Question: I ride a custom Seven Axiom. For 1,600 miles everything was fine, but now severe neck pain tells me I should make a major position change. I think I need to be more upright. Switching from the current 84-degree stem to an 80-degree stem would raise the handlebar only a little. Do you have other suggestions? — Ned S.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Seven is known for doing a great job of custom fitting, so I wonder if your neck pain may be due to something besides riding. If you haven’t actually injured your neck in some way, get a physical exam to rule out a medical problem.
But if a too-low riding position is indeed the culprit, a large number of other riders can identify. The trend in recent years is to combat neck and shoulder discomfort on a road bike by putting handlebars higher in relation to the saddle.
Rivendell Bicycles is an outspoken proponent. The company designs its bikes to have the handlebar right at saddle height. This may be more correction than necessary. Many riders find that if the bar is within 1-2 inches of saddle height, upper-body comfort is much improved.
Remember, wind tunnel testing shows that height is not as critical as width to a rider’s aerodynamics. You can sit taller and not suffer a significant loss in efficiency — certainly not enough to offset the gain in comfort.
As for your personal situation, it’s hard to estimate how much additional stem rise might help without seeing you on the bike. The best way to find out is to experiment.
Here are three options:
- Assuming that your 84-degree stem is set “flat” rather than turned over so it’s angled upward, getting an 80-degree stem will give you a bit more rise than you have now. You could turn over your current stem and get much more rise, on the order of 2 cm.
- If there is still no relief, consider installing a Look Ergostem, or similar product. (Look around online. It should cost around $200. Even better if you can find one to rent or borrow.) It’s adjustable so you can dial in the position that works and then buy a conventional stem that puts you in the same place. You won’t need it after establishing your position.
- What if you need a higher bar than any stem will allow? Get a new fork with a longer steerer tube. But that’s an expensive remedy, so exhaust the other possibilities first.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.