Stem education

Autumn means cyclocross, even if you’re not wearing a number.

We’re back to what passes for normal, weather-wise, in the Duke City, which is to say sunny and warmish.

The uniform of the day is knickers, short sleeves and arm warmers, with long-fingered gloves held in reserve.

On Friday I’d planned a quick outing on Steelman Eurocross No. 1, a mango-colored Reynolds 853 bike. But as I mounted up the front tire felt squishy, and sure enough, there was a slow leak in the sonofabitch.

As I get older, the stems get shorter and steeper.

Happily, we do not lack for two-wheelers here at El Rancho Pendejo, and so I snagged Eurocross No. 2, a red jobber with a couple of shaped True Temper tubes in the frameset and Brent Steelman only knows what else.

It was part of a batch of framesets Brent made for the Clif Bar team back in … 1999? He thought of me when ordering the tubes for no good reason I can think of, other than that he was and is a righteous dude, dudes. And thus I always have a solid backup in the pit, though it’s rare to have to pit before the gun goes off, or even if it never does, since I haven’t raced since 2004.

Somehow this bike wound up with a 110mm, 6° Ritchey WCS stem, which is ridiculous for an inflexible elder of the geezer persuasion, and after a steady diet of shorter, taller stems (and frankly, fatter tires) I often found myself in my own way while horsing it around and about on the local singletrack.

Happily, I didn’t have an audience, it being a workday for the plebes. I like to be laughed at for a narrow selection of reasons, one of which is not the way I ride a ’cross bike on trails.

So, yeah. Yesterday morning I found a 100mm, 25° Giant stem in the parts bin and slapped that on. Boy, did that ever make a difference. It felt like a new bike, if I overlooked the crust of filth, the death-rattle of the beat-to-shit Shimano 600 rear derailleur, and a number of other oversights in dire need of correction.

Afterward, I patched the leak in Steelman No. 1’s front tube, because as any ’crosser will confirm, a pit with no spare bike is the pits.

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12 Responses to “Stem education”

  1. JD Dallager Says:

    PO’G: Nice looking and practical setup!

    As you well know, shorter stems are all the rage in off-road cycling now. Better control in the rough stuff supposedly. So are wider handlebars……which I think even some of the ‘cross and XC riders are using too.

    But the contemporary longer/lower/slacker MTB geometry has a different meaning for me at age 71: I take longer to go the same distance; I ride at a lower speed; and sometimes the group I ride with thinks I’ve become a “slacker”…..as in I can’t keep up w/’em.

    Enjoy the ABQ nice weather…..it’s terrific here in Bibleburg for the next two days…..then they’re forecasting 2-4 inches of snow Tuesday night.

    Happy Halloween too! 🙂

  2. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    It’s an interesting, well…uh…practice I guess I’d call it. While there’s no doubt it shortens the horizontal reach and raises the bars relative to the saddle, there are a couple of other things that change as well – things I’m not convinced are worth it based on my own personal experience and what I’ve gained from decades of putting people on rental bikes.
    While these may not matter to you, my experience is these very (at least effectively, with a 25 degree rise) short stems tend to make the steering very twitchy (which is why modern MTB’s with stubby stems also have the wide, wide bars, which counteracts that short stem) while screwing up the rider’s weight distribution as well.
    High-speed wobbles, poor cornering and a lifting of the front wheel on steep climbs are the usual negative effects I see.
    This was really driven home to me years ago when a female client told me she’d always been stuck on very large (60+ cm) frames because of her long legs, while I put her on a 52 cm frame (it would have been a 54 if she’d given me the correct specs) instead. She looked at me like I had two heads at first, but 5 days into the tour she was asking for exact measurements of this bike. She claimed to never have ridden a bike she felt more in control of!
    She took the specs to Waterford who created a custom bike that fit her perfectly, one with a long seat tube but relatively short top tube so she could use a reasonable length stem, etc.
    I learned of this only because of the thank you letter and photo she sent of the completed bike after she’d ridden it awhile.
    But in the end it’s whatever works – YOU are the one riding it after all.

    • David Rees Says:

      Good info Larry.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Good info indeed. Our man Larry has been there and done that.

      I haven’t had any issues with my oddball position yet, but I’m not rocketing down twisty Alpine descents. On the cyclocross bikes I’m mostly humping around our rolling singletrack at a snail’s pace. My top speed yesterday was 35 mph on the short, nicely paved descent from the Sandia Peak Aerial Tram.

      Steelman No. 2 might be better served by a 90mm/15° stem, like the one on my Nobilette, and a 44cm bar with less extension and drop, but I didn’t have either handy. You go to ’cross with the stem/bar combo you have, not the stem/bar combo you wish you had.

  3. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Really nice weather here as well. It was 81 today, and the same for Monday and Tuesday. Hopefully, I will get the new Double Cross next week. Of course the day I ride it home, the weather will go to shit.

  4. Charles Says:

    Patrick, I have a question for your biker group. Is anybody using tubeless tires on the road bike? Comments and opinions will be appreciated. I have my road bike and mountain bike stolen in Las Vegas in May. I have a new specialized road bike with Shimano DI2 shifting (love it) geared for the geezer crowd 11-34 cassette and compact in the front. The insurance money plus more of mine covered it one bike.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • larryatcycleitalia Says:

      Charles- I admit to being interested in the idea a few years ago but the more I learned the less interested I got. All the positive things (ability to run lower pressures, flat resistance, etc.) were either things I was already doing (in the case of low pressures) or things (flat resistance) that weren’t issues for me – so the expense and much more complicated mounting, not to mention the mess if you get a real flat, put me in the “forget about it” mood. The idea of replacing dried up sealant periodically was the final nail in the coffin for me as I have bikes that sit around in various places when I’m not there. I just want to pump up the tires, put a bit of lube on the chain and ride ’em when I get there!

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Add me to the “no thanks” column, Charley. I’ve heard a couple product managers say they didn’t think road tubeless was there yet.

        In my one and only experience dealing with a tubeless failure off road, I punctured on a rocky descent and found the tire nearly impossible to pry loose so I could add a spare tube to the useless goo coating the inside of the tire. It took the better part of quite some time to get rolling again. And don’t you basically need a compressor to seat the tire properly? I can squirt a lot of sealant into a lot of inner tubes for the price of a compressor.

        I don’t mind taking a few minutes to replace a punctured inner tube. It’s a reasonably quick and comparatively clean repair.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      I agree with Larry. I think tubeless tires for bicycles are not ready for “prime time” yet because they are no more flat resistant then the best flat resistant clinchers. If you are a racer determined to run lower pressure in your tires and want to avoid pinch flats, then tubeless tires make sense.

      • larryatcycleitalia Says:

        Except there’s nothing stopping you (or me, who runs 80 psi in back and 70 in front as anything less feels too squishy) from letting some air out of your tires. I don’t get pinch flats, but I am someone who tries to avoid potholes and such, bunny-hopping (or at least getting light) if I can’t avoid them.
        The result is I see zero benefits to road tubeless but plenty of extra expense and hassle with mounting, sealing, etc.
        Seems mostly a way for the bike industry to make obsolete a bunch of otherwise perfectly good wheels and tires.

  5. khal spencer Says:

    I went down to Kate’s house, which is near Sandia National Center for Weapons of Mass Destruction, to pick up my folding bike, which we thought had been vandalized. Turns out both tires were sprouting goatheads, so the tires were not flattened by a neer-do-well. My friend Mike apparently was not aware of this particular curse of the southwest.

    I still cannot figure out why it is missing a clamp on the basket but have been fashioning one out of various bits and pieces in the garage. So the bike is almost back to normal. Given that spring tension holds it in, I cannot see how the clamp could have unscrewed itself. Well, maybe.

    One thing I discovered was that it’s not trivial to fix a flat on this Giant Halfway. The design requires taking off the brakes to take off the wheels to take off the tires, etc. Gotcha.

  6. khal spencer Says:

    Tee-hee. As we get older, its only the bike stem that’s pointing up.

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