Good Question-Can I Raise My Stem Higher? With a How-To!

My Silly Illustration of Stem Types

New cyclists, older cyclists, or bicyclists with really tight hamstrings, often ask “Can my stem/handlebars be raised any higher?” I tend to answer with the question “What kind of stem do you have?” In reality, that’s a poor way to help the customer out because if the customer knew what kind of stem it was, the first question would have probably never happened in the first place. To determine whether or not your stem can be raised any higher, like I stated, depends on the stem. Let’s look at the hastily scribbled illustration above. On the left is a quill stem, on the right, a threadless stem. If you don’t recall the differences, I have a post on the blog about the stems.

In black, is the steerer tube. That’s what the stem connects to in order to do stem things. The gray lines represent the stem. You can see that the quill stem is inside the steerer tube. What limits how high the quill stem can go is the Minimum Insertion Point. If you pull the stem out far enough, and it’s not covered in decades of rust, you will see a line inscribed on the quill (the part inside the steerer) with an arrow pointing to it and the words Minimum Insertion Point. You don’t want that line showing when the stem is tightened down. This is because in a front end collision, if too little stem is inside the steerer, the stem could bend and break resulting in a body piercing shard capable of causing major injury and discomfort. At the end of this post, I’ll tell you how to raise the quill stem.

On the right, the threadless stem is outside the steerer tube. There is no minimum insertion point here, but the stem does need enough steerer tube to wrap around in order to clamp down. Ideally, the steerer tube should be anywhere from 1/8″ to 1/4″ below the top of the stem. I know, the illustration does a poor job of showing this, but use your imagination. The reasons for this are the same as the quill stem. If there wasn’t enough steerer tube for the stem to hold on to. Ouch! The only ways you are going to get your handlebars higher on a threadless setup is to use a stem with a higher angle or rise; handlebars with a higher rise (if you have flat bars); or steerer tube extenders, which I don’t recommend. You’ve probably seen the extenders and the reason I don’t like them is because they add a lot of leverage to a part that isn’t meant to be levered like that. I only recommend extenders for recreational riding.

Of course, to avoid all this stem raising, make sure the bike is fit to you properly. Remember that if you are new to cycling, your body needs time to adapt, like any exercise. If you aren’t flexible enough, start stretching. If you have back problems, you may want to see a doctor about that and bite the bullet that you can’t be in that deep aero position like Bradley Wiggins anymore.

Let’s raise that quill stem after the break.

How to Raise that Quill:

Quill stem 1
Quill stem 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Refer to the picture, which should jog your memory as to what a quill stem looks like. To raise it, you first need to loosen the wedge that holds it in place. On top, you should see either a hex head, like the top of a bolt, or an Allen head for a hex key. Either way, find the appropriate tool that fits it.
A common misconception is that the headset loosens the stem. IT DOES NOT. You will see why in the post about headsets. Now loosen that wedge bolt, that’s the given name for it. Don’t loosen it too much, three or four turns should about do it. Then try to turn the handlebars. Assuming nothing is seized up in a marriage of corrosion, the handlebars should turn without turning the wheel. Congratulations! It’s loose! Now raise the handlebars to the desired height without exposing the minimum insertion mark, and tighten down the wedge bolt. Make sure it is nice and tight by standing in front of the bike, hold the wheel between your legs, and try turning the handlebar. If it still turns without turning the wheel, straighten it out, and tighten the wedge bolt some more. Test again.If, for some reason, you loosened the wedge bolt and the bars don’t turn, or still turn the wheel, you may need to tap it with a hammer to break the wedge free. Sometimes, if you use the test to see if the wedge bolt is tight enough, you can break it free. Other times, some gentle persuasion is needed. You can sometimes tell because the wedge bolt will start rising out of the stem. Take a rubber mallet, or hammer, I prefer the rubber mallet in case I miss, and tap on the wedge bolt. See if that loosens it up. If it doesn’t, keep tapping until it does. Once free, you can raise the stem! I also like to pull the stem all the way out when it seizes up like this to apply grease to the wedge. This way, it will help prevent this tap dance.

So there you have it! Raising the stem or handlebar height explained! Again, if you are unsure of anything, ask your local bike shop before you go wrecking anything on your trusty steed. Let’s ride!

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