best mountain bike stems

Best Mountain Bike Stems

by Joseph Wells - Last Updated: October 21, 2020

One of the key reasons most bikes are not ridden regularly is because they are uncomfortable. Many consumers buy the wrong size or do not make adjustments to fit themselves properly.  Many parts of a bike can be adjusted or changed in some way to increase comfort and performance, including the stem. The stem is the part of the bike that holds the handlebars and attaches to the fork. One of the best mountain bike stems available is made by RaceFace.

Our Top Pick: RaceFace Turbine

A key component of our top pick for best mountain bike stems is variety.  What good is a stem if there is only one size or variety? We chose Raceface since there are so many angles, lengths, and strengths, it is easy to find something for your bike.

The majority of RaceFace stems will be an aluminum alloy.  They choose this for strength, weight savings, and ease of manufacture.  While other materials like carbon are awesome for stems, it is harder to create a huge variety due to mold costs.

The RaceFace Turbine is a great stem that will complement almost any mountain bike.  There are several angles available, dependent on how high you want to move your bars up or down.  Additionally, there are at least 6 lengths available, which allow you to either move the bars away or toward you so the reach becomes more comfortable.

Another great aspect is that the Turbine comes in several clamp sizes. This is to either accommodate your current 31.8 bar size or potentially move up to the newer 35mm size. Many riders are changing to the 35mm clamp size now with the advent of super wide bars.  The larger clamp diameter helps to stiffen the bar under higher loads out of the saddle for climbing or leaving your buddies behind in the dust.

Best Carbon Stem: Ritchey WCS Carbon

It was super hard to choose a carbon version of the best mountain bike stem.  There are many great choices available.  Overall, I have ridden several of these stems and they are all great.

I went with the Ritchey WCS Carbon stem as my high end carbon best mountain bike stem.  Ritchey was one of the first companies to market with a carbon stem. But what makes this a better stem is that the angles and length choices better match high-end bike fits.  It is one thing to build a cool looking stem, but if you cant get comfortable using it, then it is a poor choice.

The Ritchey WCS normally has a raw carbon finish with a glossy clear coat for UV protection.  I think it is nicer to look at when you bury yourself going up that steep climb and have no better place to stare.

One of the better features is the type of clamps used for the bar and the fork interfaces.  The Ritchey stem works well to improve the clamping force, knowing the extreme conditions it will be used in.

Another great stem is the Enve Carbon stem.  While most stems have a round profile, Enve employs a modified box section to increase stiffness.  Again with super-wide bars, the forces seen on stems are increasing. Unnecessary flex is something worth removing from given designs.

Most Affordable: Wake 31.8 MTB Stem

There are tons of affordable stems available on the market today.  In many ways, trying out several stems like these to find the optimum rise and length combination makes total sense.  Instead of buying a $300 carbon stem that may not be right, use something inexpensive at first.

A great deal I found on a good looking stem was for the Wake 31.8 MTB stem.  It has the pro look, but with interesting features that set it apart.

With several cool colors to choose from and a nice low price, it would be easy to buy this stem and not feel bad.  There are some less expensive choices than this, but for a few dollars more, you get a cool CNC machined stem with some flair to it.  After all, we are out to have some fun.  Boring parts make for boring rides.

Most Adjustable: Wake MTB Stem 31.8 Adjustable

Most people barely realize that parts like stems, bars, and the seat can and should be adjusted or even changed out to parts that are more comfortable for you.  However, for some, we just don’t know what the perfect setup will be.

This is where adjustable stems are a great tool.  Many of you may have seen something like this on some Hybrid bikes. Some brands love to equip hybrids and leisure bikes with adjustable stems so that average riders can perform simple adjustments to customize their bikes for their rides.

As you can see, with a simple Allen key, you can easily change the angle of the stem. With the handy gauge printed on the stem, you can customize the angle. Most people put the angle at max, but some seasoned riders will really work to find the best setup for their own ergonomics.

Key Features of The Best Mountain Bike Stems

A bicycle stem takes incredible abuse. Realize that a great deal of your weight is supported by the stem.  But additionally, as we stand up, sprint, hit bumps, drop off a curb, or whatever your weight is multiplied into the stem in some way.  Buying a good quality stem is important. If you don’t, I hope you have a good dental plan!

Design and materials are very important in consideration of what works best. An MIT study proved that handlebar materials have an impact on bike performance. Stems do as well. Below are a number of key features and considerations needed to find the best mountain bike stem for your own needs.

Rise angle

The angle of the stem is equally as important as the length.  The average rider probably wants the bars up high.  However, that can make the bike more difficult to ride on trails since the weight balance is thrown off.

The higher the rise of the stem, the less control we have.  Additionally, the higher the stem angle is, the less weight is applied to the front wheel.  Seasoned riders realize there is a relationship specific to them between seat and bar height.  They usually know what that difference is, and generally, all of their bikes will be set in similar ways.

For aggressive riding, most people choose something around a 70-85 degree angle.  That generally sets the stem angle perpendicular to the fork.  I ride with a slight rise, about 30 degrees to my stem. This combined with a low-rise bar puts me in a position of control. I think it has good flex and feel, but allow excellent torque to be applied.

Length

The length of the stem is equally important with the angle.  If you remember from geometry, you can change the angle and length to get to the same effective place in different ways.  Again, a stem can be used to place the rider ergonomically on the bike for different reasons.  One reason is for rider efficiency. The other is for bike efficiency.

We have to realize, that to get the most from your own efforts we have to be in a position to do work on the bike.  If the bike is too big, too small, badly fit, too stiff, or even too flexible they all have a major impact on speed and performance.

One key piece of length is improving reach.  Some riders just have long arms, and they need just a bit more room. So go longer and move the bars away, usually in 10mm increments.

When riding becomes very technical, the stem is desired to be shorter.  This moves the rider backward, putting more weight on the rear wheel.  For long-distance rides, this isn’t optimum, but for bombing down a steep hill, it is perfect.

Size

Length and size refer to different things.  Size refers to both the bar clamp and the fork.  There are a few sizes available for both.  Early mountain bikes were normally a 1″ fork size.  That quickly graduated to 1 1/8th which is what we mostly see today.

Some Cannondale MTB models have proprietary sized stems.  If you are in doubt as to what size you need, visit a bike shop expert to get some advice.

Handlebars come in a variety of sizes. Most steel handlebars are either a 22.2 or a 1″ clamp diameter.  Few performance stems and bars come in this size.  The most popular bar size right now is 31.8.  But 35mm is quickly emerging as the performance choice – especially when running extra wide bars.

Summary

The stem is one of the most important components on a bike. The stem can adjust a rider from massively uncomfortable riding all day in comfort, making it a powerful tool in making every rider happy on the bike.

With so many choices, the RaceFace stem was our choice for best mountain bike stems.  With a variety of angles, lengths, clamp sizes there is a configuration for everyone to be happy about.

Visit a bike shop or a bike fit professional to get more assistance in adapting your bike to better fit your body. They can work based on your specific needs to find the right combination so that you can ride for hours.

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