Once you have found your perfect bike, you can make several changes that affect your comfort and bike handling. One change you can make is to replace the stem with one that fits your cycling style better. The stem is the small component that connects the handlebars to the steering tube.
So why would you want a shorter bike stem size? The two main reasons you would want a shorter stem size is for a more responsive handling, and of course to give you a stance that allows for better comfort. While this is a tiny component, those two things that the stem adjusts can make the difference between enjoying your bicycle ride, and the bike staying the garage.
1. Handling can be enhanced with a shorter stem
If you are hoping to make your handlebars a bit more responsive, the stem is actually a big part of that!
A shorter stem will result in snappier handling, which is why cyclocross riders often have shorter stems than gravel bikes. These cyclists need to be able to make snap adjustments to their bike at a moments notice, making a shorter stem size the best idea.
While cycling off-road or on unpredictable surfaces, you need the bike to turn the instant you move the bars. The longer the stem, the slower the steering.
You will not notice a huge difference in handling on a road bike or hybrid bicycles that you are using predominantly on paths and roads.
This is because you do not need to be able to suddenly turn very often. In these cases, stems are much longer, as they want a lower, more aerodynamic position for riding.
That is not to say it does not matter even in road bike’s cases, but the snappier steering provided by a shorter stem is best utilized off-road, rather than on-road where movements are more predictable.
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2. Shorter stems are more comfortable
You can make several micro-adjustments on modern bikes to find the perfect fit for you.
If you are still finding that your current setup forces you to lean over too much, causing back, shoulder, arm, or wrist pain, then you can try out a shorter stem.
A short stem will result in a more upright riding position. While this may not be the best aerodynamic position on the bike, you will ride further if you are comfortable (even if it results in a little extra drag).
To find out the best fit for your body, you are best going to your local bike shop for a bike shot.
However, this can be very expensive. So if you can tell that you are reaching a bit too far for the bars, buying a shorter stem is a cost-effective way to improve your comfort.
This one reason why you will find so many different types of bicycle stems, including stems that can be adjusted and moved without tools!
What to think about when shopping for a new bicycle stem?
Even though a bicycle stem is such a small component on your bicycle, it can make a big difference on your ride! So make sure to think about these things while you are deciding which stem you are looking to buy.
What is your budget?
Before you go too far into your shopping experience, make sure to set a budget! Even more so than most things, upgrading a bicycle can turn into a rabbit hole that never ends. There are endless things to upgrade, and then once you are done, it is time to start all over again.
Because of that, figure out your budget and don’t go over that! Thankfully bicycle stems are not one of the most expensive things on your bike, and can be bought for under $10.
What are you looking for by adjusting your stem?
If you are perfectly comfortable, and are not needing to get better handling, then maybe not consider a shorter stem size for the sake of a shorter stem size. You might actually throw off your bike, and you may not enjoy it. That results in wasted money and energy.
If you are happy with your stem size, but just really need to upgrade, think about getting a lighter weight stem as an alternative.
What kind of bicycle do you have?
As we talked a little bit about earlier in this article, make sure to pay attention to the bicycle you are looking to upgrade! If a road bicycle or a gravel bike has too short of a stem, you can actually make the riding experience much worse and defeat the purpose of them.
On the other hand, a mountain bike is a great option for a shorter stem size! You need to be able to quickly adjust your position on these bikes, meaning a shorter stem size is ideal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Jumping a bicycle effectively takes a lot of control, specifically when you are landing! With a shorter stem size you have considerably more control, and a better position to be able to take the landing. Because of this, a shorter stem size is ideal for jumping, not just trail riding.
This is completely up to the rider in question! You will want to figure out if you are comfortable, and have the ideal handling that you want from your bike. If you feel like you need the handlebars closer to you, then yes, you probably should get a shorter stem size.
Shortening your stem is one of the easiest modifications on a bicycle! All you have to do is remove the handlebars from the stem, and then loosen the two bolts holding the stem to the steering tube, and then do that all in reverse. Generally speaking if you have decent tools and equipment, it can be done in about 10 minutes.
Withing splashing out on a professional bike fit, it is worth experimenting with some micro-adjustments of your seat and bars before going out to buy a shorter stem.
However, if your seat is in the perfect position for your legs and you are still left overreaching for the bars, then a shorter stem will help you keep comfortable, especially on longer rides.
Finally, shortening your stem will make your steering snappier, but this can only really be felt when on a technical trail or track (as opposed to road cycling).