LAST UPDATED: November 5, 2019
Best Mountain Bike Stems: Achieve Optimum Control and Riding Position
Make sure you’re comfortable and in full control on the trails with these top mountain bike stems
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON November 5, 2019
It’s not just serious riders who should be looking at their stems. This part of your bike, where you attach your handlebars, affects everything from your reach, riding position, and general comfort to the amount of control you have over the bike and how responsive it is when handling. You can go shorter, longer, or more angled than your current stem, and there are a range of styles and options to suit all budgets. These are our top picks and tips on buying the best mountain bike stem for you.
A lightweight, aluminum alloy bike stem weighing 132 grams and designed to fit a 1-⅛-inch steerer tube. Available in different heights (35mm or 50mm) and different colors for maximum style and personalization.
The stem holds firm and won’t come loose on even the most demanding trails. The Close Gap faceplate enables easier installation and adjustment.
This is a heavier bike stem than you would generally expect for the price point. Twisting into position causes unavoidable scratches on bars.
Available in a range of different bright colors to suit the look of any bike. Installation is easy and straightforward.
This stem may not be suitable for particularly hard trail riding due to the amount of flex experienced. Riders conscious of extra weight may find this a little heavy.
This 10-degree stem is available in two heights (45mm and 60mm) and will fit a 1-⅛-inch steerer tube with 215 grams of extra weight. All black in design, it includes a four-bolt clamp and is made from forged and blasted 6061 aluminum for maximum strength.
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Benefits of Mountain Bike Stems
- Control. Adjusting the length of your mountain bike stem allows you to alter the control you have over your bike. Shorter stems react quickly but might be twitchy, while longer stems are smoother but less responsive.
- Weight distribution. Choosing a different stem length inherently changes your weight distribution. Long stems center your weight better for climbs, while a short stem moves your weight backward, improving your descending control and ability.
- Personalization. Color matching an MTB stem is one of the most popular ways someone can personalize their bike. Stems come in many different colors and finishes, so coordinating with your frame, pedals, or grips is easy.
- Weight savings. Serious mountain bike riders and racers count every gram on their bike. By upgrading from the factory stem to a lighter model, you can save precious weight, making difficult climbs just a little easier.
Types of Mountain Bike Stems
Quill stems are the classic-style mountain bike stem. They are often found on older model mountain bikes and lower-end department store models. Quills have long downtubes with wedges on the bottom. The tube is inserted into the steering tube, and the wedge is then tightened with a bolt. The bolt displaces the wedge, effectively tightening the entire stem in place. While somewhat effective, strength and durability are a concern with quill designs. They’re also difficult to maintain.
Threadless stems are the standard in the MTB industry these days. They operate by clamping onto the steerer tube above the frame’s head tube. This allows for easy adjustment, alignment, and maintenance. This design also is inherently lighter than a quill design, as there is less overlap of material inside the head tube. Threadless stems are typically more durable than quill stems as well.
RaceFace Performance Products
RaceFace Performance Products is a Vancouver, Canada based company with over 20 years of experience in the mountain biking industry. RaceFace products are highly respected in the MTB community. Have a look at the RaceFace Atlas Mountain Bike Stem and the colors it comes in.
Truvativ is a subsidiary of the trusted cycling brand SRAM. Headquartered in Chicago, Ill., SRAM has been in the cycling world since 1987. Truvativ products are for serious riders. Check out this Truvativ Hussefelt Stem, which comes in different lengths so you can dial in your riding posture.
Renthal products have a long racing heritage. This Manchester, UK company produces products for both the motorcycle and mountain biking world. This Renthal Apex Stem is a serious piece of hardware that will definitely keep your handlebars in place.
Ritchey cycling products were created by American cyclist Tom Ritchey more than 40 years ago. Calling San Carlos, Calif. home, Ritchey makes high-quality products like the Ritchey 4-Axis Adjustable Aluminum Alloy Bike Stem, which is ideal for a range of different cycling styles.
Mountain Bike Stem Pricing
- Up to $30: On the lower end of the price scale, you’ll find stems from less known brands. If you’re looking for an inexpensive style upgrade, look in this range first.
- $30 to $50: Higher-quality stems are available in this range. You’ll find offerings from well-known brands made from durable and lightweight materials. You can shave weight and look cool at this price point.
- $50 and up: If you need serious performance, you’ll find it above $50. These stems are for racing and hard riding. You’ll pay more for them, but they’re super strong and lightweight.
Some riders, particularly cross-country riders, might enjoy a bit of adjustability in their stem. There are stems on the market equipped with adjustable stem angles. All you do is loosen a bolt, adjust the pitch, and tighten it back up. If you only have one do-all bike, you might consider an adjustable stem as well.
If you’re going to be riding hard, it’s worth your time to ensure your stem is built from quality material. Forged aluminum is the most popular choice. Aluminum is tough and lightweight but has enough flexibility to give a little and absorb shocks from hard landings. Steel stems can be brittle and not as forgiving when things get difficult on the trail.
- Torque Values. If you’ll be installing your new stem by yourself, you need to pay attention to your torque values. Aluminum stems and handlebars are fairly resilient, but over-tightening them can lead to stripping or crushing. If you have carbon fiber bars, you can easily crack them with too much force.
- Steerer Tube Clamp Diameter. There are two common steerer tube diameters: 1 ⅛-inch and 1 ¼-inch. It’s important to know what the diameter of your tube is before you purchase a stem. The 1 ⅛-inch size is the most common, but this is still something you need to be aware of. If your stem is too small, it won’t fit on the tube. If it’s too large, it won’t tighten enough to be effective.
Best Mountain Bike Stems Reviews & Recommendations 2020
Our choice for the Best Mountain Bike Stem Overall is the FIFTY-FIFTY Mountain Bike Stem. This stem is made from forged aluminum, fits 1 ⅛-inch steerer tubes, and has a 1 ¼-inch handlebar clamp. It is available in two different heights so you can achieve a comfortable riding position. It also comes in two stem lengths: 35 and 50 millimeters. It’s offered in a few different colors, making it easy to match your bike’s style.
The FIFTY-FIFTY Mountain Bike Stem is our best overall pick for a few reasons. For one, we like that this stem is available in different heights. Being able to dial in your riding position is paramount to die-hard mountain bikers. Also, this stem really does its job. When you set the stem onto the tube and torque the bars into place, it holds incredibly well and inspires confidence on the trail.
There are a few things we don’t like about this stem. This isn’t the lightest stem on our list, so if that matters to you, it might be a dealbreaker. Also, many users have stated the faceplate is more likely to scratch your bars during installation. While we’re sure some of those scratches can be avoided, it’s something to be aware of before you start your installation.
Our value pick for the Best Mountain Bike Stems is the Wake Mountain Bike Stem. This stem has a 45-millimeter reach and is constructed of CNC machined aluminum alloy. It’s designed to fit a 1-⅛-inch steering tube, has a 1-¼-inch handlebar clamp, and comes in a large variety of colors.
The Wake Mountain Bike Stem is a good value at this price point. Rarely at this price will you get a stem that looks and performs this well. The colors are bright and stylish so they’ll stand out on your bike. Also, installation is very straightforward due to the faceplate design. Just be sure that you follow your torque guidelines.
While this stem is a good value, it falls short in a few areas. To start, the hollow design means this stem may experience more flex than an experienced rider would find acceptable. It’s also worth noting that even though it’s a hollow design, it’s not quite as light as the most discerning riders would like.
The RaceFace Respond Mountain Bike Stem deserves our Honorable Mention on the list of the Best Mountain Bike Stems. This stem comes in two different heights: 45 millimeters and 60 millimeters. The Respond has a one-piece faceplate with a 1 ¼-inch handlebar clamp diameter. It’s designed to fit a 1 ⅛-inch steerer tube and is built from forged aluminum for heavy-duty strength.
There’s a lot to like about this Respond stem. With RaceFace, you know you’re getting a quality brand that is going to back up their product. The forged aluminum also has quite a bit of shock dampening, so hard riding won’t hurt so badly. Also, the unique design distributes forces across the stem instead of focusing them on the bolts. This should increase the stem’s durability and longevity.
We do want to make you aware of a few things before you run out and purchase this RaceFace Respond. If you’re looking to accessorize your bike, it’s worth noting that this stem only comes in black. More importantly, however, might be its heft. At around 200 grams, this stem might be a better fit on a downhill, free-ride, or all-mountain bike than it would be on an enduro or cross-country racer.
- Bike stems are either top load or front load. This refers to where the handlebar will be affixed onto the stem: top load stems result in higher bars, and front load stems result in lower bars.
- Try out different stem angles and heights before making your decision, particularly if you’re looking to increase comfort and reduce strain on your joints and muscles.
- Don’t just copy the pros. Chances are, you don’t have the level of conditioning necessary to spend anywhere near as long in the saddle in the optimal, aerodynamic position as they do.
Q: What type of stem is best for mountain biking?
A: The shorter the stem, the quicker the steering response. Very short stems (40–50mm) are a good choice for downhill riding, while moderate height (60–80mm) and rise will deliver the upright position and responsiveness needed on the trails.
Q: What is the difference between stem length and stem rise?
A: Stem length is the height of the bike stem; it’s important for comfort and handling. Stem rise is the angle in relation to the fork steerer tube. The degree of stem rise impacts your reach and bike positioning.
Q: Which is better: aluminum or carbon fiber stems?
A: Most mountain bike stems are aluminum, with higher prices reflecting stronger graded metal. Carbon fiber stems are relatively rare and expensive. They’re super lightweight and relatively strong, but it’s difficult to tell when they’ve sustained damage, and that makes them risky.
The FIFTY-FIFTY Mountain Bike Stem is available in a range of colors and two different heights to suit any rider, and we really struggled to find any negative points, which is why it’s our overall top pick.
With a similar weight and choice of colors but a much lower price point, the WAKE Bicycle Stem is our best value pick.