Many years ago, mountain bikers would only use one bike for all types of mountain bike riding that they do. Whether it be a leisurely ride along the countryside or something more aggressive like going steep uphills or downhills.
But as technology progresses so does the geometry of mountain bikes. It now came to a time wherein mountain bikes are now classified depending on the kind of riding discipline that the rider does.
Bike fit is also of utmost importance nowadays because being comfortable on your mountain bike would mean that you will be performing better as well, especially when you are riding technical terrains.
One of the most significant adjustments that you can do to your bike is swapping your bike stem. In this article, we will be looking at the significance of choosing the right stem and whether having a short stem is best for your riding style.
Modern Bike Geometry and Bike Fit
Mountain bikes have evolved a lot when compared to a few years back. Nowadays, mountain bikes are slacker, longer, and sturdier in build. Even cross country bikes are becoming very capable and can be used out on aggressive and technical trails.
When we talk about where the stem fits in all of this, it has something to do with bike fit and your bike’s overall geometry.
Now when you are choosing a bike stem for the first time, you need to look at how the bike fits you first. Having the right reach will make it comfortable for you when you are riding your bike.
So if your bike geometry has a longer reach, it makes more sense that you would opt to go for a shorter stem regardless of the type of riding discipline that you do.
And conversely, if your frame reach is shorter and it is affecting your pedaling performance, then swapping on a longer stem will make the stem. The average stem length for common mountain bikes is around 50 to 80 mm in length.
With this type of setup, you can say that you have a mountain bike that you can ride on any terrain. But not aggressively though and on less technical terrains.
How does riding style affect stem length?
Considering your bike geometry and bike fit, your riding style should also be a deciding factor for the stem length that you would use. That is because it has something to do with how you are balanced while riding your mountain bike.
Riding Disciplines and Corresponding Stem Length
Cross-country bikes tend to lean more onto longer stems and it makes more sense. That is because riders tend to prefer to lean more over the front end of their bike which allows them to pedal more efficiently.
This is also important when you are pedaling up steep ascents. The normal stem length for cross country bikes ranges from 80 to 120 mm with up to 30 degrees in stem drop.
Enduro and trail
As mountain bikes lean more onto the aggressive side, bike fit and better handling characteristics become more important rather than having an efficient pedaling position. Modern trail and enduro bikes have a stem length of around 50 to 70 mm.
This allows for more precise handling when compared to cross-country bikes with longer stems. Some short stems also have a rise of up to 6 degrees.
Downhill mountain biking would require their stems to be stiff, sturdy, and very strong. Thus most stems for this discipline are very short and have zero stem rise. They come from 35 to 50 mm in length and are made out of high-grade materials.
There are also stems that mount directly to the top crown of a downhill fork and no longer to the steerer tube. This is especially important because downhill riding is the most aggressive form of mountain biking and you would not want your bike to break down in the middle of the raise.
Downhill riding also prefers a more upright riding position with longer travel forks and shorter stems. This will make downhill bikes to be more capable when riding steep downhill descents.
It would also be nice if you follow a handlebar and stem combination so that they will have the right needed stem lengths on their rear clamp bolt heads. Also, note that most modern mountain bikes follow this combo mountain bike stem and handlebar setup.
Advantages of Having a Short Stem
Stem length can be based on the rider’s preference. And shorter stems can offer a more relaxed and leisurely ride. This shows that stem length affects the riding comfort and maneuverability of the rider.
Having a shorter mountain bike stem will allow you to have a more comfortable riding position. And if you are out on trail rides, it will be easier for you to maneuver your bike as well.
Having a shorter stem makes the bike more stable especially when it is paired with a wider handlebar. It will allow you to do more precise cornering. Just don’t go too overboard and get a very short stem as this will also compromise the steering axis on your fork steerer tube and steep head angle.
What are the disadvantages of short stems?
Since your riding position is more upright, it would be harder for you to pedal on steep uphills. In doing so, riders will need to lean a bit more forward when pedaling otherwise your front wheel will lift if you are riding steep uphills.
You will not also feel the benefits of having a shorter stem if you are using a narrow handlebar. This means that you can not ride more efficiently. Handling will suffer as well, so you should match it with the right size that is perfect for your riding style.
When we put it within the context of modern mountain bike geometry, then yes, having a shorter stem is better for your mountain bike even those that are designed for cross country riding.
With new bike geometry having longer reach and longer fork travel, short stems are becoming more and more popular.
Older bikes used to have a smaller wheelbase and shorter reach, that is why having a longer stem will compensate for the lack of reach in the old geometry.
Nonetheless, stem length will always be a matter of preference. Once you get more and more familiar with your riding style, it will be easier for you to decide what stem length is best.