Believe it or not, I have a mountain bike. I don’t ride it much, but I do have one.
Compared to my road bike(s), it’s a behemoth. It’s frickin’ big, and tall, and heavy. It’s also pretty awesome and matches my Venge. I have my wife to thank for this as she gave it to me for Valentines Day a couple of years ago. Before you ask, I am fully aware of how cool this is. This is what it looked like the day I brought it home:
I have never been happy with the setup. The back of the bike is great, crank arm length is right, the seat post was plenty long enough and the saddle is right in the middle of the rails, front to back. The front of the bike was a different story. The stem was absolutely all wrong. The first thing I did was flip the stem and drop it a couple of spacers, hoping that would fix it:
That was a little better but that short stem bugged me to no end. My hands would go numb after ten or twelve miles and I hated the grips with that little flap that hangs off the back to rest the back part of your palm on. For some reason it just felt odd to me. Now, because I rarely ride that bike, messing with it was really not that high on the priority list. I was too busy upgrading the Venge anyway. Well, Justin at the shop finally talked me into a mountain bike race the weekend after DALMAC (that’s right folks, I’m actually going to race)… We’re taking the whole family down. Mrs. Bgddy might race as well and we’re going to make a day of it… So all of a sudden, the mountain bike’s setup takes center stage. There are a few things that I’m very picky about: Height of the handlebar, Reach of the stem and Width of the bar. I must have those things right. Unfortunately, I didn’t have all of the Specialized components I needed. See, here’s the trick: The bar that came with the bike is a 26 mm diameter bar (they still make those!?). All of my spare stems are 31.8 mm… Except one. The original stem that came on my Trek 3700.
Now, rather than actually try to write all of this down for you, because it’s a loooooong process, I had to get the right length stem with the right bar diameter, with the right reach, and the right rise. Unfortunately they don’t make a whole lot of stems for 26 mm bars anymore so I didn’t even bother trying to find one (yes, I’m sure I could have found something, but give me a second)… On the other hand, the upgraded bar on my 3700 is a 31.8 and I’d already custom cut it to fit the width that I like. Well, I decided no messing around it… I took the bar and stem off of my 3700 and put them on my Rockhopper:
Now I’ve got more drop, more reach and my bar is exactly the width that I like… Interestingly, the shop already took more than an inch off each side of the original bar for my 1 month checkup – still wasn’t enough:
Now, for the puritans among us, the stem actually is a Specialized. I took it off of my Venge and put it on the 3700 to get a little more reach out of it. The stem from the 3700 went on my 5200 when I upgraded the handlebar on that with the original bar that came on the Venge (so the stem is a Bontrager but the bar is Specialized on the 5200), when I upgraded the Venge to the Specialized carbon Aerofly bar… Got it? Whew! In the end, because I was too cheap to buy a new $40 bar for it, the mountain bike does get a Bontrager handlebar. Which pretty much means the only pristine brand bike that I’ve got is the Venge (and even that has an FSA stem on it). That’s not what’s important to me though… What’s important is the comfort. Now my Rockhopper’s front end is perfectly tailored to me, to what I want, to what I feel comfortable on, it’s built to what feels right. It’s perfect.
For little ten mile, slow rides I can live with almost anything as long as the bike’s the right size. When you start talking about doing some serious trail riding, or in my case, a race, it’s time to get with it and make your bike right. With enough patience and a little bit of work (swapping the bar and stem out took less than a half-hour and I had it done before I start work at 7:00 am), you can get your bike to feel right so “almost anything” doesn’t have to suffice. If you’re not happy with how you feel on your bike, fix it (or pay someone else to).
A couple of tricks that I used on this little project:
Hairspray! That’s right folks, having a hard time getting the grips onto your handlebar? Spray the inside of the grips with a couple of shots of hairspray. They’ll slide right on and when the hairspray dries it’ll grip like there’s no tomorrow (takes about 12-16 hours depending on humidity). The only problem is getting them off later… I had to put some serious ass into pulling them off the Trek before I left for the office this morning.
Tightening the stem: Use the stem cap to pinch the stem down until there’s no movement in the fork when you apply the front brake and rock the bike forward and back (wrap your thumb and forefinger around the spacers under the stem or where the fork goes into the steerer tube – when you rock the bike with the brake on, if there’s movement, you’ll feel it)… Once the steerer play is gone, check to make sure the handlebar doesn’t bind when it turns by picking up the front end by the frame and turning the handlebar. It should be good but if it binds, back the stem cap screw out a hair and recheck it. When you’re good, square the stem with the tire and tighten the stem bolts down.
Lining everything up: This takes a good eye, or some measurements. I go by eye and then feel. If anything is slightly off, I’ll feel it. Just take your time and make sure the brake levers are level (one isn’t higher than the other) and the shifters line up with the brakes.