Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stem Sell 'Research'

Back in the olden days—by which I mean 1998 or so—it was easy to choose a stem. Frontload or topload? That was pretty much it. As it was, it seemed like everyone on the face of the earth ran either a Standard or an S&M Redneck, depending on geographic/brand allegiance and how high one wanted to run one's bars. Some people ran their topload Standard stems upside-down, but I'm not sure whether it actually made any difference in bar height, or it was just that they thought it looked cool. A few holdouts ran DKs, but they were weirdos and not to be trusted.

Then, one day, someone must have thrown their stem on a scale and realized, 'hey, this lump of metal is sort of heavy.' (Either that or they got a hernia picking up a Primo Casket.) Thus we got a new generation of lighter weight frontload stems, including the Animal Jumpoff, the original Solid, and, of course, the Redneck Lite:
Once again, choice was determined primarily by geography or brand allegiance. (The topload stem briefly went the way of the dodo and the Herrington Crusader.)

Then, not long afterwards, G-Sport's George French developed the Elementary with Odyssey. It looked...different. Lots of cutouts, more than two pieces, only one large 8mm bolt. But it was also substantially lighter than any of the traditional six-bolt stems. And once you sorted out how much to tighten it using the single bolt, it worked great. It just took some getting used to, especially for those of us who were accustomed to riding with what looked like a brick connecting our bars to our forks.
Now, this set the bar even higher—or lower—in terms of weight. The original Elementary (V3 out now) came in well under 10 ounces when most "traditional" lightweight front-load stems were more like 11 or 12. This would not stand, man. S&M just reached for the router, shaving a few extra ounces off the LT and adding an X. Animal left well enough alone with the Jumpoff (although not for much longer, perhaps). And some companies, well, they went straight off the deep end in their own attempts to re-invent the stem:

The Hook is more or less an Elementary that's been cut diagonally in half and pieced back together short a few significant parts and with one extra bolt—or maybe one that was co-designed by Picasso and M.C. Escher. While the Elementary uses one solid 8mm bolt at the very center, The Hook utilizes two much smaller, hollow bolts at the corners, where they seem as if they'd be subject to more stress and difficult to tighten evenly. If this were a flatland stem it might be less of a big deal (Sequence is primarily a flatland company), but it's available in three sizes (26, 35 and 50mm), so, I guess not.


The yin and the yang? The New Beetle? Hard to say what Drive was going for here, except for the chance to use as many bolts as possible (eight). Like the Elementary, the shape is curvy and somewhat pleasant. Unlike the Elementary, everything else. From the Drive site:

"We had an idea. A singular pressure point stem, that dissipates load throughout the stem, rather than driving forces directly into your handlebar, fork, and/or the stem itself. It will keep your parts from slipping, bending, or breaking because of tension or clamping reasons. This is exactly what the Twin stem does."

I'm not sure HOW it keeps those forces from going into your bars, fork or stem (where else would they go), but it just does, OK?

The Kink Relief is what would happen if an Elementary and a Coalition Povah were put through that machine that Jeff Goldblum used in The Fly. Hollow bolts again? Of course! I suspect this lightweight wonder is called the Relief because of the sigh you'll give every time you make it home alive.

Premium, to their credit, chose to stick with the traditional four bolts in the front, two bolts in back, frontload design that's been around since the advent of the Aheadset. They just machined gigantic holes through everything and used hollow bolts. I just wonder how they knew when to stop removing material. "OK, WE'RE UNDER 10 OUNCES, STOP CUTTING!"


Lastly, I at least wanted to mention the Fit D.L.D. (Down Low Drop). It doesn't appear to have been machined to within a millimeter of its (or your) life like the Sub-Ten. But it is interesting as the extra drop allows one to run high-rise bars like S&M Slams without them feeling quite so tall. One wonders why one couldn't achieve the same thing by running a traditional frontload (or even, God forbid, a topload) stem with lower bars. But that just wouldn't look cool, would it?


g. edward jones, jr. said...

Personally I welcome the trend for ridiculously huge bars. As a dude who's 6'3" and has a 6'5" wingspan, as long as the kids think wide bars "give more control" I can always find bars that are legitimately comfortable for me. I briefly thought of buying a Fit DLD stem to run inverted...then I realized that it'd snap the first time I, I dunno, rode off a curb.

Sean Diesel said...

Three Words:

GT Meat Mallet.

All things are just variations on that theme. And by "variations" I mean such technical advances as flipping, inverting or shaving.

You know, things that LOOK engineered but actually aren't.

Boston George said...

i have a haro small block stem i shaved on a bench grinder and drilled out with a dewalt 14 volt.

i might pop some more holes in her and clean her up so i can make bank on ebay for a superlight custom stem alternative.

1/2" through the top. 1/2" through the side.1/2" through the middle...make the clamp spot as thick as a diamond back seat post clamp and im all set to jet right?

bmx fucking sucks now.

I might have to actually take a pipe cutter with me everywhere just to cut frames in half.

tie it to a bandanna and call it a
styley because its aimed at image loving bmx losers bikes.

bmx is for fun.not an image.

thank you fuse/mtv/xgaymes.

ryan said...

Bizhouse Dialyser

Anonymous said...

Love it or hate it, Bizhouse saw the stem and reimagined it pretty well. Those poor bastards have good ideas and then somehow shit 'em down their legs. But George did it right.

Have you ever tried to open a bottle with the Bizhouse bottle opener sprocket? Might as well open it with a lighter. But a fantastic idea. I wish those guys could succeed a little someday.