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I test-rode a bike (2018 Specialized Rockhopper Sport) and I liked everything except the height of the handlebars, and it's the XL size so there's no larger option available.

I feel like it would be more comfortable if the handlebars were higher, but I worry that I may raise it and feel like it's too high or realize that my discomfort was caused by something else.

For seat height, I know that when I put my heel on the pedal my leg should be straight, but is there some easy rule like this for determining the perfect handlebar height for me?

Also, will it be difficult for me to experiment with changing the height up and down after buying the bicycle? Does raising the handlebar height require just moving spacers around or do I have to change the stem with a different one?

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  • Just a reminder on saddle height: For a mountain bike you'll generally want it a bit lower than you would on a road bike, which gives slightly less optimal pedaling efficiency but prevents the bike from constantly smacking you. That change will affect your perception of handlebar height... – Ross Mar 22 '18 at 13:14
  • A) There is no such thing -- "perfect" varies by the minute. B) I always curse the money-grubbing folks at the bike companies who changed the headset design so that you can't simply slide the bar up or down. Most bars are too low on delivery because it looks "sexy" in the showroom, and most purchasers don't know how to raise them. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 29 '18 at 12:21
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On finding the right handlebar height:

There are guidelines for saddle height and fore-aft position relative to the bottom bracket because there is a general optimal position of a rider's butt relative to their feet.

Handlebar position is a little different, different positions obviously suit different types of bike and of riding; some riders like to be a bit more upright, some like to be slammed down.

Things you should consider:

There is not a huge amount of height adjustment available by moving the stem on the steerer, or swapping the stem for a different one. If you felt you were really leant too far forward, perhaps you should consider another bike with a higher stack geometry. Buying a bike then desperately trying to modify it into a different bike is a horrible position to be in. Buy the right bike for you in the first place.

You may get used to a more leant forward position. Having a stronger core enables a rider to support their upper torso and takes weight off their hands. What kind of riding do you want to do? Perhaps ultimately you will want the bars to be lower than what you are used to now. If you already have bike and are upgrading, what's the geometry difference between it and the Rockhopper? Are you looking to ride faster or on different trails?

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Raising handlebar height is very easy to do, but you may need parts.

There are a number of ways to raise a handle bar. You can also move the seat forward, use a shorter stem or narrower bars to get a similar effect. Note however than any change can have an effect on handling of the bike.

No parts ways: Spacers: If there are spacers above the stem, put these below the stem.

Seat: Moving the seat forward will have raise your torso. With riser bars you may be able to rotate them, depending of sweep.

Narrower bars - you can trial narrower bars just by moving the grips and shiftier/brake levers inboard. If you like it, you can cut the bars down. The current trend in MTB's is wide bars and short stems, so its almost certainly possible to go narrower.

Parts way:

Stem - stems are very easy and quick to swap. When buying a bike, the shop should be prepared to swap stems around and let you try til you find one you like. To get yourself sitting higher, a steeper angled and/or a shorter should be tried.

Bars - raiser bars are a good way to go, they come in various heights.

Stem riser - these bolt onto the steerer tube and effectively increase the length

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