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Home » Cycling » A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part Three – What To Change; Stems, Handlebars and Brakes

A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part Three – What To Change; Stems, Handlebars and Brakes


August 2022

Part three of my bike makeover series is going to get into messing with the stem, handlebar and brakes… the stem and handlebar for fit and aesthetics and the brakes for better braking and/or aesthetics.

The photo on the left is of my 1999 Trek 5200 T shortly after I brought it home in 2012. The photo on the right is how the bike looks today. Let’s ignore for another post the fact that its color changed drastically, as did the entire drivetrain (those posts are coming), and I covered the wheels, saddle and seatpost in part two. For this post, we’re going to start with the stem…

So, if you are an astute, knowledgeable bicycle aficionado, you’ll note the old-style quill stem on the left and the threadless stem on the right. It’s a cheat workaround, not a change from threaded to threadless. Now, threaded/threadless refers to the fork’s steering assembly. The old way of attaching the stem to the fork was a threaded upper portion of the fork – you literally screwed the headset to the fork and that locked everything down. Nowadays they use a threadless system that’s infinitely easier. I’ve got a quill stem adapter that allows you to use 1-1/8″ threadless stems because they’re infinitely more adjustable. Finding old quill stems with the exact drop and reach is getting, well, difficult. Finding them in anodized black? Well, good luck chasing that unicorn. So, I dealt with a little bit of a weight penalty to have the cockpit I wanted. Oh, and it looks fantastically better. For the current cockpit, I’ve got a -17 degree 90mm Bontrager Light alloy stem on my quill stem adapter.

For the handlebar, I went through some serious gymnastics. First, I hated the handlebar on the left. Measured, I should take a 42cm-wide handlebar. Newer ergonomic though would even suggest a 38 or 40, but let’s not get too lost in the weeds, here. I’m a 42 for all intents and purposes. The bar above/right is a 44. Riding on a bar that’s just two centimeters too wide, when you’re on your bike 8- to 10,000 miles a season, sucks. For the longest, I had a Specialized Tarmac bend handlebar on the Trek – an abomination to be sure, but I loved the ergonomics of the bar. The drop and reach suited me perfectly. I’ve since upgraded to an aero Bontrager model that suits the bike perfectly and even allows for internally routed cables.

The funky bar tape has since been replaced with Supacaz Sticky Kush Black. The bike, as it sits now, is absolutely perfect (the reach may be a cm too long, in all honesty – I couldn’t remember if I needed an 80 or 90 when I ordered the 90… it’s livable, though).

Finally, as an afterthought, when I upgraded the brakes on my Venge from Shimano 105 to FSA Energy calipers for Christmas several years ago. They matched the red/black scheme of the Venge perfectly (astonishing, really, they look amazing), so I had an extra set of brakes laying around… that just so-happened to look awesome on my newly black and red Trek. So on they went replacing the (heavier) bushed aluminum 1999 Ultegra brake calipers. There was no difference in performance, just looks.

There’s no question, the black 105 brakes are a massive improvement.

When I changed components around, in most cases there was an aesthetic purpose at the start, but I made sure to incorporate functional use as well. The 105 brakes were fifteen years newer, so massive improvements over the old Ultegra line that came on the original bike. Getting quill stems for the bike was ridiculously difficult (and I ended up having to settle for something a little shorter than I wanted, but it “worked”), and the handlebar? Well, I couldn’t live with a Specialized handlebar on my Trek. My friends wouldn’t let me live that down.

Many would opt to keep their old-school bike looking original, and I certainly get that. I’m not that guy. Next up we’ve got the drivetrain. There’s an interesting story behind that.


  1. jwintx14 says:

    Good stuff, Jim! Really appreciating this. Can you recall exactly the brand/part you got as a quill stem adapter? If I end up deciding to do this, the first thing that must go is the old ‘Icon Graphite Series’ bars & stem. Thank you!

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