Again: Should I change my stem and bar?

Here’s a convoluted question from our friend Mario in Northern Italy. Shorter stems can be good, but rarely with lower bars.

Hi, i’m a trail rider from italy, i’ve read with great interest your articles about stems and bars. At the moment i’m riding my palomino with a 9 cm, 10° stem and a 1,75″ riser bar (25,4 mm diameter). The bike came with 100 mm 8° stem and 1″ riser bar.

Now I want change the old stuff with a 1,5″ carbon riser bar and 8 cm, 12° stem (31,8 mm diameter). Do you think that this will improve descending abilities, or is it a too small change to notice some modification in riding?

My friends say that the shorter stem will affect climbing a lot, and that is better not to change the stem length. I send you 2 photos of my bike, with the fork (revelation) set to minimum travel (100 mm) for climbing. The stem is under the level of the saddle and the bar is + or – at the level of the saddle. With this setting i can climb very well. What I can do? Is it better not to change the stem? Can you tell me your opinion?

Thanks a lot

Hey Mario,

Approximate. This ignores bar sweep.

Downhill: If your current setup is working well for you, the new setup won’t be an improvement. Your bars will be closer and lower. That is not a good combination. Typically, if you want to improve handling, you bring your bars closer AND higher. Think of a moto or a downhill bike.

Uphill: The shortness won’t ruin your climbing, but the lowness might make you feel more cramped. The length of your stem isn’t all that important for climbing. While long stems make climbing easier, you can learn to climb very well with a short stem — as long as your bars are high enough.

Read these articles:

Stems and bars: Long and low or short and high

Stem length/rise for a trail bike

Ah, Northern Italy … near Cuneo, Piemonte region, south-western Alps.

Guidi la vostra bici. Abbia divertimento!

— Lee

PS: Before you ask any question, please search the archives.

7 replies
  1. Don says:


    I can vouch for Lee’s advice on stems. I swapped the bars and stem on my Trance, keeping the bars at the same height but shortening the stem to 60mm. I’m more confident and faster on the way down and in technical stuff. On the way up, I didn’t find the change made any real difference – if I get dropped on a climb it’s a cardio issue, not because of my shorter stem.
    My advice – do exactly as Lee says and go shorter and (very slightly) higher. Enjoy!


  2. mario filippi says:

    Hi there, thank you for your answers! Lee, your italian is like my english!
    I’ve read articles and searched the archives, but unfortunately I have purchased the 1.5″ bar before finding out this web site and reading about stem – bar combination. So, what stem (lenght – rise) could work properly with this bar? I think to combine it with a 90 mm 12° stem, because grips should move slightly from where they are now. Is my theory correct?
    A combination I want to experiment that could also work is 70 – 75 mm stem (10° – 15° rise) with 2″ bar. Correct?
    I’m waiting for your answer and then i’ll start my experiments.
    Many many thanks
    Lee, I’m happy to see that you are a back country skier. We call it sci-alpinismo…. enjoy your rides!

  3. Mike says:


    This is great info. I have an issue. I ride an 18.5″ Giant NRS with a Thomson 100mm/5 degree rise stem and a Easton Monkey Lite Carbon Riser Bar (I think it is .75 or 1 inch rise – not sure). Also, I use a fox float 100mm front fork. I dont feel comfortable on the bike – feel weighted on the bars, arms feel extended and cant maneuver the bike well. I am 5’11” and average build. I was thinking about going with a 90mm/10degree rise stem for better handling on descents and technical stuff. What do you advise and why. Thanks!

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    That isn’t much of a difference.

    I would start with your body position. Make sure you are balanced on your pedals, and that your shoulders are low. This will give your arms ample range of motion.

    This is the position I teach in clinics. Time for another ebook …

  5. nobody says:

    a quick way to experiment with stem length , if you have riser bars , is to pivot your bars either forward or back to get a feel for what a new setting may do . a word of caution , if you find you like a 50mm stem with the bars pivoted back you will have ‘no stem’ and no leverage on the steering axis … your front tire may ‘jacknife’ when you hit something . in this case , you need a shorter top tube frame .

  6. James says:

    I’ve taken this advice and now have a 70mm/9deg Race Face stem with 1.5″ bars. It feels PERFECT for me, BUT, I find the front tire wondering in corners – as though there’s not enough weight?

  7. leelikesbikes says:

    If the front end is wandering, you can shift your weight forward a bit for more traction. Be sure to do this from a place of centered balance, rather than chronically leaning on the bars.

    This is Level 2 cornering …

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