Help required tuning handlebar width and stem length

Boy Lard
Boy Lard Posts: 445
edited October 2010 in MTB beginners
I have a Trek 6000 (10), I'm only 5'6" and I have the 15.5" frame.

I do quite a lot of cross country, but I really enjoy trying to point it downhill a bit, and I am playing about on jumps, drop offs etc, etc. My favourit type of riding is single track and 'technical' stuff, (I use the word technical loosely because I'm on a step learning curve and what I think of as technical you may not). The only change I have made to it other than some Wellgo MG1 pedals is to put some Maxxis Highroller tyres on it (2.1 xc on back, 2.35 super tacky on front).

I was considering putting a shorter stem and some higher rise bars on it, thinking this would make it easier to control when jumping, help me with the whole manual/bunny hop thing, (which I am trying to get sorted out and getting frustrated with).

1. Will shorter stem and higher rise bars make the bike more stable going downhill?
2. Will I have trouble with twisty single track and bike not being as responsive?
3. Being a small frame anyway, will effectively reducing the cockpit size cause me any other trouble?
4. Will it make climbing (especially on long xc runs) harder?
5. Do you think, based on the type of riding I am doing that my plan is a good idea or a waste of time.

Thank you, (I hope I have put this topic in the right section)


  • JimmerG
    JimmerG Posts: 143
    Boy Lard,

    You've pretty much hit the nail on the head with most of your questions....

    1. A shorter stem and higher bars WILL make the bike easier to pilot down hills.
    2. It'll also make it more responsive on twisty singletrack, and very much help your jumps and drop offs.
    3. It will shorten the cockpit, but so long as the bike is the right size for you (it doesn't sound far off) then you should be fine. It seems most bikes are sold with stems that are on the long side. My Trek Fuel was sold with a hideous 100mm stem, I stuck a 60mm (maybe 80mm actually) on it, and it handles infinitely better.
    4. Climbing will be slightly affected, as with a shorter stem your weight will be further back, thus unweighting the front wheel, leading it to lift and wonder a little. Just bend your elbows a little more to keep your weight forward.
    5. I say go for it..... you can get a lovely stems on-line for £12 look at (Carbon Cycles' eXotic stems) - don't go too short, maybe 20mm less than you've got at at the moment. Make sure the stem fits the bars (oversize or normal)

    Its all about compromising going downhill and undercontrol, and long distance/unphill comfortably. Having said all this - its amazing what you can get used to once youve been riding for a while.

    If your bias is towards decending, dropping and flying.. short is the way to go. if you're racing long distance.. long is better.
  • miss notax
    miss notax Posts: 2,572
    Hiya :D

    I'm not the most technically minded person, but I have recently gone for a much smaller framed bike (with shorter stem and higher bars) and I agree wholeheartedly with the comments above!! Much better downhill and on tight techie stuff, but I did need to adapt my technique for climbing and it is harder to keep weight over the front wheel. I've got this sorted now though, and I can honestly say that it climbs equally as well as my previous bike. Win : Win situation in my case!
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  • bigbenj_08 wrote:
    Huge generalization here.. but..

    Short stem = quicker steering but can be twitchy, better for decending.
    Long stem = slower steering but more stable, better for climbing.

    Narrow bars = quicker steering but more twitchy, easier climbing + less control on descents.
    Wide bars = slower steering but more stable, harder cliimbing + more control on descents.

    So I've opted for a short stem with wide bars...
    The twitchyness of the short stem is counteracted by the stability of the wider bar. Giving better decending at the expense of harder climbing.

    Long stem + Narrow bars..
    Slower but stable steering is counteracted by the quicker steering of thin bars.
    Giving more economical climbing at the expense of less controll descending.

    Short Stem + Narrow bars...
    Very twitchy.

    Long Stem Wide Bars...
    Super slow steering.

    For XC the longer stem/Narrow bars is beneficial because it helps with climbing.
    DH/FR/AM a shorter stem + wide bars offer downhill stability and better riding position.

    Thats all theory btw... I've just written is from what I believe the differences are between bar/stem combos.
  • Cheers guys. I was just a bit worried that being a pretty small bike to start with it may alter the geometry and therefore the handling more.

    I think I'll put some wider bars on first and leave the stem as it is. I have pretty short legs (longer body) so i don't want to reduce the size of the cockpit too much.
  • It's worth doing changes in small steps - I buy 2nd hand stuff to try & work out what setup I prefer. You'd be suprised what difference an extra 20mm can make to something like a stem.
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