The Stem Boonen Rode

Note: I blame the cough medicine for this post not being funnier. I should’ve used Hans and Franz in place of Mr. T or better yet, “Justin Bieber walks into a shop to get a bike that matches his hair and.” The post is about bike shops and meant to discuss a dynamic that’s gone on since mail-order went online. I think that topic is important. I’m not going to update it now to increase the humor or satire, but hope this note frames it better than “I’m a dick and shop employees owe me.” – Byron

We should have a term for a bike shop redirect. That’s when a shop employee ignores your desire to buy product X and instead wants to sell you product Y or ideally product Z that’s not shipping yet. The employee isn’t motivated by more margin on Y or even a spiff, he’s just convinced that for whatever long list of reasons you’re not privy to, Y is the only viable alternative. You unknowingly demonstrated a lack of cycling knowledge by asking for X. If you had walked in and asked for Z, you would’ve made the employee’s day and validated his long-held beliefs. SWOBO built a business on this formula, but that’s a topic for another post.

This bike shop redirect phenomena has gone on so long, I’ve adapted by saying things like

I want a Continental, 46MM racing tube and will accept nothing else. Do you have that in stock?

Then fake a cell call or indicate with body language I’m serious. I’ll use Mr. T facial expressions with arms folded across my chest or crazy eyes.

No. Not a Ritchey-labeled Cheng-Shen tube or a Salsa version of that or XLC.

I come from a family of immigrants who worked in the Continental factory and I hope to find a golden ticket inside of a tube placed there by my cousin.

The redirect effect extends to people that ask me, “What to get” and that includes friends, colleagues, and spouses. I’ve gone as far as sending them into shops with a sticky note to hand to the shop employee. So when Pam went to get fit on her new bike, I knew that

  1. Physical therapists will always make changes, even if the new bike is measured with lasers and robots to the old bike they fit
  2. The changes include the stem
  3. Stems are pulled from a swap box without regard for the design aesthetics of the bike

Knowing that Pam’s PT would change the stem, I said,

Do not put a ghetto stem on an S-Works Tarmac SL3. When the PT decides what stem length makes the fit work, then go to a Specialized dealer and swap them for another stem of equal value.

You’ve already figured out the punchline of this post. It started with texts while she was at the shop, then a call, and finally a threat the employees overhead

Hand the phone to one of them right now. No Kore, Ritchey Pro, Ringle or Zooka.

The directions were based on keeping the S-Works design in place, but also because the stem includes a shim that adds or subtracts a degree of fit. It’s a system with the stem, cap, and plug. I learned this myself after thinking the plus and minus symbols on the stem cap must indicate something more than your sexuality or if you’re a climber (or not). Mark V validated this conclusion further by telling us, when he was building the bike up, that the - + indicators do not indicate, “Race mode or not.”

Shims and Symbols


A stem that should ship with instructions

Boonen’s Stem

After refusing to hand the employees the phone, Pam said, “Wait, another dude is here now and he looks he knows what he’s doing. He told her that, “Boonen rode this stem.”

Go with that!

Now the stem she bought wasn’t actually ridden by Boonen. That’d make it a 17 cm -15 deg, but spec’d on the bikes he raced. I’ve confimed the Pros ride S-Works with aluminun face plates. It’s an older stem, because the shop didn’t have an 11 catalog yet, know the price of them, or when they’ll ship.


Boonen’s Stem

Demanding Informed Customers

It’s more important than ever for an informed customer to demand and get what they want. The upside of companies like Specialized packaging integrated systems of stems, saddles, and bars is the consumer is getting considerable value. That also means, you can’t just pop a KORE stem onto an S-Works from a PT’s stem swap box. It’s going to look stupid and not work.

While the informed customer denies the shop employee an opportunity to convince them their pet brand is best, you can endear yourself to them. Try taking the conversation in a different direction, like how the dream of the 90s is alive in Portland, Oregon.


You know you did it wrong, if the headset grinds to a stop when turned.

No story like this can go without

Fit used to mean standing in a shop with a yardstick in your crotch and bending over to touch your toes, while a guy banged on a quill stem with a rubber mallet until it looked about right.


oh wow, Byron, if I have time tonight I’ll have to write a counterpoint to this post, especially since you referenced me in the original.

for now let’s say that you came into my shop, demanded a “Continental 46MM presta valve tube and no cheap Asian substitutes” and then got on your mobile phone:

I’d tell you that there is no such thing as a “46mm valve Continental tube”, that there is only 36mm, “48mm”, 60mm, and 80mm valve Continental tubes, they’re all actually made in Taiwan (most likely BY Cheng Shen), and the moment you make a phone call, I walk away and turn up the stereo. Now who’s informed?

If you had the 48 in stock, I’d say, “that’s what I meant,” and turn off my phone.

Mark, Thanks for that reply. I read this twice and still had no idea what point he was trying to make except coming off as a jerk. Either that or he is a bad writer and this post was suppose to be some sort of joke. I think you should post of blog article from the shop perspective. All the people that come in demanding they know better. It’s fine to want a specific item and be informed but part of visiting an LBS is to build a relationship and learn from experts (at least they should be experts if not why are you there?). I may go to my doctor informed from talking to other doctors, reading articles online but I’m not going to demand I know more than her and insist on a drug or treatment until I hear what she has to say. And I am not going to be on my cell with my Doctor father while in the office having him second guess her on the spot. Or hand the doctor a sticky note from him with his ideas.

Why go to and LBS in the first place if you know all the answers. There are plenty of online shops and I can assure you the LBS will not be upset losing that kind of customer.

The Tarmac SL3 doesn’t have “race mode”, but does it have “launch assist”?

As the shop guy regularly tasked with the redirect (sometimes for better, others for worse, most often out of compatibility concerns), I think Byron makes a very good point.

The redirect - despite its utility when customers ask for ridiculous, incompatible add-ons, dangerously inappropriate lightweight parts for notorious bike-breakers, or even the genuine recommendation based on the customer’s history of likes and dislikes - is way too often overused or misapplied.  This of course yields the defense mechanisms described above.  The shop rat then responds with condescension something along the lines of Mark V’s post (which I also applaud), and the adversarial relationship comes into its own. 

The endgame usually involves rolling eyes, special order cards, money-down demands and the ace-up-the-sleeve “I’ll check back later,” an utterance which comes from the Greek meaning “screw you, I’m going mail-order.”

Of course it’s insulting to be treated this way by a shop.  It’s equally insulting when a customer assumes he or she knows everything there is to know.  Some of us do this for a living, and we really are trying our best to get you what you want.  Really.  That said, if I belabor the virtues of Product Y or Z after you’ve told me that you want Product X, feel free to hurl a pedal wrench in my general direction.  I get it.  I’ve been there, too.

As for the stem:  any mechanic, fit specialist, or salesperson who would try to pawn off random stem X, Y, or Z on that Tarmac should rightly be made to explain to the proctologist how said stem ended up, well, up there.  It’s one thing to suggest using X, Y, or Z for a few rides to be sure about the fit, but trying NOT to get the right stem would be just plain lazy and rude.  Get ‘em, Byron.

As David said in our post on [Leopard Trek Team](, it’s called editorial satire and we don’t take ourselves too seriously around here, nor do I. I’ve never said to a bike shop employee, “I pity the fool,” but if you’ve not heard what I’m saying about the “bike shop redirect,” then I’m glad you read it here first. This happens and the cause is up for discussion, I hope in a lighthearted manner.

The narrative of Pam and her bike is true with my usual elaboration. As to being a jerk? When I don’t eat right, I get very crabby yes. A bad writer? I couldn’t publish this blog for five years, if I thought that. If you’re new to our blog, thanks for the comment. Note that Mark and I work together on many projects and his shop is our “house shop.” Pam’s PT is the best in the biz.

As to the point of the post, more or less, it’s a story about an S-Works stem that could happen at any shop on any given day. I’m sure you’ve encountered the know-it-all Mr. T character and my wife has certainly met “redirectors.”

Notice that in the S-Works Stem sequence of events, no one knew (except for Mark) what exactly those symbols and shims do on the stem. That’s an issue too.

Or! It’s positive and negative indicators for the e-motor battery pack!

See, I thought the +/- would make some sort of handling adjustment for riders on days when they may or may not have ingested contaminated beef, or supplements, or whatever.  I have learned something tonight.

This dialogue has gone on forever in shops and thanks for recognizing what I was writing about. I hear @velomom and don’t want to put shops on the defensive. Where else would I find [a Cyclo Route derailer]( or [a Spoke Poke](

A sampler! Open the cap and get tested.

However exaggerated, the reason I was so insistent (Pam too) was yes because of this being a high-end race bike. Rain bike, commuter, parts-bin cruiser? Not a big deal. I used Ritcheys, Thomsons for years and just recently Deda.

I guess there was some confusion on my part too, since my writing isn’t really joking, and if it was, the satire is more fantastical than realistic. Let me be clear, I would seriously and have walked away from people who make mobile calls while I’m trying to explain things to them. 

Also:  Byron, there’s a “u” and another “l’ in derailleur.  I’m sorry, but Sheldon’s dead; give it up.

The [Ghost of Sheldon Brown]( commands you to spell it derailer! Has it been so long, you’re forgotten when you channeled [Hunter S]( for us?

Was that when I threw up on Gary Fisher’s shoes?  that’s not called forgetfulness, that’s alcohol poisoning

Now that never happened.

As a frequent editor of articles here on Bike Hugger before they go live, just let me say that this was Byron’s use of satire, though had I seen it first I’d have asked him to punch it up first to prevent it sounding condescending. It’s clearly not over-the-top enough to come off as humorous. Think of it as Dave Barry on a bad day.

Byron wouldn’t ever pick up the phone in the middle of a purchase at a shop. I’ve been to plenty of shops with him—he’s more likely to invite the entire staff out to a bike ride and give them free passes to whatever trade show we’re at.

Chalk this up to satire not coming out right.

I know what he means about the shop guy with the redirect, and I know how important the redirect is too. There are some guys at my local shop that upsell everyone to a specific price point—not for the commission but because they think that anyone on a bike less than $5k is a tool.

The other guys at my shop know parts inside and out. When I came in recently and mentioned that my stem face plate was suddenly not fitting right—the bolts wouldn’t engage—they said “oh you must have one of that run of 3T stems and swapped faces between them.” Sure enough, while cleaning a few bikes I must have switched the plates on two models and these particular 3T stems were machined so that they worked with their original mate, but not with another stem.

The closest shop to me (about 1/2 a mile) I NEVER go to. When I was shopping for my first mountain bike I had narrowed it down to a few models, all in the $900-1200 range. The shop owner suggested I get a hybrid instead. I’d already been riding (just didn’t own my own bike) and told him the name of the local baby-head-and- root trail I was about to hit and he still pushed the hybrid. That bike would have broken in ten minutes on the trail. So why push it? He had a lot of them in the basement.

Byron was trying to be funny and talk about that guy. Didn’t work, but hey, not every article is a gem. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, move along. Move along.

I blame the cough medicine and should’ve used Hans and Franz in place of Mr. T or better yet, Justin Bieber walks into a shop to get a bike that matches his hair and . . .

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