Should You Run High Rise Handlebars on your MTB? [Video]

Words by: Reamonn Ryan



Handlebars are easily one of the best components on a bike to upgrade. Everyone has a different bike, a different body shape, and a different preference so sometimes the stock bars that come on your brand-new bike just aren’t going to be what’s best for you. The rise of your handlebar always seems to be the main focus of anyone looking to upgrade their cockpit so we will stick to that topic for today.

Should you Ride a High Rise Handlebar on You MTB?

Why is Handlebar Rise so Important?

Handlebars are your main point of leverage and control with the bike. As you lift or steer them, the bike follows, so having a set up that fits you perfectly is pretty important and it can even help acquire those handling skills you’ve been looking for.

As you increase the rise of your handlebars, you create an easier platform to lift up or “jump” depending on what your goals are. The increased rise will also slightly shorten your reach and straighten out your back. This means you will not be as leaned over the front end of the bike which can help in many situations but also hurt you in others.

Should you Run a High Rise Handlebar

Pros of a Higher Rise Bar

An Increased rise helps with the maneuverability of your bike as we have already gone over but it also helps you on those steeper technical descents. Pros have been using this tactic for quite a while depending on the courses they race. The higher your handlebar set up, the more you are able to shift your weight to the back of the bike. This helps you maintain stability and braking power while descending. A lower front-end helps push you weight forward, making you rear endless stable which can lead to skidding. Another disadvantage of having a low front end on steep descents is that since your weight is shifted forward, you have a greater chance of going over the bars if your front wheel catches on any small features out on the trail.

Cons of a Higher Rise Bar

A straighter back, better braking, more maneuverability, why wouldn’t you want a higher front end? Well, it depends entirely on your intention for riding. A higher front end shifts your body weight back but when you spend a lot of time climbing, you want that weight shifted forward for your best performance and the most stability. Climbing with a front end that is too high can make you feel like you’re hanging off the back end of the bike or like you’re on the edge of popping into a wheelie on steeper climbs.

Should You Ride a Higher Rise Handlebar on Your MTB?

What rise should you choose?

Well, the handlebar is often a cheaper product that can be easily swapped around. I suggest that riders looking to explore the option of going with a higher rise mess around with different stack heights on their headset spacers, if that doesn’t work, there are plenty of affordable alloy handlebars that you can test out without dropping a hefty amount of money. Ride the set up for a few rides, if it doesn’t feel right, mess around some more. Remember that the more time you spend on a product, the more comfortable you will get.

I personally chose to ride the PNW Range Handlebar which features a 30mm rise. Coming from a background in playful bikes, I wanted something that would keep the bike super fun on any trail and something to keep it poppy in any situation. I personally am not the best climber and don’t care too much about Strava PRs or getting to the top of the hill quickly so a 30mm rise works perfectly for my situation on having the most fun jibbing around.

 What Handlebar Rise Should You Ride?

Reamonn Ryan About The Rider

This article was written / authored by Reamonn Ryan. Reamonn has worked in the bicycle industry for 6 years now and currently runs our Instagram account along with testing products, editing video content, and writing blogs like this one you just read. Reamonn was a die hard BMX kid for over 10 years and once he started at Worldwide Cyclery made the switch to mountain bikes where he can send stuff better than most guys at the shop. If you like any of our Instagram posts or have gotten any responses from your DM's it was most likely from Reamonn, so give him a thanks. As with all of our employees, Reamonn is a key part of making Worldwide Cyclery the "Best Damn Bike Shop in the World".



If you're one strange human and would like to read the transcript of the video above, continue reading below!
A recent trend we have been seeing in the mountain bike world is higher rise handlebars. So if you've ever wondered what happens to your bike and your riding experience when you go from something like a flat or a 20 millimeter rise bar to something like a 30 or 40 millimeter rise bar this video is going to go into all of those details and everything about handlebars and handlebar rises.
Well, in terms of mountain bikes, if you look at the fastest cross-country racers in the world almost all of them, if not all of them have very very low front ends and if you look at the angle of that bike like you can see right here that bike is super leaned forward and there's a couple reasons for that. You want your bike to be the most comfortable and the most efficient for kind of what you care about the most, what you're doing the most with it. With cross-country bikes, one thing that is very important is pedaling, pedaling uphill and also being aerodynamic while pedaling. So cross-country bikes, since they're meant for those things (aerodynamic pedaling and pedaling uphill) they're going to be much more leaned forward because when you're more leaned forward you're more aero, you're more comfortable pedaling the thing while you're going up steep climbs and especially on steep slow technical terrain you want to be leaned over forward and being kind of that perfect sweet spot of traction to where you're not popping a wheelie because you have too much traction on your rear end but your rear end's not also slipping because you don't have enough traction on it. So that's why cross country bikes are leaned forward like that and again if you want to talk about more of the aerodynamics side look at road bikes and even time trial bikes and you're really going to see those things lean forward so that's why those bikes are leaned forward. Is that for everyone? Not necessarily. So mountain bikes kind of evolved mostly being much more cross-country geo and then they've slowly gotten more upright and more modern and more comfortable for what average riders, average mountain bikers like you and I are out there doing on the trails on the weekends which is not trying to win cross-country world cups.
So today's modern trail bikes definitely have a bit more upright of a feel to them than they used to and certainly much more than a cross-country bike. They're not quite as upright as say a downhill bike would be that's purpose-built to go down steep hills at really high speed but take a look at these images right here. So this is a seated position and a standing position first with the flat handlebars and then with the 40 millimeter rise handlebars, so pretty big difference that you're seeing right here some totally flat and then a 40 mil rise bar. I consider a quote unquote “high rise handlebar” for a modern day mountain bike to be anything above 25 millimeters and that's because most mountain bikes- trail, enduro bikes are coming with you know 20, 25 mil rise bars, sometimes even 15 mil rise bars. XC bikes are still coming with you know flat or 10 mil rise bars so I kind of think anything above 25 millimeter rise is what I would consider a high rise bar and that's definitely become a trend in the industry over the last couple years. We've seen a lot more people gravitating towards these 30 millimeter 35 and 40 millimeter rise bars and they're putting them on their mountain bikes. Why do bikes get more upright as they get more travel? So the longer travel obviously means the bike is meant more to spend its time predominantly going downhill riding rough terrain and the more travel the steeper and the faster it's going to get so again just like on an xc bike you want your body position sort of in in line with what you're doing with the bike the most which is climbing. A downhill bike you'd want your body position in line with going downhill and as you're going downhill your body needs to come back to keep that perfect centering and position and weight distribution so you're comfortable and confident on the bike for what it's supposed to do. So a trail and enduro bike right it does both - you climb it and you go on downhills with it so some people that are riding a trail enduro bike might want to lower the front end and some might want to raise the front end depending on what they're doing and how they feel on the bike and what their preference is. If you feel like you're a really strong climber and that's what the most of your ride is then you probably are going to cater towards an xc bike or if you're still riding chunky stuff you might want to lower the front end anyways not to get too nitty-gritty into that just yet but that's basically the overall reason why you know xc bikes are lower downhill bikes are higher and then trail and enduro bikes and down country bikes and everything kind of in the middle of that space which is what most of us and most of you guys ride that's why there's sort of some more movement there. So like most modifications you can do to your mountain bike it's either going to make it work better for going uphill or work better for going downhill and those just pull away from each other so everything you do that make the thing more capable on downhill is probably very likely going to make it worse on the uphill and vice versa.
All right so a lot of people are getting stock bars on their mountain bike that say have 20 millimeter rise and they're really not huge climbing fans they maybe you know big reason people raise their front ends up is like if you're riding downhill predominantly or that's just what you care about the most you care about how your bike feels and performs on the downhill then you might want to gravitate towards something that's 30 35 mil 40 mil rise bars another reason you might want to go with high rise bars is sort of lower back pain or lower back fatigue. As you can imagine the more you're crunched over on that bike and the lower that front end the more sort of strain and pressure it's gonna put on your sit bones on your lower back especially so if you're sitting in the saddle a lot and doing a lot of miles and a lot of hours on that bike and you're getting a lot of lower back pain or fatigue lifting yourself up can really make a huge difference. I've come across a number of people in in my experience over the years that have had prior back surgeries or just had lower back pain when they're in the saddle for several hours at a time and they go to a high-rise bar or they add spacers under their stem and it's like a world of difference. They feel much more comfortable climbing and they just feel much more comfortable on their bike and can ride longer without that lower back pain. So again you lift the front end of that bike up it's gonna help it perform better on the downhill you're gonna be in a better attack position the steeper the terrain gets and a more comfortable upright control position that's gonna help you lift up the front wheel when you need to bunny hop when you need to get over obstacles anything like that so lifting that front end up is going to help for the downhill stuff it's going to hurt it a little bit on the uphill so if you already have you know 140 mil travel fork or more and you raise that you keep raising that front end it's like all this gets more and more comfortable more and more stable and control on the downhill you're probably going to run into situations where when you're on steep climbs or technical climbing sections the front end of your bike just wants to wheelie out and that's another question i've heard over the years is hey how come this bike that I just got the front end just keeps popping up all over the place and that's largely a result of how high that front end is. If you lower that front end it's going to lean you further forward and put more weight over that front wheel so when you're climbing up a steep climb it doesn't want to just feel like it's wheeling and looping out on you all the time so again pros and cons to each if you're if you care more about the downhill and more comfort lower back comfort downhill sort of control being able to pull up on the front wheel easier to do manuals wheels bunny hops whatever lifting that front end is going to help you. If you're the opposite and you kind of want to be a little bit more aero you want more control you feel like you're popping and wheeling too much on the climbs you want more control on the climbs lowering that front end might really help you. So handlebars definitely make a huge difference with that. One brand I wanted to highlight that makes a really cool bar that is definitely a big top seller for us is PNW. I love this brand pacific northwest this is run by a couple friends of ours Aaron and Emily they're like the quintessential mountain bike couple but they make rad stuff they make a 30 millimeter rise bar and I always like to promote this because five percent of the proceeds from this bar goes back to NICA the national intergalactic cycling association which is this amazing non-profit organization that supports high school mountain bike teams all throughout north america which I really think is cool and I think more brands should be jumping on the train and like making their products tied to like a philanthropic effort like that. So anyways now let's talk about the difference between adding more spaces underneath your stem versus higher rise bars.
So in the last part of this video, which is kind of important, there's two ways to raise or lower your front end. Number one is spacers underneath or on top of your stem, and the number two is obviously your handlebars with the rise - raise or lower. They do have different effects. So for starters in order to move your spacers around you kind of need extra steer tube if you've already cut it too much or wherever you got your bike cut it too much you might be out of luck and your only option might be the handlebars, but if you do see spacers above or below your stem you have some leeway to play with there. The more spacers you stack underneath your stem because your steer tube is at an angle that's actually going to reduce your reach it's going to put the bars closer to you and higher up so higher and closer so that's going to reduce the reach of your bike so keep that in mind. If if you feel like you're too stretched out and it's kind of like you feel like the bars are too far out to pull up, adding spacers underneath the stem could alleviate that. Iit's going to pull them closer to you and higher up so that'll make it a lot easier to yank up on these bars when you're trying to do a wheelie or something like that. So again, adding stem spacers to the bottom is going to actually reduce your reach, pull the whole front end closer to you. If you just do handlebars like you keep your stem spacers exactly where they are and you just do a handlebar rise difference, that's not going to pull it closer to you it's just going to pull it up high so it's not going to really reduce your reach a significant amount like the spacers would. So a couple different things you can play around with there and something to just consider obviously a handlebar upgrade costs more money than moving around spacers on your stem. You can do that for free if you have spacers and have room to do that so that's something to play around with first. But it's something to note if you don't want that thing any closer to you, just get higher rise bars. If you do want it closer to you, mess around with those stem spacers. So that is the gist of mountain bike bars let us know down in the comments what rise you are running on your bars and also if you happen to notice in the very first clip my hair was much longer than the rest of the video and the fact that i said intergalactic rather than interscholastic uh kudos to you. Subscribe to the channel, I'll see you next time.

September 25, 2020

Bike Knowledge › Employee Review › PNW › PNW Range Handlebar › Video ›

Top Products For You...