Step-by-Step: How to Tighten Bike Handlebars!

Is your bike handlebar loose and constantly moving as you ride your bike? No worries, I can help you with that. Biking is undoubtedly an enjoyable activity. However, the experience can be ruined if the handlebar is loose and you are not able to steer it properly in the right direction.

  1. Fix your stem height to a comfortable height level
  2. Loosen up the stem cap and then the stem by adjusting the screws on the side
  3. Pull the stem off the bike frame
  4. Adjust the handlebar back over the spacers and fix the stem cap bolts
  5. Straighten the stem and align it with the front wheel

In this article, I will discuss ways you can tighten your bike handlebars. It is not really a difficult process, and you will get the hang of it in no time!

What Do You Need to Tighten Your Bike Handlebars?

You would require an Allen key, a torque wrench (if you are working with bikes that have lighter carbon parts), some spacers, and a lubricant. 

Fixing your bike handlebar is a simple process and if you have the right tools for it, it becomes even easier. The tools required for this process are quite simple and should be available at your home or a nearby local bike shop.

If you have gathered all the necessary tools required for this procedure, let’s start with what you need to do!

Types Of Loose Stem

The stem is an important part of your handlebar and mainly connects the handlebar with the steerer tube.

The handlebar loose stems are of two types; threaded stems and threadless stems. Different bikes usually use either threaded or threadless stems.

For now, I will explain the features of these stems, and later on, we will learn about fixing them.

#1 Threaded Stems

Threaded stems used to be more common, but with threadless stems taking over the market, they have become relatively less popular.

A threaded stem is also known as a traditional expanded/wedge stem. Its distinguishing feature is that the stem slips inside the fork steering column quite easily. 

The stem usually has a long bolt that runs down through the vertical part and connects to a wedge at the bottom.

This bolt mainly functions to pull up the wedge, jamming it in the process and, thus, securing and locking the system in the steering column.

A threaded stem is usually delicate and tends to get rusted quite easily. It majorly owes its rustiness to the delicate combination of steel vs aluminum that needs to be maintained by lubrication and oiling. 

One advantage that threaded stems have over threadless stems is that they can be adjusted to a comfortable height quite easily.

Overall, the threaded headset stems are quite useful but due to their high maintenance and lesser availability have become less common in the biking community.

» Read my blog post: How to Install Rubber Handlebar Grips?

#2 Threadless Stems

Threadless stems are actually a pretty recent invention, and people usually prefer these over threaded stems.

Even though most of the time they do not look aesthetically pleasing due to their thick boxy shape, when it comes to functionality, it is the best option out there.

Threadless stems are usually easier to maintain and faster in adjusting the bearing preload with the central bolt through the cap.

It requires hex keys to adjust it, but the overall structure of the stem is lighter and stiffer, and that makes it easy to steer and control. 

It is also generally easy to remove the entire assembly by loosening the four bolts adjusted in the threadless stem.

However, one major disadvantage of these stems is that they cannot be raised or lowered to adjust the handlebar height. 

Now I will be further discussing how you can tighten bike handlebars that have a threadless stem. If your bike has a threadless stem, you should keep reading!

How to Tighten Bike Handlebars

If you have figured out the type of your bike handlebar is loose, we can move toward fixing it. Before you start the procedure, please first confirm the type of stem your bike has.

There are different ways to correct a loose threadless and a loosely threaded stem, and I will discuss both of them below. 

1) Tightening Handlebars With Threadless Headset Stem

While tightening your handlebar, you need to ensure that you are tightening it in a way that ensures optimal comfort. A handlebar adjusted to a comfortable stance for you would help you achieve maximum performance. 

Threadless stems are generally easier to adjust because they only require adjusting the pinch bolts and stem.

Loosening these pinch bolts allows you to move the attached steerer tube easily.

#1 Find Out Your Comfort Location According to Stem Height

Adjusting the stem height according to your comfort level mainly depends on the biking activity that you plan to do. For example, if you are someone who enjoys comfort riding, your handlebars should be at the seat level or higher. 

However, if you plan to race it, your bike handlebar should be adjusted in a way that allows you to crouch aerodynamically and should be 2-4” below the seat. 

An ideal bike stance is that your back shouldn’t be hunched, and your arms should be slightly bent at the elbows.

To initially test the right comfort height for you, you should have a friend hold the bike for you as you mount it and test the handlebar. 

» Read my blog post: All 20 Types Of Bicycle Handlebars in One List

#2 Loosen the Stemcap

The stem cap of your bike is secured in place by tight bolts. To loosen it, you would first have to remove these bolts.

You can use an Allen key to loosen the bolts that are holding the stem cap in place, i.e. the bolts pointing up where the stem meets the bike.

These bolts are important to keep your handlebars securely in place. Thus, you need to remove these bolts to raise or lower your handlebar.

For now, you should just loosen the long bolt and remove it along with the stem cap. Keep both of them safely aside for later. 

#3 Loosen the Bolts On Each Side Of The Stem

The stem of your bike is secured in place with the help of bolts on its side. You need to use an Allen key to loosen these two side screws present on the handlebars.

These screws are usually located on the part of the stem closest to your bike seat. 

Please note that you do not have to remove the bolts entirely. You just need to loosen them enough that you can pull the handlebars and stem off the tube in the frame.

Once done, you can now move towards pulling the stem off the bike frame and then readjusting it to a comfortable riding height for you.

#4 Pull the Stem Off the Bike Frame

Now that you have loosened the bolts of the stem and the handlebar, you can easily remove the stem from the bike.

However, while doing this step, you need to be extremely careful not to disturb the wiring system attached to the derailleur, brakes, and gears. 

Even though these wires usually have some slack and allow some room to move, you should be extra safe and roll the bike up to a table and place down the handlebars carefully and close to the bike.

#5 Add or Remove Circular Risers

This is the main step in adjusting your bike handlebars. The circular risers/spacers are small rings that you can add to increase the height and remove to decrease it.

You can adjust the height of your threadless headset with the help of these spacers.

If you want to decrease the height of your handlebar, you will have to remove some of the spacers.

However, be sure not to struggle to remove the conical piece at the bottom of the stem that connects it to the bike frame. That conical piece is the bearing cover and, thus, cannot be removed. 

Similarly, if you want to raise the height of the handlebar, you will have to add more spacers that you can get from a local shop. 

#6 Slide the Handlebar Back Over the Spacers

Now that you have adjusted the spacers, you need to place the handlebar and the stem back into the bike frame over the spacers. 

You shouldn’t worry about aligning the handlebar perfectly yet, just make sure that you fixing it right. Secondly, if you removed any spacers, you should put them on the top of the stem and let the stem cap cover them later on.

#7 Fix the Stemcap Bolt

It is now time to fix the stem cap bolt back on the handlebar. You should tighten the long bolt with your hand or an Allen key before you align the handlebar itself. 

While fixing the bolt, you should ensure that you are able to freely move the handlebar sideways, if not slightly loosen, the head bolt. 

Note: If your bike has a carbon fiber frame, you should use a torque wrench to ensure that you don’t damage anything. 

#8 Align the Stem and Your Front Wheel

Stand over your bike and squeeze the front wheel while holding it between your legs. This should correct the frame of the bike and align the handlebar with the front wheel.

You can also try closing one eye and then ensuring that the centerpiece is aligned with the front wheel. 

The proper alignment of the wheel and the handlebar is necessary for proper steering and control. If the handlebar is still a little loose, you can tighten the bolts to keep the bars in place.

#9 Check If the Headset Is Aligned Properly

The handlebar, stem, fork, and front wheel are collectively called the headset, which basically helps you steer your bike.

The top bolt is mainly the one controlling the turning of your bike. You need to check if it has been tightened properly.

To do that, stand with your bike wheel between your legs and clamp the brakes. Now move the wheel and try to feel if there is any odd movement beneath your hands.

If yes, then loosen the side bolts and tighten the top bolt a little for better control and steering.

#10 Know That There Is a Limit to Threadless Headsets Adjustment

As discussed previously, there is a limit to the height adjustment of your stem. If you are uncomfortable with your handlebar height, then you need to buy a new threaded stem from the shop.

Moreover, if you have other comfort issues, such as reaching too far ahead to grab the handlebar, you should try getting a longer or shorter stem.

» Read my blog post about: All 14 Types Of Bike Handlebar Grips in One List

2) Adjusting Threaded Headsets

The threaded headsets are different from threadless headsets and, thus, follow a different adjustment method too. Let’s discuss it. 

#1 Inspect Your Bike to Find Out If You Have Threaded Headsets

Before jumping to the procedure, you need first to find out if your bike has threaded headsets. To identify the type of handlebar of your bike, you need to inspect the headset thoroughly.

The threaded headsets have one main stem that comes out of the frame and bends forward. A nut holds the bike stem in the place where it leaves the frame. 

The threaded stems are easily adjustable and commonly present on single speeds, fixed gear, mountain bikes, etc. You should also note that some bikes do not have a hex nut and have the bolt on just the top of the stem. 

#2 Loosen the Bolt and the Locknut

The top of the stem has a bolt that faces down and holds the stem properly in place. You can use an Allen key to loosen this bolt and the locknut. 

Similarly, the hex nut is the ring where the stem meets the bike frame. You need to disengage the hex nut by loosening it with an Allen key or a wrench. 

#3 Pull Out the Handlebars and Grease the Stem

Now that you have loosened all the bolts, you can take out the handlebar from the bike frame. You will have to wiggle the handlebars to pull them out. 

Next, clean off any gunk or dust that may have built up on the stem with soap and water. For smoother movement of the stem, you should apply some grease or lubricant to it. 

#4 Figure Out the Kind Of Ride You Will Be Doing and Adjust the Height Accordingly

The most valuable concern when adjusting your handlebar should be your comfort while riding. You should also consider the type of riding you will be doing and adjust the bar accordingly.

For example, for road or mountain bikes, the handlebars should be lower than the seat, while for a cruiser bike, the handlebar should be slightly higher than the seat. 

#5 Place the Stem Back and Do a Final Inspection

Finally, place the stem back accordingly to your right adjusted height. Next, tighten the hex nut and the top bolt.

However, this is the main step that ensures that the bolt is properly tightened and the stem is not loose anymore. You can either use an Allen key or your hand to tighten it.

Run a final inspection by moving the handlebar while riding and check if the handlebar is moving side-by-side easily. 

The Takeaway

Fixing your loose handlebar is extremely important because improper steering ability can lead to unnecessary road accidents.

Your handlebars need to be strong and stable if you want proper control of your wheels and bike. 

A stable handlebar is an extremely important biking component, and thus, it is a good thing that it is so easy to adjust your handlebar with the help of some basic tools.

Tightening your bike handlebar is an important skill that every biker should know.

In this article, I have aligned the ways to tighten bike handlebars easily so that you can perform this procedure all by yourself!

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