least amount of pain riding (from an old injury) in years! More manufacturers need to offer more sweep options.
  • 11 0
 I put an SQlab 12degree sweep bar on my Reign and it's amazing. I can't go back to a 'regular' straighter bar - the bigger sweep is so much more comfortable in 95% of riding situations
  • 4 0
 +1 for trying different sweep bars. Stock are usually 8-9 degrees.
I've been trying Salsa 11 degree and SQLab 12 and 16 degree bars.
I much prefer the 11/12 bars on enduro bikes, and 16 for a more xc setup.
  • 1 0
 @ratedgg13:

Im also riding the sqlab, why did you choose the 16degrees for XC?
  • 2 0
 I've been running the PNW Range bars at 740mm for the last season and a half on my NP Scout 275 and I'm super happy with the width. I'm 5'6" with a -1 ape index so I had to cut them down from the factory 780mm and 740mm's been quite nice. I'm moving to a steeper and rockier area in a few weeks so I'll see if I still agree by the end of the summer.
  • 3 0
 I've run some Salsa handlebars for quite a while with 11 degrees of backsweep and liked them a lot, especially for longer rides. Then I got a set of OneUps, which have a pretty normal shape to them, and they are way more comfortable. Funny thing is, the stock bars are almost the exact same shape as the Oneups and I couldn't stand them. Shape is important but ride compliance is important-er.
  • 2 0
 @Hamburgi: 16 seems to be more comfortable on my joints for longer days in the saddle, but also seems a little less precise for high speed descending. Though that's all based on personal perception, not bike fit or any measurable indicators.
  • 3 0
 SQlab 12deg is soo good for my hands. I always felt a pinch in the wrists by my thumbs. Now that's all gone. I'm thinking that I need a longer stem now though, as the back sweep has pulled my hands rearwards near the steering axis and handling is a bit twitchy.
  • 2 0
 @jamieAKDH: That's what I ended up doing with my 12 degree bar. With a normal bar I use a 35mm stem, but with the 12 degree, I've found that a 50mm is needed to put my hands in roughly the same position. Works great.
  • 3 0
 Makes sense. Narrower handlebars effectively does the same thing as raising the stem height. So does more backsweep.

I wonder how much that plays into all the photo's in this story?
  • 4 0
 @Hamburgi: More sweep is more good but only when seated.
  • 2 0
 If you are after a high rise bar Ergotec do a 12 degree back sweep 50mm and 70mm rise bar. I have the 70mm on my HT and 50mm on my FS.
  • 1 0
 @ratedgg13: I started on a 16 which I liked but am now on a 12 with more ride. 16 is more comfortable but I prefer the 12 for aggressive riding.
  • 1 0
 I'm happy to read all this about 12° bars. I have one in the basement with loads of other boxes an a new frame to start my new build up. Was getting concerned that I was wrong with going for a 12°.
How long are your stems to handle the backsweep without going behind the steering axis with you hands?
  • 2 0
 @squarewheel: 40mm stem, Centre of grips is centre of steerer tube (as Paul Aston G1 write up)
  • 1 0
 @fartymarty: Thank you. I did not remember the Paul Aston article I just remembered the article from Richard Cunningham about this topic. What I noticed just now is that I had a wrong reference point in mind. I did the unscientific measurement (because no frame at that time) with the end of the bar instead of the middle of the grip. So I ordered an additional 80mm stem because I thought the 50mm stem I had was too short.
I guess I will be fine with the 50mm and perhaps can even go shorter. Time will tell...
  • 1 0
 @fartymarty: glad you're enjoying the Ergotec bar Marty. I'm still running mine after a year, just feels right.
  • 1 0
 @makkelijk:
Hmm ok. I will stay with 12.
Perfect for jumps etc.

Hell yeah!! \,,/
  • 1 0
 @squarewheel:

Are there any nice stems available in 31.8?

Or just 35?
  • 2 0
 @Hamburgi:
I have one from Newmen. I also had the Nukeproof Horizon and SQLab on the list. All in 31.5.
  • 1 0
 @tremeer023: thanks for the tip on NSMB. Got them on both bikes now. Just wish more companies would do 12.
  • 2 0
 @notthatfast: Fully agree, went to 16 degree back sweep SQlab after ongoing elbow pain after rehab for a broken humerus, to say they changed the game for me is an understatement. 0 issues with pain anymore, now in the process of strenghtening my arm again to go to the 12 degree backsweep and will stay with that.
  • 27 0
 Excellent article Seb. Thank you for specifically mentioning rider proportion instead of just height. As a short 5'5 rider on long travel bikes with relatively long arms and legs and very short torso, it took me years to figure this out experientially. I have a plus 4 ape index and I always struggled for front end grip. I received a ton of bad advice along the way that only complicated this matter further.

As a shorter rider you tend to be lead into the trap of overly low bar height when in fact your torso to limb length ratio should play an equal role in that decision. Through many iterations of trial and error and a bunch of $$ spent on cockpit components over the years I've learned that:

I ride a modern geometry medium bike (440-450 reach) with a higher than saddle bar height (38mm rise bar 5mm stem spacer under) better than I ever could ride a small (410-425 reach) and lower bar height. Way more front end grip.

I used to have to run my fork crazy stiff to maintain any grip at all with the lower bar height. Now I can get some comfort back with the higher bars and allow the wheel to track the ground better with more negative travel.

Short chainstays suck if you're long-limbed/short trunked rider regardless of your height. But I can see how a long torso'd/shorter limbed rider wouldn't agree as they always naturally have more weight over the front end.
  • 7 0
 Thanks! You raise a good point that I didn't mention in the article - if you feel the need to run the fork crazy stiff, it's often a symptom of too low bar height. Get the bar height right and you can set up the suspension with less compromise.
  • 1 0
 @seb-stott: Yes, exactly. I have been plagued by the too low bar issue on my 2018 XL Enduro. I put on a 38mm rise bar ( the tallest I could find locally) and a longer air spring to push the fork travel to 180mm. The bike came with a cut down steerer tube making height adjustment very limited. The bars are still too low. With my 160 dropper down, my seat is only just below the bars. I measured my head tube and its 130mm long. My son's 24" wheeled Giant has a head tube of 120mm. Makes no sense whatsoever. Pro taper 3" risers here I come...
  • 1 0
 I'm with you on proportion weirdness, though in a different way. My inseam is from somebody 5'6" and everything else is from someone 5'10", the recent crop of low seat tube, short headtube bikes have been a dream for me. I still end up with my stem all the way down an little saddle to bar drop, but my but to grip distance is finally comfortable. I remember my very first MTB was a size small because everyone used inseam to do size back then, and I never could get it to fit right in any dimension.
  • 17 1
 I've just learnt this important lesson myself. I built a Transition Sentinel V2 recently, running 15mm of spacer under a Oneup
35mm rise bar and I was having trouble with the front wheel washing out particularly on flat corners and was destroying my confidence with the bike. Going back to my DH (Session 9.9 29) was amazing, it just held the line and gripped so well. So I started doing some research and came to several articles about stack height.

I first removed a .5mm spacer and lo and behold - it felt SO much better. So I removed another one, even better - finally I could really weight the front wheel well on corners and it just GRIPPED. I removed the last spacer and it felt like I was too heavy on the front of the bike immediately, I could feel the weight on my wrists) so put one spacer back in and it's perfect.

I've been riding it for a few weeks like that and I know LOVE the bike and I'm able to throw it into and out of corners at least 50% faster and I've no concerns about losing grip and washing out.

I highly recommend all riders experiment with their stack height if they haven't before, you might just unlock the best bike you've ever ridden - it did for me!
  • 3 0
 I have had the same experience on my motorcycle. Fast turns, the wind pushes your body back, and the bike starts to understeer (drift out with the front wheel). Once I would push my chest down the bike would hook up and tightens the turn.
  • 14 0
 I wish there was some kind of multi-adjustable-handlebar gadget you could borrow/rent from an LBS, which allowed you to play with different levels of bar rise/sweep, etc., and then you can decide what works for you and buy handlbars to match whatever settings you liked. It's so hard to work out what different bars would feel like unless you buy them.
  • 8 2
 Headset spacers
  • 10 0
 @hamncheez: Yes that's something you can play with, but doesn't help much if you want to experiment with bar rise, width, or sweep
  • 5 0
 @MuddyBrit: I think your bar roll preference can tell you a little about your sweep preference. If you like your bars rolled back, it may be that you want more backsweep and/or less upsweep. If you like them rolled forward the inverse is true. However, the more rise the bars have the more your roll changes the reach...
  • 2 0
 @huntingbears: I thought reach was horizontal line measured from the center line of the headtube and center of BB not to the center of the handle bars.
  • 4 0
 @rivercitycycles: it is (well, center of the steerer). Reach doesn't changed based on bar roll, but it will change if you move the stem up and down. Effective reach, what Seb is using in his article, would change.
  • 3 0
 @rivercitycycles: notice the author said effective reach
  • 3 0
 bars are really nice bits of metal. buy loads and mount the spares on a wall.
  • 13 0
 As a tall rider 6'2 bars will never be level with my saddle at pedaling height, thank god for droppers.
  • 1 0
 I'm 6'3" and until recently I felt the same way. But I now have the Whisky Milhouse bar on my Sentinel. I slammed my 5deg stem as low as I could and the position is almost level with my saddle. It has really helped in the slow tech.
  • 3 1
 @Andrewthemaker: Or you can simply use longer stem with original bars, as that is what you have effectively done when slamming the stem and using a big rise bars Wink
  • 1 0
 Oops, replied to wringwrong thread, sorry, should have been to one below Frown
  • 1 0
 I am 6'4 myself: high rise bars (60-70mm) and steep angled stems (+25-30 deg) are your best friends.
  • 1 0
 I’m 6’1”, but with long legs and arms. This article has me thinking That the short head tubes on XL bikes is why I’ve always gravitated to over forking my bikes to bring up the bars. Also, why I’ve had to upsize to XL when a large is supposed to fit according to the manufacturer, ad my saddle to bar drop is way too big on the smaller bike when I’m on the cusp. I’ve been running 40mm rise Renthal bars as I’ve never heard of the Whiskey Millhouse bar until this thread. That may be a game changer.
  • 1 0
 @HCnoodle: Been wondering who makes a high-rise stem approved for aggressive riding?
  • 1 1
 @WoodenCrow: for example bbbcycling.com/en_en/bhs-25-highrise-os
70mm/35° roughly has the same reach as 50mm/0°
  • 1 0
 But taller people generally have longer arms. So, I wonder if the torso angle is similar for most riders.
  • 2 0
 @WoodenCrow: Not sure, but there are lots of high-rise bars, which have the same effect and look way cooler, IMO. I've used 60mm rise dirt jump bars to help some lanky people fit bikes with short head tubes and chopped steerers.
  • 2 0
 @Andrewthemaker: I saw those but they aren’t rated for DH/enduro/bike park riding so I’m kinda scared to get them and snap them landing a jump :-/
  • 1 0
 @bigbrett: Deity Racepoint are 38mm rise (810mm wide), but if you have enough steer tube to spacer up they could work for you. Or get some of those direct mount spacers like minaar uses for a dual crown. I ride them on my DH. I'm guessing there are strength/flex issues if you go much higher than this on a wide bar without that center brace part.

Edit: nm, apparently protaper has a 76mm rise/810mm bar.
  • 2 0
 @SnaggleNut: I’m running the pro taper bars already Wink
  • 1 0
 @HCnoodle: So, is this why it looks extreme for Nino to run a 90, -40, which would basically come out to about a 50-60 normal stem??

Hump
  • 10 0
 the big problem starts when you have loooong legs compared to your torso and arms --> my legs would require an (x)xl frame, my torso m-l... result with the saddle in the right height for my legs: massive saddle to bar drop, even with 1" of spacers and a riser bar...
  • 12 2
 Handlebar height in relation with the bottom bracket really should be a geometry metric. I always calculate the stack height minus the bottom bracket height to know how the bike will feel on the uphills and downhills.
  • 5 0
 Exactly and I believe this is one of, if not the most important measurement for bike fit nirvana! What they note in this article as spread, once perfected and found for a rider, can be carried over to any bike by angle and distance from the BB.
  • 10 0
 I think stack height is measured from the center of the head tube to the center of the BB......
  • 5 1
 @friendlyfoe: Incorrect. SH is center of BB to Top of HT center point
  • 2 0
 @likeittacky: lol yes minor correction, I said center of head tube where I meant center of the top of the head tube. If you read the posts above it sounds like they are measuring to the ground.
  • 1 3
 @likeittacky: Companies seem to measure it differently which is a little odd to me. Santa Cruz and Canyon measure stack height from the center of the axles to the top center of the head tube. YT and Intense measure the stack height from the center of the bottom bracket to the top center of the head tube.
  • 3 0
 intresting, never noticed SC to do that. BB to HT should be industry standard.
  • 1 2
 @tacklingdummy:
Seems like front/top of headtube makes more sense as it’s the “zero” point, as in you’re never gonna have a stem with negative length that actually goes into the steerer
  • 3 0
 @tacklingdummy: I just checked - Canyon does show stack from axle to top of steerer on their diagram, which seems odd. Santa Cruz shows from the BB, though, just like everyone else.
  • 2 0
 @Auto-XFil: You are right and I am right as well. Lol. Some models (Nomad, Bronson, Megatower, V10 models, Bullit) Santa Cruz shows via their geometry diagrams (on their website) as the stack height from center of axles (not BB) to top center of head tube. Other models (5010, Hightower, Tallboy, Blur) show stack height from BB to top center of head tube.

Very strange that there is discrepancy in stack height measurements with different models. Not sure if it is a mistake on the geometry diagrams or what. Look at those models geometry diagrams.
  • 2 0
 @Auto-XFil: The couple SC models i checked first appeared @ BB; but a closer look are two parallel lines, one for BB height the other for axle line - there by which (B) indicates the stack height measurement.
  • 2 0
 @tacklingdummy: I don't know what the correct answer is but at least for my purpose to the BB seems like the more useful measurement as it tells me what the riding position will be like.
  • 1 0
 @friendlyfoe: Yeah, I agree. Center of BB to top center of head tube seems like it should be the industry standard. I'm gonna try to ask SC why there is different measurements for different models.
  • 2 0
 @tacklingdummy: I can’t find any information on their websites that suggest they measure SH from center oh headtube to center of axles. Can you post a link?
  • 2 0
 @Luna67: Just go to each model page and look at the geometry diagram for each model. Look very closely at the measurement lines. It is better to zoom in.
  • 1 0
 From SC "Thanks for reaching out. There are a couple of ways to measure stack height. The way our engineers do it is from the rear axle height as you said"

Going from the axle must give some sort of dynamic reference for how the bike handles. Certainly less useful for bike fit.
  • 1 0
 @friendlyfoe: That is strange because some of the models (5010, Hightower, Tallboy, Blur) clearly show on the geometry diagram that the stack height is measured from the center of the BB to the center top of head tube. Scratching my head. I emailed them as well, but haven't heard back.
  • 2 0
 @friendlyfoe: The response I got from SC conflicts with your response. More confusion. Haha. Not a big deal, but it is funny to me.

From SC "It looks like the stack height measurement is displayed wrong for the Nomad, Bronson and Megatower- We measure all of our bikes from the Center of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube. I'm working with our graphics team to get this fixed, thanks for the heads up!"
  • 2 0
 @tacklingdummy: FWIW I got an upgraded shock for my aluminum bronson frame because I asked SC help what shock comes with the bike before ordering from lbs (it wasn't listed on the website at the time) and they said the top model. Found out once it was on order that this was not the case and they agreed to swap it out based on the email reply I had.

So long story short their actual customer service is fantastic, but the people responding to emails don't seem to have a clue!
  • 8 0
 New bike had a much lower stack and much steeper STA. Wrists immediately complained. Raised the bars an inch or more and it immediately helped. I had previously ridden some really slammed/low bars, but never with a modern steep STA.
  • 8 0
 So true! I'm tall and particularly long-legged, my saddle-bar drop is comical on many bikes. My usual spacer tower drastically reduces reach, and the far-out seat post combined with slack seat tube angles puts me far over the backwheel when seated. I now pay more attention to the effective reach of a frame at my preferred stack height (accounting for the amount of spacers I may need), which has ruled out a few former on-paper favorites.
  • 5 0
 Similar situation as you dude. My solution was to have the stem slammed on the headtube (140mm headtube though) but use a 40mm rise bar, this maximised reach but gave me the stack I'm after. Win.
  • 2 2
 @Brasher: I recently did the same thing, but it's worth stating this is no different than running more spacers and a longer stem with the bar you already had. Two different ways to get your grips in the same spot. One costs less (usually) and the other looks better (riser bar).
  • 7 0
 As a 49 yr old with a history of lower back and sciatica issues, bar height is so important. I still haven’t found my ideal position and will be trying a 30+ mm rise bar next. Rhys is for this article!
  • 6 0
 Higher bars really help my back to feel better on the climbs. It's a night and day difference.
  • 6 0
 I had the same back problems for years. Try really stretching your hamstrings and everything connected to the back. My problems went away for the most part.
  • 5 0
 New style geo (steep swat tube slack head angle) and higher bar height really does help.

I recently had surgery for L5 herniation and prior was riding a large 2018 slayer which was a comfortable pedaling position possibly a touch long. I'm now on a medium 2021 commencal meta am which is even for comfortable.

The more upright pedaling position really helps.
You probably loose a bit of power and efficiency on the ups but given I'm only riding up to ride down this doesn't bother me.
  • 1 0
 Have you tried a longer reach? That helped for me. I thought that a higher rise would be better but it actually made it worse, especially with a short reach.
  • 1 0
 @Kieranliddicoat: My injury is also L5 herniation, but "only" grade one. I have been considering sizing down to a medium 29er for the shorter top tube and higher stack. Also, a steeper seat tube is in my future.
  • 1 0
 @ichabodchain: My current bike has a longer reach than the last. Have tried almost everything except a higher rise bar...
  • 3 0
 strengthen those abs and lower back.
  • 2 0
 @likeittacky: Yep, thats the idea! haha
  • 1 0
 51 with back, wrist and joint issues running 40mm on my trail 134 and on my park/enduro 165. Going 50 on my dj.
  • 4 0
 Is your saddle height bang on? If mine’s just a couple mm too high I get lower back pain from rocking hips while pedaling. Happens if I change to pedals with a smaller stack height and forget to lower seat height, for e.g.
  • 2 0
 @CourierSix: Good tip....but, yes, saddle height is correct.
  • 3 0
 @tacklingdummy: Similar for me, spent along time trying and failing to adjust bike fit for back issues. In the end I found it was my hamstrings causing the issues.
Keeping the hamstrings stretched and loose was a big game changer for on bike comfort.
  • 2 0
 L5 herniation 6yrs ago, 6'7". Bar drop apprx 15cm with a reach of 500 on my slightly too small Capra XXL. No problems so far, just keep on with Yoga Smile
  • 1 0
 @likeittacky: This helps to some extent, but you can't train correct sizing
  • 5 0
 I always thought is was something everyone did when they got a new bike... first get your handlebar height approx even with your fully extended saddle. Then, depending on how much suspension travel you have, your reach and stem length in combination with your HTA will determine how much you need to alter it after your first ride. For me it's been pretty clearly obvious as soon as I hit my first steep ascent and descent if things need adjusting or not. There is also some personal preference mixed in there as well. Some people just like a higher bar height and prefer to ride taller while some prefer a low height and a really low aggressive riding position.
  • 5 1
 I don't set my bar height based on saddle height. I set it up to what feels like neutral weight on my hands in the attack position.
  • 3 2
 @jeremy3220: Which is probably pretty much at saddle height (give or take), no?
  • 3 0
 @islandforlife: I think about an 1.5" bar drop. Either way, it's not based on saddle height.
  • 2 4
 @islandforlife: everything on the bike is saddle height (give or take).
  • 2 1
 @islandforlife: no. i've progressively raised my bar height over the last 5 years and my bars are no where near the height of my fully raised saddle. i'm 6 5 with a 37" inseam. my saddle is in the clouds.
  • 1 0
 @jamesbrant: I've also raised my bars over the last few years. I changed fork from Pike to Öhlins coil which has given me more grip up front hence less need to weight the front. As such I've been able to raise the bars.
  • 8 0
 Handlebar height is often overlooked because it is below eye level in the direction you are facing.
  • 6 2
 Here's unpopular opinion: I've been playing with handlebar height and found that I'm most comfortable with lower bars for few reasons:

- you get more weight on the front which makes climbs easier and less weight on the back so your rear shock sags less and keeps your seat tube angle steeper in real life.

- more weight on the bars (arms) means less weight on your lower back because if you're riding more upright and putting down a lot of power from your legs, your lower back gets squished between the weight of your upright torso and your legs pushing your pelvis up. It's not great position for intensive pedalling.

It's no wonder XC bikes have more stretched climbing position and that they are made for climbing fast and long rides.
  • 1 0
 This!
I am riding like this for 30years (because every bike was too small anyway).
Once I had a Canyon XL with a 670 or so stack height. Cornering I felt disconnected from the ground, I had to exaggeratedly bend over the bars. Ok it helped on the real steep technical stuff, but not that much.
  • 4 0
 @seb-stott as a 6'2" rider, raising my bar height allowed me to get more front end grip. By raising the bars to a comfortable position, where I could see where I was going at high speed, I could then properly weight the front of the bike with confidence
  • 3 0
 I've felt an immense improvement in breathing with a higher bar height: opens up the ol' "boiler room".
  • 2 0
 Same here. I sometimes hear that a lower bar height gets more weight over the front so you get more front end grip, and while this may be true if your bar is too high, it's not that simple. If it's too low you can't push the bike into the terrain as proactively so traction suffers. There's a balance to be struck for sure.
  • 1 0
 @seb-stott: 100% agree
  • 3 0
 I ride a Process 153 (size L, 27.5) i’m about 6’0. The factory setup felt too OTB (only been riding 2 years so what do I know lol) but I moved the stem up by 1x 5mm spacer and put on the 40mm rise chromag fubars. That gave me way more confidence in steep sections; less OTB feeling. But, In steeper climb sections I found I have to put more weight forward to keep from doing a wheelie.
  • 3 0
 As a long legged 6'-4" (193cm) rider I find bikes with one length of head tube for all sizes a non-starter for me. I get that with long travel forks some folks are looking to stay as low as possible, but that simply does not apply in my frame sizes. Road bikes are easy for me to check, if the head tube is 200mm it's a no. Mountain bikes are harder to gauge by head tube, and stack is a better metric. Of my previous 4 bikes all have had an inch or more of spacers under the stem and and another inch of rise in the bars. It works but isn't ideal. My XXL hightower is the exception at just under 2cm of spacers under the stem.
  • 3 0
 80mm riser bar from protaper. Done.
  • 1 0
 I'm running the Whisky Milhouse bar and love it! Bar to saddle is nearly level
  • 1 0
 I had the opposite problem with my xxl mega and xxl ht, i could never get the bars low enough. I ended up running an xc race -20 stem on the hightower and it got me pretty close. im 5'11, but have the arms and legs of someone 6'3 - 800mm saddle height.
  • 3 1
 Funny. I'm 196cm, and my latest Tallboy (V3) requires 60mm of spacers under a 15degree/80mm stem topped off by 80mm rise Deity Highsiders just to get my bar height level with the saddle at full extension (300mm of effective seatpost).
I have a deep suspicion that there is a design conspiracy to make bikes too small...
  • 1 0
 @dirtyburger: 76mm (3 inch) I believe. I run one, I agree, love it.
  • 1 0
 Yesterday I ordered a Spank 75mm riser bar for my new Occam. It's going to look like shit, just like all of my other bikes, but comfort always wins over aesthetics for me.
  • 3 0
 Set it up so it's not lifting when climbing and puts you in a comfy position over the bars for the downs. Start at the high position and ride the same track dropping a spacer every time. There's a sweet spot where cornering is prefect and front wheel control is perfect. Try different things.
  • 3 0
 Protaper are really the only company really nailing both rise and sweep. I run their bars on all of my bikes. Three 76mm rise bars, and two sets of 2020’s. Sweep and rise are just begging for more options in the market. Ergonomics are much overlooked by most manufacturers.
  • 1 0
 Same, love those ProTaper (old Answer) 20/20s
  • 6 0
 I need one of those triple dropper posts.
  • 6 0
 As a long legged rider of average height, I support this message.
  • 2 0
 I just changed from a front load stem on my BMX to a top load stem that has about 30 mm rise vs the original negative rise, and my posture on the bike is a lot better and it handles nicer, as well as being easier for me to bunnyhop. It's kind of crazy how much of a difference it makes.
  • 2 0
 Putting more spacers under my headset is shortening my reach too much on my 2019 Sight 27.5. It also made the front end too lifty on climbs. I swapped out the 50 mm stem for a 60 mm and this helped, but I think I may go for a bar with slightly higher rise. hmmm.
  • 2 0
 Yeah, higher bar leaves reach alone (if you run them vertical), spacers don't. But they are basically free.
  • 5 1
 @zapat: A set of higher bars run vertical will be similar to running some spacers and a longer stem with lower bars
  • 2 0
 The worst is when you want to have different desires for handlebar height. What you feel most comfortable with, and what you feel you have to do to make your bike handle correctly.

Because handlebar height also changes the weight on the front tire. And weight on the front tire is determined by lots of things (including chainstay length, and HTA, etc).

I have this problem. I started my bike with a 35mm stem, and 38mm riser bar. As I've gotten faster/progressed as a rider, I find I struggle to weight the front end correctly at speed. So now I run a 20mm riser bar, and a 50mm stem (and still struggle to keep weight on the front).
  • 1 0
 Seems weird that you would have trouble weighting the front with that cockpit set up, but there are some other things you could try. I recently flattened my brake levers slightly, which put my weight further back. To compensate, I added a bit of pressure to my shock (from ~265PSI to ~270PSI) to balance things out. Felt like it brought my weight forwards enough to maintain the balanced position I was looking for. Maybe try that!
  • 2 0
 I noticed this recently when I went form my last gen Warden 460 reach to the V2 Warden 500 Reach. With the same bar height the V2 bars felt too low and I felt like I was over the front of the bike. I have since swapped out the fork and set it up mullet raising the front end quite a lot and I am much more comfortable descending than with the original fork.
  • 1 0
 Hell with bar height height comfort; tell us more about that mullet bike Likes and dislikes, please!
  • 1 0
 @likeittacky: can’t say too much yet. I only had a few rides on it before I got injured.(non bike related)
  • 1 0
 @mtbman1980: Dude heal up and huck your Mullet! Get back to me soon with the good news!CHEERS!!!
  • 3 0
 Lee McCormack gives a fairly good overview of reach and handlebar height with the anagram, RAD. When I checked my RAD on my Orbea Rallon, it was within a couple of mm. He also gives a great insight into handlebar sweep.
  • 2 0
 Doesn't that guy "leigh rides bikes" swear by the RAD system. Rider area distance. So you measure the bb axle to the imaginary centre line between your grips. And using it a starting point you can set up all your bikes in a similar way
  • 3 1
 "it's been hiding at the heart of the wheel size debate all along"

It wasn't hiding if you paid attention to the right things. Nino Schurter won a good chunk of his accolades while being one of the last remaining men on 26 or 27.5 wheels, because he couldn't get the bar height he wanted with any 29ers at the time.

Also, how can you dismiss many of the other sizing or geo numbers as splitting hairs, then immediately go on to talk about 5mm being a significant change on bar height? I don't disagree, I've moved many a 5mm stem spacer dialing in bar height. But to dismiss the other ones... Many many people have made the same claims about 5mm of fork offset, 5mm of bar to saddle, 5mm of stem length. They all matter, some more than other depending on the rider, and to dismiss any of them just to make this argument seem more important, that's a disservice and does not help at all to reinforce the importance of 5mm this way or that for this measurement.
  • 2 0
 Great input PB! Bar height is forgotten about by many riders, though it is a crucial point for roadies. Comfort, front grip, cornering, back/shoulders/elbows/wrists pain or injuries are so much depending on handlebar position.
  • 2 0
 I agree with the crux of the article - @seb-stott - any idea why manufacturers tend to not publish BB to handlebar height? To me it should be somewhat proportional (and maybe not exactly linear) to BB to handlebar reach and/or saddle to handlebar dimensions.

Suggestions? Maybe manufacturers could spec mid rise bars and give LBSs both some low rise and high rise to help fit? I'm guessing that generic bars are quite low cost manufacture items...
  • 2 0
 "I'm not sure why XL or XXL bikes don't have longer head tubes". So agree! I need to put 4cm of spaces and run 40mm rise bars to get my XL bike have the saddle and bars at the same height. And I'm only 6'2". I always have to tell my bike builder, leave 4cm of steerer tube. I make them write it in bold, big letters on the service ticket. Otherwise they never do.
  • 2 0
 "Courdourier (left) has her bars visibly higher than her saddle, while Connor Hamilton (right) has his much lower. This is typical for riders on either end of the height spectrum."

Or is this something that just can't be avoided for shorter folks riding big wheels?
  • 2 1
 I have saddle higher then the bar with lowered dropper 180mm, 6* rise stem and all spacers under;

Having long legs is not ideal to find proper fit;

actually bb drop helps a lot( no matter of wheel size) with 29 in is easier to achieve lower bb tho and do not have pedal strikes
  • 2 0
 I have always figured the faster you are pedaling the lower your bars need to be in relation to your saddle. My road bikes bars are about 7 inches lower than the saddle, on my mountain bike it's only about 3 inches.
  • 1 0
 I can totally agree with the YT analogy because it happened to me. I'm a short 5'9 on their size large capra. Bike new just felt slightly off. I added a spacer and just dealt with that for short while not knowing was just not right. Contemplated a shorter stem...Anyways I then went the opposite way with the spacers and took out two lowering the bar height below stock and just slightly below my seat and now the bike feels well balanced.
  • 1 0
 Seb nails it again! I'm 6'4" (193cm) and getting a 60mm rise bar has been a game changer. More comfortable on climbs and more "arm suspension" on descents. Quite the conversation piece, too. Best $55 I've spent on my bike. spank-ind.com/collections/handlebars/products/spoon-800-bar
  • 1 0
 I set my handlebar height up according to how naturally the bike sways/leans left to right when I sprint out of the saddle. Too high and the sway/lean is less than I like, affecting my flat cornering (less bike-body separation). Too low and it feels like I have to consciously tilt my neck back to see ahead, with it drifting back to staring at my front wheel (comfortably holding my vision's focus far ahead helps performance a lot).

When I'm seated, I adjust my saddle fore/aft position so I'm not pushing away from the bar. This is a weird no-man's-land where getting the grips closer helps me have a more relaxed upright position, and moving the grips farther helps me get into a "high-performance position" with elbows dropped/bent and core engaged. The tweener (no-man's-land) zone just puts pressure on my palms/wrists, making it uncomfortable to hold either position.

I ensure my bike has good weight bias/distro, so I don't have to worry about getting too stretched on steeps ("long" reach isn't a problem). I like weight distro that doesn't have so much weight on the front--mtbs are meant to have their weight transferred back and forth. Having extra weight on the front wheel all the time due to excessively long CS and/or excessively short front center (short reach, steep HA) hurts the bike's agility. There's no magic ratio... a frame could have 60:40 weight distro for a 150 lb rider, but the same frame for a 200 lb rider of the same height could have 62:38 weight distro. Just have to put scales under the wheels and measure, and find what your own sweet spot is. The whole WB to reach ratio thing is just another fad myth...
  • 1 0
 It's so true about the upright JRA comfortable position versus the forward-biased attack (both up and down) position.

On a separate note, I always felt shorter effective Stack gave me a significant edge climbing steep stuff. On the bike I just got with a significantly taller front end and otherwise similar geometry, back to back testing is ruining my prior preconceptions. Not exactly the same bike though, so it's hard to tell which factors are making the difference.
  • 1 0
 @WoodenCrow: I don't get the whole low front end /low effective stack helps climbing connection. At least not universally.

Had a low stack bike. While it encouraged you to pedal and felt good climbing seated, as soon as it got steep and technical enough that you wanted to stand, my weight shifted forward and I always struggled for rear traction.

My 2 higher stack bikes have me consistently cleaning many technical climbs I struggle with on the low stack one. Max spacers and a 35mm riser bar still left the short one ~25mm shorter than the other 2.

I suspect there's a style preference thing going on too. I was struck with how seated Sarah was on the impossible climb video on the most recent field test. I'd have been standing at least half that climb.

So I think more XC terrain and/or a sit and spin pedaling style = prefer low effective stack. Slow and techy and/or a standing punchy style = prefer high effective stack.
  • 1 0
 @orion86: that's a good point about standing versus sitting. One factor occurred to me there, that higher stack still helps to increase the Spread (BB to Head tube). I've always felt like increased Spread & Reach helped me when standing, climbing steep tech. You mentioned the opposite with low stack, maybe it's another thing that comes down to body proportions and specific bikes. I have a feeling I was also conflating the effects of short stack with those of longer stem... Similar but not necessarily identical?
  • 1 0
 Does a spacer under the headtube affect reach the same way as spacers under the stem do? I guess it's like adding more travel to your forks.. so the same question to adding more travel and it's impact on reach. (200cm rider, very dismayed by all bike geo, never felt that "in the bike" thing y'all chat about).
  • 1 0
 Off the cuff I think it would make Reach even shorter, by slackening the head angle even more.
  • 1 0
 I have had > 50mm saddle to bar drop on my trail and enduro bikes for so long, because I'm 1.85m and long legged. This year I switched to a low-stack stem, more spacers and an SQLab 45mm rise bar on both bikes and it's incredible! Especially on my LTHT where I raised the bar by about 60mm. I always kept that low because I ride a lot of XC with it, but I'm probably faster with the higher bars because I can actually corner with that bike now.
  • 2 0
 Nailed.
I've always wondered why so many bikes have such ridiculously short frame stacks.
Maybe it's because a long reach (480-500mm) paired with a tall stack (640-650mm) would result in a huuuge wheelbase?
  • 1 0
 If you really want to go down this rabbit hole (and I think it’s very valuable to do so), you’ve got to think a little bit about chainstay length. While most of your weight should be driven through the pedals and BB, longer chainstays are going to put more weight on the front wheel. I have a Hightower V1 and a Banshee Titan. Switching back and forth, what I notice the most by a large margin is fore/aft weight distribution.
  • 2 0
 Chainstays fly under the radar and it drives me nuts. Bigger bikes should have longer chainstays so that the bike remains balanced. Someone on an XL or XXL should not run the same chainstay length as someone on a small. They ride like garbage!! I’m an XL guy and currently building a Tallboy (even though it’s less travel than I desire so I’ll be long shocking it plus some other stuff) because it has the flip chip in the chainstay so I can make it 440 and then I’ll also be adding a cascade link just for the extra 5mm it’s adds as well.
Rear end will be 445 and that’s about the most proportional bike I can build up right now

I’ll be messing with bar height and all that for the first time too(always thought lower was better....) so that’s exciting

Hoping to finally get a bike that feels right!
  • 2 0
 @stormracing: Chainstays are definitely the most underappreciated aspect of geo. I think 440-445 is where I'd want to be on a trail bike (and I'd be looking for 480ish reach). The Titan at 452 with a 495 reach feels great in enduro/downhill terrain. But on my trail bike I'll deal with a little rear wheel weight bias to make it easier to manual and generally a little more playful. I'm also riding in rolling terrain with lots of rocks and elevation changes but no truly sustained ups and downs.

Think your going to like the Tallboy. I've been thinking overshocked Tallboy with Cascade is what I'd do if I get a new trail bike.

FWIW my bars are about even with the saddle on Titan and a almost 2cm below on HT, but I have really, really long arms.
  • 1 0
 @stormracing: Guerrilla Gravity Gnarvana had 450 chain stays.
  • 1 0
 Imagine writing an entire article on the importance of handlebar height, without one time mentioning (in general) what higher or lower handlebar height typically does to riding dynamics.

Not one time in this article does the author point out how handlebar height affects the feeling of a ride, nor what clues you might take to help point you in a better direction. Dope.
  • 1 0
 @seb-stott
I think what you are forgetting is that seat hight depends on crank length (up to 1cm difference) and bar height does not (as pedals are mostly level while descending).
So I would strongly hesitate to use the seat/grip-heigth metric.
  • 1 0
 I’d love to hear the same thing about XC riding and racing.

Also, when we read about Lee and RAD, we have to account for a couple of things.

1. Lee states his measurements are based off a 40mm stem.
2. The RAAD is measured at 56 degrees for a trail setup.

He’s never mentioned a more XC setup and what angle would be used.

For me, I’m 5’-9”, 32” inseam and RAD measurements right at 32” to knuckle center from floor in my cycling shoes.

On my correct bike (large SB100) if I measure the RAD at the 56 degree angle, I’m measuring thru the head tube about 1.5-2” below the headset too cap.

I can get close to RAD with a negative rise 70 stem and flat XC bars.

This leads me to think that the large SB100 may not be too long, but that it has a larger than I need headtube.

Your mileage may vary.

Hump
  • 1 0
 So, why is it that all the men racing on the Scott team, Nino included are running the bars much lower?
Is there something they know and we don’t, because looking at Ninos bike, his saddle to bar drop doesn’t really look that aggressive.

Hump
  • 4 0
 Hahaha Rhys??? Wtf? Meant to say “thanks”!
  • 3 0
 Really well written, now I want to go to the garage and take some measurements and do some tweaking.
  • 2 0
 Reading quickly down the list of comments, i thought you were going to the garage to do some twerking. lol
  • 3 0
 @likeittacky: Who says I didn't Wink
  • 3 0
 @likeittacky: it’s Friday. let’s get weird
  • 2 0
 @sjma: with mullet wig and red white and blue stripes shorts on
  • 3 0
 @seb-stott Bar height increase has certainly helped my riding on the steeps. Thought provoking article. Thanks.
  • 1 0
 Im a tall guy 6,1 but when I put the handlebar too high I loose traction on my front wheel so whats the solution to that? I find myself with a lot of saddle to bar hight
Maybe try a longer stem and a higher bar?
  • 3 0
 Hey oneup components, can you guys start making your bars with different sweeps?
  • 3 0
 Bar height is 42” people. If your seat is higher than that then drinking is going to get pretty awkward.
  • 1 0
 My XL Enduro looks like Connor H's bike. Massive seat to bar drop. I've increased fork travel by 10mm and put 38mm rise bars on but I need more! Bike makers hate tall people :-)
  • 1 0
 You have not taken into consideration that bikes are getting bigger and longer and we (really short riders) do not have the luxury to be able to play with the Handlebar Height.
  • 1 0
 I ride what's comfortable on my hands. Numb hands suck. Typically I run a 40 mm rise, but I just picked up a Spank 50mm rise and it feels phenomenal.
  • 4 2
 So this whole time we were supposed to pick a bar height and be a dick about it?
  • 4 0
 That would be a bar fight.
  • 1 0
 a proper bike fit seems to be exclusive to roadies and the similar. for what reason, i do not know. fit is just as important on any mtb.
  • 2 0
 It's kind of chicken or the egg. I don't trust a generic "bike fitter" who typically fits roadies to really understand the handling needs of mountain biking. So it would have to be a MTB specialist, and since nobody gets a MTB fit there are none - with the possible exception of mecas like the PNW.
  • 2 0
 @Blackhat: Agreed. I wonder if it is because MTB is more diverse e.g. XC, DH, enduro. Each discipline needs a different set-up. Setting up a road bike has enough variables in itself.
  • 1 0
 @iamamodel: Road fit only has to worry about the seated rider, and it basically lays on a continuum between aero and comfortable. And they've been working on it for 100 years and make it sound so sciency - which roadies love.

MTB still has the seated position and the need for power, but it's only like 15% of the equation. Handling characteristics out of the saddle are far more significant, and just imagine how fun it would be to get someone in their actual attack position on a trainer. And the massive range of skill, strength, technique, habits, goals and (as you mentioned) disciplines?

Honestly, there is a bike fit system for MTB though. You just have to hire a coach. Over multiple sessions they can assess and modify the entire eco system of your riding - including fit - to get you hopefully on the right path. How to find a good coach is another question though.
  • 3 0
 This is the best thing I've read this year.
  • 1 0
 Reading the comments about bar heights stacks width just starts to ask have we reached max reach numbers and people addressing to much reach?
  • 1 0
 You guys could have waited until handlebars and stems were back in stock anywhere before posting this article, thanks a damned lot
  • 1 0
 Thank you for this articulate and thorough article Seb! Probably the most useful and interesting article I've come across in the history of Pinkbike
  • 2 0
 What about e-bike riders who don't extend their dropper to pedal?
  • 1 0
 Not surprising that this article is posted by a self-confessed stack-addict: www.instagram.com/p/Bz0KXlCnUhZ
  • 1 0
 To be fair... this was in La Thuile ^_^
  • 2 0
 Too low and you'll keep losing the rear
  • 2 0
 Great article! Another thing to think about with my new bike.
  • 1 0
 I thought reach was measured using the center of the steerer tube?
Is "effective reach" the measurement to the grips?
  • 2 0
 Crank arm length affects saddle height.
  • 2 0
 Propain bikes frames have better stack heights stats.
  • 1 2
 Do you really think ews pros are setting their bar height depending on saddle height rather than simply on bb to bars/ ground to bars height? Do you realise they are not sitting while in attack?
  • 3 0
 It helps to read the story.

He said it was a good guide, not that you should set up to it. Then he used EWS pros as a reality check. And he made it clear he understands attack position is standing. Hell, he did ALL that in literally 2 sentences:

"Of course this measurement has a direct effect on the ergonomics of the position when riding seated, but it's also a good guide to how the bike will feel when descending with the saddle dropped because it indicates how the effective stack relates to your height. After trawling through dozens of bike check photos, it seems like most enduro/trail bikes are set with the grips roughly level with the saddle top when it's at full extension (so zero saddle-bar drop), and personally, this is about where I find my ideal bar height."
  • 2 0
 @Blackhat: My bad, I've seen the sb6 and scrolled right there spontaneously.

Anyway it would be nice to show differences between xc, en, dh, dirt jump, pumptrack preferences as well.
  • 1 0
 Also manouverability in the air is affected by bars height. I love doing whips and tables.
  • 1 0
 Excellent article! I, too, prefer a taller effective stack when going with a longer reach bike.
  • 1 0
 I want a forward leaning bar with a bit of \_/ wing angle on the ends please.
  • 1 0
 How does it affect performance??
  • 1 0
 Perfect illustration, well done!
  • 1 0
 WTF his article doesn't mention T Rex or knuckle daggers....
  • 2 0
 'Knuckle daggers'? Like Wolverine?
  • 2 0
 bmx bars on everything!
  • 1 0
 Handlebar weight or handlebar height?
  • 1 0
 Good piece right here. Thanks!
  • 2 0
 Excelent reading!
  • 1 0
 Excellent call on the in-the-bike-feel bs!
  • 1 0
 YT's new CAPRA has lower handlebars on size small and medium.
  • 1 0
 Like riding a Segway ?
  • 1 0
 Yeah, just look at how high the bars are on this Segway e-bike www.segway.com/dirt-ebike
Sorry e-bikers, I couldn't resist, I know, I know, "that's not an e-bike, that's an e-motorcycle"
  • 1 2
 Didn't have the mental capacity to read all the words. So wider biggerer bars right?
  • 1 0
 Easy. Find a pro that's built like you in the discipline you ride and imitate their set-up. I'm the same size as Sam Hill so for me bars at same height as seat.
  • 1 0
 Hundee pee bruh!!!!!!!!
  • 1 0
 RAD.
  • 1 0
 I like bacon
  • 1 0
 Great article
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