How to adjust mountain bike handlebar setup - video

Take the time to get the perfect control setup

Handlebar setup is something that new bike riders can often overlook. Everyone spends time on their saddle position, because getting it wrong leads to an uncomfortable ride, but many new riders don't take the time to set the controls at the front end of the bike.

When a bike is assembled by a shop, the mechanic will set the bars in a generic position. If you ride for short periods or just don’t do any heavy braking you might experience a problem with that, but if you’re the sort of rider who likes to descend at speed, over-reaching for brake levers and gear shifters can get uncomfortable.

Here's our video walkthrough to help you to get the setup right:

How to adjust mountain bike handlebar setup

Video: How to adjust mountain bike handlebar setup

This video is part of the BikeRadar YouTube channel's Park Tool Maintenance Monday series. Park Tool products are available from various dealers across the UK.

How handlebar setup can help you avoid arm pump

Arm pump can be aggravated by not gripping your bars correctly. If you suffer a burning sensation in your forearms during a descent, making sure your bar position is set correctly should be your first port of call.   

Setting up your bars is pretty simple and only requires the relevant sized hex key (this will usually be 4, 5 or 6mm). You need to make sure you don’t over-tighten the bolts, so a torque wrench is also a good idea. If you don’t want to fork out for a torque wrench, a general rule of thumb is that you should only apply the sort of pressure you’d use to open a stiff door handle.

Here’s what you need to do:

1 Rotate the bars

  • Undo the bolts on the faceplate of the stem so the bars will rotate, but not under their own weight.
  • Align the rise of the bars (the vertical bend) so they are in line with the front of the fork – you can rotate forwards and back by a few degrees if you need to, but this is the best place to start.
  • Re-tighten the stem’s faceplate bolts in a diagonal direction. Warning – if you have carbon bars, we’d always advise using a torque wrench.

2 Adjust the brake levers and shifters

Loosen the brake levers to move them to the best position:
Loosen the brake levers to move them to the best position:

  • Loosen both the brake and shifter mount bolts so they move freely.
  • Get on the bike in your chosen descending position – if you’re an XC rider who spends most of the time in the saddle, assume that position; if you prefer to pop the seat down to descend, you need to take up the attack position. Leaning against a wall or getting someone to help you might be a good idea here.
  • Hold the bars with your hands in a natural position so the grip is in line with the bone in your arm.
  • Extend your braking finger or fingers, then move the lever so it fits ergonomically.
  • Tighten up the clamping bolts to lock the levers in position.

Be careful when tightening any bolts to avoid causing damage:
Be careful when tightening any bolts to avoid causing damage:

  • You now need to move the shifter pod into place so you can reach it with your thumb or finger, depending on how your shifter works; SRAM will be thumb only, Shimano shifters offer a choice.
  • When in place, tighten up its clamp bolt, again to 'stiff door handle' tension – don’t force it.
  • If you can’t reach your shifters properly, it is possible to run them outside of your brakes, between the lever and the grips. You may need to remove the grips in that case. 

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