Words by: Max Morgan
In this blog, we are going to take a closer look at how to set up the cockpit on your mountain bike. Having all the controls where they need to be may seem like a minor task but can make a huge difference when out on the trail. There are definitely some better ways than others to set up all the components on your bike, but the biggest thing we are after here is becoming more comfortable on your bike. Comfort leads to confidence, and confidence will have you riding harder and faster on your local trails. Here we are going to be breaking down your cockpit setup into five topics:
The first place to start when dialing in your cockpit setup is finding the right handlebar height. Adding or removing spacers under your stem will effectively raise or lower your handlebar height. The height of the handlebars plays a big role in body positioning and weight distribution on the front and rear wheels. Lowering the stem or handlebars will force you to bend more at the hips bringing your body more forward on the bike and vice versa. This will give you less weight/traction on the rear wheel and more weight/traction on the front wheel. Finding the perfect handlebar height is not an exact formula. There are a lot of factors that come into play like how tall your are, how long your arms are, what size bike you are riding, etc… The most important thing here is to find a handlebar height that gets you feeling balanced between the two wheels. Lastly, listen to what your body is telling you! If you are having back pains while riding, you might not be in the right position on the bike. Don’t be afraid to raise or lower your stem, try a taller or lower rise bar, and experiment with different stem/handlebar combinations to find the perfect setup for you!
Once you are comfortable with the handlebar height on your bike, next think about the roll of the bar in the stem. Every rider out there will have their own preferences to handlebar roll but hopefully this will help you get that much more comfortable on the bike. When I put a new set of bars on my bike, I try to think about finding equal pressure on the inside and outside of the palm. If the bars are rolled too far forward, you will feel more pressure on the outside of your hand. And if the bars are rolled too far backward, you may feel like you are only gripping the bar with the inside of your hand near your pointer finger. Now just find the sweet spot! It’s okay to make changes to your handlebar roll on the trail. Just remember that when you roll the handlebar, you are also rotating the brake levers, shifter levers, and grips. The goal is to find a natural position gripping the bar, optimizing the contact patch between your palm and the grip. Different brands of handlebars are going to have a different upsweep, backsweep, and overall feel so again this is a trial and error adjustment. We did a video on how wide your handlebars should be so check it out and find what works best for you!
Now that you have the handlebars dialed in, lets get the brake lever position sorted. Some riders out there have some strange brake setups with their brake levers almost flat to the ground. That just goes to show that all different brake positions work for different people. With one finger on the brake lever in an upright riding position, try to think about having your wrist inline with your forearm. Having your wrist cocked at all while riding is just going to be uncomfortable and can put you at higher risk for injury. This will give a strong feel gripping the handlebar and more control with the bike. Now think about where your brake needs to be along the handlebar. I tend to hold on to the outside of the grips and have relatively small hands. With that in mind, position the brake lever where you can confidently reach the end of the brake lever with one finger. Lastly you want to make sure each of the lever blades are adjusted equally. Most modern brakes have either an allen key adjuster or tool free adjuster to move the lever blade in or out. Use a metal tape measure or set calipers to get both brake levers identical.
Now let’s look at the shifter position on the bar. Most new mountain bikes are outfitted with a 1x drivetrain, so you only have to worry about the rear shifter. The biggest thing about positioning the shifter (and the same goes for a dropper post remote) is finding a place on the handlebar that you can reach both shift paddles without having to re grip your hand on the bar. If the shifter is too far away from your natural riding position, you will have to slide your hand over on the grip. If the shifter is too close to your hand, you may bang your fingers on the shift paddles if your hand moves around at all. Find a comfortable position for the shifter and dropper post lever that is easy to access the paddles.
The last thing to look at on your cockpit are the grips. Grips come down to personal preference more so than anything else we have talked about today. I don’t have the biggest hands so I tend to stay away from the fatter grips. If you have grips that are either too thin or too big for the size of your hands, you may experience arm pump more frequently. What I look for in a grip is something that is going to both provide some vibration damping and also have plenty of ridges and edges for your fingers to lock in to. Some of my favorite grips right now are the Deity Knuckleduster, ODI Elite Pro, and ODI Ruffian MX. The Knuckleduster and Elite Pro both have some softer padding on the top of the grip which helps take away some chatter and vibration that comes through the handlebar. They both have a half waffle design on the underside of the grip giving you something for your fingers to lock in to.
After going through these five points, you will have a dialed cockpit on your mountain bike!
This article was written / authored by Max Morgan. Max has been a professional downhill mountain bike racer for the last 10 years, competing in the UCI World Cup downhill series and U.S. Pro GRT series. Having ridden all different kinds of bikes on trails all over the world, Max's experiences being out on the circuit give him a unique perspective on what makes for a quality cycling component. Max also has degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Physics, and so if you don't see out on the trail, chances are he is probably in the garage tinkering on the next project.