Why do My BMX Handlebars Keep Moving & Slipping? (Explained)

After that epic jump and perfect landing, you may have felt your BMX bike’s handlebars move forwards. After weeks and months of riding, your BMX bike feels like an extension of your arms and legs, with the slightest change in that feeling triggering your instinct that something’s not quite right with your BMX bike’s handlebars. Through experience and loads of research, I have the info on why this happens – and the help you need to fix your BMX handlebars if they keep moving.

BMX handlebars move or slip due to poor contact between the handlebars and stem, caused by a build-up of paint shavings in the stems grip. Also, heavy landings and overtightening of the stem’s faceplate can cause the handlebars to ovalize in shape thus reducing the stem’s grip of the handlebar and cause them to slip.

Experienced BMX riders know that sinking and frustrating feeling of their BMX bike’s handlebars moving forwards while riding. With one tool and a few minutes, they’re back to pulling off 360-degree tailwhips and handlebars spins on a quarter pipe. Let’s take a deep dive into the reasons and the fixes you’re able to make yourself to keep your BMX bike’s handlebars dialed.

What Causes my BMX Bike’s Handlebars to Keep Moving?

The most common cause for BMX bike handlebars moving is poor contact between the handlebar and the stem. This creates slippage that isn’t only annoying when you’re riding, but it is also potentially dangerous. Without warning, your BMX bike’s handlebars could slip forward leading to a crash.

The reasons your BMX bike’s handlebars keep moving are caused by these:

  • The grip on the stem is filled with paint shavings that have come off, covering the knurling of the metal parts thereby reducing their grip (most common cause see video below).
  • The stem could be incorrectly tightened, making the stem faceplate’s grip on the handlebar uneven. This may even cause the crushing of the handlebar.
  • The BMX bike’s handlebars have been crushed and their shape has been transformed from round to oval-like, reducing the contact between the handlebars and the stem. This causes the handlebars’ threading to be stripped with no real contact for the handlebars and stem to grip.

How do I Check Why my BMX Bike’s Handlebars Keep Moving?

You’ve established that your BMX bike’s handlebars are moving and slipping forwards. Don’t attempt to ride your BMX bike at speed or attempt any stunts until your bike’s handlebars are tightened and in perfect working order.

There are two types of faceplate designs: a four-bolt design is most common, but some BMX stems make do with a two-bolt clamp system. To remove the handlebars, straddle the front wheel to keep the bike falling over. With a 5 mm hex wrench, remove the stem’s faceplate.

Remove the handlebars, and wipe them and the stem clean of dust and grime. Closely inspect the shape of the handlebar’s center, looking for any signs of its shape being crushed, ovalized or stripped of its threading.

Another quick fix to try is to use sanding paper on the bars and stems’ contact points to rough up the original paint to give the surfaces more grip.

Another trick is to machine off a fraction of millimeter off the stem’s clamp, as this reduces the clearance in the handlebar channel for better contact.

If the handlebars are undamaged, you can count your lucky stars you can get back to jumps and grinds in just a few minutes. However, installing your BMX bike’s handlebars is a complex process that needs to be strictly adhered to, to keep them from slipping or moving again.

How Do I Correctly Tighten my BMX Bike’s Stem?

Tightening of a BMX bike’s stem and faceplate is one of the most crucial maintenance aspects to carry out. With the handlebars aligned for your comfort and grip preference, you’ll need to tighten the faceplate’s bolts in a zig-zag pattern if you have a 4-bolt design.

The trick is to tighten each bolt little by little in a zig-zag pattern so that there is even pressure applied across the faceplate. Once you have fastened each bolt in, check that the panel gap between the stem and faceplate is even all around.  This ensures that the bolts have been tightened correctly.

How do you Know if your BMX Bike’s Handlebars Need to be Replaced?

If the BMX bike’s handlebars are in any way, shape or form crushed, stripped or ovalized, unfortunately you’ll need to purchase a new set of handlebars. Fortunately, there are hundreds of different brands, types and price points available, and your local bicycle shop will also be able to guide you in selecting one that suits your bike, your riding style and your pocket.

When your handlebars are removed from your bike, you can inspect it with carefully by paying attention to the shape of the handlebar’s center contact point. Run your fingers over it to determine if the shape is still round or if it has been crushed and is ovalized now. Any change to its shape will make it unsafe and dangerous to use.

What are the Types of BMX Bike Handlebars?

There are two major types of BMX bike handlebars: two-piece and a four-piece. While they might look the same, the differences are important in the way they make a considerable effect on how your bike handles and feels.

Handlebars are mostly constructed from chromoly steel tubing for durability and robustness, with most featuring a construction method called ‘butting’ to add strength to the tubes without adding weight to handlebars.

Two-piece handlebars, the most common type, consist of two tubes in which one tube is bent in several places to form the shape of the handlebar while a shorter tube is welded across the arms to add strength and rigidity. Four-piece handlebars are constructed from two shaped tubes that are positioned vertically opposite one another and then joined together by two cross bars, giving the handlebars a more agile and maneuverable feeling for stunts.

How do I Properly Adjust my BMX Bike’s Handlebars?

To properly adjust your BMX bike’s handlebars, you’ll first have to find the best position for yourself for comfort and maneuverability of the handlebars as you ride.

There is most definitely no wrong or right way, as this is a hugely personal preference. There are, however, a few points to bear in mind when looking to properly adjust your BMX bike’s handlebars.

Depending on your height, you’ll be able to set the height of the handlebars to match. If you’re a tall rider, then you’ll need to raise the height of the handlebars with special spacers – and remove the spacers if you’re a shorter rider. The handlebars need to be in easy reach and you need to be able to turn the handlebars 180-degrees without the handlebar scraping your knees or your chest.

The handlebars need to be vertical in their position. A slight lean forward or backwards will create an ill-handling BMX bike, causing you to stretch over the front-end the bike and creating an imbalance in the handling.

What are the Types of BMX Bike Stems?

There are two types of BMX bike stems: top load stems and front load stems. The most popular stem type used is the front load style, as these are secure the handlebars with a faceplate.

Top load stems raise the handlebars higher than front load stem systems, and they’re not favored by riders who perform tricks on their front wheels or who pull off heavy landings.

Front load stems give the rider a more forward position on the BMX bike for greater control over the handling while maintaining a balance of their position over the bike. As with saddles and handlebar types, personal preference and riding style play a large role in the set up you pick for your BMX bike.