When we talk about adjusting a mountain bike to the size of each cyclist, we usually focus on the height at which the saddle must be placed, but the height of the handlebar is not given the same importance. However, the position of both the saddle and the handlebar must be interdependent in relation to the position that the cyclist wants to have when riding his bicycle.
Adjusting the height of the saddle is as important as doing the same with the handlebars of your bicycle. Both are two of the three points of contact that the cyclist has with the bike and finding the correct position of both will allow pedaling comfortably, avoid muscular discomfort or injuries and increase performance.
The only difference between the adjustment of the saddle and that of the handlebar is that the adjustment of the latter can be modified depending on different variables: the rider’s height, the modality practiced (road or MTB), the terrain (flat or uneven) or the posture that we want to enhance when pedaling (comfortable, attack or aerodynamic). For this reason, at the outset, it must be clarified that there is no ideal or standardized handlebar height.
As a general rule, the handlebars should be between 2 cm and 5 cm lower than the central part of the saddle.
However, and especially if you are starting to ride a bicycle, there is a formula widely accepted by most biomechanical experts to find a guideline height. It is very simple and will serve as a starting point to make modifications based on your tastes, your physique or the use you give to the bicycle.
Basic formula for calculating handlebar height
This general rule of thumb is fundamentally based on placing the handlebars only a few centimeters below the height of the saddle. But we can bring the height of both closer or equal, or move it away, depending on the position we want to adopt on the bike.
Thus, if we want to pedal in a comfortable and balanced position in which we have good control on the descents and comfort for the ascents or the flat, the height of the handlebar should be between 2 cm and 5 cm less than that of the saddle.
How to find this measure? If you already have the saddle positioned at your ideal height, measure with the help of a tape measure and with the bike straight and resting on the ground, the height between the central part of the saddle and the ground. Next, measure the height between the top of the horizontal bar – on a road handlebar – or of a grip – on an MTB handlebar – and the ground. In this way you will obtain the two heights and you can proceed to make the adjustment.
For example, if the height of the saddle to the ground is 112 cm and the height of the handlebar 105 cm, the correct height of the handlebar will be 110 cm. This for an adult man of average height, between 1.60 m and 1.80 m. If you are taller than this, the handlebar should be 5 to 8 cm lower than the saddle. On the other hand, if you are short, saddle and handlebar should be aligned or even install the latter 1 or 2 cm higher.
Handlebar height on a road bike
Thus, based on this basic formula, the height of the handlebar can be varied depending on the pedaling position in which you feel most comfortable or obtain the best performance. Likewise, each modality or type of bicycle has its own peculiarities.
If you are a cyclist who likes to ride on his road bike and ride as aerodynamically as possible, you will have to lower the handlebar and place it at least 8 cm below the central part of the saddle.
The British Cycling Federation recommends doing the measurement and adjustment using a large bubble level (more than one meter). Place the level on the saddle and the other end on your closed fist vertically, which will be resting on the central part of the handlebar. The level should remain completely straight (check with the position of the bubble), since the vertically clenched fist measures 8 cm on average in an adult.
If not, you will have to raise or lower the handlebar to find the correct aero posture. On the other hand, if you are a long-distance or long-distance cyclist, the appropriate thing is that the height of the handlebar is closer to that of the saddle, staying a maximum of 2 cm below, according to the same British Cycling recommendations.
Finally, to climb heights or mountain passes, the difference will rise to 5 cm favoring a less upright posture than the previous one and more attacking.
Handlebar height on an MTB bike
With regard to mountain biking , there will be a recommended handlebar height for each modality: Cross Country, Enduro, Downhill … In the first, an attack position is mainly demanded, between treadmill and climber, so the recommendation is that the handlebar stays 2 to 5 cm below the saddle.
However, in the most radical disciplines, such as Enduro or Downhill, where a more intense use of the handlebar is required, most of the rider’s weight should not fall on it, compromising maneuverability. On the contrary, that weight must swing towards the rear axle, so the handlebar must be very close to or even at the height of the saddle.
So that pedaling on the uphill and flat sections is not compromised by this setting, especially on Enduro, it is advisable to mount a dropper post . This allows you to instantly lower or raise the height of the saddle at the push of a button, either to descend or to pedal comfortably.
Shortcuts to Fit: Spacers and Reversible Stem
Finally, this adjustment of the handlebar height can be accelerated by changing the position of the spacers that are installed as standard in the fork tube, whether on a road or mountain bike.
Its presence in the standard assembly of the bike is not accidental. Usually three are installed, although it can be two or four. By changing its position, we can quickly adjust the height of the handlebar to the desired position: aero or racing if we place all the spacers on the stem; intermediate, with the same number of spacers above and below; or relaxed, the most comfortable, with all the spacers below the stem.
Another trick to change the height of the handlebar quickly without having to fine tune with the tape measure or the level is to change the angle of the stem if the stem is reversible. That is, if it is installed with the tilt up (positive angle) you can turn it over and install it with the tilt down (negative angle). With this simple change, you will lower the height of the handlebar for a more engaged posture on the bike.