Correct height for bike seat and handlebars

Today we are looking at the correct height for bike seat and handlebars. Having your saddle and handlebars set at the wrong height can make your bike uncomfortable, inefficient and off putting. A saddle that is too low can cause knee strain and a saddle too high can cause hip pain. If the handlebars aren’t set up to suit the rider then back and neck pain can occur.  

Tools needed for adjusting correct height for bike seat and handlebars

To adjust the height of your saddle and handlebars, you will need some or all of the following tools:

  • Metric allen keys– Normally 4, 5, or 6mm.
correct height for bike seat and handlebars
  • Spanners– If you have a nut and bolt for loosening your seat post it should be 12, 13, or 14mm.
correct height for bike seat and handlebars
  • A wall or an assistant– This is so that you can sit on your saddle with both feet on the pedals.

Setting up saddle height

  • Sit on your bike leaning against the wall or ask someone to hold the front of the handle bars.
  • Put both feet on the pedals and pedal backwards until one of your feet is pointing down (6 o’clock) and the other foot as high as it can go (12 o’clock). 
  • Now move the 6 o’clock foot forward so your heel is on the pedal. You should have a straight leg. This is so that when you are pedalling on the ball of your foot you have a slight bend in the knee. If your heel can’t touch the pedal then you will need to lower the seat.
  • To do this, undo the nut or allen key at the saddle clamp, where the seat post is inserted into the seat tube. 
  • Lower the seat post, tighten the bolt and then sit on the bike again. 
  • If it is still not correct then repeat the process until the saddle height feels right.

If, while having your heel on the pedal, you still have a bend in the knee, then you should raise the saddle. 

  • To do this, undo the nut or allen key bolt on the seat post clamp. 
  • Raise the seat post, tighten the bolt and then sit on the bike again, putting the heel of your foot on the lowered pedal. 
  • If it is still not correct then repeat the process until the saddle height feels right.

It is important to note that the saddle can only be lifted to a certain point otherwise not enough seat post is left in the seat tube and can cause the seat post to bend or the frame to crack.  This point will say “minimum insertion” and is marked with little dashes going around the seat post. If these markings are visible then the seat post needs to be lowered.

Setting up handlebar height

If you have a pain in your back, neck or arms and feel that your handlebars are too low, or you want to be more aerodynamic by having lower bars, you could try to adjust your handlebar stem. There isn’t a correct position, it is purely a matter of preference. As you ride your bike, check to see how comfortable your back, neck and arms are.  You will know if you want a higher or lower stem. Before you can set up your bars you will need to define which stem fitting you have on your bike. 

Quill stem

This handlebar stem fits inside the forks. To adjust it you will need a 6mm allen key, or sometimes a 13mm spanner.

  • While holding the handlebar, undo the bolt anticlockwise just enough to allow the handlebars to move. 
  • You can now raise or lower the bars. You may need to use a slight twisting motion. Make sure that you don’t raise it above the minimum insertion mark, otherwise the stem could snap whilst riding. 
  • Check that your cables are long enough to allow for the stem being raised. If they are not, it may cause unwanted braking and gear changing while riding, especially when steering. You will need to change them for longer cables.
  • When you have the desired height, align the stem with the front wheel.
  •  Now tighten the bolt checking that the bars don’t move.

It is important to note that the two big nuts at the top of the head tube, where the handlebar stem fits into the frame, have nothing to do with your handlebar height. They are part of the headset and allow your forks and handlebars to spin, so don’t undo them. 

Adjustable quill stem

If you have an adjustable handlebar stem then there will be a bolt either on the side or underneath the stem to allow you to alter the height of the bars. These stems have the advantage of bringing the handlebars closer to you as well as raising them. 

  1. Hold the bars and loosen the bolt anticlockwise. 
  2. Move the stem to the desired position.
  3. Tighten the bolt.

You will also need to periodically check the stem for tightness as they can loosen off overtime. 

Threadless Stem

This type of stem encircles the top of the fork tube. The adjustment is limited by the position and the amount of spacers above and below the stem. If there are any spacers above the stem then you will be able to raise it.

If there are any spacers under the stem then you will be able to lower it.

  • While having the bike on the floor stand in front of it with the wheel in between your legs. 
  • Loosen the bolts on the side of the stem but don’t remove them.
  • Undo and remove the top cap and the bolt. 
  • Remove the stem.
  • Move the spacers and the stem to your desired position.
  • Replace the top cap. 
  • Tighten the top cap bolt, but not too much as you could compress the headset bearings. 
  • Make sure that your handlebar stem moves smoothly and that there isn’t any play in the headset. 
  • Align the stem with the front wheel and tighten the bolts on the side of the stem. If there are two bolts then tighten each one alternately a little at a time. Tighten them between 5 and 6 NM unless a different torque is written on your stem.
  • Check that your stem doesn’t move by standing in front of your bike with the front wheel gripped between your feet and knees, and try turning the bars.

You can also flip your stem around. If it’s pointing up then you can slightly lower the handlebars and if it’s pointing down then you can slightly raise them. 

  • Remove the handlebars from the stem and remove the stem.
  • Flip the stem over 
  • Replace the bars.  You will have 2 or 4 bolts. Tighten the bolts alternately a little at a time to about 5 or 6 NM unless a different torque is printed on the stem.

Threadless stem raiser

Because there is no option to raise the bars by lifting the stem, you can fit a stem raiser to do this. Be aware that the cables might not be long enough when using these options and may cause unwanted braking and gear changing while riding.

  • While having the bike on the floor stand in front of it with the wheel in between your legs. 
  • Loosen the bolts on the side of the stem but don’t remove them.
  • Undo and remove the top cap and the bolt. 
  • Remove the stem.
  • Fit the stem raiser.
  • Fit the handlebars onto the stem.  You will have options here to fit spacers.  Below the stem will give you the maximum height.
  • Check that your cables are long enough to allow for the stem being raised. If they are not, it may cause unwanted braking and gear changing while riding, especially when steering. You will need to change them for longer cables.
  • Replace the top cap. 
  • Tighten the top cap bolt, but not too much as you could compress the headset bearings. 
  • Make sure that your handlebar stem moves smoothly and that there isn’t any play in the headset. 
  • Align the stem with the front wheel and tighten the bolts on the side of the stem. If there are two bolts then tighten each one alternately a little at a time. Tighten them between 5 and 6 NM unless a different torque is written on your stem.
  • Check that your stem doesn’t move by standing in front of your bike with the front wheel gripped between your feet and knees, and try turning the bars.

Threadless adjustable stem

You can add an adjustable stem to the stem raiser to give you more height or just replace the current stem with the adjustable one.

Overview of correct height for bike seat and handlebars

As each bike and rider are different it is important that your bike is comfortable for you, so ultimately the correct height for bike seat and handlebars is dependent on the individual. Making the bike comfortable is a trial and error process so keep adjusting but above all keep riding. If you’re based in or around Manchester and need some help with bicycle maintenance and repair, why not visit our bicycle repair shop Sale Manchester.

Leave a Comment