1. The most important thing about buying a new bike is to make sure it fits. The only way you'll know if the bike is right for you is to size up the bike and make sure that the bike's geometry matches your body's geometry. Ask questions and do some research.
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2. If possible, try to find a shop that will let you demo the bike on real dirt. Five minutes in a parking lot won't cut it. You wouldn't buy a car without a real world test drive, and a bike should be no different.
3. Don't belive the hype. Just because your favorite rider or best friend rides a certain bike, that doesn't mean that's the best one for you. Have an open mind and be realistic about your needs and ability.
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  1. #1
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    Help with handlebar and/or stem suggestions for improved stability

    I've been riding some XC and some more AM type trails, and I'm finding that I am having a hard time not being a bit twitchy sometimes in my steering, and somewhat unstable over rough parts of the trails. I'm sure a good part of it is me, but if possible I'd like to improve my stem/handlebar combo to help me with stability.

    I have an older set up, I had starting riding years ago then abruptly stopped shortly after getting into it. Just picked up the bike and started again a few weeks ago after many years of not riding.

    The stem is a truvativ wavo, I guess it's either the 120mm or 130mm, I'm not sure where you measure from? The handlebars are raceface next low riser xc, 635mm. The bike originally came with 680mm truvativ handlebars, which felt very wide to me, so I had replaced them way back when. The new length wasn't an educated choice, I just bought something smaller. Now I'm wondering if I went too small. I definitely want to be able to fit in some tight spots, but stability is very important.

    I'm not too educated on how the stem length/handlebar width/angle of the handlebars and whatever other factors affect the steering feel. Could you guys please help out with some suggestions for changes that might help me with stability for pretty technical xc/am trails? Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
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    If you are truly hitting more AM style trails, then wide bars & short stem are the way to go. Your 120mm stem is old-style long and puts you too far out over the bars. Think in terms of 50-70mm in combination with some riser bars -- 680mm is a good width -- because you should raise your bars when moving them closer to you.

    Possibly examine the style of your bike. If you are changing up your style of riding, it might not hurt to consider whether you should also change your bike to suit where you're going.

  3. #3
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    Two links that you might find helpful:

    Lee Likes Bikes

    Lee Likes Bikes

  4. #4
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    You may get a little cramped as you reduce reach with the shorter stem you need. I dropped to 80mm and put on a 20mm setback seatpost and dropped my seat a little so it feels a bit low on flat areas. I can still get behind the seat on downhills.

  5. #5
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    However moving the seat back and shortening the stem can impact climbing performance. Moving the seat back will remove weight off the front wheel and this can cause front end lift/wandering on climbs.

    I run a 130 mm stem and 585 mm wide bars. This is old school from 2003 time frame and works for me. However I also have 3 more stems from 100, 110, 120 to try out and some 660 mm bars as well. I plan on giving these a try to see how they work out.

    Wider bars give you more leverage on the front wheel.
    Longer Stem means more turning on the front wheel as well.
    Shorter stems are often combined with wider bars, but I don't know how they are matched.
    Wide bars are supposed to be more stable, but I don't know. Going too wide can slow the steering feel.
    Joe
    2003 KHS Alite 4000 26" Hardtail - XC, All mountain, blah blah blah.. I just ride.

  6. #6
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    Most shops have cheap take-off stems around...I would go down to a 90mm to start and see if that helps. I would also only change one thing at a time while you are figuring this out...stem first. Try different bar heights as well with more or less spacers underneath the stem.

  7. #7
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    Thanks, you guys have provided a lot of great info. Jonathan, what affect does moving the bars closer to you without raising them have?

    I remember my old 680mm bars feeling weirdly wide to me, but maybe I could get used to that. Or maybe I could do something like 660ish and not shorten the stem too much?

    Examining the style of my bike does make sense. It is an XC bike (2004 Jamis Dakar XC Comp), and I am getting more interested in AM. When I last rode, I lived somewhere else, and was riding less technical trails. I happen to live 10 mins from a really nice spot now, which is more AM style, and more technical than where I used to ride. I am really enjoying it, but finding my set up isn't ideal for some of it. Unfortunately, I don't have money to spend on a new bike, so I am hoping some minor tweaks can help me out while I work on improving my skills. If I continue to get more into it, then longer term I'll hopefully be in a better position to consider a new bike.

  8. #8
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    Quick update, I decided to order this stem and handlebar combo (had to cut out the URL since I can't post links yet):

    Race-Face-Evolve-Stem-2013-Black-90mm
    Race-Face-Evolve-Low-Rise-Handlebar-2013-Black-660mm

    The handlebars are on backorder, so I won't get this set up until next week. I decided to not go too extreme, just increased the handlebar width from 630 to 660 and shorten the stem from 120 to 90. Not sure if that was the right decision or not, guess I'll find out. Hopefully I don't find myself wanting more of a change.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by scope56 View Post
    Quick update, I decided to order this stem and handlebar combo (had to cut out the URL since I can't post links yet):

    Race-Face-Evolve-Stem-2013-Black-90mm
    Race-Face-Evolve-Low-Rise-Handlebar-2013-Black-660mm

    The handlebars are on backorder, so I won't get this set up until next week. I decided to not go too extreme, just increased the handlebar width from 630 to 660 and shorten the stem from 120 to 90. Not sure if that was the right decision or not, guess I'll find out. Hopefully I don't find myself wanting more of a change.
    Well short stems make the steering faster (more twitchy). Paired with wide bars (780mm) you get more leverage over the wheel and bike as a whole and you get the steering slowed back down. Your stem choice seems reasonable but I would have gone over 700 on the bars, you can always cut bars but you can't make them longer (reasonably). It's time to move into the modern age! Get some wide bars and big tires!
    Don't you hate it when a sentence doesn't end the way you think it octopus?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by zebrahum View Post
    Well short stems make the steering faster (more twitchy). Paired with wide bars (780mm) you get more leverage over the wheel and bike as a whole and you get the steering slowed back down. Your stem choice seems reasonable but I would have gone over 700 on the bars, you can always cut bars but you can't make them longer (reasonably). It's time to move into the modern age! Get some wide bars and big tires!
    You have a good point about the bars. I could always cut them down. The bars also come in 725mm. They aren't supposed to ship until next Wednesday. Now you got me thinking that maybe I should swap them, and cut the larger bars if they are too much for me.

    Regarding the tires, 2.1 is the widest my wheels are rated for. Not sure if that is something people typically follow strictly.

  11. #11
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    I just called Jenson and switched the bars from 660 to 725. I think 725 is going to seem way too wide for me, but I'll cut them down. I'm thinking maybe I could get used to something like 695, and if that feels too wide, then 680. Given all the info you guys have provided, it does seem like 660mm was a bit narrow to start off with.

    As a bonus, the 725mm size was in stock, and will ship today. I was originally going to have to wait until the week after next. Now I should be set up by next week. I'll post back on how it feels.

  12. #12
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    My bars are 711mm and they're fantastic. It's something you have to get used to but once you do you might find you quite like it. You have to resign yourself from the beginning that it won't feel like what you are accustomed to so in the beginning you will probably think that you made the wrong choice. After a few rides you could put your old bars on and compare and contrast to see how much (if any) you would like to take off of your bars.
    Don't you hate it when a sentence doesn't end the way you think it octopus?

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by zebrahum View Post
    Well short stems make the steering faster (more twitchy). Paired with wide bars (780mm) you get more leverage over the wheel and bike as a whole and you get the steering slowed back down. Your stem choice seems reasonable but I would have gone over 700 on the bars, you can always cut bars but you can't make them longer (reasonably).
    Good stuff, I'll add that I don't know what bike you have, but older bikes had more active/faster/more twitchy steering head tube angles.
    Just fyi, going with a shorter stem will quicken steering making it more twitchy, althou the wider bars can compensate some, it's still headed in the wrong direction from what you explained.
    Moving the saddle to help with fit or handling is also backward. The saddle to pedal fitting is the most important and should be done first. Everything else is built upon and around that or that bike/size isn't for you. Whether you can or want to make adjustment to compensate for that is your call, but don't expect perfection.
    Maybe check your LBS to see what stem take offs they have that you could try on the cheap to dial in. They can also help big time with bike fitting.
    Another thing, if your bars are riser, you can rotate them to adjust reach some. Don't forget to adjust brake levers so wrists are pretty straight with your fingers on them when done.
    Last edited by theMeat; 08-31-2012 at 12:33 PM.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by theMeat View Post
    Good stuff, I'll add that I don't know what bike you have, but older bikes had more active/faster/more twitchy steering head tube angles.
    Just fyi, going with a shorter stem will quicken steering making it more twitchy, althou the wider bars can compensate some, it's still headed in the wrong direction from what you explained.
    Moving the saddle to help with fit or handling is also backward. The saddle, pedal, leg, butt fitting is the most important and should be done first. Everything else is built upon and around that or that bike/size isn't for you.
    Maybe check your LBS to see what stem take offs they have that you could try on the cheap to dial in. They can also help big time with bike fitting.
    Another thing, if your bars are riser, you can rotate them to adjust reach some. Don't forget to adjust brake levers so wrists are pretty straight with your fingers on them.
    Thanks for the additional advice. My bike is an old 2004 jamis dakar xc comp. It's very much an xc bike, and unfortunately I am finding that I enjoy AM style riding more. Don't let the age of the bike fool you, I am still not an experienced rider. I bought it back in 2005, rode for like a season or so, then stopped until maybe 6 weeks ago. In between that I moved, and now live close to a park with some good AM type riding.

    When I bought the bike, I didn't know much about fit or xc or am or whatever. I just knew the few times I went on trails with a friend were fun, and my cheap bike wasn't going to cut it for very long. So I ended up with this bike.

    Anyhow, I am hoping I didn't go wrong with the shorter stem. Twitchier is the complete opposite of what I was going for. Not sure how much wider the bars need to be to counteract that, but I am definitely widening the bars more than I am shortening the stem. I realize it's probably not a 1-1 ratio, but hopefully the bar size increase more than counteracts it. As far as fit, I actually have short arms for my height, so the shortening of the stem is likely a good thing for me in that department. The bars also have a 25mm rise, so that gives me some room to play.

    I guess I should read up on fit, it is unlikely I have myself set up properly, I've never even researched the subject.

  15. #15
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    Yup, you're welcome.
    I also enjoy, especially on my older bikes, a fatter, rounder, more aggressive tire up front. Not only does it make the front a bit higher than the back, but find the balance of traction much better. Can make the back slide out for speed control and more point and shoot type steering, while the front stays more planted, and let's not forget to mention, it's fun.
    "Tortured by mental illness" ~monogod

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by theMeat View Post
    Yup, you're welcome.
    I also enjoy, especially on my older bikes, a fatter, rounder, more aggressive tire up front. Not only does it make the front a bit higher than the back, but find the balance of traction much better. Can make the back slide out for speed control and more point and shoot type steering, while the front stays more planted, and let's not forget to mention, it's fun.
    i had velociraptors that i changed from the stock tires just before i stopped riding years ago. they are 2.1's. i just replaced the front with a nevegal 2.1 (by just, i mean last night), just to try something hopefully better, not because of wear. i'd like to have tried going a little bigger, but my wheels are supposedly spec'd for 2.1 max.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by scope56 View Post
    i had velociraptors that i changed from the stock tires just before i stopped riding years ago. they are 2.1's. i just replaced the front with a nevegal 2.1 (by just, i mean last night), just to try something hopefully better, not because of wear. i'd like to have tried going a little bigger, but my wheels are supposedly spec'd for 2.1 max.
    Not that I've looked for one, but I've never seen a tire width rating on any rim. There is certainly a practical limit, but I've never seen it spelled out. As long as your tire pressure is reasonable, 2.1 should be a fine width for most people's riding. I just happen to be in the minority when I refuse to ride a tire under 2.3 unless it's on my cross bike.
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    My .02 and I know it goes against the beliefs of many but I do believe that it is possible to go to short and wide. I once followed everyone's advice and had a 70mm stem with 720mm wide 1.5" rise bars and I was getting bounce off lines in the tech stuff like crazy. I noticed an instant change for the better once I through a stem and bars on my bike that fit me. I currently ride 110mm 6 degree stem with 660 3/4" bars.

    I also ride with some old school racers that have given me coaching on body positioning and form. This has excelled my riding in all areas significantly more than any frame or component has. The old school guys say that 95% of he ride comes from the engine, the chassis is only 5% of the equation. After training with them I am on board...

    Summary work with your LBS on fit and focus on your form.

  19. #19
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    Lots of good feedback. I'll second the suggestion to find a bar that fits you.

    IME, the handlebar width will have a greater effect on stability than stem length. I have two bikes with the same size bar but different stem lengths: 60mm and 110mm. They're the same size bikes but the one with the shorter stem has a longer top tube. The one with the 110mm actually came with a 580mm handlebar which was incredibly twitchy. So I switched it out for a 660mm and the handling feels pretty much the same as the other bike ... even with the different stem lengths.

    As mentioned, stem length should actually be changed to fine tune your reach, not to change handling characteristics. If you go too short on the stem, you may need to move your saddle all the way back to get comfortable which will, in turn, lighten the front end of your bike. While it's no big deal on descents, seated climbs will definitely be a bit less precise as the rearward weight shift will cause you to wash out more often.

    I think the handlebar-over-front axle guideline is a good way to determine stem length. With your saddle at the right height and fore/aft set at KOPS, get on your bike, head up (as if you were riding) and peek down at the handlebar. If your stem is the right length, the handlebar will block the front axle from your line of sight. If the axle is visible ahead of the handlebars, you could probably use a longer stem; if the axle is visible behind the handlebars, a shorter stem might work. The goal is comfort and not feeling too cramped or stretched out while in the saddle.

    I'd also second the suggestion to change one thing at a time. If you change both the bar and stem, it won't be clear which component produced what handling change. It's a somewhat tedious process and involves a lot of trial and error but, once you've got your fit dialed in, you'll love riding even more.
    Joe
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by joeinchi View Post
    Lots of good feedback. I'll second the suggestion to find a bar that fits you.

    IME, the handlebar width will have a greater effect on stability than stem length. I have two bikes with the same size bar but different stem lengths: 60mm and 110mm. They're the same size bikes but the one with the shorter stem has a longer top tube. The one with the 110mm actually came with a 580mm handlebar which was incredibly twitchy. So I switched it out for a 660mm and the handling feels pretty much the same as the other bike ... even with the different stem lengths.

    As mentioned, stem length should actually be changed to fine tune your reach, not to change handling characteristics. If you go too short on the stem, you may need to move your saddle all the way back to get comfortable which will, in turn, lighten the front end of your bike. While it's no big deal on descents, seated climbs will definitely be a bit less precise as the rearward weight shift will cause you to wash out more often.

    I think the handlebar-over-front axle guideline is a good way to determine stem length. With your saddle at the right height and fore/aft set at KOPS, get on your bike, head up (as if you were riding) and peek down at the handlebar. If your stem is the right length, the handlebar will block the front axle from your line of sight. If the axle is visible ahead of the handlebars, you could probably use a longer stem; if the axle is visible behind the handlebars, a shorter stem might work. The goal is comfort and not feeling too cramped or stretched out while in the saddle.

    I'd also second the suggestion to change one thing at a time. If you change both the bar and stem, it won't be clear which component produced what handling change. It's a somewhat tedious process and involves a lot of trial and error but, once you've got your fit dialed in, you'll love riding even more.
    Interesting. I tried looking at axle position like you said, and my axle looks very far behind the handlebars. Taking that into consideration, and your observation that handlebar width affects handling more than stem length, one would probably conclude that I should have gone shorter on the stem than 90mm. I am thinking at 90mm, I won't be able to go wider than maybe 680mm on the bars without having to reach too far (even 680mm might be cutting it close). My arms are short for my height. I'm also thinking the axle will still be behind the bars if I repeat that test with the 90mm stem. I guess I'll find out tomorrow, when the bars arrive.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by scope56 View Post
    Interesting. I tried looking at axle position like you said, and my axle looks very far behind the handlebars. Taking that into consideration, and your observation that handlebar width affects handling more than stem length, one would probably conclude that I should have gone shorter on the stem than 90mm. I am thinking at 90mm, I won't be able to go wider than maybe 680mm on the bars without having to reach too far (even 680mm might be cutting it close). My arms are short for my height. I'm also thinking the axle will still be behind the bars if I repeat that test with the 90mm stem. I guess I'll find out tomorrow, when the bars arrive.
    It should be noted that the KOPS method of bicycle fit has fallen out of favor and as such, the visual fitment of bar to axle is only one suggestion. Actually, if you have a 90mm stem and your axle is far behind the bar then I would suggest that your frame fit is probably off. 90mm is more or less a standard length and you shouldn't be far off.

    Nearly every fit system or nifty trick (like the bars over the axle or heel on the pedal for saddle height) are simply convenient ways to get you to fit the bike more quickly. Think of it as a best guess starting point; feel free to make changes as you need to or want to. It's your bike, set it up how you want. Modern styles of riding the bike tend to fit shorter stems but don't stress out too much about stem length, you can always change it.
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  22. #22
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    Good stuff again, and will again add....when I've been off the bike for a while like in the middle of winter, when I get back on my bike that fit perfect, I feel like my saddle should be more forward, and bars closer also. It just feels safer to be more upright and looking down the trail better. After a short time I wanna be lower and more stretched out to feel perfect again. That also goes for your condition. The better shape you're in, the lower you can be for longer.
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by zebrahum View Post
    Nearly every fit system or nifty trick (like the bars over the axle or heel on the pedal for saddle height) are simply convenient ways to get you to fit the bike more quickly. Think of it as a best guess starting point; feel free to make changes as you need to or want to. It's your bike, set it up how you want.
    Jeez, I was just about to write something similar. Yes, good starting point--not etched in stone.

    After figuring out your saddle height, getting knees over pedal spindle (KOPS) will give you some idea of where to set your saddle's fore/aft position. But there are so many differences in body dimensions (relatively long femur, short tibia, etc) that it's not quite black & white and should be adjusted accodingly.

    As for handlebar width, IME, it has a surprisingly small impact on reach. If your arms extend perpendicular from your torso (more or less), the width will affect the bend in your elbow and waist but not so much how far forward you need to reach. So a difference of 25mm--a half inch on each end--is negligible when it comes to reach.

    Stem length, though, has a bigger impact on reach. And you can fine tune reach by adding/removing steerer spacers and/or flipping the stem (if it has the typical 83/97 rise).

    And, of course, you could simply move the saddle forward a little in case you feel a little too stretched out. Comfort is really the primary goal when you start tweaking your setup. The guidelines are just a starting point.
    Last edited by joeinchi; 09-04-2012 at 12:58 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BostonBoy View Post
    My .02 and I know it goes against the beliefs of many but I do believe that it is possible to go to short and wide. I once followed everyone's advice and had a 70mm stem with 720mm wide 1.5" rise bars and I was getting bounce off lines in the tech stuff like crazy. I noticed an instant change for the better once I through a stem and bars on my bike that fit me. I currently ride 110mm 6 degree stem with 660 3/4" bars.
    What did the change to stem/bars do? Where did it help? Up / Down / Turns? Are the bars now lower than before?
    Joe
    2003 KHS Alite 4000 26" Hardtail - XC, All mountain, blah blah blah.. I just ride.

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    The bars I currently use are 720mm. This width of bar is good for long, extended climbs which keeps the chest more open to suck air a bit better. With that said, I do feel in technical sections, the bars give too much input to the front end and cause twitchy reactions. I have used 680mm the previous 5 years and will try that width again to compare.

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