'Cheap' stems vs. 'expensive' stems -- discernable difference or no?


Nov 5, 2001
in my tiny apartment
I'm looking for stem for my trail bike and, well, I don't want to spend that much. Honestly, the only trouble I've had with a stem was a Salsa Moto Ace which creaked a good bit. Now, I have a shorter Thomson which is great, but I could buy three of the generic Supergo/Ritchey/Performance/insert-name-here stems for the same price.

Any thoughts?




Turbo Monkey
Mar 19, 2002
Copenhagen, Denmark
I like that the Thomson dosn't have the bolt sticking out. I have several times on trail bikes hit my knees on the bolts and that is not fun with out knee pads.


My Nuts Are Flat
Apr 18, 2002
Towing the party line.
Not a ton of difference for the most part. Some cheap stems will flex like crazy, that said, some of the pricey ones do too! Usually, the major difference will be weight. I just went from a truvativ to a Thomson...wow. No discernable strength difference, but a HUGE weight difference.


Rusty Trombone
Jul 10, 2003
Thompsons are so dreamy :drool:, i just went through this debate, and ended up getting the thompson x4 with my oversized carbon bars :drool:...Do yourself a favor and spend the little bit of extra $$$ that way everytime you look down at your stem on a long ride, you wont be wishing you got the thompson.


Turbo Monkey
Sep 7, 2001
Your face.
ITs a funny situation. Companies send in stems all the time, but i ask them not to unless there is somethihng exceptional about them. I always tell them "Unless they are stupid light, or fail catastrophically, theres really not much to write about."

That said, if you are lucky sometimes you can find stems that are light, and cheap. I found an Axiom stem that looks just like an Azonic shorty, but its ridiculously light. Damn cheap too, like 40 CAD retail.


Nov 5, 2001
in my tiny apartment
Yeah, the Thomon is nice, don't get me wrong. But, I could get two different sizes to see which reach I prefer and still have $20 left over. Stiffness is a concern, but just about everyone uses/knocks off this design, so if it was so bad, why would they use it? Or maybe it's just really cheap for them to put their name on it.


I wish I was Canadian
Sep 8, 2001
Victoria, BC
as far a performance most people lack the sensitivity to notice the difference between expensive and affordable stems....D


Eastcoast Softcore
Staff member
Nov 7, 2001
behind the viewfinder
i will say this...you are likely to get better tolerances from a high-end stem than a mass-produced stem...anyone who's wrestled w/ azonic stems certainlys knows what i am talking about. :monkey:

Brian HCM#1

Sep 7, 2001
Bay Area, California
The only thing I hate about the Thompson is the steering clamp mechanism. I rather have it pinch together than wedges. I wished they offered that with the X4 in a 25.4.


Turbo Monkey
Sep 23, 2001
Santiago du Chili
i think its either a thomson x4 or a well picked no name, most other hi priced stems dont really offer anything special, the thomson does because its substantially lighter than all others ive weighed, plus i think its beautiful.


Jan 21, 2005
SLC, Utah
I have a more Dh type Supergo stem it was worked great for me for a few years. they just dont look quite as bling as the name brands. At less you are loaded i would not spend a ton on a stem. Save the money and use it for better supension or brakes.


Brevity R Us
Aug 16, 2001
Lynnwood, WA
jake133 said:
I have a more Dh type Supergo stem it was worked great for me for a few years. they just dont look quite as bling as the name brands. At less you are loaded i would not spend a ton on a stem. Save the money and use it for better supension or brakes.
I agree.

I have a Piazza(sp?) and a Axiom (mentioned earlier) and they both are the inexpensive knock offs of the Azonic Shorty stem. Only it doesn't have the tolerance issues the Shorty had. The steerer tube clamp is nothing fancy.....but it works. The knock offs can be had for around $20 and I have ridden them with no failures. I own a 40mm and a 50(or is it 60?) that I experiment with.

You don't hear about stem failures much these days :) At my size (and sometimes due to bone headed mechanical ability) I assumed I would strip a bolt or something. No problems what so ever.

Heck buy three cheapy stems to find the length you really like then drop the coinage on a Chi-chi mega$ stem if you must.

Personally I don't see a need for an expensive stem. Even as fat as I am (that, and my stems are short, lending themselves to less leverage placed on them.......) I have had no issues.

The long DH type supergo stems look funny but I would not hesitate running their XC type stem if the time came.


Git yer dumb questions here
Feb 19, 2003
I've gone to different stems. I started off with some Easton EA70 stem. Wasn't too bad but wasn't anything special. I was use to my light front end (had carbon bars, king headset, shiver SC) and it was great. I wanted a shorter stem so I got a 70mm Raceface Diablous. That stem alone must have added a pound to the front which was so noticeable it wasn't funny. It was just too heavy. I switched it out for a Raceface Deus stem and now I'm happy.

I don't think there's a whole lot that can go wrong. If it clamps down tight and everything fits a $20 will do the same as a $70 one. On my DH bike if I have to get a stem I'd aim for a thomson or SIC as they seem to be a benchmark other than the integrated stuff. For trail riding there's a ton of options but you see more Thomson's on bikes for a reason, they really good stems.

Some of the "lower" line stems aren't bad, especially if you don't know what you want and don't want to shell out $60+ for a stem. Hell I think the brand "power tools" is pretty cheap yet you'll find a bunch of people who run their stems or "world force". They're similar to a shorty but 1/4 the price.


back alley ripper
Feb 3, 2004
NORCAL is the hizzle
I'm with Brian and don't like the Thompson clamp. It's not that it's "hard" to figure out, it's that they tend to mark up the steerer - especially if it's aluminum. Yeah yeah, torque wrench, blah blah blah. :blah:

Overall I agree that most of the less expensive stems in a given category do the job just fine - the more pricey stems are pretty much about fashion.


Turbo Monkey
Oct 8, 2002
Portland, OR
Well, I'd say get whatever stem looks best. Stems and seatposts are really the only place you can pay for aesthetics over function because it's pretty hard to screw up the funciton of a stem or seat post. Most guys think Thomson is the best looking, lightest, strongest, cooks pasta and feeds it to you. I think they're a little plain and I'm tired of seeing one on every single bike out there. On the other hand stems and seat posts are a great place to save money too because they're pretty hard to mess up. Just get whatever you want.


Turbo Monkey
Aug 13, 2005
yeah i am looking for a stem too. Maybe a stem like the moto one that fits on the 888 from marzocchi does anyone know of any good stems like that....and for this guy what about the azonic stems they are awsome. or the Eston, or Funn stems they might work for you


Turbo Monkey
Aug 15, 2003
Cape Cod, MA
look into bmx stems for dh. you may have to machine out the handlebar clamp area, but its worth it. i got a fully cnc-machined fsa powderkeg bmx stem for 25 bucks and it rocks. so stiff and not too heavy either. the guy at the bike shop was even nice enough to machine out the handlebar clamp are to fit mtb bars at no extra cost :thumb:


Turbo Monkey
Feb 7, 2004
alex. va. usa.
personnally i cant feel a huge differance in fr and dh stems but in xc stems i can feel it. but like the one guy said its a stem by stem basis. i have found some wonderful inexpense stems and by the same token i have had some horride expensive stems. what i would do is buy a stem that you like.

bte the racefase xc stem seem to be quite nice (it came on a bike and its not leaving either)


Jul 15, 2005
At a computer...duh
Thomson, don't even think twice about it. All your upper body weight and your front end control goes through your stem, so only the best is good enough. Stems and cranks/BB and frames are the major load bearing components of the bike, so they are not something you should even consider skimping on. Nothing can beat the machining or the strength of CNC'd Thomsons.

BTW, stay away from Azonic Shorty stems - I've seen one shear completely off between the steerer and the handlebar when a friend was yanking on the bars, only to reveal (after a harsh slow speed fall) that it is almost completely hollow.

Brian HCM#1

Sep 7, 2001
Bay Area, California
narlus said:
what's so hard about setting the Thomson stem bolts? :confused:
Actually nothing is hard about setting the bolts. I grease them and use 2 wrenches at a time to keep the torque even. However in a crash when the stem move it can leave a nice impression in an aluminum steerer. At that point the stem doesn't always stay put.


Underwater monkey
Mar 9, 2005
I second the opinion to stay away from the Azonic Shorty (and the knock-offs styled after them!). I cracked/twisted mine, and am lucky it didn't shear right through.
I ride SIC now on all my bikes, they are forged instead of cnc'd, so they will last forever. I'm going lighter weight on my XC, but only because it won't see as much abuse.

Sure, a stem is a stem, but I would rather not take a chance of having my bars come unattached from the rest of my ride while I'm rocketing around, or landing a jump.
It's a fairly important peice of equipment, don't cheap out.


Turbo Monkey
Jan 30, 2002
A lot of those knock off CNC'd stems are from the same place in Taiwan but with different stickers. I had ordered a 70mm stem from ediscountbike.com for $8 and it did the job. Then I switched to a 50mm version of it and that did the job well too. I've used the more expensive FSA stems and never noticed a difference. I agree with those that say it comes down to weight. I'll choose my next stem (if I ever rebuild my DH bike) based on how short I can get it and how short the stackheight will be...I'm aiming for 35mm. Hopefully it'll be crazy light.