Bar and Stack Height


If you are a bike enthusiast that follows World Cup Downhill, undoubtedly you have seen Dakota Norton’s crazy handlebars. They have an 80 or 85mm rise, and quite honestly look real goofy. His riding and track speed however, is far from goofy. The dude is simply ripping. What adjustment is made with a high bar? A couple things happen, but one main thing is critical to understand. 

Bike balance and body position. This is what Dak is after. Keep in mind that World Cup DH tracks are steep. You really actually go down the fall line. So the balance on a bike that’s on that terrain is different from your every day All Mountain or Trail bike. But, the concept is the same. You need weight on your front wheel to turn and to have traction. With higher bars, it’s actually easier to get weight on the front wheel without sacrificing body position. As the bars come up in height, the rider has to reach forward less, making a centered riding position more easily achievable. The rider stance on the bike, as it is pointed downward sharply, remains neutral with higher bars. Neutral riding is more efficient, more comfortable, more fluid, more powerful, all good things. 

The other way to play with bar height without having 4 or 5 different handlebars on hand, is the stack height. This is the amount of stem spacers under the stem. Most bikes come with at least 1 or 2 spacers under the stem, and 1 or 2 on top. This is to allow for adjustment to rider preference. Go to your home track and move spacers around. Try putting all the spacers under the stem for a few runs and see what it does to your stance on the bike. High bars and stack height may not be for you, depending on your torso and arm length, but this is one adjustment that goes overlooked by almost every rider. 

The other thing to consider in your ride control is the handlebar itself. Some have more upsweep, more backsweep, and different levels of stiffness. My father, who turns 70 this week, has a handlebar that cost a staggering $450 and they have dampers built in to take out feedback from the bike/ground. They are made for people with bad wrists. They work. They flex a lot. I personally can’t stand them, I like to feel the ground and have finite control, but they keep him riding, and that’s what matters. Those bars are one extreme, and there are bars at the other extreme, super super stiff. Find out what you like, and then stick with those bars bike to bike if you can. I have a stash of the exact same handlebar that I love that goes on every one of my bikes. Carbon and Alloy bars are common. 

And lastly, the stem length can be played with. Most All Mountain and Enduro bikes are equipped with 40mm to 50mm stems these days. That seems to be the sweet spot for most, but there are stems that are shorter or longer, if you feel like you are cramped or stretched out, try a different stem.