Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Threadless Stems: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

With the Urbana bike temporarily in my possession and the Surly bikes we rode last week-end, I have suddenly undergone a crash course in threadless stems. Though of course I have seen them on bikes before, now I got to actually play around with one and understand it firsthand.

In the world of classic and vintage bicycles, you will find a strong preference for threaded (quill) stems, and for good reason: Threadless stems are a fairly recent invention and their thick, boxy shape tends to clash with the more elegant lines of a lugged steel frame. In other words, they are considered "ugly." But I do not necessarily share this sentiment. While it is true that many - probably most - of the threadless stems we see on production bikes are clunky and offensive-looking, it does not have to be that way: Ugliness is not an inherent property of a threadless stem, but a byproduct of modern manufacturers generally catering to an "athletic gear" aesthetic. Elegant, polished alloy threadless stems do exist - made by the likes of Nitto and Velo Orange. Here is a nice fillet-brazed threadless stem and even a lugged one. Threadless stems can also be painted to match the frame of the bicycle, which to my eye actually works better than when the same is attempted with a quill stem. Even the simple, utilitarian stem on the Urbana bike doesn't look at all bad: I think it suits this bicycle's chunky tubing and contemporary style.

Of course the other major criticism of threadless stems is a practical one, and it is one with which I do agree: While quill stems can easily be raised and lowered to adjust handlebar height, threadless stems cannot. When buying a new frame meant for a threadless stem, there is a process (which I only half-understand), whereby you decide on the handlebar height you want, and they cut the steerer tube accordingly, then attach the threadless headset, spacers, and stem. After that, the handlebar height you chose is fixed, and it is not entirely clear to me what the options are, should you change your mind down the road and want the handlebars raised or lowered.

With a pre-assembled bike there is even less choice, because the threadless stem is already installed and the handlebar height is predetermined without your involvement. For me, this system would pose a major problem - especially on a roadbike - as it usually takes me a while to fine tune my preferred handlebar height on any given bike, and even after that I just occasionally feel like a change. With a threadless stem, I would be out of luck. If you are a novice road cyclist, this also makes it impossible to get yourself gradually accustomed to drop bars via the "lowering the stem" method I described earlier.

But while the lack of height adjustability is a drawback, I also discovered an unexpected benefit to the threadless stem: It is easier for me to work on. As mentioned before, I have problems with my hands that, frustratingly, make it mostly impossible for me to work on bikes. I know how to do most of the stuff and can give clear instructions to someone else, but typically lack the hand strength necessary to perform the operations myself. Not so with the Urbana bike. I first noticed that I was able to work on this bicycle, when we were putting it together and I tightened a bolt that I normally wouldn't have been able to. Later, I wanted to change the angle of the handlebars, so I watched this instructional video and did it - loosening and retightening the bolts with no problems. By contrast, I cannot even budge the bolt on a quill stem on my own. If threadless stems are generally easier to work on, then it's nice to have this bit of independence.

What's your view on the benefits or drawbacks of threadless stems? Do you see them as out of the question on classic bicycles?

66 comments:

  1. I've never used a threadless stem, but couldn't you adjust the height of the handlebars by moving the spacers from below the stem to above?

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  2. BTW, on your hands, I would suggest getting T-handle Allen wrenches, if you haven't already tried them. Sears makes good ones.

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  3. i've become a big fan of threadless stems. true, i still enjoy the elegance of my old, polished, TTT stem on my old steel racer but it has no room for adjustment. the threadless stem system has infinite adjustment options. i actually own three stems for my surly, each a different length and a different angle so can easily change the height and length depending on the set-up i'm after at the moment. i've even carried an extra stem with me on a couple long rides and switched mid ride! as for looks--some are better looking than others and not all quill stems are that attractive to my eye, so i enjoy their functional nature and have adjusted to the look.

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  4. Jon, you are absolutely correct. You can swap positions of the stem and spacers. However, there is an aesthetic price to doing so-- namely, seeing those spacers above the stem if you choose to lower the stem can look funny.

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  5. Oh, and in many cases, if the stem is angled (most have a 6 or 17 degree angle), you can flip the stem to change the handlebar height. i.e., the stem can be oriented either way.

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  6. Jon Webb/ Somervillain - But what about raising the stem, if all the spacers are already on the bottom? I guess you could swap it out for a riser stem, but there is a limit to how much extra height that would give you.

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  7. I've used both Threadless and Threaded stems and Threadless, despite not looking as cool, are far better when it comes to maintenance. If you ever need to take the handlebars off your bike, it is so easy with a Threadless stem, whereas with a Threaded one you have to take off all the tape/grips and brake levers and then try and pry it through that little hole. Having said that you actually linked to 2 Threadless stems that would have this same issue!

    As far as the height adjustment stuff goes, I found with the Threaded stems there was only so far you could move the stem up before it started to feel a bit wobbly and unsafe. Threadless stems do allow for some adjustment, you can just add or remove the spacers. That's probably their main drawback, but you can always just buy an adjustable stem if that's a big issue.

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  8. I think the only option is a stem raiser (http://sheldonbrown.com/harris/stems/index.html#raisers). They give you 2-3 inches, which is about what you get from the long Nitto stems. Or you could anticipate this and not get your stem cut down until you were sure of the height, using spacers in the meantime.

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  9. I've found that they do seem to have a bit of extra sturdiness and stay tight through repeated pounding on rough or unpaved surfaces. I have to tighten the headset on my threaded "quill" stems periodically, but rarely have to on my bikes with threadless systems.

    Also, as a note, with the exception of a few proprietary designs, almost all modern bicycle frames can accept either threaded or threadless setups, the difference is in the fork and headset, so if you happen to have a threadless stem and hate it, can swap it out for a quill stem by swapping the fork and headeset (a move that may make sense, for example, if adapting an older mountain bike for commuting use, in which case you might swap the suspension fork for a rigid fork). On some bikes this may get expensive, but it's also something to bear in mind when having a bike built, sometimes there's an option.

    As mentioned by Jon above, it's really easy to LOWER a threadless stem by taking off the spacers and stacking them above the stem. In fact when building up new bikes for some sport riders it's not uncommon to leave the steer tube of the fork uncut and use a long stack of spacers for a while so they can experiment with height. There are also adapters available to effectively lengthen the steer tube length, allowing a higher stem placement. You can't use them on carbon fiber fork tubes, but that's probably not an issue for fans of this blog ;-)

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  10. Harris asked if I wanted my steerer tube cut and fortunately I said no. I am going to put 3 10mm spacers under the headset and put the stem on top of that. I remember roughly where the seat was on the 62cm frame, so that's the number of spacers needed to get the bars level or just below the saddle.

    But yeah, if I wanted some more exotic placement like 10cm above saddle to train, slowly lowering by 1cm per week, that would not work well with threadless, or at least be much less elegant looking and involve a vertical + horizontal component in each change.

    I've been told that threadless stems flex less, which is probably true to some degree, but in my mind the biggest advantage is not having to redo the tape every time you want to make a chance. OMG, I hate that. :)

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  11. i agree with the comment about maintenance. part of the fun of bikes is switching parts around from bike to bike and with the simple threadless system it's so much easier. also, finding parts for old quill stems is next to impossible (i've got several old cinelli stems w/o a part or two sitting in a box) as is finding the correct diameter for different bike manufacturers. if you're after a certain look, you'll put up with the hassles but old stems are a pill to work with.

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  12. MDI, my LBS left the tube extra long and allowed me several stems and spacers so i could ride for a couple weeks before deciding in the cut length. it looked odd for a bit, as i experimented, and it was scary to make the 'final' decision as to where to cut but after that everything was gravy. thank goodness for quality LBSs.

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  13. For certain types of riding, such as BMX and mountain biking, threadless stem/steerer combinations can be advantageous; a quill stem will not allow you to apply as much force into the front wheel as a threadless stem will before it starts to go out of alignment with the wheel. In a more extreme/sporting riding discipline this can be quite important.

    For the vast majority of purposes though, a quill stem is best.

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  14. ^ Interesting, and makes sense. I am entirely out of touch with the BMX and MTB culture.

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  15. I have one bike with a threadless fork, and a few without. Honestly, I don't see any real reason to get jazzed up about them, but they work adequately provided they are sized properly.

    Appearance wise, they look appropriate on a modern mountain bike, with the thick tubing, but aside from that, I think they look awkward in other applications.

    I see the cut to size stem as a huge drawback, as I can't raise the bar height without the subsequent purchase of a stem riser or different stem altogether. This especially becomes an issue when buying a used bike where it has been cut to the previous owner's preference.

    The ability to pop off the handlebars without undoing the grips and controls might be nice in some situations, but how often does one need to do that? If this is an important feature to you, those type of stems are available in quilled form as well.

    In terms of headset bearing adjustment, I'll take the ease of a threaded fork, thanks. Loosen a nut, tighten the adjustment cone, and retighten the nut again. Done.

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  16. SJP--not buying the ease of adjustment (familiarity, yes). A threadless adjustment involves loosening one or two allen bolts (stem) and adjusting via another (headset cap). Same basic process, and it can be done on the road, because it only requires one (or two) allen wrenches, rather than two 14"+ monstrosities.

    I'm not arguing one over the other, I'm just saying that the ease of adjustment argument doesn't make much sense.

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  17. There are actually quite a few quill stems available with detachable faceplates, to make swapping bars out much easier. Many of them aren't as elegant-looking as the Nitto stems, but some are fairly nice. Here's a pretty generic example
    http://www.amazon.com/Alloy-Quill-22-2x105mm-Degree-Polished/dp/B00075CLN2/ref=sr_1_83?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1303315717&sr=1-83

    and here's a more sculpted example http://www.amazon.com/Deda-Murex-Quill-Bicycle-Stem/dp/B0028NLPRO/ref=sr_1_140?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1303315783&sr=1-140

    For even more variety there are an increasing number of adjustable-angle stems on the market. They used to be particularly flexy and unreliable, but the technology has improved and they've gotten a lot less less noodly. Although I wouldn't put one on a race bike, my commuter bike came with one and I can climb out of the saddle on it with minimal flex.

    So there are option if you can find one that integrates with the look of your bike.

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  18. doesn't the threadless only require an allen wrench to adjust a loose headset?

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  19. Erik said: "SJP--not buying the ease of adjustment (familiarity, yes). A threadless adjustment involves loosening one or two allen bolts (stem) and adjusting via another (headset cap). Same basic process, and it can be done on the road, because it only requires one (or two) allen wrenches, rather than two 14"+ monstrosities. "

    I agree! I just rode my wife's new bike with threadless headset to work, to do the initial and obligatory "shakedown" ride after just finishing building it up last night, and it needs the headset tightened. Thankfully, this can be done with one hex key, which I have with me. It will be done before I head home from work. Couldn't do that with a threaded headset, unless I was carrying two monstrous 32mm headset wrenches with me.

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  20. When adjusting one's threadless stem, it's important to remember rule #45: "A maximum stack height of 2cm is allowed below the stem and a single 5mm spacer must always – always – be stacked above. A “slammed down” stack height is preferable; meaning that the stem is positioned directly on the top race of the headset."

    http://www.velominati.com/blog/the-rules/#45

    My road bike is currently in flagrant violation of this rule... along with several others.

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  21. Re: stiffer, flex. From a high performance standpoint threadless are better, both on and off road. They are stiffer so they flex less. They don't go out of adjustment as easily but I'm not talking about that. Better feedback from the front, more direct connection to the brain, yadda yadda.

    For putzing around, flex is good. Flex is comfort. Comfort is a different kind of riding than HiPo.

    Big dudes - YMMV.

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  22. re: "a single 5mm spacer must always – always – be stacked above."

    What's the point of the spacer on top, other than to look extra ugly?

    Also, 2cm limit under the stem? I am planning to use 3cm. Meh.

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  23. Google "adjustable stem." If you can stand the function-over-form aesthetics, they're wonderful. I just converted our sporty road tandem into a comfortable touring tandem by replacing the standard stem with an adjustable one. My solo touring bike has a quill stem, which spoiled me into thinking that every bike should be easily adjustable on the road to what my body wants on a particular day.

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  24. Go to the velominati site and all will be clear.

    You are putting a Surly (not underbuilt) steel fork with a steel steerer on a bike with no drop, i.e. not much weight on the hands. Run your 3cm untroubled by a bunch of club rules written by roadie dorks.

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  25. I have owned one bike with a threadless stem and was forced to sell it because the bars were too low. It will be my last for sure. I'm pretty sure threadless stems are more about production benefits rather than real technological advances.

    That said I am 6'6" so finding a bike that fits can be a challenge.

    I love my Nitto Technomic and large Noodle bars. Nice and flexy over rough patches and I can get my hand lower than my saddle in the drops and above on the hoods. I will likely never buy a threadless frame again. I work on a computer all day and after switching to my current set up haven't had any wrist issues at all.

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  26. Oh yeah, threaded stems are pretty too. :)

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  27. Ryan: you are obviously a big guy, do you find that the stem flexes dangerously when you give it a nice push? I've seen this setup flex as you do obviously, but I am not so sure I am entirely content with that. I worry about metal fatigue and too much flex avoid longish stems because of this. Same with wide bars, if it snaps at the stem while standing it's an almost guaranteed bad crash.

    I suppose the bars are just as vulnerable on threadless, but at least these stem setups can be quite solid.

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  28. Erik- I never gave much thought about a threadless headset's being field adjustable, mostly because I mentally categorize it as part of shop maintenance much like hub bearings or a bottom bracket. While I like the idea, I can't recall ever desiring to do an on the spot headset adjustment mid ride. Somervillain has apparently found an instance just today, so I guess it is not entirely unthinkable.

    In rereading it, I think my statement about the "ease of adjustability" could have been phrased better, as it makes it unintentionally misleading. Mea culpa.

    While I find a threadless headset is not *difficult* to adjust, I find it takes a few minutes longer because I invariably have to realign the bars with the front wheel.

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  29. I pretty much agree with Ryan. the REAL reason we now have threadless stems is that it takes some skill and a little more time to thread a stem. multiply that by the number of bicycles being assembled per day and it all adds up. Besides, threading requires skill and attention to the job. These skills are just not required when mass manufacturing frames.

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  30. About whether a treadless stem on classic bicycles--You had an interesting discussion here in the past about how far owners go/don't go to restore their classic bikes with original components. I admire the purebreds but am delighted by mongrels that have been updated and bear the stamp of the individual owners and their efforts to balance form and function.

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  31. Jeez, this is all fascinating - thanks for the replies. We got the VO threadless headset & stem for the Surly build, so should be fun installing them this weekend.

    MDI (the Co-Habitant) does complain that he can feel long quill stems flex, which is why he does not like super-long stems. I've never felt this, though I do feel some handlebars flex and dislike it.

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  32. I'm not such a fan of those "rules" but they are entertaining to read. The only one that comes up for me is the calculation for the number of bikes one should own. N+1 where N=the number currently owned. Or S-1 where S= the number of bikes that would cause your partner to want to separate.

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  33. Talk to John @ rivbike about Nittos & flex. He's a big guy running a long stem: http://www.rivbike.com/images/products/full/0000/3600/staff24.jpg

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  34. As an engineer I strongly dislike anything that is assembled using socket head bolts which most threadless stems are.

    The reason I say that is.....
    There is nothing more frustrating than rounded out heads on a socket head bolt. Nothing.

    That said, I have called for socket head bolts in my designs only where the head is fully exposed to allow for removal should the head round out. That brings us to the treadless stems main weakness. The heads of the bolt's on every stem I've ever seen is recessed into the surrounding material.

    I won't use a threadless stem on anything I ride.

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  35. Walt D said...
    "That said, I have called for socket head bolts in my designs..."


    Am curious, what do you design?

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  36. We got the VO threadless headset & stem for the Surly build, so should be fun installing them this weekend.

    Cool, I went with these as well, for Mrs. Somervillain's Soma mixte. The finish on each seems very good, and although I don't care for the laser-etched logos, I'm happy with them so far.

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  37. "Velouria said...
    Walt D said...
    "That said, I have called for socket head bolts in my designs..."

    Am curious, what do you design?"

    Before I retired from Quality Control I spent 15 yrs as a an engineer for heavy equipment parts. NONE of the engineers in my section would put socket head bolts in any design that required torque values in foot pounds (as a threadless would) only inch pound value socket head bolts were used when required.

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  38. MDI said...

    >What's the point of the spacer on top

    I think this advice applies
    only to forks with carbon steerers.
    If you clamp the stem at the very top
    of the fork, you risk crushing
    the top of the steerer tube.

    The limit on spacers below the stem
    is to limit the bending loads on
    the steerer as it exits the top
    of the headset. Again a carbon-specific
    "law".

    John I

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  39. Not all bike shops give you the choice of where to cut the steerer. I was fitted for my Cannondale, then the bike was ordered. I guess they decided based on the fitting. Ultimately I ended up switching to the tallest angled stem they had and I had another shop install a stem raiser as mentioned earlier.

    BTW using a stem raiser is one way to slowly lower your threadless stem over time.

    I'm sorry but I have to say it, everytime you show a picture of the Urbana bike I think what an ugly bike. It has to be one of the ugliest bikes I've ever seen. The threadless stem on it is truely one of the ugliest I've seen. The handle bars look like something on a BMX or kids bike and they would place my wrist at very uncomfortable angle. So far I think you have been very generous with your comments about it, which surprises me given your general emphasis on aesthetics.

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  40. Re: strength, flex cont. Threadless stems like the VO are great, light and strong. The larger clamping area to the bar and steerer just make it more rigid. They can be made very light without compromising rigidity. Actual amount of material is very small, compared to...

    Nittos have massive amounts of material and flex all over the place. They are effin strong too. I'm running a 12cm stem with flexy 66cm steel Dutch bars with an enormous amount of quill showing with a stem riser for a total of 26cm. On my cargo bike, which regularly sees 280 - 290lbs. rider + cargo + bike. Torque city. Going on about 2 years now, solid as a rock.

    Having said that things like controls (bar/stem/fork) need to be checked periodically for fissures, more so for bigger riders. When doing a lot of training and races the rule of thumb is replace these every 1-2 years.


    Re: socket head bolts. ?. My Nitto quills w/threaded have socket head bolts.

    In fact my bikes are infested w/socket head bolts.

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  41. AC - As far as aesthetics go, believe it or not the only thing I don't like about it is the colour. The welds can be cleaner, too, but it's a mass produced bike after all and aluminum. If the bike were black they would not be visible. The reasons I am okay with the aesthetics on this bike but not, say, those of a Breezer or a Trek WSD mixte (both of which I cannot stand, visually), is because the Urbana looks like "itself" whereas the other two look like huge, ugly, poor imitations of better bicycles. That is the best way I can explain it. Having said that, it absolutely does not bother me if you think the bike is ugly - where would we be without variety of opinion?

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  42. But Walt, doesn't the expander adjustments on the typical quill stem involve a recessed socket head bolt?
    As a bike mechanic I think I've seen one stem bolt stripped beyond removal in ten years, at which point I simply drilled it out. I have, on the other hand, seen many quill stems get stuck beyond removal. Usually we have to cut those off, and then try to get the stuck parts out of the fork.
    I'm curious as to how the application here differs from the other uses of Allen socket-head bolts around the bicycle from a trained engineer's perspective.

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  43. Walt D said...
    >I strongly dislike anything that
    >is assembled using socket head bolts
    >which most threadless stems are.

    I tend to agree. They also fill with dirt
    which prevents proper insertion
    of the tool, which exacerbates the problem.

    However, most bike parts these days
    use these bolts, I suppose due to the
    neater look, and lighter cheaper tools
    required to damage - um.. - tighten them.

    John I

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  44. Ground Round Jim said...
    "...I'm running a 12cm stem with flexy 66cm steel Dutch bars with an enormous amount of quill showing with a stem riser..."


    On what bike have you got this set-up? Trying to imagine this!

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  45. In terms of aesthetics,
    I find the quill stem less
    pleasing then the newer clamp
    designs for threadless forks.
    Despite the fact the the surface
    appeal of he quill might be nicer,
    I just cannot stop thinking about
    how the quill is anchored at the bottom
    with no restraint at the top.
    It just moves around in the clearance
    between the stem and the steerer.
    So to my (engineering) mind, quills
    are a somewhat ugly mechanical design.

    John I

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  46. "Matt DeBlass said...
    But Walt, doesn't the expander adjustments on the typical quill stem involve a recessed socket head bolt? "

    Yes, at times you will see this when visuals are more important than assembly. The head of a bolt looks to much like pure business for some marketing designers.

    Is the assembly values different between socket head and hex head bolts in the stem application? No, not so much until repair time comes which is where hex head wins everytime.

    As to stuck quill stems...
    a liberal application of rust dissolving oils will loosen the stuck stem and a LIBERAL application of anti-seize compound over the ENTIRE inserted section of any stem will make HUGE difference when disassembly time comes.

    The single best tip I can give to all is to dab a bit of anti-seize compound on the start threads on every bolt ,or fitting, that goes into any assembly you work on. Pay back is huge come repair time.

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  47. The Great Spindizzy once said, "I've spent my life around Engineers and there are only a few who are capable of this type of thinking. Most of the rest of them seem to spend most of their time looking for opportunities to sidle up to you and ask in a patronizing way if "You wanna' know a better way to do that?"

    I am not going to put hex head bolts on my race bike and carry around a bunch of open end wrenches. Did that way back when.

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  48. On my IF.

    Ok, not.

    It's a 1991 Klein Rascal w/Xtracycle.

    However, you can not possibly imagine how it looks.

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  49. Here's a threadless newb question for the threadless cognoscenti here: is it preferable to apply a rust inhibitor treatment, or grease, to the threadless steerer tube before addition of all the spacers and stem? Normally, I apply framesaver to all my threaded steerer tubes. I did this as well with the recent threadless setup I just built up, and it just made sense. Any reason not to?

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  50. I have both. I prefer the easy height adjustment of the quill stem. I prefer the ease of setup of the threadless stem. I have one bike, that I got cheap because someone else had had it, chopped down the steerer then decided they didn't want it, where the bar height is low, but just about acceptable. I do think though that as you get older/less flexible, you want to gradually raise the bars and a quill stem makes that process easier. Once a threadless steerer is cut, your options get limited

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  51. Peppy (the amazing threadless cat)April 20, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    OMG you ruined it. It's ruined. It will need to be decontaminated. Give it to me.

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  52. I find them very ugly, and am now happy to say I no longer own a bike that uses the threadless stem, although I may think they are a better design.

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  53. My three Mercian lugged frames have threadless stems--two from Nitto, one from Velo Orange. They're attractive and light. But the thing I've always liked about threadless stems is how much easier it is to adjust them, and the headset.

    Years ago, during a tour of central and southwestern France, the threaded headset I was riding came loose. There was no bike shop within a day's ride, and I didn't bring a wrench large enough to tighten the headset. I knocked on the door of a farmer who graciously tightened the alloy headset and its funny-shaped alloy locknut--with his monkey wrench.

    If I'd had a threadless headset and stem--which weren't avalilable at that time--I could have adjusted them with a 5mm allen key, which almost every multi-tool includes.

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  54. Velouria, as a bit of an aside, building on what Jon said early on in the comments, if you do pick up some Allen wrenches, I'd recommend you look at the Park PH-1 wrench set, the grip surface and the ability to flip them around for better leverage might make them a bit easier on your hands for those times you do have to make an adjustment or two.

    @Justine, before I trashed the hub on my fixie I'd managed to swap parts around so that all but two bolts on the entire bike were 5mm allen bolts. If I rebuild the thing that will likely be my goal to make it a "one-tool bike."

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  55. Yes quill stems are adjustable for height, but when you pull them up to full extension they don't look so elegant anymore. That big "7" of an extended tall stem looks ungainly, plus who wants a chunk of metal pointing at their tender bits (especially not good off-road & out of the saddle). I like bikes with tall head tubes as they can mitigate this. Rivendell bikes are built that way and it looks better IMHO.

    There is some adjustability in the stack height as mentioned with threadless. But you can also adjust by buying a new stem with a different angle/extension. I like using Thomson stems because they look great, but also re-sell at near retail so I don't lose too much in the process.

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  56. Velouria said...

    "When buying a new frame meant for a threadless stem, there is a process (which I only half-understand), whereby you decide on the handlebar height you want, and they cut the steerer tube accordingly, then attach the threadless headset, spacers, and stem."

    What you are really doing is buying a bike frame with a threadless steerer tube! You then mount a stem (a so called threadless stem) to that. This so called threadless stem, is what actually provides the "thrust load" to the bearings in the headset, keeping it all together. (The pre-loading screw in the cap gets you to the correct load, the stem clamp ...locks it in place.)

    ========

    There seems to be a lot of mixed up nomenclature with regards to "threadless" stems and goosenecks. See the link below for a good overview of the issue.

    ========

    From Wikipedia - (Check it out...good information and images)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_(bicycle_part)

    "...Somewhat counter-intuitively, the term threadless derives not from whether the stem itself is threaded— but rather from whether a headset lock nut threads on to the fork steer tube. Quill stems require a threaded headset — of specific length for each bicycle model. Threadless stems require an un-threaded steerer tube — which may vary in length for each bicycle model.

    Somewhat counter-intuitively, the term threadless derives not from whether the stem itself is threaded— but rather from whether a headset lock nut threads on to the fork steer tube. Quill stems require a threaded headset — of specific length for each bicycle model. Threadless stems require an un-threaded steerer tube — which may vary in length for each bicycle model...."

    ==========

    NOTE: In "The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles" by Jan Heine et al.

    Page 42 ...Alex Singer bike found on this page seems to have a clamp on stem.

    Page 50...Rene Herse tandem seems to have a clamp on stem for the driver and on Page 52 you can see the stoker stem is a clamp on as well. (Though this seems obvious for any stem clamped to a seat post, it could just as easily an obvious extention of clamping to the steerer tube as well.)

    Page 54 ....Alex Singer bike seems to have stem clamped to the steerer tube as well.

    Page 63..."Maury's bikes were innovative. The custom stem was clamped between the upper headset cup and the locknut, predating the current Aheadset System by at least 40 years."

    Page 64...L. Pitard bike seems to have stem clamped to steerer tube.

    Page 88....The Barra Ca. 1950 found here seems to have a stem that clamps to the steerer tube as well.

    Page 96...C. Daudon bike seems to have stem clamped to steerer tube.

    HERE'S THE BOMB! Page 96 C. Daudon...3rd paragraph..."Like many builders at the time, Daudon clamped his custom stem directly to the steerer tube. Inside the steerer tube he placed a repair kit."

    WOW ..what a trick to do 40 years ago. There may be more examples in the book but I'll stop here.

    ==============

    Velouria said...

    "Here is a nice fillet-brazed threadless stem and even a lugged one."

    These two stems do clamp on....to a "threaded steerer tube!" Just like all of the examples above. (I think the top of the steerer tubes described above have had the threads cut from them to provide a smooth surface for the stem to clamp onto, while leaving enough threads for the standard tightening nut and locknut to fit onto the top of the headset.)

    =================

    Old Knotty Buoy

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  57. The ease of installation is the greatest advantage of threadless stems. On the other hand, their greatest disavantage is they can seldom be raised high enough to provide a comfortable riding position. Then you will certainly need a stem riser to get the bars at the usual position. This was unnecessary with quill stems, most which came in a sufficient long length to dial in the proper height.

    But it looks like threadless stems are here to stay.

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  58. In this old guy's opinion, the threadless lack elegance, they look industrial like transformer cartoon toys.

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  59. I missed this post the day it came out but there is something I want to add in the interest of safety.

    NEVER use a threadless stem on a threaded steerer tube. You almost never have a threaded fork with a long enough steerer to do this but once in a while someone tries it(especially after someone publishes a fantastic, lavishly illustrated book of interwar European bicycles...). The danger comes from the fact that when you do this the threaded portion of the fork right under the stem can experience a great deal of stress and the thread is a perfect stress focusing device when unsupported like that. Threaded steerers are also typically thinner walled than that of threadless forks.I've seen this attempted at least 5 times and the steerer cracked right under the stem in the front in every case.

    In the late 70s Schwinn put a clamp-on stem on it's top of the line Sting BMX racer(lovely bike, I still covet one)and everyone with a welder and milling machine tried to replicate it. Those who tried to use a conventional headset and a steerer threaded all the way down learned the hard way that it was an endeavor garaunteed to end in tears(Or plaster). Don't ask me how I know.

    Spindiizy

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  60. Only bmx stems are beefy enough to hold a handlebar that has 8 inches of rise and as much leverage.
    I think rotating a high rise handlebar in a stem is a great fit adjustement, better than the short arcing of an adjustable stem.

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  61. One threadless stem that was truly ugly--or at least strange-looking--was the Cinelli Alter. It looks like something a ten-year-old boy with an Erector set might make. (Tell me: What kind of message is a parent sending a boy by giving him an Erector set?) The silver and black ones were bad enough, but Cinelli also made them in taxicab yellow and a couple of neon colors.

    From what I'm told, it was a very stiff stem. A lot of guys used them on their fixies. I get the feeling, though, they just liked its in-your-face look.

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  62. I share your aesthetic and practical sentiment about the quill stem and the nicest thing I can say about the banana slug bike stem is that it clearly a case of form follows function.

    That said, I have a Yuba Mundo with a threadless stem and it works well. You can in fact adjust the bar level to some degree with this adjustable stem. As a side note, the form factor of the bike is rather large - the side loader things on the rear are so wide, I wedged the bike between a bus and a curb the worst time I rode it. And on another side note, the disadvantage of a rack top mounted bin is that in makes the bike top heavy and harder to handle. It's also bot good to have the load positioned too far rearward.

    I will admit that I have not read the comments on you 2 Urbana articles yet, so accept my apology in advance if this is old news. Thanks for those two articles. I enjoyed them and look forward to a full banana slug report!

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  63. Having read the original post and many of the comments and being an owner of one threadless stem (and many quill stems), I can only say that threadless stems support the adage: “just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.”

    Why force purchase of a bicycle that one cannot adjust without more expense?

    LMW

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  64. I have both types of the stems on my different bikes, in fact I have multiple bikes of both types. On several of the bikes I have adjustable stems... I also have removable face plate type stems on both quill and threadless. I am pretty old school and prefer the quill type most of the time. I do agree that the headless is less prone to flex and I have no problem with it on some bikes, but it just doesn't look right on a sweet lugged frameset.

    Aaron

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  65. I can't believe that 20 years after the threadless headset was introduced, it's still viewed as something new and odd. Really? These were introduced in the late 1980s, that's not particularly new.

    I have owned and wrench on many bikes with threadless and quill stems. Either works fine. Aesthetically you can prefer one over the others, but both function fine.

    As far as adjusting them goes, they are about equal (I think threadless is a touch easier). You can easily adjust a threadless stem up and down using spacers. No big deal. If your stem is cut short, flip the stem over or buy a different stem. The same issue exists with a quill stem - what if the quill is too short, well then, you buy a stem with a longer quill.

    The only real advantage that I see in either system goes to the threadless design. With a a set of allen wrenches (often only a 5mm) you can adjust your stem and tighten your headset. A quill stem requires at least one, and preferable two wrenches to tighten a headset. It's not a huge deal, but if you've ever had a headset loosen on a long ride, you'd prefer to fix it once with a common tool instead of hand tightening multiple times on the ride home.

    Sure there are frames which look more "classic" with a quill stem, but the time to discuss the highs and lows of the design was in 1991, not 2011.

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  66. This is a late post but I wanted to bring up a point. No matter what threadless stem bike I contemplate buying, I have to get an additional uncut fork with it for the stem to be within comfortable reach, or buy a riser reach stem that looks ridiculous. Either way, the result doesn't look as good as I'd like. Stock bike threadless stems are always too short, favoring the male reach. WS road bikes could have higher stems, also.

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