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Thread: Stubby Stems

  1. #1
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    Stubby Stems

    I'm talking about 70mm reach and under stems.

    This trend has been building for a while and I still haven't jumped on. I actually have a couple of short stems laying around so I guess I'll have to throw one on a bike and see for myself how it rides.

    But up until now I haven't done so because I assume that it's going to make the bike climb poorly and steer too quickly. At least on the steep stuff. Seems like it would make for a light front end that didn't track as well.

    I just read through most of that Chromag thread and noticed that they seem to be all about really short stems and that vid of the guy riding one that starts with gong across the rr tracks is certainly running a short stem. But then basically the whole video only shows him going down stuff. Which could be said of 90% of the videos out there. They are almost always about going down rather than up. My point being that maybe people really like going down hills a lot more than going up so that is what they build for and then suffer the ups.

    Personally I like going down hills too but my favorite thing to do on a mountain bike is cleaning a really technical super steep climb that is hard enough that you don't always make it or at least it takes a few tries the first time until you get it dialed, but you are always on the edge of not making it unless you are really on.

    Also on that same Chromag thread one guy said he wanted a long top tube so he could run a short stem. Why is this better than a normal top tube and a normal stem? Or is that just one opinion?

    Then the other thought is that bike trends emerge and grow at times like fashion. Everybody starts buying something because everybody else is buying the same thing and it becomes a given where there really isn't much behind the decision other than Johnie has one and he is a good rider so I want one too. Sometimes function and fashion go hand in hand because it really seems to be a better way to go. Like tubeless or wider bars.

    So for those who have thought their decision through and have tried different stem lengths and have settled on a short stem as their final choice how did you arrive at this decision and how does it work overall, not just on the way down?
    No it never stops hurting, but if you keep at it you can go faster.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by modifier
    I'm talking about 70mm reach and under stems.

    ... my favorite thing to do on a mountain bike is cleaning a really technical super steep climb that is hard enough that you don't always make it or at least it takes a few tries the first time until you get it dialed, but you are always on the edge of not making it unless you are really on.

    So for those who have thought their decision through and have tried different stem lengths and have settled on a short stem as their final choice how did you arrive at this decision and how does it work overall, not just on the way down?
    I had always run a 110mm stem and then about 4 years ago I started to tackle steep, rougher descents and it was pretty clear that a short stem would help, however I did not want to compromise too much because I really enjoy the technical ups. I bought a cheap 50mm, 70mm and 90mm stem to see what worked best for me. I found that with a 70mm stem my technical ups and downs both improved. On truly technical climbs a short stem allows you to lift the front over trail obstacles much easier than the 110mm stem does.

  3. #3
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    A lot of the short stem/longer top tube thing is about weight distribution. Getting your weight back over the rear tire more has obvious benefits for gravity oriented stuff.

    In 29"ers, it allows for a more easily lofted front end, if that is important to you. One thing that a short stem will also do is it will un-weight your front wheel slightly, so going too short may be a detriment on an XC/trail bike used primarily for single track.

    Slack head angles, (sub 70 degrees), long travel forks, and down hill oriented bikes will be best served by a short, stubby stem. Some 29"ers may also benefit from that if the riding style prefers an easily lofted front end, otherwise a bit longer stem would be better for most trail riders.

    That's all a generalization, and exceptions exist, but that's how I understand it.

  4. #4
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    The only time I ever had a real bike fitting when buying new was for a Blur in the end 90 was the right length for that bike.

    When I built up my first 29r I choose to try a 60 it just looked right for the bike. I liked it right away. I have it inverted on my Gunnar and I am quite happy with the set up.

    I can climb fine I feel it's all about getting the right balance. Moving the body back or forward at the right time traction vs getting the front wheel up and over something and then getting my body weight forward once the front wheel is up.

    And I feel much more confident on drops, and that used to be a weak point for me.
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    Quote Originally Posted by modifier
    .... Sometimes function and fashion go hand in hand because it really seems to be a better way to go. Like tubeless or wider bars.

    So for those who have thought their decision through and have tried different stem lengths and have settled on a short stem as their final choice how did you arrive at this decision and how does it work overall, not just on the way down?
    It would appear that you have, like many 29" riders, decided that wider bars work better because of the greater leverage for the bigger front wheel. If you are using a wider bar, you will automatically be leaning slightly forward. To compensate and to get your upper body in the position you like a shorter stem is required.

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  6. #6
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    I love the effect that a shorter stem has on my bikes. I actually put a short (read sub 90mm) on my first 29er and first single speed. It was a 75mm stem and it just made the bike some alive. Since then all of my 29ers have had around a 70mm stem. My custom built Black Cat wears a 70mm stem and 750mm wide bars. It is a fantastic upgrade in my opinion. 29ers like to be leaned more than steered per say, so the short stem helps quicken them up. Everyone that I know that thought 29ers in general were slow handling and not playful feeling changed their tune after trying a short stem.

    Just my $.02.

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    Andy

  7. #7
    FM
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    Quote Originally Posted by modifier
    I just read through most of that Chromag thread and noticed that they seem to be all about really short stems and that vid of the guy riding one that starts with gong across the rr tracks is certainly running a short stem.
    Chromags rep is based on winning events like the Samurai of SIngletrack races- 10k' up to FR descent stage races, 2-3 days of that. Crazy to do that much climbing in a day with a 50mm stem? Even crazier to tackle some of those FR descents on a hardtail!

    Riders like that demonstrate that climbing ability is all about technical skill and fitness. Stem length has little to do with it.

    I'm running short stems & wide bars on all my mountain bikes and totally prefer the handling. It did take me a while (many years ago) to adjust- you rely more on core strength to hold your torso up, less leaning on the bars. No problem on tech climbs.

    Just my .02c

  8. #8
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    I went from a 90mm to 70mm stem on my Tallboy. I prefer the 70mm in almost every way, better stability, agility, smoothness and control. It just feels like I can manhandle technical trails a little easier.

    However, I have to endure more saddle rape to make it up climbs that were easier with a 90mm stem.

  9. #9
    JMH
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    Ronnie and FM are right, bar and stem have to be considered together and have less to do with climbing than technique and fitness do.

    A wide bar on a long stem feels pretty awful to me, a narrow bar with a short stem is just as bad. So just switching one will likely not put you in the sweet spot.

    Narrow bars and long stems obviously work since we have been locked to them since the early 90s, but short stems and wide bars are being discovered as having the same correct feel but with much more leverage over the front wheel and better handling going down.

    Going shorter and wider might not work on your current frame size. It could cramp the cockpit and put you over the back of the bike, which will have other repercussions. I have gone from Med to Large frames now that I am fully committed to short and wide.

    JMH

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    I have always used sub 70mm stem on my DH bikes, but then got into XC and used 120mm stems and narrow flat bars for years... For the first time ever I have gone for a wide Salsa Pro Moto with 17deg sweep which feels great. The problem is my 100mm stem is too short as my hands are almost in line with the steerer, effectively a direct mount MX stem! The bike fits me, but I'm not too sure how to get around this, I don't want to put a 130mm stem on to get my hands in the right place. Luckily my On-one has a long TT, but I think Ritcheys 10D might be the solution. What do you guys run with your big sweep bars?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMH

    Going shorter and wider might not work on your current frame size. It could cramp the cockpit and put you over the back of the bike, which will have other repercussions. I have gone from Med to Large frames now that I am fully committed to short and wide.

    JMH
    That was kind of what I was thinking. I usually ride medium frames at 5 10. I did buy a large Canfield Jedi because I wanted the longer top tube since I was setting it up for cross country. I run a long stem upside down on that bike to compensate for the high headtube and 180 fork. It actually works pretty well for everything short of serious downhill. If I was going to go to a park I would change things around. I run a wide bar too. However on med xc bikes I'm afraid that the short stem might do just what you are saying and a new bike is not in the budget for a while.

    But with so much positive feedback I'm going to have to try it. Unfortunately to really test it out I'm going to have to wait until spring.
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  12. #12
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    I tried a 100mm, 90mm, 70mm and 65mm on my rigid bike and found that the 65mm stem and a nice wide bar works best for me. It takes a lot of weight off of the hands and makes the front of the bike easier to lift over obstacles. My hands and arms don't take as much of a beating now.

    The front end is a little light on the climbs, but I think that the trade off is worth it for this application.

    If I ever switched back to a suspension fork, I would consider a longer stem. But I don't see that happening any time soon.

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    My 29er had a 90mm stem on it and I always felt my hands getting sore after a short while. I swapped it out for a 60mm stem and my hands feel much better - presumably due to the slight shift in weight distribution. It has also quickened up the steering a lot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by modifier
    So for those who have thought their decision through and have tried different stem lengths and have settled on a short stem as their final choice how did you arrive at this decision and how does it work overall, not just on the way down?
    I arrived at the decision by trying it.

    I liked it, found zero problems climbing the same tech stuff, so I stayed short & stubby. It works fine.

    Short stems like wide bars though.
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    I really like to understand the reasons behind the feelings so let's see if this makes any sense in defense of the short stem/wide bars and bigger frame idea.

    Ok.. so with a shorter stem the relationship of where your hands are compared to the front axle will be farther back and that should help with lessening the tendency to go over the bars on a steep downhill. That is fixed.

    The wider bars put your center of gravity a bit farther forward but the axle is still farther in front of the bar center than with a long stem.

    Everyone says that wider bars are pretty much mandatory and along with putting your center of gravity farther forward they will also slow up the steering somewhat because you are having to move the grip farther to get the same result at the stem. I don't know what the mathematical relationship between bar width and stem length is for steering response but let's say that going from a 610mm bar to a 710mm bar may be the same as going from a 110mm stem to a 80mm stem. (710/80 = 610/110) Just a guess.

    People are also saying a jump up in frame size is a good idea so if you throw in a large vs med Yelli Screamy the effective top tube is 24.5 for the lrg and 23.75 for the med. That's going to be roughly 20mm added to the effective stem length in relation to the cranks/saddle/rear axle with the large.

    So if a 110mm stem with 610mm bars feels about the same as an 80mm stem on 710 bars and a large frame adds another effective 20mm to the stem length in the end you could say that a 710 bar on a large frame with a 60mm stem should feel about the same as a 610 bar on a med frame with a 110 stem. In other words about like a normal mtbike in pedaling, climbing and steering but with a more confidence inspiring relationship to the front axle to keep you from going over the bars as often and more leverage for steering from the wider bars.

    Of course that relationship to the front axle will affect things a bit too but maybe not too much and people are saying the trade off is worth it.

    Does that make sense? Maybe some of the brainiacs will join in.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMH
    A wide bar on a long stem feels pretty awful to me, a narrow bar with a short stem is just as bad. So just switching one will likely not put you in the sweet spot.
    Right!

    I found that a short stem and a narrow bar (typical XC race bar) on all of my bikes just made the front wheel kind of flop from side to side, rather than turn. But I like bars in the 640-660mm width range with 105-120mm length.

    BB

  17. #17
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    For 80% of people stem length is about fit. The other 20% either don't know any better or are DH'ers/huckers. and are more concerned with handling than the last bit of cockpit length

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    Quote Originally Posted by customfab
    For 80% of people stem length is about fit. The other 20% either don't know any better or are DH'ers/huckers. and are more concerned with handling than the last bit of cockpit length
    I'm not sure exactly what you're getting at, but people here aren't recommending compromising proper fit just for certain handling characteristics. What most are saying is that "fit" is a multi-faceted concept where stem length needs to change when bar width changes in order to still fit properly. Stem angle, stem spacers, bar rise, etc all factor in to what the "correct" stem length is too. There isn't just one single correct fit for a given person on a given bike.
    Last edited by boomn; 02-04-2011 at 07:49 PM.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by modifier
    I really like to understand the reasons behind the feelings so let's see if this makes any sense in defense of the short stem/wide bars and bigger frame idea.

    Ok.. so with a shorter stem the relationship of where your hands are compared to the front axle will be farther back and that should help with lessening the tendency to go over the bars on a steep downhill. That is fixed.

    The wider bars put your center of gravity a bit farther forward but the axle is still farther in front of the bar center than with a long stem.

    Everyone says that wider bars are pretty much mandatory and along with putting your center of gravity farther forward they will also slow up the steering somewhat because you are having to move the grip farther to get the same result at the stem. I don't know what the mathematical relationship between bar width and stem length is for steering response but let's say that going from a 610mm bar to a 710mm bar may be the same as going from a 110mm stem to a 80mm stem. (710/80 = 610/110) Just a guess.

    People are also saying a jump up in frame size is a good idea so if you throw in a large vs med Yelli Screamy the effective top tube is 24.5 for the lrg and 23.75 for the med. That's going to be roughly 20mm added to the effective stem length in relation to the cranks/saddle/rear axle with the large.

    So if a 110mm stem with 610mm bars feels about the same as an 80mm stem on 710 bars and a large frame adds another effective 20mm to the stem length in the end you could say that a 710 bar on a large frame with a 60mm stem should feel about the same as a 610 bar on a med frame with a 110 stem. In other words about like a normal mtbike in pedaling, climbing and steering but with a more confidence inspiring relationship to the front axle to keep you from going over the bars as often and more leverage for steering from the wider bars.

    Of course that relationship to the front axle will affect things a bit too but maybe not too much and people are saying the trade off is worth it.

    Does that make sense? Maybe some of the brainiacs will join in.
    I don't recommend changing frame sizes, but that is personal.

    Here's how I see it: The rider is limited as to where he can place the bike forward or back ward by the pivot points of his hands and feet. If that pivot point is way forward with a longer stem, there is only so far forward you can put the frame when attacking steep downhill terrain. A shorter stem can make that up to a couple inches more forward which can significantly help in these situations, you are not as locked in to one position and can move the bike more dynamically.

    What is the disadvantage: Eventually, the cockpit will be so short you bang your knees.

    Will climbing be affected? Not really. Lean over more, scootch forward on the saddle. Tech climbing is all about keeping your weight centered between the wheels as the terrain angles under you and that is pretty much not at all affected by stem length. Most of you weight is centered around your gut.

    Will cornering be affected? Yes, a little more because you it is a little harder to weight the front wheel and wash out can occur. The solution is the same as above, move your weight forward using your core and bend your elbows.

    There is the explanation, but I still encourage you to just try it yourself and see.

    Another tip is that as the stem shortens, the bars should come down a little bit.
    Quote Originally Posted by buddhak
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  20. #20
    FM
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    Quote Originally Posted by customfab
    For 80% of people stem length is about fit. The other 20% either don't know any better or are DH'ers/huckers. and are more concerned with handling than the last bit of cockpit length
    Put it in the context of cars.
    If you're driving 300 miles, seat position is crucial, you're probably mostly going straight on the freeway so handling is secondary.
    An F1 or rally racer would probably sacrifice comfort for better handling though.

    But you are right, at least %80 of drivers are just trying to get from point A to point B in comfort, with little regard to "handling".

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    Quote Originally Posted by customfab
    For 80% of people stem length is about fit. The other 20% either don't know any better or are DH'ers/huckers. and are more concerned with handling than the last bit of cockpit length
    Thank you. Can you believe all the comments here?..lol.
    Amazing. People going to bigger bikes so they can put on a short stem...wow.
    I run long stems and a relatively wide bar and how long a stem is pertains to top tube length, seat tube angle and what sweep bars I use. Stem length should be about cockpit length to maximize riding position and not pander to some sense of norm about how quickly the bike should steer. The geometry of the bike ie. head tube angle, chain stay length, trail and wheelbase trump stem length when it comes to steering response.
    Last edited by dirtrider7; 02-05-2011 at 04:59 PM.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by FM
    Put it in the context of cars.
    If you're driving 300 miles, seat position is crucial, you're probably mostly going straight on the freeway so handling is secondary.
    An F1 or rally racer would probably sacrifice comfort for better handling though.

    But you are right, at least %80 of drivers are just trying to get from point A to point B in comfort, with little regard to "handling".
    it isn't about comfort. Its about power. Placing a short stem on a bike to fit some pseudo ideal about appropriate steering response is the wrong priority if you end up with a cramped riding position which robs power including standing out of the saddle in climbs.
    The car analogy fails because in the case of a bicycle the rider is also the engine.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by dirtrider7
    Can you believe all the comments here?..lol.

    Well, not really if you look at the number of people out there running short stems. That's why I started the thread to see what was really behind it.

    I'm riding in Southern Fla right now and even though the trails are simply moderate XC trails with a few nice technical climbs and only 2 or 3 steep rough short downhills you see a lot of guys riding bikes that would be more at home on a dirt jump track or on a downhill run. I don't see how they could feel good in the twisties or climbing the hard hills.

    But I have to admit I haven't gotten the nerve yet to ride down a couple of those steep downhills with the rocks and water bars across them. They just scream painful endo if you screw up a little. However I'm not going to build up a bike for 2 hills that is compromised on the other 99.9%.
    No it never stops hurting, but if you keep at it you can go faster.

  24. #24
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    people can read dirtrider's blather. Alternatively, they can approach this intelligently and simply try a variety of stem / bar combos until they find what works best for them on their terrain. pretty revolutionary.

    as has been stated thousands of times on this forum, and several times in this thread, it's a function of bar and stem geometry. if you end up feeling cramped, either put on a wider bar or a slightly longer stem. it's not rocket science. and as more and more riders have found, a wide bar / short stem can greatly improve the handling on fast, technical descents.

    i have a 70 mm on most of my XC-oriented bikes, with a bar in the 700-720 range with moderate sweep (longer stems with high sweep bars). day rides in tahoe usually include 5,000+ v ft of climbing. climbing efficiency is important, and with enough experimentation you can find the sweet spot setup that optimizes climbing and descending.

    Don't overlook bar height relative to the ground. short stem + high riser bar can suck on long steep climbs.
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    Quote Originally Posted by frorider
    people can read dirtrider's blather. Alternatively, they can approach this intelligently and simply try a variety of stem / bar combos until they find what works best for them on their terrain. pretty revolutionary.

    as has been stated thousands of times on this forum, and several times in this thread, it's a function of bar and stem geometry. if you end up feeling cramped, either put on a wider bar or a slightly longer stem. it's not rocket science. and as more and more riders have found, a wide bar / short stem can greatly improve the handling on fast, technical descents.

    i have a 70 mm on most of my XC-oriented bikes, with a bar in the 700-720 range with moderate sweep (longer stems with high sweep bars). day rides in tahoe usually include 5,000+ v ft of climbing. climbing efficiency is important, and with enough experimentation you can find the sweet spot setup that optimizes climbing and descending.

    Don't overlook bar height relative to the ground. short stem + high riser bar can suck on long steep climbs.
    Blather is one thing but you are the guy riding frames that are too long for you with the short stems you are sporting.
    I do agree that experimentation is the best teacher so you don't totally miss the point.
    Try a smaller frame and a more conventional stem length. You will find that a shorter wheelbase bike will quicken the steering response more than a shorter stem.

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