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Aligning Handlebars: Update

It is an annoying distraction to be riding your bike and your handlebars are not quite square with the front wheel. They seemed to be square when you assembled the bike, but as soon as you ride it you can tell they are off a little.

Back in March, 2007 I posted this little tip for aligning handlebars: Hold the square end of a twelve-inch steel ruler against the center ferule of the handlebars, this gives you the long edge of the ruler to sight up with the edge of the front tire. (See above picture.)

I used my “Old Skool” bike as an example, but what if you have a modern 1 1/8 inch steerer, and stem. Often the front of the stem cap is machined square, so you can still use the straightedge method. Just place the ruler on the stem cap, instead of the bars which may be tapered.

However, there is another way that doesn’t require a straightedge.

Turn your front wheel at an angle, then closing one eye and sighting from above, sight the front and rear of the stem to center on the front tire. (See picture above.)

Stand straight and with one hand on the nose of the saddle, and the other on handlebars; lean the bike towards you, rather than try to position your head above the bike.

In other words move the bike to line up with your eye, rather than the other way around. Make sure the brake cables are tucked under the stem, so they don’t interfere with your line of vision.



Reader Comments (6)

Thanks for the tip. Do you have a rule of thumb for the correct horizontal pitch of dropped handlebars?

April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Guest

Traditionally handlebars are tipped slightly forward, with the bottom flat part about a degree or so from horizontal. (Bar ends down slightly.)
What I hate to see is the bars tipped up so far that the brake levers are sticking forward like a pair of six-guns.
Or the other extreme, the way the fixie crowd set up track bikes with the bottom flat part tipped up and back.with the bar ends skyward.

April 15, 2010 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Back in the day, when I used a quill stem, I would never snug the stem down too tight. This way, I could immobilize the wheel with my knees, and twist the stem into the proper position.

April 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrump

Interesting post, I never tried using a ruler.

After assembling many, many bikes during my shop days in the '80s, I still do it by eye...

I straddle the top tube and line the stem up with the front wheel - swapping between one and both eyes open. Works for me.

Having the stem off by even a hair, drives me a nuts.....

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

I used to try to align the stem with the tyre. But many years ago I changed to aligning the handlebars with the hub, and I find that works better for me. But with the ever-increasing handlebar furniture (computer, nodding dog, pulsemeter, Dave Moulton Appreciation Society badge), I may change to your method.

April 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave Le Fevre

I never thought about linign up with the wheel. That looks good, simple and effective. I've aligned the bars by aiming down the stem to the saddle, after I've aligned the saddle with the frame.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

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