Adjusting a Threadless Bicycle Headset

Almost a year ago, I collected my mid-life crisis vehicle; a top-end road bike, the one that was victorious in the 2008 Tour. When I collected it, the guys at the shop explained to me that the bars had two spacers below and two above the stem, such that I could lower it or raise it depending upon my preference. I understood the theory, but when they then explained how to go about doing it, I was utterly confused. Rather than just loosening one screw, swapping bits about and screwing it back in again, I needed to also deal with other screws in a specific order. They rushed through it a bit fast, I tried to understand and asked questions, but I still was pretty much clueless when I walked out the shop. There was also talk of drilling or cutting something once I knew what I wanted, and I had better make sure I knew what I wanted before I did that, otherwise… well, I wasn’t sure of that either, but apparently the consequences were not good.

It kinda scared me a little, tbh, so I put it to the back of my mind and tried not to think about it.

Fast forward 11 months, and I’ve had the bike out a few times. Not as many as I wanted to ideally, but that’s mainly because winter lasted 5 months, I broke myself completely rendering bike riding impossible, and then I was training for the marathon. But I’ve had it out a few times, and thus enough times to note that my back got sore very quickly every time I went out on it.

I wasn’t sure why this was, or what to do about it, but I did know that the guys in the shop had fitted me professionally for the bike, so if anything, my riding posture on the new bike was surely “correct” in comparison to what I’m doing on my commuter road bike, which I ride vastly more and never get a sore back.

Today, I decided to wash both bikes, which gave me the opportunity to get them side by side for the first time, so I could see where the difference was, because ultimately, I figured that there must be a difference, and if I can get them the same, then the sore back will disappear – right? So I put them beside each other, and they were exactly the same… except for the bars. On my commuter, they are higher than on my new bike. And then it became clear! I’m having to lean over more on my new bike, thus making my back sore. The saddle is in exactly the same position, as is everything else, so all I needed to do was raise the bars so that the spacers are all at the bottom.

And at that point, I remembered the confusing conversation that I had in the shop. So a bit of googling later, I came across this video, which explains what is going on with the headset, and why you have to deal with the screws on the stem. It all makes sense! And 15 minutes later, my bars are now at a decent height. Winning video here:

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