Handlebar position: the secret revealed

Hi Lee,

I have read elsewhere that handlebars should be 1″ below or about even with the saddle height. On my 6″ travel all mountain type bike the fork has adjustable travel. If I need to weight the front end while climbing I can lower the fork. Going downhill I can put the fork back up and stay more behind the bars keeping my hands light and feet heavy. I run a short 70mm stem and 1.5″ rise bars which puts the bars about 1″ higher than my saddle and seems to work great. I tried lowering the bars by removing spacers and felt like I was leaning too far forward going downhill which felt a little sketchy. Is it considered more of a personal preference thing or is this even important at all?

Thanks, Jeff

Hey Jeff,

First: Yes it’s important!

The ideal position of your handlebars relative to your fully raised seat depends on several factors:

– Bike type

– Your riding style

– Your flexibility

– What you like

In general,

– Longer and lower reach works best for climbing-focused bikes.

– Shorter and higher reach works best for descending-focused bikes.

This diagram, right here, is why women dig me and I make the big bucks:

Click for big.

Note how the bars get lower and farther away as a bike becomes more climbing oriented.

If you’re on a 6-inch all mountain bike like an Enduro, the bars would work well about an inch above the seat (in the tall-fork position, which is what the bike is optimized for).

If you drop the bars too much without also moving them forward, the cockpit feels cramped and just kind of … sketchy. I think that’s what you felt.

Put your bars back where they belong.

Rip it!

— Lee

Know more. Have more fun!

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11 replies
  1. Evan says:

    How does a dropper post / lowering the seat change that equation?
    I feel like when the seat is low the bike handles better on the downhills with lower bars

  2. aussie chris says:

    Lee, have you worked out an MTB equivalent of page 18 and 19 of Pro BMX Skills? I guess you also need to consider the end use, which is more varied than BMX.

  3. jezza says:

    when i’m descending i feel more comfortable with the bars low and standard xc setup. seems easier to corner and put the front end of the bike where i want. When i had the bars high and short i felt a lot more cramped and the front end felt less stable. Is there something to explain this?

  4. Jeff says:

    Hey Lee, that is one sexy graphic! It was cool runnin’ into ya @ the Golden bike park, and glad for everyone in Boulder the fire got taken care of.

    I think the main thing is you are staying consistent with your advice, short/tall or long/low. The graphic clearly shows this. It’s a little confusing with the all the new hbars being really low. This is just a general rule of thumb. What works for Sam Hill, might not work for others. There are many examples of Pro setups which vary from the norm. Same goes for using the saddle as a refernece point – rule of thumb. I suppose you could use the BB, but that is always different from bike to bike too.

    Cheers – Jeff

  5. ChrisQ says:

    I don’t think Sam’s set up is really all that low. Remember his bars are sitting on the top of eight inch forks. Bar height is relative to bottom bracket height and Sam probably runs quite a low BB.

    If you have a look at the bike he just won the worlds on, it has a pair of Renthal bars with at least 30mm of rise. That’s a lot more than most DH bars at the moment.

  6. Anne says:

    Get yourself professionally fitted on your mountain bike. Make sure it’s someone who works with mountain bikes. Road bike fittings are different.

    I have my handlebars about 2″ above my saddle on my 160mm travel bike–they were originally saddle height. Because of a back injury this summer (inflamed L5-S1 disc and a lot of PT through the year), I had to modify my riding style and get professionally fitted on a mountain bike to be able to ride again. It not only affects your handling, but your back and the stress you put on it.

  7. Tim says:

    I’m about 2-3 inches below the seat with my bars….but I have very long legs. Riding any AM style bike at a level height with the bars is just no possible. So I guess this ‘rule’ is meant to be broken. The seat drops on the descents for ripability

  8. leelikesbikes says:

    Guidelines … just guidelines …


    The optimal bar position in the saddle might not be the optimal bar position out of the saddle.

    If I optimize my setup for seated climbing, the bars end up too high for standing climbing and overall braaap. I optimize for out of the saddle fit, then I learn to pedal it.

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