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Published on November 3rd, 2016 | by Greg O'Keeffe

Ask a Mechanic | How Stem Length Affects Your Ride

Shannon says, “A friend recently told me that I’d be more comfortable with a shorter stem. Can you tell me how this will affect my ride?

Great question. Stem length, orientation, and height all play a role in comfort, bike handling, and aerodynamics.

Length

Shorter stem length translates to a more responsive bike. Some might call it “twitchier,” but the end result is that less input from the rider is needed to initiate turns.

When seated, a longer stem helps to lengthen your reach, putting your upper body in a lower, more aerodynamic position. While this is more efficient, it’s also harder on your body. Don’t go too low unless your lower back, shoulders, and core can handle it.

Conversely, a shorter stem will facilitate a more upright rider position, which is less stressful on the back, shoulders, wrists, and hands. Riding in this upright position creates much more wind resistance, which is why pros try to sit as low as possible. A longer stem also puts you lower for improved aerodynamics, and farther ahead of the bottom bracket when sprinting, a body position that generates more power.

The only way you can change stem length is with a new stem. Shop ROAD stems here, and shop MOUNTAIN stems here. There are one or two adjustable length stems on the market, but they are usually not readily available and are comparably quite heavy.

Orientation

Many stems are angled, which, depending on how the stem is oriented on the bike, will raise or lower your handlebar position. Angling your stem down will lower your handlebars, putting your upper body in a lower, or more aggressive position.  This is more aerodynamic, but again, harder on your body.

Flipping your stem so it raises the handlebars is much like using a shorter stem. It allows for a straighter back and more comfortable, upright riding position

Height

The height of your stem can be adjusted as well by adding or subtracting spacers between your stem and frame.

Speaking broadly, recreational cyclists generally prefer a higher handlebar position, while competitive riders will try to get as low and aerodynamic as possible. Of course, factors such as terrain, style of bike, and rider fitness are all factors in achieving the perfect body position through the manipulation of your stem using length, orientation, and height.

Remember: this video was made to help riders understand how stem length and position affect a bike’s handling and rider’s position. Nothing can take the place of a proper fit. So whether you’re looking for a new stem or a proper fitting, check us out at Art’sCyclery.com

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About the Author

After a couple of years as a team mechanic for Highroad Sports, Greg joined the Art's Cyclery crew as our lead mechanic. The only thing Greg loves more than cycling is watching the San Francisco Giants play baseball.



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