We know, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. But there are definitely some questions too embarrassing to ask your local shop or riding buddies. This is our weekly installment where we get to the bottom of your questions – serious or otherwise. And this week, Park Tool is answering your questions about their brand, products and related inquiries.

This week, there seemed to be one question that needed answered more than any others. Three different people wrote in with essentially the same question and considering they all came from different IP addresses, we’ll assume it wasn’t just the same person asking the same question in different formats. Regardless, it’s a good one and one that we know mechanics and riders alike have fussed over through the years…

#1: “When will Park Tool finally make a tool to quickly and accurately align the stem with the front wheel?” Another reader asks, “Is there any reliable method to line up a short MTB stem with the front wheel perfectly?” AND “Many Park tools are expensive and always (always) worth it when I finally break down for the good stuff. How should I finally find a way to align my bars/fork that is perfect? Practice hasn’t helped (been practicing this) since oh… 1981? Starting w/ BMX bikes to whatever I’m on lately. Every time I’m fine w/ it and pedal plenty. But when anyone tries a bike I’ve built they are all wondering how I can manage such mis-alignment. Minus some vital (though likely expensive) clever Park Tool, how would a wrench clown like me go about adjusting these more accurately? Thanks.” – seems like a lot of questions about stem alignment!

Park Tool: This is an idea that we bat around at Park Tool HQ frequently but unfortunately for those that lack the machinist eyeball, we haven’t come to any conclusion on how we’d do it. Until the ducks are lined up there are a lot of ways you can figure out how to square up your handlebars. Essentially what you need to do is get the bars and wheel as close to perfectly perpendicular to each other as you can. You can use straight edges of any description, carpenter’s squares, a laser pointer, a plumb-bob… anything will work as long as it gives you a reference point.  The common method in a bike shop is to look from the top of the stem/bar and line them up with the front axle. Huey Lewis was right, it is hip to be square.

#2:” What are the top 5, or 5 most important, Park Tools to have on your workbench (or in your tool box)?”

Park Tool: It’s difficult to say because every bike is different and they don’t all require the same tools, plus five isn’t very many…. but here’s my list:

FWS-2 Fold Up Wrench Set, which is two different fold up tools, one hex and the other for Torx® compatible fasteners.

TL-6.2 Steel Core Tire Levers (or one of our three other models of tire levers) because if you ride at all, you will get a flat tire.

CT-3.2 Chain Tool because it’s important to change your chain every now and again.  A new chain needs to be sized to fit your bike so you’ll most likely need to remove some links.

CM-5.2 Cyclone Chain Scrubber.  A clean chain is a happy chain!  It works better and lasts longer and can help make your other components last longer as well.

PCS-10 Repair Stand.  It won’t fit in your toolbox but once you’ve worked on your bike on a workstand, elevated and at the perfect position, you’ll never work on the ground again!

Optional Essentials:

BO-2 Bottle Opener, because hydration is key.

PZT-2 Pizza Tool, because pizza is delicious.

Park Tool ask a stupid question how to Park Tool ask a stupid question how to

#3:  “What’s the difference between the BBT-2 and BBT-22 and why did the BBT-22 replace the BBT-2?”

Park Tool: This is another case of our tools needing to evolve with the times. As bottom bracket designs changed, so must our tools. The BBT-2 and the BBT-22 are the same tool for all intents and purposes, the BBT-22 just has some slight dimensional differences that allowed it to work on a wider range of bottom bracket cups where the splines were the same pattern but recessed a little further in the cup.

ParkTool.com

24 COMMENTS

  1. Why could you not develop a low power laser that bolts to the stem retainer cap bolt that can shine it’s lovely laser beam on both the center of the stem and on the tire? You can have that one on the house. Free and likely worth every penny.

  2. A method I’ve seen for aligning stems and wheels on road bikes is:
    First, remove the front wheel.
    Second, loosen the stem clamp on the steer tube enough that you can move it, but that it won’t move on its own.
    Third, place the bike “face down” on the floor so that the dropouts of the fork and the hoods all touch the floor.

    Hopefully the floor is flat and should align everything, then just tighten the stem. This method depends on your shifters being aligned with each other and your fork not being bent.

    I’m sure you could do it on a mountain bike, but you’d have to clear the cables and hoses somehow.

  3. This has worked for me, especially with stubby DH stems where it’s really tough to use the stem to align the bars by sighting the wheel. Basically it enables one to use the line of the bars rather than the stem to sight along.

    Stand in front of the bike, facing the stem/top tube with the front wheel wedged between your feet. Take a ruler or a straight edge with a line drawn or markings parallel down the centre of the straight edge. (The markings aren’t essential, they just make it easier to sight.) Place the straight edge across the front edges of the fork near the crown so that it extends on either side and is roughly equidistant. It should be parallel to the ground so that it is against the fork at the same points. If you sight the length of the handlebars down you will have a line to gauge the bars angle against.

    If you had trouble sighting I’m sure it would be easy to make two vertical rods at the end of the straight edge that would extend upwards and give you fixed ends at bar height (the rods would need to be perfectly perpendicular to the straight edge.) You could (if you were Park Tools) even make an adjustable vernier pin on each vertical rod to be perfectly accurate.

  4. My fail-safe system for ensuring stems are properly aligned:

    1. tighten stem, aligning as best as possible
    2. go ride bike
    3. if apparent you did a piss poor job aligning (step 1), adjust as necessary
    4. repeat steps 2 and 3 as necessary
    5. if you can’t tell the alignment is off, you likely have bigger problems then your alignment, so call it good

    That’s it! You’re welcome, y’all!

  5. To get the handlebar lined up with the hub, I have put a (relatively) thin piece of threaded rod about as long as the handlebar is wide, through the axle in place of the skewer. This gives a much longer reference to parallel to bars to. I have bad astigmatism so when I eyeball it without the rod the view is curved and changes as eye move my head so it throws me off forcing me to come up with the above solution.

  6. While there are always the “just test ride it and see if it’s good enough” advocates, my experience is that the dynamic environment of a ride is the worst place to try to pick out a subtle misalignment, and even if it feels “good enough” on a short ride, it might not really be “good enough” for long term use. I’ve seen people who were happily riding with stems that were easily visually off by 5 or more degrees, and hadn’t noticed. You have to remember that this also affects your position on the bike, with the reach to one side of the bars getting longer, and the other side of the bars getting shorter, which can have long term ramifications, particularly for road riding. For MTB, it can also alter your weight balance when cornering, again, with the opposite effect on one side vs. the other.

    • If the person with a visibly crooked stem was in fact riding along happily, the stem’s position was, in fact, good enough…

  7. When is Park going to make a base for the NEW BIG FAT TIRE TRUING STAND? I was told it would be released ‘soon’ when I bought one as soon as it was released almost a year ago. DEFINE “SOON”.

COMMENT HERE: (For best results, log in through Wordpress or your social media account. Anonymous/fake email comments may be unapproved or deleted. ALL first-time commenter's posts are held for moderation. Check our Comment Policy for full details.)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.