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.

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