Raise the Bar

A quick handlebar adjustment can make a huge difference in your riding comfort.

Photo by Cliff NordmanOne of the most overlooked items on most motorcycles is the handlebar adjustment. It makes a huge difference in your body position, yet most motorcyclists never touch it.

Unlike many modern bikes, the dual sport Beemers and older Airheads have good old fashioned handlebars. That means you can fine tune your bars with a single wrench instead of buying some sort of specialty hardware or risers (though the aftermarket offers plenty of those options too). This is a huge advantage when you’re tailoring your machine to fit your physique and/or riding style.

Last month I was reminded just how helpful this simple design can be. My wrists were aching after a ride across Missouri so I decided to test my handlebars in slightly different positions. Turns out rolling them slightly forward made a huge improvement.

Before you start searching for your warranty papers or checking the factory specified azimuth for your handlebars let me clue you in on some shocking news. Your bar adjustment depends on what dealership uncrated your bike. Your BMW was shipped to our shores partially disassembled. Your fine German machine was partially assembled by the dealer. Sometimes, not always but sometimes, the handlebars are installed by people that are not handlebar alignment specialists.

BMW-handlebar-alignmentSo where should they be?

It depends. Dirt bike handlebars are usually aligned with the forks. In other words if you draw a line parallel with the forks (see photo) the rise of the handlebars should be about the same angle. Typically the bars on a street bike are “rolled back” with the grips pointing down. Trials riders prefer a more forward position. It’s a simple procedure to change this adjustment and see what works best for you.

Make Your Move
Put the bike on the center stand so you can sit on it in your normal riding position. I made a small mark on the bars and one clamp so I could keep track of my adjustment. Or at least return it to the starting point if I screw it up completely!

Four bolts clamp the bars on my R1200GS. This is a typical setup- though the style of bolt differs through the years. My bike had twelve-point bolts that required a 12-point box wrench to loosen. Emphasis on had because I swapped them out for standard allen-head bolts (incidentally they’re 8mm x 1.25 thread with a length of 30mm). Some BMWs have Torx bolts.

Whatever flavor they are just loosen them- do  not remove the bolts. If you have a helper it… um, helps. They can hold the bars steady while you loosen the bolts. Once loose hold the grips as if you were riding. Observe how your arms are situated. Pay particular attention to your wrists. Now rotate the bars forward or back. Just a little… don’t wrench them around too far!

If you find a position you like tighten the clamp and go for a ride. And remember to tighten the handlebar bolts evenly- once finger-tight torque them to spec (typically 21 nM or 15 ft/lb) starting with the front pair, then the rear.

What Do You Prefer?
Maybe you like your bars just the way they are. If so, and you’ve never tweaked them, you’re quite fortunate. Maybe you like them a bit further forward? Or maybe back? You’ll never know until you loosen those four bolts.