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Discord Components w(Right) Stem

$195.00

Extension

Finish

Long stems are going the way of the Dodo

Bike fit, bike geometry and bike spec work in aggregate to shape how a rider rides a bike. In an ideal world, bikes would be comfortable, efficient, and stable. Bikes would allow you to run whatever tires you want, and fenders, without the front wheel wacking your foot at low speeds. The bike would be designed in such a way that it would be close to impossible to fly over the bars. This dream bike can exist. But! We need to accept shorter stems to make this "hypothetical" perfect bike happen.

We know a decent amount about fit, and a bit about geometry and design. That said, we're always trying to learn more, and always willing to adapt in light of new evidence, or in this case, old evidence.

After reading a biography about the Wright brothers (that had an annoyingly small amount of info on their bike business) I looked into their bikes, and here's the takeaway:

    • The Wright bikes had slack head and seat tube angles (which are currently coming back into vogue). Why? Roads were bad, and bikes needed to be long and have slow steering. Slack head angles sort of self stabilize the handling, so you need less steering input from the rider to hold a line. That’s why motorcycles and downhill bikes have slack angles.
    • The bikes had short stems. Why? Because that allowed the front wheel to get further forward, extending the wheelbase: adding stability and eliminating the dreaded toe clip overlap (even with fenders and big tires), while still keeping reach in check.
    • In conjunction with the short stems, the bikes had swept back drop bars, and the steering leverage point (probably not the right term, I’m not an engineer… but where you grip the bars), not unlike the steering with an albatross bar, was BEHIND the head tube. I had never thought about this before but I extrapolated that the bike does not know how long a stem is, or the reach of a bar, etc. The bike is reacting, from a steering perspective, to the line drawn between where you grip the bars and the center of the steerer. Bikes with albatross bars handle great. Not squirrel-y or slow. Yet their steering leverage point is behind the head tube. To test this concept further, I put a -60mm stem on a Surly Long Haul Trucker and rode it around, off curbs, up and down hills, etc. If you put a white piece of paper over the stem area, you’d have no idea it was a -60. Grant of Rivendell Bicycle Works did this a while back, and he reported basically the same thing.
    • If you have a zero extension or 30mm extension stem, and your hands are the drops, and you have a 95mm reach bar like a noodle, it’s as if you were riding a flat bar with a 125 stem. Which is a lot of stem. (bar reach + distance to center of hoods)
    • They did it most of their fabrication and design in house. They were outside-the-box thinkers. They chose to go with either 0, +30 or -30 stems (around that, I can’t actually measure it, but it looks like between 25 and 35mm). They did it for a reason.
    • All of this is reinforced by current trends in mountain bikes (35-40mm stems are the norm these days, and with swept back alt-bars, that’s equating to a -10mm stem), and what has been happening with motorcycles for over 100 years. If short stems didn’t work, these bikes and motorbikes would not have them.
    • Purists pick what they want to be purist about. Stem length has been changing for 100+ years, but purists whose ideas are based on 70’s and 80’s road race bikes with skinny tires think that 100mm stems are the best, and everything else is a compromise from there. There will be the push back it being the second time it’s come around.
    • From a bike design perspective: a shorter stem allows you to fit bigger tires and provide more stability via a longer wheelbase without having to lengthen the back of the bike a bunch.
    • From a bike fit perspective, and really, this is the thing I’m most excited about: Short stems allow shorter torso riders to size up and get the bars higher. In combo with a good short reach drop bar, a short stem can allow say, a 5’5” woman like Candice, our mechanic, to ride a 55cm bike. She has the same saddle height I do, but I’m 5’9”. With a traditional stem, she could not ride a small bike and easily get the bars high enough. With a zero stem, her fit is perfect.
    • US made, fillet brazed in Massachusetts by Alex Meade Bikeworks. Nitto quill bolt and wedge. M5 stainless faceplate bolts.
        • 30mm or 0mm offset 31.8 clamp diameter, removable faceplate quill stem.
        • 215mm quill extension.