How to change a stem on a road bike

If you’re finding your current road bike riding position uncomfortable, it may be time to change your stem. Swapping a road bike stem is simple, with a bit of patience and the right tools.

In this step-by-step advice guide, we explain how to change a stem on a road bike. By the end, you should be confident at taking on the job yourself, including replacing carbon road stems.

Why change the stem on a road bike?

Your road bike stem holds your handlebars in place and is joined to the forks. When correctly fitted, the right sized stem ensures that you can safely steer and stop when you’re out riding.

When you’re riding on a road bike, your stem length and frame size dictate how far away the handlebars are. If you are finding that your reach is uncomfortable – either you’re bunched up on the bike or straining to reach the handlebars - then it’s probably time to invest in a new stem.

Road bike stems come in a variety of lengths and can be replaced to help you find the most comfortable reach. You can buy straight and angled road bike stems. Road bike stems are measured in mm.

Road bike stems are simple to change, meaning you can experiment with them to find the right length. There are usually just seven bolts between and ten steps between you and the perfect bike fit.

Remove the faceplate

Start by removing the four bolts on the faceplate (the plate that secures the handlebars to the stem). You should loosen each bolt a little, working around the faceplate.

Once all the bolts are loosened, remove the faceplate. At this point, the handlebars will fall against the frame unless you take hold of them. Gently place them against the frame.

Loosely screw the faceplate back in place to avoid losing any of the bolts.

Unscrew the top cap and bolt

Next, remove the top cap and bolt. This is the bolt directly above your forks. If you’ve got any stem spacers above the stem, remove those too.

Take off the stem

Now loosen the two remaining bolts that are holding the stem in place. You don’t need to remove them altogether, just enough to lift the stem off the bike.

Lift the stem gently until it comes off but don’t force it.

Prepare the new stem for fitting

Remove the faceplate from the new stem and set it aside somewhere you can reach it. Ensure you keep all bolts with the stem.

Next, gently loosen the rear stem bolts. This makes it easy to slide the new stem into place.

Fit the new stem

Slide the new stem into place, gently placing it on top of the tube. If it is sticking, loosen the stem bolts a little more.

Once it’s safely in place, replace any spacers required.

Replace the top cap and bolt

Fit the top cap and screw the bolt. There’s no need to overtighten this bolt, just tighten it enough to keep it safely in place.

Be sure to keep a small gap (between 2mm to 4mm) at the top of the steerer tube. This enables the bolt to grab hold and bring together (compress) the stem, dorks and bearings – ensuring you can steer safely.

Refit the handlebars

Place the handlebars on the stem and put the nameplate in place. Screw in the bolts with your fingers initially.

Line up handlebars

You’ll see a set of lines or markings on your handlebars which you can use to line them up correctly on the step.

At this stage, you can set the handlebar angle. Some riders like them to be completely horizontal, others angled a little up or down. It’s entirely up to you.

Once you’re happy, hold the faceplate in place with your thumb or fingers, so it doesn’t move about.

Tighten the faceplate bolts

Once you’ve got the angle correct, you can begin to tighten the faceplate bolts.

When tightening the bolts, you should work around the faceplate, tightening them in a specific pattern.

If you imagine the bolts as being numbered 1-4 (starting from the top left-hand corner and working clockwise around the faceplate), tighten them in this order: 1, 3, 2, 4.

Line up the stem

Standing in front of the bike, hold the front wheels securely between your legs. Next, Ensure the stem is centred directly over the front wheel. Any deviation (however slight) can affect your steering, so spend time getting this correct.

Tighten the two stem bolts. It doesn’t matter which you start with, but ensure both are tight.

Test that everything is secure by giving the handlebars a twist to see if they are secure. Next, ensure that they handlebars move freely and that no cables are caught up. Finally, take the bike for a short spin and test the steering and brakes before heading out on a ride.

One tip from us is to pack a set of hex keys with you in case a bolt becomes loose or needs to be adjusted while you’re out.