Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Equipment - Stem

One centimeter.

That's what I needed when I put on the new FSA Compact bars on the black Tsunami.

All the thought that went into figuring out a nice top tube length (so that I'd use a 120 mm stem with my bars - I feel that's about the ideal stem length for a standard bar so a rider will weight the front wheel enough), agonizing decisions made after painstaking calculations and geometry stuff, that all went away when I stuck the FSA bars onto the bike.

Suddenly the bike was too short.

I mean, I knew that going in, when I bought the bars. I knew they'd be shorter, that they didn't reach as far. That's the point with the compact bar, they're shorter in reach and shallower in depth.

Compact, in other words.

I bought them anyway because of two reasons.

One, I realized (and I haven't admitted to anyone until now) that when I finally got my black Tsunami frame, the 120 mm stem I had wasn't a 120 mm stem - it was a 110 mm stem.


Let me rewind. In 2011, building up the black Tsunami, I bought a stem for it. My goal was to have two identical bikes, two bikes where I could hop off of one, hop on the other, and all the contact points would be identical. I'd grab the bars instinctively, drop my foot, the pedal would be there, and when I sat down it'd feel like I was on the other bike, right down to the millimeter.

With that in mind, I bought a few stems for the two bikes. The original one, a WCS superlight Ritchey unit, was getting a bit old, and I was worried that it'd eventually fail. Therefore I ordered two or three similar 120 mm Ritchey stems (when I commit to something, I really commit), just in a slightly heavier model.

(I think I have three since I have two in boxes. Or do I have one? I don't remember and don't feel like looking.)

I pulled the first stem out of the box and thought, "Oh, they put a 130 mm stem in the 120 mm box."

The other ones seemed just as long.

So I measured it with a spoke ruler. Then with a tape measure. Then measured it again.

I looked at the old ("weathered"?) WCS stem, the one that was supposed to be a 120 mm stem. It measured 110 mm.

Looked at the new, unstressed, clean, and 10 mm longer stems.

Thought about all those super fast descents I wanted to do while I was in SoCal (because that's where I received the frame). Thought of the switchbacks, the penalty for a failed stem.

I put the new, unstressed, clean, and 10 mm longer stem on the bike.

And I went out on a long, long ride.

I have to admit that it felt okay, a bit stretched out. Long, yes, but okay.

I let the stem thing kind of slip to the back of my mind as the year started. It wasn't a good year on the bike, with a lot of my races lasting just 15 or 20 minutes. I won't blame it on the longer stem, but there were times when I thought it'd have been nice to have the bars just a touch closer.

Therefore the FSA Compact bar kind of made sense. Shorter reach, closer drops.

But they brought the bars back a good 20 mm, a lot more than the 10 mm I wanted.

I should point out that the FSA Compacts are the first 31.8 mm bars I bought on purpose. The 31.8 mm refers to the diameter of the center part of the bar - my regular bars are skinnier at 26.0 mm. All my regular stems are 26.0 mm clamp.

So why did I buy the 31.8 mm bar? Because that's the only diameter it comes in, and I already have a stem.

Let me explain.

The only bike we have here with 31.8 mm bars is our tandem. And would you believe this, I even bought a 130 mm stem for it (the tandem doesn't have a custom top tube and the 130 mm was the longest stem I could find at the time). I didn't really like the bars already on the tandem though, and I didn't want to buy a 31.8 mm bar as I'm kind of opposed to them in principle. I thought that one day I'll just put one of my regular bars on it and a 120 mm stem.

All this meant that for about 3 years, that 130 mm 31.8 mm clamp stem has been laying around the basement doing nothing.

I thought of that stem when I bought the FSAs. A brand new, very nice 130 mm reach stem that is 10 mm longer than my current stem, combined with 20 mm shorter reach bars, means a 10 mm shorter reach.

That's what I wanted.

When I finally put the FSA Compacts on the bike, I grabbed the for-the-tandem stem (I can't believe I knew where it was), put it on the bar...

Looked at it.

"That 130 mm stem looks a lot like a 120 mm stem."

And, lo and behold, it measured 120 mm.

Fricken frack.

Today I got a 3T something Team stem, a nice one. -17 degree angle (with a 73 degree head tube angle it is horizontal), 130 mm reach (for real), and it even matches the 3T Team fork on the bike.

3T stem on the newer Mac.
Them be Ti bolts.

The stem swap took about a minute. I didn't realize just how nice of a stem I'd bought for the tandem until I realized that both stems have titanium bolts.

Because, you know, they make such a difference.

They actually do, seriously. The biggest thing is that they don't corrode. Titanium doesn't oxidize like some of the more common metals. I mean, yes, it oxidizes, and when it does it's bad news if the titanium is holding your bars on your bike, but it doesn't oxidize under normal conditions.

(When it oxidizes it turns into a pure white powder. You probably have titanium oxide all over the inside of your house - it's used in virtually all white paint; it's the white pigment. My dad told me this when I was a kid. He revealed to me that he was involved in a project where they isolate titanium. Having just read about F-15 fighter jets and their titanium make up, I thought, "Boy, my dad helps make F-15s!". So I asked him what they did with the titanium. "They burn it and make it into a white powder. It's used to make white paint. It's very valuable." That's when I realized that adults were crazy. Hey, at least any white paint on the F-15 probably had titanium oxide pigment.)

White letters - I wonder if there's titanium oxide in them.
The bottles are empties. There's a whole slew of them.
The stem cap bolt is not titanium. It rusts.

When I finished the FSAs were a centimeter further away from the saddle.

My bike is dirty but you can get a sense of the stem's height relative to the front brake.
I'm still debating if I will keep the housing behind the bar.
Note the Nokon segments go all the way to the lever - no cheater spiral housing used (Nokon includes spiral stuff for under the tape).

I threw a leg over the bike (it's on a trainer), sat on the saddle, clipped in, and hunkered down on the drops.


One centimeter.

Who'da thunk it.

No comments: