Stems and bars: Long and low or short and high

I am currently riding a Thomson 90mm w/5 degree rise on my 575 and have considered trying a shorter stem. Unfortunately none of my friends or any of the local shops have one for me to demo. I do, however, have a 2″ riser bar that I purchased at a swap meet but have never used. I am currently using a 1″ riser bar. My question is this: Couldn’t I achieve the same result installing the 2″ riser bar and adjusting the sweep back towards the saddle as I could by installing a 70mm stem?

Hey Rick,

Good thinking, but that won’t quite work.

First: Your grips would point downward way too much. It would jack up your ergonomics: weight on the outside of your hand, elbows wanting to drop … not good.

You want your grips to be level (or close to level) with the ground.

Second: If your current position is comfortable, adding rise to the bars will put your hands too high. Long and low is good. Short and high is good. Imagine a full-moto position with a short stem and high bars. Imagine the classic road/XC position with long stem and low bars. Connect them with a nice, smooth arc. Your grips can be anywhere along this arc. Above or below the arc … not good.

Check out this sweet diagram madness:

Oh yeah, chicks dig nerds!

Do this: Go out and find a 50/0 stem. You’re riding a Yeti 575 with a Thomson stem; you don’t need a free trial — just man up and get the dang stem. Slap on your 2″ riser bar. Say braaap!

See also: Stem length/rise for a trail bike

PS: You bought bars at a swap meet???!!!??? Dude, support your local shop. That karma … not good.

15 replies
  1. Jonathan Gennick says:

    Related to this question, I’d like some guidance on how to rotate the bars. Do I want the upsweep pointed towards me? Straight up? Some other direction? I’m currently having fit troubles with a new bike (wrist pain and such). Bar and stem issues are very much on my mind these days.

  2. Jafar says:

    Chicks dig nerds for sure….just ask Lauren!

    Lee – same advice on a Nomad as the 575? 50/0 + 2″ HB rise? You know us roadies like 140 stems!


  3. leelikesbikes says:

    >> Chicks dig nerds for sure….just ask Lauren! >>

    No doubt. Dude, we win!

    >> You know us roadies like 140 stems! >>

    Oh yeah, with 20″ flat bars and bar ends. Been there …

    >>same advice on a Nomad as the 575? 50/0 + 2″ HB rise?>>

    That’s what I would run. Pretty drastic change for you — I say give it a go. You’ll learn to pedal just as well, and your handling will improve dramatically.

  4. Rick says:

    Thanks for the advise. I’ll try a 50mm stem with the 2″ riser bar. And, by the way, the swap meet where I purchased the bar was held at a local bike shop. So I guess my karma’s ok.

  5. Ben says:

    Have the book and love it. Trying to learn this techy trail riding without making a fool of myself, so far mildly successful. At any rate, I want to try the shorter stem experiment too. I am having a hard time finding out the stock stem size, but I think its 120 or 130mm with a 1 inch riser bar. Since I am 6’1, and come from a road background, this doesn’t feel overly long to me, but you have sold me on the more virtuous life that I can lead with a shorter stem. What size should I be looking for to downsize.

  6. Tysen says:

    I don’t understand the logic behind that diagram. Long and low, high and short are guidelines for two different styles of riding; there is nothing that determines a smooth transition between the two idioms (climbing vs. decending). The characteristics affected by bar positioning (as best I can think) are: rider power generation, rider maneuverability, steering geometry, and weight distribution*. Each of these is modified differently by changing the handlebar’s horizontal position and the handlebar’s vertical position alternatively. It could very well be desirable to change distance in one dimension and not the other to match the rider’s body and/or style. This is most obvious when we stop focusing on climbing vs. decending and consider overall handling.

    Somebody looking to ride a hardtail on rocky but flat terrain might run a shorter frame with a longer stem to ride the fork, yet keep the 2″ riser bars to still allow wheelies. A crosscountry racer on a flat twisty course might run a shorter stem on a long frame to quicken steering while keeping the low bars to maintain an agressive pedaling position.

    *I understand that you, Lee, avocate that by default the rider’s hands should be weightless on the bars, but this position cannot always deliver optimal weight distribution. According to standard frame sizing practices the front-center distance varies while the rear-center distance does not. Keeping the center of gravity over the bottom bracket therefore prevents riders of at least some frame sizes from achieving optimal weight distribution.

  7. Tysen says:

    I realize that in the above I was changing frame sizing to to keep the bars in the same position relative to rider posture and that this is not what the diagram is dealing with. When the rider’s body is based at the seat the torso can only pivot at the hips. Keeping the arms bent at the ideal degree requires any change in the handlebars to be in keeping with the forward and down or back and up pivoting of the torso. This is what the diagram illustrates and probably where I should have left things:)


    When seat positioning is deemed changeable the the rider can pivot both at the hips and around the bottom bracket. This results in a back and down or up and forward motion, the complete opposite of the previous scenario.

    As the handle bars and seat are moved backwards the need to lower the seat dictates a low handlebar. Low and Short.

    If the handlebars and seat are moved forwards the seat rises and requires a higher handlebar. High and Long.

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