To just look at them, the humble carbon bike stem seems simple enough; it attaches the handlebars to the steerer tube. That’s definitely the most important part of what they do, but they also have a big role in the overall handling and fit of the bike.
In general, carbon bike stems are split into two main categories; mountain and road. Mountain stems are generally shorter and more robust. When buying a bike stem, be sure to consider the bar clamp diameter and steerer clamp diameter. Different sized stems are used for different things.
Bike stems are almost always made from aluminum or carbon. Carbon is lighter than aluminum but also a bit more expensive. With that said, the drop in weight and boost to performance is worth it. The most common size for a carbon bike stem is 31.8mm in diameter. There are several 35mm options out there. These ones are used for more demanding tasks such as endurance biking.
Stem length is the second most important factor when choosing a carbon bike stem outside of general compatibility. Shorter stems offer more of an upright position while longer stems give the rider a lower and more aerodynamic position on their bike. Maintaining that posture for too long can get a bit uncomfortable though.
For mountain bikes, the length of the carbon bike stem plays a part in how the bike handles. A shorter stem offers faster and better handling, which is why they are the preferred choice for endurance and slacker trail bikes. On the other hand, as cross-country bikes generally have steeper head hangles a longer stem is better because they offer more efficient climbing.
Most current bikes use threadless bike stems, but quill stems can be found on older bikes. These quill stems use wedges to keep the stem in place. Some old bikes can be converted to new threadless stems, but a quill stem can’t be attached to a new bike.
The cicyle stem rise for a carbon bike stem refers to the stem’s angle in relation to the fork steerer tube. A stem with 20-degrees of rise would have a 20-degree angle between the fork steerer and the handlebar clamp, for example.
A carbon bike stem is a great upgrade for any bike, but they are particularly useful for mountain bikes and endurance bikes. Which stem is right for you depends on your bike and budget. Choose the right bike stem for you by considering your options and your wants and needs.
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