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how short is too short a stem for affecting handling, steering?

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how short is too short a stem for affecting handling, steering?

Old 08-24-11, 10:55 PM
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djb
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how short is too short a stem for affecting handling, steering?

posted this in Touring also, but would like to get as much experienced advice as I can.

I have a friend whose bike I looked over and fixed some stuff. She is the same height as my wife , about 5'1" and the frame is clearly too big for her. Toptube is just too long but she has had the bike for many years and likes it but does realize that she has too much weight on her hands.
The actual bar height is rather high, about 2 inches above saddle. There is one of those adjustable stems on it now, and even when I adjusted it to the maximum "turn up" position to bring the bars as far towards her as possible, I am certain there is too much reach. She does tell me that she rides often in the drops, so this does me that she would be fine with a slightly lower saddle/bar height.

now, with this stem turned all the way up, it seems that it is about a 75mm length center to center, and the angle is 50+ degrees. Her "middle of seat" (seatpost), to front of dropbars is about 61cm, whereas my bike which fits me great at 5'10.5 has "middle of seat-seatpost to front of dropbars is only 64cm, so its clear to me that less reach would help a great deal.

Her toptube is pretty much the same length as mine about 54cm, which is just plain dumb that she was sold this bike at all.

so, to bar stems, what do you think would be the limit to change the stem to a non-adjustable shorter yet highly angled one --are there stems that are in the 40mm range?

and if so, with shorter ones, will it mean that the bike will have quicker steering? more twitchy?

She already feels the bike is very responsive, it has 32s on it that look like they are more like 30s, so one idea I have is to suggest putting some fat 35s or more on, as I know that will slow things down a bit--but does anyone have experience with really short stems and how if it made your bike more nervous?

I dont want to make the bike more skittish, but would like to hear of personal experience and/or ideas.

thanks
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Old 08-24-11, 11:07 PM
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Hard to predict. Some geometries seem to be badly affected by really short stems, others you hardly notice any difference. (I've got one of each). 40mm is pretty short.
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Old 08-25-11, 07:46 AM
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You can probably find a 40mm stem that was intended for a mountainbike, but since the vast majority of new bikes (road, hybrid, and mountain) are now threadless 1 1/8" with 31.8mm bar, you could mount it no problem. Look here: https://www.universalcycles.com/shopp...p?category=514

However, you did say that there's a big adjustable stem on there now which sounds like it belongs on a comfort hybrid. Those things frequently are not 31.8mm so make sure to check that or buy another handlebar.


I wouldn't expect it to change the handling a lot.
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Old 08-25-11, 07:51 AM
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Stem length doesn't make much difference technically, since the distance of your hands to the steerer tube changes only slightly. However it does change your position and weight distribution which can affect how you feel on the bike. Changing bar height & width can also feel quite different.
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Old 08-25-11, 07:54 AM
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Not what you asked, but have you tried moving the seat forward?
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Old 08-25-11, 08:20 AM
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ya I forgot to mention that the bar is not oversized, its 25. whatver or 26. whatever, but does have a threadless headset. It might be harder finding really short stems for 25.4 just because there are less bikes with it now.

As for moving seat forward, I did slightly, but know from experience that its not good to overdo it, knees dont like the angle so dont really want to go at it from that end.

and yes this adjustable stem was most likely an add on at some point.
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Old 08-25-11, 08:30 AM
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The proper solution is a new bike with the right frame size. New is a bit painful, but perhaps used would be a reasonable thing to consider.
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Old 08-25-11, 08:37 AM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
ya I forgot to mention that the bar is not oversized, its 25. whatver or 26. whatever, but does have a threadless headset. It might be harder finding really short stems for 25.4 just because there are less bikes with it now.

As for moving seat forward, I did slightly, but know from experience that its not good to overdo it, knees dont like the angle so dont really want to go at it from that end.

and yes this adjustable stem was most likely an add on at some point.
I agree about the seat. The KOPS position is a limiter, if you ignore that you are risking the rider's knees. Shortest stem I've used is a 70mm, no problems.
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Old 08-25-11, 09:32 AM
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Originally Posted by ColinL View Post
The proper solution is a new bike with the right frame size. New is a bit painful, but perhaps used would be a reasonable thing to consider.
yes, Ive mentioned this to her, this bike could go to one of her children, who are taller than she is. The bike is 9 years old, but in very good shape. Just a shame it was sold to her when it was blatantly too large.
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Old 08-25-11, 10:58 AM
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I have heard that 20mm change from stock is the limit.

I have changed -10mm, and it didn't bother me, -20mm, and the bike wasn't quite as agile, -30mm, and that was too much of a change - I took the stem back. The bike steering just wasn't responsive enough. (in this case, I ended up with the -20mm stem).

Going too short: Steering took more effort (to get it to do what I wanted to), wasn’t as precise, and the bike wasn’t as agile.

Hope that helps.
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Old 08-25-11, 11:02 AM
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It depends.

Going off the bell curve in stem length to compensate for a poorly fitting frame is poor form, to say the least.

But the only way to find out (for sure) is try and see how it handles. Anyone who gives you a more definitive answer is speaking from their anecdotal experience and/or talking out of their butt.
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Old 08-25-11, 12:12 PM
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The main issue with a stem being too short is that, when the rider stands on the pedals, the contact points on the handlebar are behind the tire contact point with the ground. This causes a "wheelbarrowing" effect which adversely affects bike handling, though the bike is far from unrideable. Other than that, there is no stem too short to use. I have a TT bike that has an effective stem length of about 50mm. It handles just fine because where I place my hands on the base bar is in front of the tire contact patch.
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Old 08-25-11, 12:17 PM
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had a super shorty 30mm stem on my old road bike. Twas a 60cm and slightly large for me. The short stem did not do wonders for handling personally. I had bullhorns on at the time and the steering was very twitchy. fwiw
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Old 08-25-11, 01:04 PM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
ya I forgot to mention that the bar is not oversized, its 25. whatver or 26. whatever, but does have a threadless headset. It might be harder finding really short stems for 25.4 just because there are less bikes with it now.
Adapters are readily available so that you can use a 1-1/8" stem on a 1"
steerer. I do know that Thomson makes one. Linky.

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