Sunday, November 01, 2009

Interbike 2009 - Ritchey Stems and ZTail Trade-in

One of my long time favorite stems is the one made by Ritchey. In some ways I'm a throw back kind of rider, eschewing the oversize bar thing, the oversize seatpost thing, and a non-subscriber to some of the uses of carbon out there.

Carbon use in oversize bars and stems, come to think of it.

It's not like I don't like carbon - I have a carbon fork, a half carbon frame (as well as a mostly-carbon frame - sans dropouts and BB shell), carbon rims, even some carbon derailleur pieces (which I avoided for a while and finally bought as part of a package deal).

But there are limits to my carbon consumption, no matter how light or airy a part feels. Just the other day I was at an LBS, and they had a nice little build kit in a shipping box. On top lay some pretty Ritchey WCS pieces, including a carbon bar. I picked it up.


The thing felt like it was made out of styrofoam. I waved it around, my normal test for any "light" part. A light part changes direction quickly, a heavier one doesn't, and this one was definitely on the former side. It felt featherweight, airy, and it seemed to have more air resistance than inertial mass.

I put it down before I hit a wayward customer, employee, or slat wall hook.

You know, if I didn't race, I'd probably get a bar like that. A stem too, maybe even a post. I could see myself riding on some pretty light stuff, worried only about it not failing in normal use (like bombing down a descent). I could save my light bike for the nicer days, avoiding rain, excessive travel (like on a plane), and even night rides (where I tend to hit more potholes and such).

But since I race, and since I expect to bash my bike around, I don't want to take the risk. All the things I just listed in the above paragraph, that's all stuff my primary bike sees in an average year. It flies, night rides, races, gets bumped around in a car, maybe the back of a fully laden van (bouncing on top of folded tables, wheeled leaf blowers, propane heaters, and other "non-smooth" things).

So I tend to stay away from carbon for the more fragile pieces, like bars or stems.

Like I said before, it's not that the bar may fail while I ride - I mean, heck, I've seen aluminum bars fail on rides, and the guy somehow rode home on a one-sided bar - but in races there's a much higher chance of a fall.

And carbon doesn't like impacts.

I've seen guys tumble to the ground, essentially unhurt, but after glancing briefly at half their bar dangling from various cables, unable to continue. I don't want to deal with that.

Luckily Ritchey still makes really nice aluminum bits.

For the longest time I've ridden Ritchey stems, after an independent lab found them to be the best stem for the money. They were reasonably rigid, didn't let the bar slip, and didn't break very easily. Since I've met the person behind the independent lab, and since I trust his methods and morals, I went with the lab's findings.

I bought a Ritchey stem.

By chance it came in an angle and length I needed - 73 degrees (or minus 17 degrees if you will), 13 cm long. I really wanted a 14 cm stem, but those didn't exist back then in threadless + 73 degree.

When different companies came out with their oversize bars and stems, I stayed with my skinny, primitive 26.0 Ritcheys clamping some 26.0 crit bend bar.

Slowly I found my 73 + 13 + 26.0 stem choices limited. I managed to build up a small inventory of Ritchey stems, even descending down from their WCS line to find stems that were available and within budget.

Since I like crit bend bars, and no one sells one, I never got a Ritchey bar. And since I don't want setback, and Ritchey always had setback, I always stayed with Thomson posts. I like the two pieces - both aluminum, both reliable, both pieces you install and forget.

Of course, it's always interesting to try new parts on a bike. And at Interbike 2009, I saw Ritchey's zero setback post. It didn't have my one bolt adjustment and it was made with carbon, but if I wasn't a racer, well, you know.

Beautiness to the right.

The cool thing is that you can try them without necessarily risking losing all your money. In fact, you can check out the whole Ritchey line. See, they have a new trade-in program through

The way it works is that you get to return parts for a guaranteed percentage of the purchase price, based on elapsed time. For three months you get 80% back. Up to six months, 60%. Nine months, 50%. A year, 40%. A year and a half, 25%.

Okay, I may not be the ideal guy for this program, hanging onto kinda-sort out-of-style equipment for a decade or two, but for those that buy new cars (I've only ever bought one), or bikes (I've only ever bought two), this may be a cool program.

Think of it.

You set up your rig with some pretty Ritchey stuff. You race for the year, and just when the new stuff starts showing up, you send it all back.

Then you get half your money back!


This could be addicting. I mean, okay, my road bike may be all set up, but how about my back-up primary bike, or, say, the tandem, or my mountain bike...

Let me look at the Ritchey stuff again...


Brian said...

I like your philosophy, Aki. I ride a Caad 9 with that same Ritchey 73degree stem and my seatposts have been Thomson for the past 5 years. After buying my first one, I never looked back. Bling is nice, but so many people forget that you've gotta be able to RACE it, and if you wreck, replace it. Light parts for the sake of lightness just isn't worth it, at least to me. No to mention that weight has a minimal influence on performance.

Aki said...

It's hard to not like with someone that has the same philosophy, right? But yeah, I've been in races where my (carbon) post broke, my saddle rails shattered, and all sorts of other nasty things. I've watched riders in reasonable shape get up from a minor spill, see that half their bar is dangling from cables, and realize that a free lap won't help them. I've even driven for a few hours (technically my teammate Kevin drove, but we made the trip), the flatted in the first couple laps of a "wheels in, wheels out" crit. I had to sit out the rest of the race.

Basically, when I go race, I don't want to have to NOT race for any reason I can either prevent or whose likelihood I can decrease. Having reliable "hard goods" on the bike really helps with the latter. The former usually involves bringing two of everything, sometimes even spare bikes.

Having said all that, every time I got a mountain bike I spent wads of money making it lighter or faster. I still pine for my Rev-X wheeled S-Works M2, the fastest mtb I ever had. I'd settle for the Jamis Dakar I had too, a full suspension, "every piece replaced", 24 lbs bike (in 1997). I suppose the difference was the M2 I raced only infrequently, the Dakar just once. So light stuff was okay because it wasn't "serious" for me. If I spent all that money on road bikes I'd have some superlight, somewhat unreliable machine.