The best mountain bike stems are an important factor when it comes to the control of your mountain bike, but which one should you choose?
Our round-up of the best mountain bike stems in both 31.8mm and 35mm clamp sizes.
A mountain bike stem connects the handlebars to the fork steerer. They come in different lengths and different rises, allowing you to tune your cockpit position Modern stems are typically under 70mm in length, with 40mm and 50mm being the most popular measurements. Generally there are twin bolts to clamp around the steerer tube, and four bolts at the face plate to attach the handlebar.
It is possible to measure differences in weight between models of stem, and if you’re really in tune with your bike, there are subtle differences in stiffness to evaluate. It’s not easy, but keep all the components the same, and ride the same trail over and over again with different stems, and the nuances begin to become apparent.
Equally, get up close and it becomes obvious which stems are really well thought-out and have the best combination of construction, material choice, geometry and even the fasteners — something that’s important on a component that needs to handle big forces.
First job is to work out what stems will actually fit on to your bike. You’ll need to know your fork’s steerer size and handlebar diameter.
Your fork steerer is almost certainly going to be the usual 1-1/8th” diameter (the other option is 1.5in but it’s very rare these days). Use a tape measure or vernier calipers to measure the diameter of your headset top cap and you’ll instantly see if it’s not for a 1-1/8th” fork steerer fork. You’ll also need to check the handlebar diameter. This will either be 31.8mm or 35mm on modern mountain bikes. Make sure you measure the area at the clamp, not the ends at the grips.
Best mountain bike stems
These our are current favourite best mountain bike stems. See the links to full reviews down the page.
- Race Face Turbine R 35 – Editor’s Choice
- E*thirteen Base stem – Editor’s Choice
- Renthal Apex
- KS Ether
- Syntace Megaforce 2
- Funn Crossfire
‘View Deal’ links
You will notice that beneath each product summary is a ‘View Deal’ link. If you click on one of these links then mbr may receive a small amount of money from the retailer should you go to purchase the product from them. Don’t worry, this does not affect the amount you pay.
Race Face Turbine R 35 MTB stem
Not cheap but oh-so-good-looking
Pro: Loads of options
Con: On the expensive side
What we really like about the Race Face Turbine R35 is that it’s pretty stiff for a lightweight machined stem. It’s crafted from a lump of 7075 aluminium billet and is oversized in the midriff as well as having an oversized Overbite faceplate. This gets the company’s Top-Lock clamping system, where the top two fasteners are clamped fully, with the bottom two then snugged up to close the gap. This system eliminates uneven clamping and creates a stiffer union between bar and stem. Even with a matching 800mm Next R bar fitted, the steering feels precise and immediate, with just the right amount of resilience.
E*thirteen Base 35 stem
Pro: Does eveything you need for minimal cash
Con: Not as blingy as some
Function is brought to the fore with this excellent e*thirteen Base stem. It comes with opposing stem bolts, that are nicely recessed to keep them away from knees, and use T25 fasteners for less chance of rounding. The gapless face plate means you cinch down the top bolts until the gap disapears, then torque the lower bolts to the recommended setting. It’s easier to install and it more evenly spread the loads. The bar is held by a wide clamp and all the edges are softly rounded off. An excellent stem at a great price.
Renthal Apex stem
Handles the extra twist of wide bars and available down to 31mm
Price: £89.95 | Weight: 110g | Colours: Black/gold | Lengths: 31, 33, 40, 50, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90mm
Pro: Classy and classic
Con: Not the absolute stiffest
Longer-than-standard clamps slide onto the bar’s centre from the taper, and while installation takes a little bit more time, and care needs to be taken on carbon handlebars, once centred, clamp fit is extremely positive. The clamp uses an easier zero-gap design on one side, but with the stem orientated normally (six-degree rise up) the gap is at the top, which isn’t quite as neat when looking down riding the bike. It’s a solid junction, though, and there was no creaking at any point. Function is sorted on the featherweight Apex, but there’s a vague sense it wasn’t the most rigid or precise-steering unit in back-to-back testing. Renthal’s stem is upper end, price-wise, but at 110g it’s the lightest 35mm option here and that helps justify the cost.
Syntace Megaforce 2 stem
If money were no object: first choice
Price: €118.00 | Weight: 105g | Colours: Black | Lengths: 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80mm
Pro: Ticks all the boxes
Con: That price tag
This impressively stiff stem is 3D-forged, CNC machined and shot-peened. The process goes some way to explain its relatively high price tag. It’s not just stiff, it’s also crisply finished and even has titanium bolts with oversized M6 heads. The stack height is modest and the 6° rise can be flipped if you need a lower bar height. Comes with a 10year warranty too. Impressive is the word.
KS Ether stem
Light and strong enough for everything from XC to DH
Price: £55.00 | Weight: 121g | Colours: Black | Lengths: 50, 70mm
Pro: A very polished product
Con: Limited length options
KS are much better known for their excellent dropper seatposts but recently they’ve branched out into cockpit components with handlebars and stems. The glossy finish and sheeny ti bolts give this stem a look and feel of premium goods but thankfully the price tag doesn’t follow suit. The wraparound rear clamp designs will please your kneecaps. One niggle: not very many length options currently.
Funn Crossfire stem
There are lighter stems but the Crossfire is hard to beat
Price: £59.99 | Weight: 129g | Colours: Red, orange, blue, black, grey, green | Lengths: 35, 50mm
Pro: The very definition of a modern MTB stem
Con: Sculpted aesthetic won’t suit everyone
The Crossfire cannot be faulted in performance. Very little flex could be perceived during riding even when hauling on the bars. Setting up was simple and despite running all the bolts dry (sorry!) and riding it in desert conditions it never developed a creak. There are plenty of colours to choose from and it has a style suited to any bike. There are slightly lighter stems out there but the Crossfire is hard to beat on every other factor.
What to look for with the best mountain bike stems
Handlebar and stem clamp diameter
Handlebar diameter is a bit less straightforward. Modern era mountain bikes will either have the more-common 31.8mm diameter handlebars or the newer 35mm diameter handlebars. Older bikes may still be sporting skinny 25.4mm diameter handlebars. Again you can use a tape measure to quickly assess what diameter your bike has. You need to get the same stem clamp diameter as your handlebar diameter ie. 31.8mm clamp stem for a 31.8mm diameter handlebar.
4mm and 5mm Allen bolts are most common on mtb stems, with the heavier, larger-diameter bolts typically enabling higher torques and subsequent clamping forces. Cheaper bolts round off more easily, and anodised bolts can lose colour. Stainless steel or titanium bolts maintain looks and are more resistant to corrosion.
The vertical real estate the stem demands on the steerer tube. It can be an issue if your fork steerer is too short, and can also relate to the handlebar height achievable and overall stiffness of the stem.
30mm is about as short as you can go on a standard stem. There are some newer designs that enable even shorter stems but they require specially designed handlebars. Stubby stems are something we’re big advocates of here, since reducing the distance the bar extends beyond the steerer will sharpen the steering response, provided your bike is roomy enough. We recommend fitting the shortest stem you can get away with but bear in mind that some older bikes with short top tubes may end up with cramped reach and compromised bike control, in which case we wouldn’t go shorter than 50mm and we’d also think about fitting wider handlebars as a means of widening your reach and improving balance, control and comfort.
Zero gap fastening
More and more stems are now featuring a zero-gap bar clamp design, whereby one pair of clamp bolts fasten fully, and the remaining bolts tighten to lock the bar in place. The design prevents uneven tensioning and reduces the number of bolts you need to fix to a precise torque setting, making set-up easier.
Rise is the difference in height between the clamps. Most stems are zero-rise, which means if you flip them over they don’t change the bar height. However, a six-degree rise stem allows you to effect a plus or minus six-degree change in bar height by simply turning the stem upside down.
CNC v Forged
Stems are either 3D forged or CNC machined from an aluminium billet (basically a chunk of metal). Forging sees aluminium squeezed under immense pressures into (close to) the stem’s final shape. The technique compresses the material around high stress areas, and it’s argued produces a stiffer product with a better-aligned, denser grain structure. The initial forging cost is expensive and the finish is sometimes less angular, although you do see stems that are forged initially and then tidied up on a CNC machine.