Getting your position more upright on your bicycle can be accomplished by raising your handlebars. This can be an easy process on some bikes, or it can be somewhat involved on others. There are different systems used to attach the handlebar to the bike. Some of these systems have different levels of adjustability built into them. Other systems involve replacing parts to change the height of your handlebars.
The key component in any case is the stem, which is the part that clamps the handlebar on one end, and is inserted into or clamped onto the bike frame at the other end.
Quill stems are the type found on most vintage bikes, as well as some modern entry-level hybrid and mountain bikes, and most kids' bikes. This system can usually be identified by the two large nuts at the top of the head tube of the bike's frame.
|Nuts on a threaded headset with a quill stem|
|Quill stem with cosmetic headset nut cover|
The quill stem is actually held in place by a wedge bolt that fits inside the steerer tube. The quill stem is adjusted using the single bolt facing up on the top of the stem. This bolt usually has a 6 millimeter allen head.
|A quill stem|
At this point, you can raise the position of your stem. Hold it in place as you re-tighten the top bolt, making sure that the neck of the stem is in line with your front tire.
IMPORTANT: Be sure that you do not raise the stem beyond the "maximum insertion point" line that is stamped onto the shaft of the stem. Doing so can cause damage to your bicycle, and potentially serious bodily injury.
If the length of your quill stem and the maximum insertion point does not allow you to get the handlebar high enough to your satisfaction, you can replace the stem. You can find a quill stem with a longer neck or one that has an adjustable angle, or both.
|A quill stem with adjustable angle|
The steerer tube is most likely either 1 inch or 1-1/8 inches. The steerer tube is measured on the outside diameter, but where it can get confusing is that the stem is sized to fit the inside of the steerer tube. Thus, a quill stem for a 1-1/8 inch steerer tube actually measures 1 inch (25.4mm) in diameter. A quill stem for a 1 inch steerer tube actually measures 7/8 inch (22.2mm) in diameter.
Handlebar clamp sizes will either be 25.4mm or 26.0mm. Most mountain and hybrid bikes use the 25.4mm clamp, and most road bikes use 26.0mm. Some modern mountain and road bikes use a 31.8mm handlebar clamp, but these likely won't have quill stems.
Replacement quill stems start at around $27, with $10 in labor for installation.
Instead of a new stem, you can also purchase a quill stem extender. This is basically a tube of metal that inserts into your steerer tube, and then your original stem inserts into the top of the extender. These run about $20.
|A quill stem extender|
Threadless stems are found on most modern mountain and road bikes, and some mid-level and higher-end hybrid bikes. The term "threadless" technically refers to the absense of threading on the steerer tube and headset, and thus the absense of the two large nuts on the headset. A threadless stem clamps onto the outside of the steerer tube, and is held in place by one or two bolts situated horizontally at the back end of the stem.
|A threadless stem|
You have a couple of options for raising your stem and handlebars in this situation. First, you can install a steerer tube extender. This clamps to the top of your steerer tube, and then your stem clamps to the top of the extender. This can give you 2 to 4 inches of additional height. A threadless steerer tube extender runs about $40, with about $10 in labor for installation.
|A threadless steerer tube extender|
|A threadless stem with adjustable angle|
Replacing a threadless stem should only be done by an experience bike mechanic, because to replace the stem, you must also remove and re-install the stem top cap. The stem top cap controls the tension on the headset bearings, and if this is not adjusted correctly, could lead to shorter life or damage to your headset.
Cables and housing
Regardless of whether you have a quill stem or threadless stem, the biggest issue you might run into when trying to raise your handlebars is having enough slack in your brake and shifter cables. Usually, bikes are assembled at the factory with enough slack for the stock stem height only, with very little room for upward adjustment. Often we find that to get the stem and handlebar high enough, we also need to replace some or all of the brake and shifter cables and housing. This job runs about $50 for parts and labor.
In conclusion, depending on the type of stem and handlebar system you have, in the best-case scenario, raising your handlebars is a quick, free adjustment, but in the worst-case scenario, it can be a job costing upwards of $100.