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.

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Good Question–Should I Carry a Multi-Tool?

English: Multi-tool for a bicycle
English: Multi-tool for a bicycle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bicycle Multi-Tools. Salespeople love to sell them. Riders love to buy them. Mechanics love to own them, but would rather customers throw them in the trash (or give them to the mechanic). Don’t get me wrong, multi-tools have saved me more than a few times during my many miles of bicycle riding.The difference is I am a bicycle mechanic. I didn’t want that to come across as mean-spirited, but let me ask you this. How many of you, if such a thing existed, would buy a multi-tool for your car? That’s a lot of freaking hands. Put those down! I know enough about my car to be dangerous, as such, I would never buy such a tool if someone willed it into existence. The point I am trying to make is, why carry a multi-tool if you do not know how to use it?

Crank Bros, Serfas, Ascent, Pedro's tools
Crank Bros, Serfas, Ascent, Pedro’s tools (Photo credit: SoulRider.222)

Okay, I know, someone in the group may know how to use it. Better be prepared. Better safe than sorry. But seriously, if you don’t want a piece of rusty metal in your saddlebag, it’s probably best to leave it at home if you are riding solo. Bringing it in the hopes that someone knows how to use it, or to loan it out as a good Samaritan, is okay. But I have seen many bikes rendered useless because of some over-application of multi-tool.

Don’t feel bad if you bought one. Crank Brothers, Park Tool, Topeak, and Pedro’s make excellent multi-tools. Just learn when and when not to use it. You will make your mechanic very, very happy. Oh, and by the way, this article was way more tongue in cheek than fact.

Good Question–Should I Patch My Tubes When Fixing a Flat on the Side of the Road?

Failed Patches
Failed Patches (Photo credit: Editor B)

The age old question of whether you should patch your tubes or not. This debate has raged on since bicycles were invented and the war between the haves and have nots was initiated. Seriously though, those who want to save money, and those who don’t mind spending it will argue this until the end of days.
I’m probably the worst person to ask about this because I don’t mind patching tubes, but I do like the new-tube-in-a-box smell. I tell people, it depends on the situation. Out on the road, doing road-side triage, I prefer the new tube. A patched tube has been compromised, and I want to make sure the tube I put back into the tire has no holes in it. Of course, this doesn’t mean you will get just one flat on a ride as it is possible to get multiple flats on one ride which thereby ruins everything.
I save patching tubes for tubes at home, because I don’t have to sit out in the hot sun/torrential downpour/blizzard to go through the process. Even then, I have a closet full of tubes waiting eagerly to get patched.
Regardless of what you do, it is a good skill to know, patching tubes, and it will be addressed soon in a post as you are probably tired of learning about bike parts.