Handlebar height. Whether it’s road or mtb, there’s been a trend to raise the bar. Trek, Giant, and Specialized all have “gran fondo” or “classics” styled road bikes that tack on 15-20mm of headtube to their edgier full race models. Offroad, riser bars are more or less the standard. Don’t even get me started on Rivendell. Well, that’s all swell, especially for taller riders, but what about people who honestly prefer a lower hand position? What about shorter riders?
As a shorter rider, if I want my bars even a little lower than my saddle I’m forced to pull out so many tricks that I should get a special mention on SLAM THAT STEM. I’m 160cm tall, and position my saddle 63-64cm center to top of the saddle. My Giant TCR road bike has a 120mm headtube in an XS size. I had to use a -17deg stem and custom cobble together the top headset pieces in order to get my bar near to my preferred height. The Giant Defy road frame has a 135mm headtube in my size. REJECTED!
As for mtb, on my old 1999 Fisher Ziggarat the bar was about the same height as my saddle with a slight negative stem. But when I decide to jump back into mtb, I’ll probably go 29er. So a 29er front wheel is 70mm taller right of the bat, but then forks generally have 20-50mm more travel than 10years ago, even for xc use. That is way higher than I can tolerate; I feel like I’m pushing a shopping trolley. But slowly the industry is starting to respond.
Syntace of Germany is introducing a stem specifically for 29er use. The Flatforce stem has a low clamp stack of just 25mm, compared to typical high-end stems that have 40mm of stack. The Flatforce seems especially low when you compare it to the cheesy low end 25deg-up stems that I’d have to flip-upside down to get a similar drop; it is not uncommon for those stems to have 50mm of stack. The Flatforce actually has a neg 17deg angle, which is a vast aesthetic improvement over a super negative drop stem on an mtb. The Flatforce lowers the bar an additional 12mm by offsetting the handlebar clamp relative to the centerline of the stem’s extension. Using a little trigonometry, I calculate that a 77mm Flatforce stem would be 35mm lower than the standard +/-8deg stem run in the low postion, 20mm lower than a -17deg stem, and 9mm lower than even the shortest stack 25deg stem pointed down. This stem plus either a Stumpjumper 29er or XTC Advanced 29er (both with 90mm headtubes in the smallest sizes) means that I can just about drop the bar down to my saddle height.
The unusual dimensions make the Flatforce stem neither heavy nor weak. The stem is designed for use with handlebars up to 800mm in width yet weighs just 124gr in the 77mm size.
The Syntace Flatforce stem should be available right before the new year and retail for about US$105. Initially only the 44, 55, 66, and 77mm sizes will be available, but longer stems (up to 111mm) are projected later in 2013. I’m thinking of putting a 99mm length on my CX bike so that the position will mimic my road bikes for road training.