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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

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Old 09-13-17, 06:44 PM   #1
johngwheeler
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Does a lower handlebar improve stability/handling (especially one-handed)?

As I've become more flexible, I've started to experiment with lowering my handlebars by either removing spacers, or "un-flipping" my flipped stems.

One thing that I have noticed is that my stability when riding one handed seems to have improved. I don't know if this is due to just developing more core strength and better balance, or whether the lower bars have actually helped this/

I went back to an endurance road bike with slightly higher bars (and all the spacers) and it felt rather twitchy, and I needed to brace my knees against the frame when taking one hand off the bars.

On a related subject, I have really noticed the difference in perceived stability when changing stem length.

I changed from a 90mm (flipped) to a 105mm 30* riser to a 120mm (flipped) on my commuter bike (Cyclocross) and find the front-end feels a lot more solid when I take one hand off - makes it a lot better in traffic where I need to indicate often or use my bell on the MUP.

Similarly, I went from a 120mm to 90mm stem on Fuji Gran Fondo to adjust reach on a bike which is too big for me (58cm frame and I'm 177cm/5'9.5"). This bike feels really twitchy with the 90mm stem especially if it's a windy day. Lowering the bars by 20mm helped I think - unless it was just a placebo effect! Quite a few people say they don't notice much difference with short stems (90mm or less), but it feels like quite a big change in handling to me.
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Old 09-13-17, 07:10 PM   #2
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All I know is that whatever stem length or angle of such I use, the handling is identical if I ride no-handed. ymmv
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Old 09-13-17, 07:34 PM   #3
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Never really paid attention to how any of this might affect riding one handed. I don't ride one handed that much of the time.

In general, on a frame that fits you pretty well, a longer stem will make the bike a little bit slower to respond to steering input (aka ponderous) and a shorter stem will make it faster to respond (aka twitchy).
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Old 09-13-17, 07:36 PM   #4
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No.
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Old 09-13-17, 08:03 PM   #5
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All I know is that whatever stem length or angle of such I use, the handling is identical if I ride no-handed. ymmv
I think no-handed riding is a different thing - because you're generally sitting upright and steering with the hips rather than your arms + upper body balance. It would make sense that given the same head-set loading, the stem length would not affect how easily the wheel turns because you are not applying any force to the handlebars during the turn.

But this is good to know in any case!
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Old 09-13-17, 08:15 PM   #6
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Never really paid attention to how any of this might affect riding one handed. I don't ride one handed that much of the time.

In general, on a frame that fits you pretty well, a longer stem will make the bike a little bit slower to respond to steering input (aka ponderous) and a shorter stem will make it faster to respond (aka twitchy).
Hmm. I guess lowering the bars would marginally increase the "effective" stem length by increasing reach slightly due to the head-tube angle.

It might also change the amount of weight over the front axle would could give the impression of greater stability.

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No.
OK...care to expand upon that? I am wondering whether my perception of lower bars are more stable is false for some reason.
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Old 09-13-17, 08:18 PM   #7
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The position that takes more pressure off your hands will be more stable, whether that is with bars higher or lower.
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Old 09-13-17, 09:22 PM   #8
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Saddle position and tilt are the only things that affect hands-off riding. You could replace your bars with a cutoff section of broom handle.

If a bike feels twitchy with a new stem or a lowered stem, ride it a few times and I guarantee you will acclimate really quickly. My two bikes are very different in terms of geometry, and when switching from one to the other, those first 5 minutes or so are weird. After that, I'm just used to it.

If you feel unstable with only one hand on the bars, your fit isn't right, and you're putting too much weight one place and not enough weight somewhere else. You should be able to get into the drops and take your hands off the bars without changing body position and still feel stable.
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Old 09-13-17, 09:44 PM   #9
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A long stem definitely stabilizes the steering. And lower handlebars will lower the center of gravity.
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Old 09-13-17, 09:47 PM   #10
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The position that takes more pressure off your hands will be more stable, whether that is with bars higher or lower.
Interesting! So I should be looking to unweight my hands, by whatever adjustment achieves this? Intuitively this makes sense: if there is a significant amount of weight on the hands, then lifting one hand will leave the other one applying significant force on one side of the bike, which will make balance harder.
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Old 09-13-17, 10:45 PM   #11
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Interesting! So I should be looking to unweight my hands, by whatever adjustment achieves this? Intuitively this makes sense: if there is a significant amount of weight on the hands, then lifting one hand will leave the other one applying significant force on one side of the bike, which will make balance harder.
Yes, additionally putting extra weight on the bars leads to excessive steering inputs, which makes the bike feel more difficult to control.
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Old 09-14-17, 12:08 AM   #12
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Interesting! So I should be looking to unweight my hands, by whatever adjustment achieves this? Intuitively this makes sense: if there is a significant amount of weight on the hands, then lifting one hand will leave the other one applying significant force on one side of the bike, which will make balance harder.
I hope you are not implying that bike set up should take one handed riding into consideration?
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Old 09-14-17, 12:20 AM   #13
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A lower bar MIGHT (not will, but just might possibly) improve steering stability by bringing your weight forward.

Increasing front axle weight, often combined with lowering front tire pressure are the two easiest and most common fixes for high speed wobble. They're not magic bullets, but will often 100% resolve the easier cases.
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Old 09-14-17, 03:49 AM   #14
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I hope you are not implying that bike set up should take one handed riding into consideration?
No...I'm not an amputee - there's another forum for that particular subject.

I'm just interested in understanding what adjustable features of a bike can affect the stability, and I mostly notice this when I don't have both hands on the handlebars.

I *feel* like having my hands lower is more stable, but this could of course just be a result of having a lower center of gravity, and nothing do do per se with the actual bar height. It may also be a change in leverage forces; if the bars are lower in relation to my shoulders, I might have to apply more force to move them, which could make the steering feel less sensitive.

It might also be a difference in tire width between different bikes. The bike in question has 26mm tires, and my more stable commuter (the one with the 120mm stem) has 28mm tires (which are more like 31.5mm on the rims)
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Old 09-14-17, 04:28 AM   #15
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In general, a lower stack height on a bicycle will improve handling because more weight it placed on the handlebar which brings weight distribution on the bike closer to 50/50. Of course too much weight on the hands is hard on the hands. Pro riders and top amateurs can run a slammed front end because their pedal forces lighten hand pressure even with a lower front end. Same dynamic with a motorcycle and why cruisers like Harley's will never handle like a sport bike...all the weight is on the back wheel and the trail and fork rake have to compensate to slow steering.
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Old 09-14-17, 05:43 AM   #16
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In my experience, it depends on the bike. I used to ride a bike that was a little big for me, didn't have the right weight distribution and felt quite twitchy at the front. Going lower with the handlebar just put more weight on the hands and made it feel even less secure. Going with a longer stem, especially combined with moving the saddle forward, that made it feel more stable. The bike I have now, it does feel noticeably more stable the lower the hanlebar is, so I ride it with a bit more drop than the previous one. (Wheels and tyres the same between the two bikes.)
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Old 09-14-17, 05:49 AM   #17
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Doesn't really depend on the bike. In general a bit more weight on the front provided not too much is better for bicycles and motorcycles...and even cars with too much rear weight bias. Many amateurs ride with about a 60% rear / 40% front weight distribution. Stronger riders generally ride with more weight on the front of the bike which improves steering turn in, bike tracking and handling. The whole predicate of an endurance geometry with longer chainstays and more laided back head tube angle is to compensate for more rear wheel weight bias due to more upright riding position which puts more weight on the rear of the bike. This is why endurance geometry isn't simply an increase in head tube length which would degrade bike handling with less weight on the front wheel. A longer wheelbase helps greater rear wheel weight bias as does longer chainstays by proportionately moving weight and CG more forward.

Last edited by Campag4life; 09-14-17 at 05:57 AM.
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Old 09-14-17, 06:31 AM   #18
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In my experience, it depends on the bike. I used to ride a bike that was a little big for me, didn't have the right weight distribution and felt quite twitchy at the front. Going lower with the handlebar just put more weight on the hands and made it feel even less secure. Going with a longer stem, especially combined with moving the saddle forward, that made it feel more stable. The bike I have now, it does feel noticeably more stable the lower the hanlebar is, so I ride it with a bit more drop than the previous one. (Wheels and tyres the same between the two bikes.)
Now I'm confused. I've read that both less and more weight on the front wheel can improve handling - which is it? Common sense would make me think that a super light front wheel would be hard to control (like a speedboat that lifts at the bow), but that excessive weight could also cause the front wheel to "dig in" and be hard to move. I can see that a long stem will have less sensitivity to steering input, and may also results a bit more weight over the front wheel by moving rider CoG forward.
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Old 09-14-17, 06:32 AM   #19
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Doesn't really depend on the bike. In general a bit more weight on the front provided not too much is better for bicycles and motorcycles...and even cars with too much rear weight bias. Many amateurs ride with about a 60% rear / 40% front weight distribution. Stronger riders generally ride with more weight on the front of the bike which improves steering turn in, bike tracking and handling. The whole predicate of an endurance geometry with longer chainstays and more laided back head tube angle is to compensate for more rear wheel weight bias due to more upright riding position which puts more weight on the rear of the bike. This is why endurance geometry isn't simply an increase in head tube length which would degrade bike handling with less weight on the front wheel. A longer wheelbase helps greater rear wheel weight bias as does longer chainstays by proportionately moving weight and CG more forward.
This is a good analysis of endurance bike geometry that I hadn't considered before. Good stuff!
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Old 09-14-17, 10:43 AM   #20
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I think Campag4life nailed it.
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Old 09-14-17, 03:26 PM   #21
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Doesn't really depend on the bike.
It depends on the bike and the rider. And the "it" that I'm talking about is lowering of the handlebar, not adding more weight to the front wheel (two related, but not entirely codependent things). So, on some bikes and for some riders, lowering the handlebar can improve handling and stability. On some other bikes and/or for some other riders, not so much.

Having enough weight on the front wheel, that absolutely does improve handling - and the majority of recreational road bike riders could probably stand to have some more weight up front. We are in agreement there.

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Now I'm confused. I've read that both less and more weight on the front wheel can improve handling - which is it?
Where did you read that less weight on the front wheel can improve handling? Are you not confusing it with less weight on the hands?
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Old 09-15-17, 04:39 AM   #22
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It depends on the bike and the rider. And the "it" that I'm talking about is lowering of the handlebar, not adding more weight to the front wheel (two related, but not entirely codependent things). So, on some bikes and for some riders, lowering the handlebar can improve handling and stability. On some other bikes and/or for some other riders, not so much.

Having enough weight on the front wheel, that absolutely does improve handling - and the majority of recreational road bike riders could probably stand to have some more weight up front. We are in agreement there.


Where did you read that less weight on the front wheel can improve handling? Are you not confusing it with less weight on the hands?
Unrelated? Explain how lowering the handlebars does not put more weight on the hands? Also explain why it affects some bikes and some riders and not all.
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Old 09-15-17, 07:16 AM   #23
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Huh? Where did you see me saying that? As I wrote in the post you quoted, lowering the handlebar and adding weight to the front wheel are two related, but not entirely codependent things. Handlebar height and weight on the hands, those two are indeed a bit more directly related.

Why doesn't lowering the handlebar always improve handling? In the cases I'm familiar with (i.e. my own, as described in my first post in this thread), on some bikes the negative effect of having extra weight on the hands will overshadow the positive effect of having a little extra weight on the front wheel. Lots of factors to it, both subjective and objective.
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Old 09-15-17, 08:08 AM   #24
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Huh? Where did you see me saying that? As I wrote in the post you quoted, lowering the handlebar and adding weight to the front wheel are two related, but not entirely codependent things. Handlebar height and weight on the hands, those two are indeed a bit more directly related.

Why doesn't lowering the handlebar always improve handling? In the cases I'm familiar with (i.e. my own, as described in my first post in this thread), on some bikes the negative effect of having extra weight on the hands will overshadow the positive effect of having a little extra weight on the front wheel. Lots of factors to it, both subjective and objective.
And I will quote you again. You wrote, "It depends on the bike and the rider".
I challenge that. It doesn't. If you lower the handlebar, there will be more weight on the front wheel and the bike will track with greater precision.

I will ask again, when do 'you believe' it:
a. depends on the bike
b. depends on the rider

And why/when isn't it a universal tenet that lowering the handlebar places more weight on the front wheel which makes a given bike track more precisely? Why does this depend on the bike or the rider?

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Old 09-15-17, 09:14 AM   #25
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Yes, I wrote that the effect of handlebar height on handling depends on the particular rider and the particular bike. I did not write that handlebar height and weight on hands is unrelated. I didn't even write that handlebar height and weight on the front wheel are unrelated. I hope we have that cleared up now.

I believe I've already explained fairly well why I think this, but I'll try once more.

Lowering the handlebar typically has the following effects:
  1. Some more weight on the front wheel (but not that much really; when I tested this on my bike with bathroom scales, going from tops to drops changed the weight distribution by around 1% if I remember correctly - flipping the stem or moving a few spacers would have a much smaller effect). This generally improves handling.
  2. Somewhat lower center of gravity for the bike-rider system. This too generally improves handling.
  3. Some more weight on the hands. This generally makes handling worse, at least for me (and I see on this thread I'm not alone in this).

Depending on the rider and the bike, the negative effect of 3. can be worse than the sum of positive effects of 1. and 2. When and why? It depends. In my particular example, the bike had short chainstays (405 mm), a long front centre (600 mm if I remember correctly) and short trail (54 mm); it was not particularly torsionally stiff either I believe. For me, the front end of this bike felt loose or vague and prone to wandering - even without measuring it was obvious I wasn't putting enough weight on the front wheel since it would behave much better when I moved forward in the saddle. I tried lowering the handlebar but that did not help. The lower position didn't put enough additional weight on the front wheel to make it behave. At the same time, the additional weight on hands made the already twitchy steering end feel even twitchier. Net result: worse handling. For a taller rider, or one with more upper body mass, there'd have been more weight on the front wheel and the bike would have handled better. A stronger rider would have been able to go even lower and longer with the stem, maybe even move the saddle up and forward, thus putting more weight on the front wheel and making the bike handle better. But being as tall, wide and strong as I am, lowering the handlebar on this particular bike did not make it handle better for me.

The bike I have now has a shorter front centre (587 mm), longer trail (59 mm) and is torsionally stiffer. I find it handles better the lower the handlebar is, up to a point at least. But someone less flexible than me would not be able to go as low as I do on this bike - trying to force it could result in less control and thus worse handling.

In both cases, change either the rider or the bike, and you get different results.
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