MTB Stem Buying Guide (Everything You Need to Know!) [Video]

Words by: Max Morgan


In this MTB stem guide, we are going to breakdown everything you should consider before buying a new stem for your mountain bike. The stem's sole purpose is to clamp the handlebars to the steerer tube. Most stems are available in different length and rise options and are manufactured with different materials using different processes. In a nutshell, there are plenty of options available for aftermarket stems and can be used to dial in the fit and ride characteristics of your bike

MTB Stem Buying Guide - What Stem Length Do I Need

Race Face Turbine Stem Mounted With Race Face SIXc Carbon Handlebars

Stem Length

The first thing to consider when buying a new stem is the length. Not only does the stem length affect the fit of the bike, but it plays a big role in how the bike handles. Using a shorter stem gives the bike quicker handling characteristics and a more responsive feel. A longer stem shifts your body weight towards the front of the bike and puts you in a better pedaling position, especially on those steep climbs.

With the trend nowadays leaning towards longer and slacker bikes, for a lot of people using a traditionally shorter stem makes sense. For those aggressive trail bikes out there, we recommend using a stem in the 50-60mm length range. Of course, this may not work for everyone. In some cases, sizing up a frame size and using a 35mm length stem may give you a more comfortable fit. It is important to consider both the fit and function of different length stems. 

MTB Stem Buying Guide - What Stem Size Do I Need

Size XL Yeti SB45c With A 32mm Length Race Face Turbine Stem

Stem Rise

The stem rise refers to where the handlebars are placed relative to the stem, measured as an angle in degrees. Think of drawing an imaginary line from the bottom of the stem to the bottom of the handlebars. Some common stem rises are 0° and 6°. With a 0° rise, the stem does not raise the handlebars at all. With a 6° rise, the handlebars will be raised higher relative to the stem. With most stems, they can be flipped over to also get the same amount of drop. Keep in mind that using stem spacers can be used to change handlebar height as well.

What Stem For Which Bike?

This is sort of a loose MTB stem guide because getting the correct fit and function you are looking for is most important when choosing the correct stem. A general rule of thumb is that the more aggressive the bike gets, the shorter the stem can be.

  • Cross Country Bikes: A cross-country race stem is usually anywhere from 80-120mm length and may use anywhere up to 30° drop. Using such a long stem puts the rider more over the front of the bike and allows for more efficient power transfer even on steep climbs.
  • Trail/Enduro Bikes: For today's modern trail bikes and big mountain capable enduro machines, most of the stems you will find are 50-70mm in length and will use either a 0° or 6° rise. As the bikes get more aggressive, the fit and handling characteristics become more important than a more efficient pedaling position.
  • Downhill Bikes: Most downhill bikes will be seen using a 40-50mm direct mount stem. A direct mount stem bolts "directly" to the top crown of the fork and not to the steerer tube. Some rise options are also available but a 0° rise is a safe bet.

MTB Stem Buying Guide - What Stem Size Do I Need

Race Face Atlas Stem Mounted With Renthal Fatbar Lite Carbon Handlebars

    31.8 vs 35 Clamp Diameter

    Over the last couple of years, we have seen the industry pushing more 35mm clamp diameter handlebars and stems. The two different standards certainly have tradeoffs. 35mm clamp diameter handlebars and stems can potentially increase overall stiffness and durability. Keep in mind that more stiffness isn't always the right answer! Having a handlebar and stem combination that is also compliant to the vibration of the trail is important. The 35mm handlebars, when done correctly, can actually be lighter than its 31.8mm counterpart while maintaining the same strength. On the contrary, it is possible that the two handlebars could be the same weight, one being stiffer than the other. In the end there are a lot of variables that come in to new mountain bike "standards" and everyone has there own preference as to what works and what doesn't. 

    MTB Stem Buying Guide - What Stem Size Do I Need

    Renthal Apex 35 Stem Mounted With Renthal Fatbar Lite Carbon 35 Handlebars

    Our 5 Favorite MTB Stems!

    1. TruVativ Hussefelt Stem

    MTB Stem Buying Guide blog

    The TruVativ Hussefelt stem might be one of the most iconic stems out there when it comes to modern mountain bikes. I think I had this on my dirt jumper 10 years ago and it hasn't changed much, and that is a good thing. It has proved to be able to take a beating and is still one of our best selling stems, especially in 31.8mm bar clamp variety. There aren't many stems coming in that length and I actually prefer to run 31.8mm handlebars, which makes this stem a great option. It's a bit heavy, but for the price, you get an amazing stem. It comes in a few lengths, but our most commonly sold model is the 40mm length x 31.8mm clamp. 


    • 31.8mm bar clamp
    • 50mm Length
    • 0 Degree angle
    • Forged 6061 aluminum
    • 203g

    ShopTruvativ Hussefelt Stem

    2. Race Face Chester 35 Stem

    MTB Stem Buying Guide blog

    Next up is the RaceFace Chester stem, which despite being a slightly newer option, has been selling like crazy. This is due to two things: the price is almost unbeatable for a high quality 35mm clamp stem, and it looks good as well. It's equally at home as an upgrade on a slightly older bike or to throw on your brand new high end dream build. The Chester takes its design from its bigger brother the Turbine R, and comes in a more affordable package using forged alloy instead of being machined. This stem also comes in a few different lengths, or as you could say, different strokes for different folks, but our most popular selling stem is the 40mm length x 35mm bar clamp. 


    • 35mm bar clamp
    • 40mm length
    • 0 Degree Angle
    • Forged 2014 alloy
    • 150g

    Shop RaceFace Chester 35 Stems CTA

    3. RaceFace Turbine R 35 Stem

    MTB Stem Buying Guide blog

    Mentioned above, the Raceface Turbine R stem finds itself at home on most of the bikes belonging to our beloved founder Jeff. While he prefers a different length than our most popular seller, there are a few reasons he loves this stem more than others. First is the square, CNC machined block of the stem. It takes top honors in the looks game, while also coming in second out of five on our list for the lightest stem. Yes, Jeff has been known to be a weight weenie, especially on his trail bikes. The best selling version of the Turbine R stem is the 50mm length x 35mm bar clamp, however, Jeff likes to ride the 32mm length x 35mm length on most of his bikes. 


    • 35mm bar clamp
    • 50mm length
    • 0 Degree angle
    • CNC machined aluminum
    • 138g

    Shop RaceFace Turbine R Stems CTA

    4. OneUp Components Stem 35mm

     MTB Stem Buying Guide blog

    The OneUp stem works great with their handlebar, looks good, and can be used with or without the EDC preload. While almost all stems do the same job, the OneUp stem is the outlier, with its own way to preload your headset bearings, OneUp has innovated once again. As many are familiar with OneUp’s EDC tool system going into the steerer tube of your fork, it used to require threading your steerer tube for this to work, which is a bit of a pain. The EDC stem has the ability to use a preload wedge on the inside of the stem during installation. You tighten your stem, then hit the preload screw until the headset does not have any play. In addition to the super innovative preload system, the stem itself is also very good. Looks are great with a good square block to the stem, it’s right at home on any trail or enduro bike. It's made from durable forged 6061-t6 aluminum. While it's not quite the lightest, it's also not the heaviest, and will allow you to use your EDC tool without threading your steerer tube!  Note that the preload kit is sold separately from the stem, and the stem can be used as a traditional stem as well. 


    • 35mm Bar Clamp
    • 35mm Length
    • 0 Degree angle
    • Forged 6061-T6 aluminum
    • 157g

    Shop OneUp Components Stems CTA5. Renthal Apex 35 Stem

    MTB Stem Buying Guide blog

    I think the Renthal Apex stem might be one of the most popular stems on the market in general. It also happens to be one of the lightest in the trail/enduro category as well. Those might not be related, but I wouldn't add weight to my bike on purpose. The Renthal Apex stem features some amazing CNC machining from a solid 7075 block of aluminum and a two piece faceplate design as well. The two faceplates are also anodized gold-ish and look amazing when paired with their alloy or carbon handlebar. This stem also happens to be the only stem with a positive or negative rise to it, which is becoming less common to see in this style of stem. Some people will enjoy this feature, some will be indifferent, and the rest won't know the difference, and that is ok. The best selling version of this stem is the 40mm length x 35mm clamp. 


    • 35mm bar clamp
    • 40mm length
    • +/- 6 Degree angle
    • CNC machined 7075 aluminum
    • 122g
    Shop Renthal Apex 35 Stem CTA

      Final Thoughts

      At the end of the day, we all need a stem to ride our bikes. While you might be looking to upgrade your stock stem, trying to make your bike look just a bit better, or you haven't thought about it at all, we hope this will guide you to make the best decision for you. From the good looking affordable Chester, to the light and amazing looking Renthal Apex, and the innovative OneUp EDC stem, you have all the options here to choose from.

      Max Morgan

      This article was written / authored by Max Morgan. Max has been a professional downhill mountain bike racer for the last 10 years, competing in the UCI World Cup downhill series and U.S. Pro GRT series. Having ridden all different kinds of bikes on trails all over the world, Max's experiences being out on the circuit give him a unique perspective on what makes for a quality cycling component. Max also has degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Physics, and so if you don't see out on the trail, chances are he is probably in the garage tinkering on the next project.


      If you're one strange human and would like to read the transcript of the video above, continue reading below!

      Well the stem on your mountain bike is a common thing that a lot of people upgrade or kind of just experiment with it and try different lengths if you're curious on stem length and how that affects the ride of your mountain bike there are two videos that GMB ended about cockpit setup and stem length those are amazing we link to them in the description if you're curious on that topic check that out we're not going to talk about that stuff today but if you're curious check those videos but we want to talk about is sort of the top five stems in terms of ones that are reliable good value for the money popular people are riding buying and loving and why what kind of makes stems change in price point is a bit interesting so once you're at like 30 35 40 bucks in terms of a stem you're gonna get a good quality stem the more expensive you go you're gonna see just more beautiful machining and a lot of that does translate into weight and better materials in terms of the the type of aluminum that it's a made out of and how it's all put together and you'll see that with these so I'm gonna start at one of the more popular ones that we sell that's on sort of the lower end of the spectrum in terms of price points so that is the true Veda Vyasa felt stem these things again this is a $31 stem roughly and these things are two hundred and three grams so that's a bit heavy as you see us go higher up the price point you'll sort of see the grams start to drop and again when you're at that price point it's a little bit heavy but it's still super reliable this thing is using five millimeter bolts all the way around that you're not gonna have any issues with and yeah it's a super good quality stem I believe it's only thirty one point eight but yeah so check that out next up race face Chester so this is the Chester 35 these are a hundred and fifty grams and they're about around thirty eight bucks so you've already dropped fifty grams just going up about eight ten bucks there these things have four millimeter bolts on the face and then five millimeter on the steer tube they come in a variety of lengths yeah good little nice stem again you can you start to see these things the way these look inch are shaped will get a lot more classy and sort of Lamborghini like as you get more expensive.


      I'm stepping up into more that premium price point race face turbine are a 35 this is 138 grams these are about 89 bucks and you can see this thing has a lot more aluminum basically machined out of it it's super hollow it's super lightweight you got four millimeter bolts on the face and on the steer tube side and this is one of the stems I usually run on my bike I love race face bars and stems and these things just look absolutely phenomenal and yeah they're super nice and people love these things again all these stems that are here the reason we're calling them the top five is because these are good quality stems at a good value for the money they're very competitive in terms of price point to weight in quality so yeah keep that in mind with all these link below the video description to all these different stems and all the different sizes and variants they come in a whole long blog article about all the sort of little specs of these things next up one up components so what up components just came out with a handle art and stem combo we made a big in depth video all about their compliance 35 millimeter carbon handlebars which is super interesting new innovative thing in one up fashion so check that out if you haven't seen it but this is the stem this is one of the more popular ones that we sell a little confusing so if you're familiar with one up they did make a big name for themselves with the EDC it's basically a whole toolkit and all this cool stuff that fits inside of the steer tube and when they came out with EDC the way that worked is you had to buy a tool or have a shop do it for you and they would actually remove your star nut they would thread the inside of your steer tube and then you could use what kind of look like a cassette lockring is the top cap of your stem to hold your whole headset tight and then you have this big nice open hole in your steer tube and that's where you can drop your EDC then when one up came out with a stem they wanted to make it so you didn't have to go through that steer tube threading process since that was a bit you know just time-consuming in the the actual threaded tap tool cost money if you didn't have a shop that had it etc so this stem you can actually if you don't have any of that stuff on your bike now if you buy the EDC tool kit you need this stem so the stem alone is 85 bucks if you're gonna basically replace everything on your bike now you're gonna need to buy the $30 top cap with it so $85 stem $30 top cap and then what that'll do is allow you to use this stem put it on your bike and not have to you can remove your star nut and you don't have to thread anything and you can get it all synched up it's got sort of like a a washer on the bottom that will allow it to tighten the headset if you already have the thing threaded you can just buy the $85 stem and use your existing whole top cap and set up if you don't want to use EDC you can just buy the $85 stem so at this price point 85 bucks 150 grams these things are killer they come in a 35 and a 50 mil length at the moment but yeah one of the more popular stems that we've been selling especially because a lot of people are using the one-up EDC tool kit and that works best at this stuff lastly we have the Ren Thal apex stem so this is I think the lightest stem out there that most people are using on trail slash from Douro bikes these days it is crazy cnc'd it has basically a split face to it it's using four millimeter bolts all the way around and it's 122 grams at about 105 dollars depending on the size you get these come in a bunch of different lengths they come 31 8 or 35 bar clamp and yeah they're probably one of the most badass looking stems on the market I love these things a lot of people when they first came out we're thinking it's so light that it's not gonna be durable but these things don't break you're never gonna break a stem if anything you're probably break handlebars before but bars and stems are just something that doesn't really break on a bike so I wouldn't be worried about it


      very rare case that that does happen but so rental apex these look super nice paired with the rent all fat bars and sort of they're like bronzy gold color it goes really well together you can look at that here and that is our top five so again didn't dive into what stem length changes on your bike check out those other videos we link to in the description if you're curious about that one thing to note almost everyone these days on a trail / enduro bike is running most likely a 40 or 50 millimeter stem that's the most common one most bikes you being expect with those these days a lot of people sort of realize that a decently wide bar 760 to 780 paired with like a 40 50 mil stem is a great and really good feeling cockpit set up for that trail slash enduro bike some people running shorter you can go 30 to 35 mil if you want to go really short on your stem if you're on the more cross country or even more like trail XC down country side of things you might go longer than 50 million might go 60 70 80 90 100 or whatever but most trail enduro bikes which I believe is most people that watch this YouTube channel are running about a 40 or 50 millimeter stem so most common there oh yeah let us know if we miss anything what you guys what you guys are running in terms of a stem right now what you thought of these hit that subscribe button and we'll see you in the next one.

      October 09, 2019

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