Thursday, January 03, 2008

Look what I made...

Yup, it's a stem. This isn't the first stem I've done, but it's (arguably) the first decent one, since I first built a few stems about 4 years ago, had mediocre results, and gave up to build more frames and forks. This one came out well, though, and I'm pretty proud of it. I'm of two minds about stems like this. On the one hand, they look spiffy with a matching steel frame and fork, and they're definitely capable of providing a bit more peace of mind than a lot of the <100g carbon/aluminum stems that are out there. On the other hand, they're a reasonable amount of work (small stuff is a pain to make solid and straight) and they're not exactly ultralight - the one pictured is 105mm long and weighs close to 180 grams. The single-bolt bar clamp makes using a carbon bar a big no-no, too, which is likewise going to be unpopular with the weight geeks. The bottom line there is that to make it worth my while to build them, I'd have to charge something like $125-175 (I'd have to build some more and time myself to see for sure). Maybe that's worth it to some folks - I'm honestly curious, so please comment if you've got a strong opinion either way.

The longevity angle is appealing to me (in fact, thinking about what would happen if a stem broke while I built this one made me decide to get rid of my 5 year old Ritchey stem ASAP), and I'll definitely do some more to try out, but for "conventional" stems (ie, 60-130mm long, standard clamp sizes, rise from zero to 20 degrees or so) there are a lot of mass-manufactured stems that would seem to win the bang-for-buck competition. Then again, not everything is about being cheap. If I can make you a stem that's solid and safe to ride for 30 years, maybe in the long run it's worth the extra grams and dollars.

Expect to see some more stem experiments (next up is an oversized and removeable clamp version) and if things go well, I'll probably start offering them as an option in a few months.


Anonymous said...

Sweet! One thing though... Is there any way to make it without the 'knee shredder'? Maybe put the steerer tube bolt on the side? Custom option?

Sabrosa Cycles said...

Walt- I am all for the custom steel stem to match the custom frame and fork. First, I think that they really look sharp when painted to match, and second, like you said, you don't need to pack around a glass of milk to put your teeth in when you knock them out of your skull when an under built stem fails. Nice work on the extra cut outs on the bar clamp. They make life a lot brighter when you try to thread a drop bar through the stem.

Walt said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

To be fair about the breaking thing, I've never seen a stem (even an F99 or whatever) fail. Given the consequences, I'm guessing they're pretty overbuilt, regardless of material. Still, 95g of aluminum isn't exactly confidence inspiring.

I'm not sure about the knee shredder angle - because if the clamp was on the side, it would still be a threat to shred one knee or the other. With an aluminum stem, you can just make the walls of the clamp so thick that the bolt is entirely recessed, but if you did that here, it would weigh a ton. Probably the best solution (though it would look like crap) would be some kind of pad that covered the bolt.


Feldy said...

Walt, you can make the bolt a lot more recessed if you put the slot at maybe 2 o 'clock and have the bolt mitered into the stem a bit.

Also, the one time I did a 2 bolt stem, I got one that was really crooked. It was also the stem that I spent the least try trying to align it well, but I just figured I'd mention it.

Walt said...

Feldy -

Good ideas, though even with some judicious mitering, the bolt is still going to stick out a bit.

I'm going to build a 31.8mm clamp stem today sometime, and Shiggy is supposed to send me some low-profile clamp bolts for it. We'll see how it turns out.


Anonymous said...

Never broke a stem, but I'm curious as to whether a steel stem helps give some *spring* when running a rigid fork.

Walt said...

Hey Anon -

Given the relatively short length and thickness of the tube walls, I kinda doubt it. I'm sure it flexes more than an aluminum stem of a similar length, but I doubt you'd be able to feel any difference.

Then again, I remember my old Titec titanium stem flexed like a motherfucker - so much so that I sold it off and replaced it, because it was disconcerting to ride. Not sure if it helped smooth things out on the trail or not, this was in about 2000 on a hardtail with a suspension fork.


midway cyclist said...

I like the look of a custom stem too, but i'm not sure i'd personally spend $150 for it; the Nitto lugged stems are in the same range, and nickel-plated. Out of curiosity, what tubing is this? A stainless stem would be interesting, is that feasible?

I'm afraid it's hard to beat the Salsa SUL for a regular steel stem these days.