04 August, 2009

Zen and the Art of Making Stems

Like many growing up in the late 1970s, my introduction to serious philosophy was reading Robert Pirsig's bestseller, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In it Pirsig explored the "metaphysics of Quality", though he says that Quality itself is indefinable. He also attempts to unite classical and romantic (Zen) perception. I admit that it was a struggle to understand. And to this day I struggle with many issues of Quality, though the current problems are not quite as deep.

A case in point is our chrome-plated fillet-brazed stem project. You may remember my mentioning them in early spring. We're finally considering placing an order after seeing some production samples. Custom made fillet brazed stems, or any fillet brazed stems, are incredibly expensive. Johnny Coast made them as an option for our semi-custom Rando frames. The photo below shows that they are very high quality indeed, as they should be given the $450-$500 price.


The stems below are made in Taiwan and at first glance they look similar. The polishing and chrome on the top are pretty good. Given the cost of somwhere between $60 and $80, it's darn nice.


But flip them over and you'll see that there is little finish work underneath. The area around the bolts, which must be finished by hand with a small file also looks rough.


So the question I face is whether we should we accept this level of finish and price? Or should we insist on the bottoms being filed and polished and, perhaps, doubling the cost? On one hand, I know they could be nicer. On the other, I want to make them accessible to everyone.

So long as I'm throwing out questions, should they be 6-degree angles or have a higher rise? And does anyone have further insights on the "metaphysics of Quality"?

82 comments:

howtostretch said...

Nice. How about both levels of finish? For those that want one with the "super polish" finish, it would be acceptable for them to pay. For those that want to get a classic bike on the road for not much money and a beautiful look, the less finished version would be fine.

Just my 2 cents. FWIW, for my good bike, I would pop for the full finish.

Mark M. Fredrickson said...

I don't spend much time looking at the bottom of my stem clamp. At $60 to $80, these stems push the top end of my spending abilities (and I am in the market for a new stem).

Rather than higher rise, could the stem be longer? Would that be easier to spec?

nordic_68 said...

The quoted price range would allow anyone to buy one and have something nice looking. Double that range, $120-$160, is still far less than custom builders in the USA charge for a fillet stem.

Seems either way you'll make folks happy...

Satchel said...

6 degrees for threadless, and I vote for the higher level of finish even if that means a $140ish price tag. Sure, it's expensive, but we love our bikes!

It's be great to have a chrome fillet brazed quill stem in a 0 degree rise (90 degree angle to the quill).

mike said...

there is no try, do or do not.

Bob Patterson said...

As an older boomer, I'm less sensitive to price, but I like the suggestion that both a finished and less finished product be available.

Also as an older boomer, I am less flexible than younger riders, so I seek a higher rise.

You have a better feel for the market than I have, but that's my two cents.

AJ said...

I prefer to buy beautiful bike parts, but I also ride said parts in any weather and through tons of dirt and grime. I cast my vote for the rougher-finish-where-you-can't-see-it-on-the-bike stem.

Michael S said...

I vote for nicer finish, traditional -17 degree angle.

Jonah said...

I don't think the finish of the underside particularly matters especially with the added cost. As for the rise: stems that angle upwards almost always ruin the lines of a bicycle. I vote for a traditional rise with a longer quill like the Nitto Technomic. How about tapping the side for a bell mount?

Jeremy said...

I'd say keep it as is- there is already a supply for higher-end steel stems (i.e. nitto's offerings and various custom builders), what you have the chance to offer here is the same overall aesthetic (i.e. a simple, sleek, silver stem without branding/graphics) for prices that are competitive with other mass-produced stems for the small trade off that the stem looks a bit rough in an area that isn't readily noticeable (on the bottom, often obscured by cables, bags, etc.). 6 degree rise is fine.

Ron said...

Nicer finish, please.
- 17 degree angle as well.

michael said...

If the stem project looks like it would be worthwhile then one answer might be to have a set of stem lugs investment cast up. These would allow little to no finish work and a unique "marketability". You wouldn't even having to pose scantily clad models next to them (although I guess that wouldn't hurt).

Salsa used a cast front clamp on the late production stems and the SUL maodel. I have a feeling that they ran into some of the same problems that you are encountering.

Part of the cost for the molds could be recovered by offering the pieces for sale to framebuilders.

Finally - if you proceed with this my vote is to try and balance weight and strength but try and favor the smallest diameter extension tube as practical. Larger diameter here tends (IMHO) to make a stem look "clunky" and crude on a traditional-style frame. Older Titan, Cinelli, and Singer stems
just plain look better.

And don't forget to do a little badge to tart the things up !

Goonster said...

Nicer finish.

Quality is when the concept is executed properly, without cutting corners for cost.

Why compete with aluminum stems on price?

jimmythefly said...

I'm not in the market for one of these, but if I were I'd want a nice set of chrome spacers to go with my threadless steel chrome stem.

Anonymous said...

you kind of need have the bottom polished. If you don't, you're likely to get a bunch of complaints from folks in the future. The only people who won't complain will be those who remember this blog post and understand that polishing the bottom would double the price.
100-120 is reasonable for a nicely polished, well-made stem. I look to your products for nice, not quite fully custom stuff. 400 is too expensive for your market, but 100 is perfect. Ie: fully custom is too much for your market, but unfinished polish is too low end.

Think of it this way, your fillet brazed stems need to have at least as good of a finish as your line of aluminum stems.

HTH
Allan

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that style of clamp is ugly no matter how much you polish it. You already make a great threadless stem. I don't see the point in these really. Do people actually want their clamp to look like like a shim with a bolt soldered on? Once you get these polished up, the price will be in rivendell territory, and I think we all would like to avoid that.

Dan

Anonymous said...

You have the very nice aluminum stems for the lower price point. That said, if I wanted one of these it would be at the lower price point as I have children and little discretionary dough. But, I like my removable face plate stems so this is not something I'd buy either way. Mel, SF

Anonymous said...

Can you have them up the level of finish a bit and raise the price a bit?
Experience has shown that the bottom (or wherever the finish is incomplete) will be where the rust starts. There is a lot of room to move between $80 and $450.

Gunnar Berg said...

I would have to believe that anyone who is spending any amount of money for a handmade stem would want a finer finish.

Anonymous said...

If you opt for the rougher finished you will get complaints that they are poorly made, if you raise the price to pay for a better finish you will get complaints they are to expensive.

I'd rather receive complaints about price rather then the quality of my product.

Anonymous said...

I still think anyone who orders one of these should just receive an aluminum nitto threaded or VO threadless stem as appropriate, a tube of simichrome, an old t-shirt, and a CD with an hour of good music with an upbeat enough tempo to keep you polishing - Respect by Aretha Franklin, Jessica by the Allman Bros, etc... The end result would be the same, though you might also have to cleverly hide some lead shot somewhere in the front end of the bike to replicate the weight penalty.

If you want to get all Prisig about it, which is more Zen/aesthetic: an overcrafted stem with a chrome finish that looks pretty until it becomes scratched or corroded (and I don't care how well you take care of it, if you ride your bike the part of a steel/chrome threaded stem that is inside the steerer tube will corrode), or a lighter and more functional aluminum stem that can be raised to the same level of shine with just a little work, not to mention buffed up any time it gets dingy or scratched? I know these chrome stems are a fetish item that a lot of people seem to want, but at the risk of talking down Chris' bottom line I can't possibly understand what reason one could have for buying one.

Eric said...

I'd be fine with a positive rise, removable faceplate, and the underside being a bit rough.

Jan said...

Nicer finish. 6-degrees.

J ustin. said...

How about threads on the right side of the threadless stem for a bell.

Oh, and a steering tube stretcher for my fork. The guy I bought it from cut it so I have to use a stem with a rise.

Cough.

Anyone got a low trail threadless fork for 700c with canti posts for sale???

:)

Doug said...

At double the price, won't these be in the Nitto range? Nitto doesn't do a quill, so that is a non-issue, but I wonder if many wouldn't go with Nitto if the price was similar for the threadless. I guess that makes my vote for less finished and less moolah...

Doug

Anonymous said...

Corrosion is not an issue. My 30 year old chrome fork and rack and chainstays look great. I just wax them once a year.

I wouldn't pay to polish areas I won't see.

Most people that buy a traditional stem like this probably want a traditional shape. This stem is much prettier than a lugged stem.

Le Cagot said...

Remember that though constructeur bikes and components were very nice looking, they did not obsess over the finish. A Singer or (real) Herse looks pretty crude by the standard of American or Japanese custom builders. They were finished well enough to look good from two meters away, but real effort went into the design, not into paint or polish.

cleve said...

Chris-

Get the highest quality you can - that's what VO stands for.

Kathryn

Marc said...

I read Persig while a freshman in college and the one thing I remember was the use of a beer can to create a shim for his friend's handlebars. The friend was horrified that his precious BMW was repaired with a piece of scrap. But he would never have known if Persig hadn't told him. What I decided was that function has value, value has some degree of quality, quality is enhanced if it contributes to aesthetics. The BMW had no value without the shim and it did not detract from the form or function of the bike only the pretentious ego of the owner. Consequently the repair enhanced the quality of bike no matter where the shim came from.
The sick part of all this is that I actually remember it and think of empty beer cans when I see a Nitto shim advertised.
Hell, I don't look at the bottom of the stem unless I've fallen and then I don't care. I don't believe in setting a bike on the mantle to be picked over and admired, ride the damn thing.
Offer both if you can afford to, if not, don't.

Kilroy said...

Greetings,
The quill stems are a work of art in my humble estimation. We would be lacking if you choose not to make this stem available. There may be minor blemishes present, but only the "anal" that place a bicycle in their living room and look at it would be unhappy.

Best regards.

Anonymous said...

I think your proposed price point is about right. Get much above that and people are likely to gravite to Nitto. I've purchased your aluminum stem riser and stem and believe you found the sweet spot. Very nice quality at a superbly competitive price point. As a corporate strategy recommend that you continue to make that your continued focus.

AB said...

On Quality, you might like The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander.

Anonymous said...

try to stay under a hundred. people will buy the lugged nitto stem if you go much higher. . . it just wouldn't make sense not to . .


mw

david_nj said...

What Michael S. and Ron said. Nice finish, -17. And Justin's suggestion of a boss for a bell is not a bad idea. Come to think of it, a boss on the underside to hold a decaleur wouldn't be a bad idea.

The world has way too many so-so bike parts. Make something really nice. If people need to eat Rahmin noodles for a while to pay for it, that seems like a fair trade.

Btw on the threadless models, I'd try to configure the steerer clamp bolts so that they're not in back. E.g., like some of those stems in the pictures of that handmade bike show.

Anonymous said...

try to stay under a hundred. people will buy the lugged nitto stem (readily available in both quill and threadless) if you go much higher. . . it just wouldn't make sense not to . . . 6 degrees is pretty reasonable, or you could go with a 73 degree or level extension with a taller quill like a tech deluxe. . . the quill in that case should probably be 190mm or so. The other one can be shorter. I would probably buy it either way.

If I were you, I might inquire about slightly upgraded finish at slightly upgraded price. Probably not a really big deal though.

best,
michael white


mw

Rick Risemberg said...

Stems look pretty good as they are, though a tad more polish on the bottom would be nice. My bigger desire is the -17° angle; I too dislike upjutting stems, triply so on drop bar bikes. For those of us who love level top tubes, an equally level stem is an aesthetic requirement.

A visual balance to the bike may not change its ride or quality, but does affect the experience.

Satinee Sally said...

Cheap is good. No one looks under a stem anyway. AS long as it does the job , it will get a good reputation and sell, sell, sell.

Anonymous said...

What Le Cagot and anonymous 7:17p.m. said...

Anonymous said...

-17 degrees, quill as long as a Technomic, nickel plating, and the lower finish is fine. A boss under the clamp for a purpose-made decaleur would be cool.

J ustin. said...

I will say that the lack of a removeable faceplate makes me a little anxious. I'm not sure why as I wouldn't use the same stem with my Jitensha bars as I would with my Noodles. I think it's just the idea of the flexibility that the faceplate gives me coupled with the idea that I _need_ that flexibility.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Regarding removable face plates, I want these stems to have a certain "French constructeur" style, so no removable face plates. I also think that the folks buying these more expensive components have enough experience to know exactly how they want their bike set up, They are not for someone who will be continually switching bars.

J ustin. said...

And thus Chris made me feel like I _needed_ to have a stem without a removable faceplate in order to be experienced! ;)

Ah boy.

I'll be on the first order - if I can find a fork with a longer steerer tube!

Anonymous said...

having thought about it some more.

first, anyone who loves old world craftsmanship, please come polish the chrome lugs on my Cinelli Supercorsa. That has to be the worst quality chrome ever sold. But: it's still a wonderful bike. Lovely ride and aesthetics, even if the chrome does fall off when you look at it. That's neither here nor there . . . just sayin.

Now about the "defects" in the stem. Everyone, please remember that this is not a forged aluminum stem which is barrel polished and probably never sees a human hand. This one actually has to be mitered and brazed by hand, and you might expect some imperfections as a result, especially at that price. Personally, I would not mind a few rough areas at all. Especially if the chrome is decently thick and doesn't rust though in the European style. So, I change my position. I would order the stem as is, and let's see how it holds up before getting all worked up about a completely aesthetic and subjective matter.

best,
michael white

Anonymous said...

I'm a little surprised that no one has mentioned the best part of the expensive stems - the version that copies the old Cinelli steel stems.

Everybody does the one with the quill tube run to the top and an aluminum plug to hold the bolt head, including the old Tioga T-bone road stems. (Yes, I know Singer did it that way too.) Adequate, not elegant.

Nobody but Coast seems to do the Cinelli one, with the extension tube running back over top of the quill tube. The appearance is altogether different, and to me incomparable. I'm sure it involves more work, but can your low-cost supplier produce that style?

Rich F.

Tom said...

The polished chrome plated finish is consistent top and bottom, front to back. Chris brought to our attn some file marks and not so neat TIG weld lines om the underside of the stems of these stems. There is no 'less finished' or 'lower end finish' by neglecting the underside. it's all the same. Compared to the other CP finished handlebars, stems, seatposts -and frames for that matter- from Taiwan, the stem samples you are looking at are up at the top in terms of overall quality and finish. there arent light spots, rough or textured spots, dull areas, pits or pockmarks.

There is a HUGE price difference between custom made fillet brazed stems by US builders and the Nitto lugged stems that Riv sells. both are nice, and sell to different customers. Our stems would be less than the Riv's for sure; but it's a decidedly different product with different price expectations. We will maintain the highest qualitative finish and construction as we can. We may be able to pay for a little more care to reduce file marks and smaller tighter welds but there's no guarantees.

A longer quill is a great idea. We will also orient the wedge so it is front to back, not to the side.

We want to keep it under $100 and closer to $60. Pricing is so volatile though; its subject to so many variables, like freight, fuel surcharges, duty, and customs entry fees. They affect pricing to us, and to you. The cost of the stem itself is only one part. Nothing is free, especially for a small business.

Anonymous said...

I hope all of those who are pushing for the higher priced option for the stem; i.e., the hightly finished and twice the cost stem, will be willing to pay Della Santa/Rivendell/Hampsten/BG/Sachs, &c what they deserve to polish the inside of their frames for them, as well as their hub axles, &c. After all, Quality means Quality in all things, right? Let the lesser folk, the lower paid, the people with calloused hands yet still like bikes, starve for a while so they can put their money into--wait for it--extra shiny sports equipment.
This weekend I was at a wedding and sat next to a bore whotold me he 'needed' his german luxury car to drive his children to school. Tell me how the 'need' for a highly polished underside to a stem is different.
M Burdge

Alan said...

Nobody 'needs' any of this stuff. Needs and wants are completely different things. No one needs to starve to get shiny components, there are other options available.

Tom said...

M Burdge, and everyone else: there is no way to not polish the bottom and polish the top for less money. It's all or nothing. Look at the underside of the stem- the chroming is as lovely underneath as it is on top. It's the hand filing marks that detract from the perfection, giving it a lesser perceived quality level.

Or maybe handmade items, with little imperfections from a little too much gusto from one pass of the file is perfection itself.
Imperfection is Perfection.
e-richie said so!

Anonymous said...

one last point is that some of the most expensive aftermarket quills do come with a wedge on the side. . . I believe the reason behind it is that putting clamping force on the front of the steerer, then basically whacking it in the same area by hitting a pothole or curb, is not a good idea. A wedge on the side would not put the same sort of stress riser on the tube. Personally, I doubt it matters. I have not broken a steerer tube, but I know it happens, especially if the wedge is tightened in the threaded portion. I guess what I'm saying is, I'd like to see that stem for sale. . . I am not convinced anything needs to be done to it.

Anonymous said...

If you make the quill version with a traditional rise and a fairly long quill, I will buy one regardless of the finish, as long as it's at least as good as the one shown in the photo. My Technomic stem never has looked quite right on my Univega.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that no one 'needs' the finery that is VO. What sticks in my craw is the snobbery around 'fine bicycles.' The possession of a fine bicycle is not a moral category. I am quite willing to admit my appreciation of leather saddles and lugs and fenders is not different in theory or practice than the feelings Elvis memorabilia collectors have for the Franklin Mint. I enjoy the pastime, but come on--they are just bikes. Sorry, they are. Just Bikes.
M Burdge

Anonymous said...

To Tom & Chris,

I really like the look of the old polished steel Cinelli stems in top photo would be the ultimate however price would be ideal if you can keep it under $100. I know the only other option is to get them custom made but the price is very prohibited except a small few.

Please Keep the stem horizontal with ground (depends on preferred head angle of choice). I would recommend a quill that is longer compared to the Cinelli to give the option to raise them for a higher rise but still retain the (angled) classic look. A lot of the stems on Dutch bikes are like this.

The stem described above with the Nitto Promenade bars would be a timeless classic.

I would buy 2+ of them in a instant.

Cheers,

CB

PS: A modern ISO bottom bracket (for Campy) would be great as well.

Anonymous said...

I would buy one at that price. The finish is important, but the function has to be top priority.

I would say the -6 degree is the way to go. That look is great, but again, function comes first.

Anonymous said...

I don't need a stem but at $60-80 I'd be tempted to buy one for the coolness factor. At twice that price I wouldn't even consider it.

Anonymous said...

I read Z&AMM as a young naval officer in training, when it was first a best-seller. Nice to see a reference to it today. It's still one of my all-time favourite books, although not my only philosophical reading, of course.

As far as stems go, I'm all quill, and all straight horizontal extension. Anything and everything else may meet the quality test for functionality, but it fails it miserably in aesthetics of both the stem itself and the road bicycle as a whole. I prefer to have both functionality and esthetics.

I like fine steel stems, but not if I have to accept substandard work in order to be able to afford it. Now, I don't think I will ever be someone who can afford to spend $400 on a stem, so, in order to get quality, both functionally and aesthetically, it would have to be Nitto for me. I don't see a cheaply-made steel stem as a desirable replacement for a well-made aluminum one.

From a business perspective, companies that knowingly sell cheaply-made products with obvious flaws are taking an awful risk in terms of their reputation in the future. People won't remember a blog post once their stem starts rusting.

Andrew said...

For Pete's sake, you can hardly even see the imperfections when the thing is upside down.

Leave it as is, but definitely -17 degrees, oherwise it will look ridiculous. I haven't seen any upjutting stems with drop bars on Singer or Herse.

Juniper Flowers said...

To me 60-80 is too much for a stem. Add that to the 50$ rim and , well, it seems VO is trying to play with the big boys. This used to be a relatively cheap place to buy stuff.

Anonymous said...

As-is. These are beautiful. Simple elegant design within the constraint of maximizing function is the ultimate beauty. Let's enjoy these and use our valuable resources to improve quality of life for others.

Anonymous said...

Man, I hang out (virtually) with one strange crowd! :-).

I think you absolutely need a -17 degree, level stem. Makes little sense for you to do without one given your niche.

But worrying about the finish on the underside? Srsly? Cannot imagine why anyone would care. The irregular welding makes it look as though someone actually made it with his own hands.

Will Rodger

Michael said...

After reading the comments posted, I'm sure there is a market for this type stem at both a higher finish, and lower finish price points. I've got several very similar stems made by Jack Taylor and they look great on classic my classic bikes. I'm in need of a couple now to finish out two current projects, can't wait to place an order. Mike Thompson Monroe, LA

donald said...

Part of the point of angled threadless stems is that they could be reversed depending on whether you need to raise or lower the handlebar position. Finishing both sides makes both options equally viable, aesthetically that is.

Anonymous said...

For my money you can't see under the stem once it is mounted. Unless you practice yoga on a bike. It makes the product more accessible. Now, the well to do restorers may not be satisfied but maybe it allows a whole new group of people to participate....

Anonymous said...

Fwiw, the Nitto lugged stems are available for $169 at Bicycle Classics, so you might want to consider that a 'ceiling,' if you will....

twblalock said...

If you are talking about threadless stems, I hope you offer them in a 17 degree rise. Classic threaded stems were almost always 17 degrees, and a silver brazed threadless stem is the best way to combine classic looks with modern technology.

Anonymous said...

I just have to say something. Many here keep saying that they want a level stem . . . in the 70's and before, bikes were sized differently--you'd take the biggest frame you could straddle--and top tubes were shorter to match. I rode a 23" bike, whereas for the past couple of decades I have ridden a two inch smaller frame. I could not ride a 23" frame now if I wanted to. The level stems went with the old geometry. Our bikes don't fit like that anymore, headtubes are shorter (about two inches), and top tubes are longer. That's why, as far as level stems go, the most popular ones have extralong quills. Traditional stems with normal length quills and level extensions are all but gone. I use the Pearl on a few bikes, which has a slightly longer quill. It's among my favorites, but I also use stems with some rise, like the Nitto Dynamic 2, and the Salsa, and love em all . . . Adding a bit of rise to a quill stem means several things, all of them good: one is that it solves existing fit issues; two is that it's lighter; three is that it's stiffer for the same weight. Four is that you won't need to add a bunch of spacers. I realize there are some riders from the olden days who think (so to speak) stems should look like they always did, regardless of today's geometry . . . but a stem with a bit of rise is functionally a great thing for today's bikes and today's riders; it means bikes which didn't use to fit will now fit. Even when I'm in great shape, I tend to ride stems pretty near the max line, and most riders, unless they're teenagers on fixies or crit racers, tend to do the same. It's nothing to get upset about. If VO stands for function, that is.

michael white

erik said...

I suggest a nicely finished and top side finished version, both in -17 and +6 degree, 80, 100 and 120mm length. Make the quill almost as long as the Technomic Deluxe. That should cover all your bases. A bell mount would be great also.

Anonymous said...

IMO the problem with 'today's geometry' is that it is baloney, invented solely for ease of manufacturing, not to create useful products for consumers, unfortunately. (Ditto for 1.125-inch headsets, imo). Cyclists don't fit into size categories of 'small, medium, large.'

Anonymous said...

I agree that most of today's bikes are not suited for traditional stems, but hey, I don't like today's bikes either. They all look either like mountain bikes with skinny tires, or like bikes made to strap onto the back of a matching Formula 1 racer (as opposed to being ridden in the real world).

By the way, I don't believe that bikes were necessarily sized larger (at least not in the past that is still within my lifetime). Having been a cyclist back then, it seems to me that this is mostly myth perpetuated by internet web sites. What really happened is that the average cyclist back then didn't set the saddle as high as we do nowadays. Consequently, even with a properly-sized frame, the saddle ended up closer to handlebar level (aided by the fact that stem quills were a little longer at that time than how they became later on in the 80's).

No matter what argument is made in favour of upsloped stems, they completely break up the lines of any level top tube bike, because they are at an angle that doesn't match anything else. They stick up like sore thumbs.

Personally, I love a nice, level, chromoly stem. The only problem is that nice ones are obscenely expensive. If not for that reason, I would take a chromed steel stem over an aluminum one any day. It would be perfect for my lugged steel sport tourer.

Anonymous said...

IMO the problem with 'today's geometry' is that it is baloney, invented solely for ease of manufacturing, not to create useful products for consumers, unfortunately. (Ditto for 1.125-inch headsets, imo). Cyclists don't fit into size categories of 'small, medium, large.'

if you don't want a baloney bike, don't buy one. There are lots of choices. I ride lots of bikes, some made this year, some made twenty years ago, and all are fabulous. The reality is that Treks, Cannondales, Colnagos, and most other bikes sold actually come in a vast array of sizes these days, way way way way more than at any other period in history, as anyone would know who patronized a real live bike shop. Beach cruisers and mtn bikes are different, I suppose. It's nice that companies such as VO are sprouting up to address some of the more specialized needs, at great prices. The stem is a marvelous example.

best,
michael white

Anonymous said...

As a further point to my above comment, consider the following. A lovely 1964 Raleigh Carlton, one of my favorite road bikes, came in two sizes, 21.5 and 23.5. Two sizes. My French bikes were charming but often ill-fitting, for similar reasons.

Cannondales and Colnagos come sized every centimeter now as always, though with the latter, you might have to buy the frame separately for some sizes. Treks come typically in 8 sizes, every two centimeters, for midline off the peg models. Giant, which is often credited and sometimes villified for bringing compact geometry to production bikes, comes in 9 sizes in road models. Some of us prefer made to measure, as always, but it isn't true at all that geometry has been dumbed down for off the peg bikes; the opposite is true. Bikes come in more sizes now than ever, not to mention genres.

michael white

Anonymous said...

MW said:
if you don't want a baloney bike, don't buy one. There are lots of choices. I ride lots of bikes, some made this year, some made twenty years ago, and all are fabulous. The reality is that Treks, Cannondales, Colnagos, and most other bikes sold actually come in a vast array of sizes these days, way way way way more than at any other period in history, as anyone would know who patronized a real live bike shop. Beach cruisers and mtn bikes are different, I suppose. It's nice that companies such as VO are sprouting up to address some of the more specialized needs, at great prices. The stem is a marvelous example.

best,
michael white

8/8/09 1:11 PM


Anonymous (MW) then said...
As a further point to my above comment, consider the following. A lovely 1964 Raleigh Carlton, one of my favorite road bikes, came in two sizes, 21.5 and 23.5. Two sizes. My French bikes were charming but often ill-fitting, for similar reasons.

Cannondales and Colnagos come sized every centimeter now as always, though with the latter, you might have to buy the frame separately for some sizes. Treks come typically in 8 sizes, every two centimeters, for midline off the peg models. Giant, which is often credited and sometimes villified for bringing compact geometry to production bikes, comes in 9 sizes in road models. Some of us prefer made to measure, as always, but it isn't true at all that geometry has been dumbed down for off the peg bikes; the opposite is true. Bikes come in more sizes now than ever, not to mention genres.

michael white

8/8/09 1:45 PM
To which I respond:
Nice job of picking oddities to suit your purpose, but I'm not buying it, sorry. Thanks for the insult, though. I would expect that from you....

Anonymous said...

dear anon,

and by the late 1970's, toward the end of the greatest bike boom, Raleigh's most popular model, the Grand Prix, was coming out in 4 men's sizes. The good ol' Grand Prix and its French counterpart, the PUO-8, were remarkably wretched bikes, in design, materials, and execution, though I owned both and enjoyed them for a time.

There are various stereotypes about geometry which are worth debunking. One is that modern bikes come in fewer sizes. Anyone who truly cares about bikes and rides them will probably want to cut through the drivel. Part of the truth is that the industry is actually not a bunch of baloney, but in fact there's a reason why 99%, at least, of the riders in your local club ride mainstream bikes like Treks, and if you get to know them, you just might find that they are not all completely depraved, hoodwinked, or ignorant. It's because the bikes work. There are a number of smart, savvy designers in the industry like Mike Sinyard, Sky Yeager, Joe Breeze, etc. There's also a nice opening outside the mainstream for companies like VO, but to find the opening I'd think it would help to know what the mainstream does.

best,
michael white

Anonymous said...

It all looks good to me. As a profligate parts spender, I'd buy a the cheap threadless 6 degree and 73 degree just for fun, and if the more refined version was under $200, one or two of those, especially if they had a bell mount. Is there anyway you could do a trial run on each without running into prohibitive development costs? I'd be both would sell....

Anonymous said...

dear anon,
MW hath writ:
and by the late 1970's, toward the end of the greatest bike boom, Raleigh's most popular model, the Grand Prix, was coming out in 4 men's sizes. The good ol' Grand Prix and its French counterpart, the PUO-8, were remarkably wretched bikes, in design, materials, and execution, though I owned both and enjoyed them for a time.

There are various stereotypes about geometry which are worth debunking. One is that modern bikes come in fewer sizes. Anyone who truly cares about bikes and rides them will probably want to cut through the drivel. Part of the truth is that the industry is actually not a bunch of baloney, but in fact there's a reason why 99%, at least, of the riders in your local club ride mainstream bikes like Treks, and if you get to know them, you just might find that they are not all completely depraved, hoodwinked, or ignorant. It's because the bikes work. There are a number of smart, savvy designers in the industry like Mike Sinyard, Sky Yeager, Joe Breeze, etc. There's also a nice opening outside the mainstream for companies like VO, but to find the opening I'd think it would help to know what the mainstream does.

best,
michael white

8/9/09 10:14 AM

MW:
You keep listing low-end vintage bikes to 'prove' your unproveable point. That's nonsense. We aren't talking about low-end bicycles, never were. High-end stock vintage steel frames were available every one or two centimeters, and custom ones every millimeter. They all had level top tubes, as God intended. So-called 'compact geometry' is about as useful as 'compact' cranksets, which aren't at all compact, just easy to fit onto more road & mountain bikes with fat chainstays, resulting in terrible Q-factors.
I own and operate a bike shop, by the way, but thanks for the continuing insults.

J ustin. said...

See Chris - I told you getting rid of anonymous commenting would be a good idea!

Anonymous said...

dear anon,

I have no idea what is making you so miserable and angry and confused. I was not the one making the "unprovable" point. You were. Your contention was that bikes used to come in more sizes than now, when apparently you can only find them in s,m,l, and xl. I have pointed out that this is not true, and mentioned some popular off the shelf brands which come in 8 or 9 sizes. Or, you can peruse the latest Jamis or Kona (etc.) catalog, and I assure you, you'll find most road bikes coming in 8 or 9 sizes. Now, let's compare that to the very best production bike of my high school years, the glorious PX 10. Perhaps that bike isn't nice enough for you, but I assure you it was nice enough for me and most racers of the day. Here's the lowdown:

"While the authors of this page have so far found no catalogs this early, both Eugene Sloane's Complete Book of Bicycling and Richard Ballantine's Richard's Bicycle Book, both first copyrighted this year, list almost identical specifications for the PX-10E. Mentioned are a 72 degree parallel frame design; Nervex lugs; Simplex Prestige Luxe 537 derailleur; Stronglight 93 crankset, 45/52T (Sloane mentions a model 63 "Super Competition"); Atom competition freewheel, 14-16-19-20-23T; Normandy Luxe Competition hubs w/ Simplex skewers; Mavic Montlery rims w/ Hutchinson tubular tires; Mafac "Racer" brakes; AVA alloy bars and stem; Lyotard 45CA dural pedals; Christophe clips and Lapize straps; Simplex seatpost; Brooks Professional saddle; available in blue or white, 21, 23, 24 and 25 inch frames."

That makes 4 sizes for the most collectible and desired off the peg bike of my youth. Now, dear anon, you might be able to name some other nice production frame of that era that you like better that came in more sizes. Still, I'd say that if it is so easy to find examples of current bikes which come in eight or nine sizes, and so hard to find examples of older production bikes which came in half that many, then I'd say I've done my work here.

have a good day.

mw

Anonymous said...

leave them as is and i'll buy one for my "special" ride in a threadless 6. the price is a good comprimise between keeping it real and keeping it beautiful.

hate the idea that folks can easily say these days that $100+ is reasonable for a well-made stem. if i had that much $$, i'd rather go down the street to yamaguchi and have him make a custom one instead of sending $150 or $200 to nitto just to have another forign company, no matter how cool they are (yes, good quality too), take the profit.

make these for the masses, not the minority.

Anonymous said...

That makes 4 sizes for the most collectible and desired off the peg bike of my youth. Now, dear anon, you might be able to name some other nice production frame of that era that you like better that came in more sizes. Still, I'd say that if it is so easy to find examples of current bikes which come in eight or nine sizes, and so hard to find examples of older production bikes which came in half that many, then I'd say I've done my work here.

have a good day.

mw

Nice circular logic, with a side order of self-fulfilling prophecy! I am pierced by your rapier wit - not! FLC! (QED).

Anonymous said...

function before looks

also, for those of us who have been fixed, even steeper track angles.

Anonymous said...

If it has a nice designer engraved logo, folks would pay for it, but my tops is $150 without logo! and offer it in two styles classic 68° and 73° angles.

Ahmet Cemiloglu said...

What happened to these stems? Still under development? I want one, with nice finish all around.

You could also try an Alex Singer style with a top cap. I think they have a shorter allen bolt screw that saves weight, and needs a long allen key.

If it's going to be constructeur style, I believe it should have the best possible finish, and lightest option available.

THorn said...

Have there been any developments on these? Im desperate to find an affordable good looking brazed stem that isnt as gaudy as the nitto lugged one or the ridiculously shaped tange lugged offerings. Im in love with the nitto craft 5 fillet stem, I think its a masterpiece, but it only comes in the goofy wide clamp diameter. I cant afford to have such a simple item custom made, its stupid. A 4-bolt faceplate would actually look classy with the craft 5 design, in 26.0. ...and by the way, I dont own any 1 1/8 steer tubes! I have nothing but 1" threadless, and its damn near impossible to find a stem I dont have to shim. The tall stack is a step in the right direction, but again, looks a little silly shimmed on top of any of the thin columbus tube bikes I have. Shimming looks tacky and disproportionate if there are more than a few mm of spacers, like a big dumb baby huey of a mountain bike took a big dump on the headset of my beautiful graceful road bike.I need a nitto craft 5 with a 26mm bar clamp and 1" steerer clamp!!! SOMEONE HELP!!!