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Best mountain bike stems: the best stems to sharpen up your steering

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best mountain bike stems
(Image credit: Pacenti Cycle Design)

Every year bikes are getting longer, lower, and slacker, and as everything from the frame to suspension technology continues to evolve at the speed of light, for whatever reason the best mountain bike stems just don't seem to keep pace. 

With that, we regularly advise readers of our bike tests to switch the existing stems for something shorter to speed up handling and increase featherlight accuracy. But what should you look for in the ideal upgrade stem and how much do you need to spend? 

Read on for the rundown of our favorite stems, or head for the bottom to learn what you need to know to pick the best mountain bike stem.

Best mountain bike stems

Best Mountain Bike Stems: Race Face Chester

(Image credit: Race Face)

Race Face Chester

Reliable and strong at a reasonable budget

Price: £40-43 / $77
Sizes: 40 x 35mm, 60 x 35mm, 50 x 31.8mm, 70 x 31.8mm
Weight: 160g
Reasons to buy
+Solidly reliable 31.8mm or 35mm bar holding performance with strength to spare+Reasonable pricing
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively hefty-Loud graphics on 31.8mm won’t suit everyone

If you want a totally fit and forget stem for any sort of riding and don’t want to pay a fortune then Race Face’s Chester is a chunky winner. The fact it’s available in a full range of contemporary sizes separates it from similarly performing but older and cheaper designs too.

The forged 2014 series alloy body is shot blasted to remove manufacturing stress and doesn’t get any machining to undermine strength, which means there’s plenty of strength. The handlebar clamp uses a unique overlapping U shaped design to create a mechanical connection beyond just the bolt torque, and the Chester can take a ton of bar wrenching and ugly landings in its stride. It’s broad enough to keep on track when things get tasty, and while it’s not light it’s not a total brick either. The 31.8mm and 35mm versions (which are cheaper) come in two length options each which make the in-your-face graphics on the 31.8mm version the only potential obstacle in choosing a Chester for your bike.

Best Mountain Bike Stems: Syntace Megaforce

(Image credit: Syntace)

Syntace MegaForce 2

A hidden gem that is stiff and light with a 10 year warranty

Price: £110 / $99
Sizes: 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90mm x 31.8 or 35mm
Weight: 105g
Reasons to buy
+Super light yet seriously stiff with a buzz calming feel+Impressively tough with a 10-year guarantee
Reasons to avoid
-High price-Slightly awkward to find

You might have to hunt around to find this German stem and dig deep into your pockets when you do but if you want the best high-performance stem around it’s worth the quest. 

On the surface, it looks exactly like the sort of stem we generally shrink away from. Lots of post forging machining leaves very little metal left and combined with titanium bolts it’s right on the 100g borderline we normally reserve for XC only use. However, those big M6 bolts are designed to be cranked up tighter than normal and the remaining metal is formed into deep, stiffness boosting ribs on the steerer clamp and separate bar clamp bands. That meant tentative testing soon turned into a full-on Enduro onslaught as our trust in the MegaForce increased. The harder you ride the more you’ll realize this is an outstandingly stiff and precise stem that also noticeably quietens bar feel in a way that other lighter stems don’t. A full range of sizes is backed up with a 10-year guarantee, and the Syntace range also includes super light XC options, more affordable designs and even a unique angle-and-reach-adjustable handlebar and stem combo. All come recommended depending on your riding needs.

Best Mountain Bike Stems: Brand X Enduro

(Image credit: Wiggle CRC)

Brand-X Enduro

Solid, surprisingly light, and massively inexpensive

Price: £18 / $23
Sizes: 40, 50, 60mm x 31.8mm
Weight: 135g
Reasons to buy
+Solid feeling and surprisingly lightweight short length stem+Absolute bargain price
Reasons to avoid
-No 35mm bar options-Even lengths only

If you want a shorter stem and don’t have oversized 35mm handlebars, Chain Reaction’s house brand provides a super cheap upgrade option that outperforms a lot of far more expensive options. The forged finish is left raw but thinner sections between the clamp bolts on the steerer clamp and faceplate mean it’s still reasonably light. The squared shaft feels totally solid in use though and all the 4mm bolts are Loctite coated for security. 

The MTB stem has a slightly narrower, cylindrical neck and open faceplate and that does result in some twist on longer lengths despite being heavier than the Enduro stem. At just £12.99 full price it’s still an absolute bargain if you want 60, 70 or 80mm lengths for a 31.8mm bar.

Best Mountain Bike Stems: Pace RC46

(Image credit: Pace)

Pace RC46

Stiff and light with snappy handling, but one size doesn't always fit all

Price: £80 / $N/A
Sizes: 32 x 35mm
Weight: 130g
Reasons to buy
+Very stiff, reasonably light+Super short length for immediate, lightweight handling
Reasons to avoid
-Only one size-Fancy metalwork isn’t cheap

Pace buck the trend by producing a boxy-looking CNC stem that feels absolutely rock solid accurate and can take a proper battering on the trail. It only comes in one super short length though.

The 32mm length is about as close as you can get a 35mm handlebar to a 31.8mm steerer tube without them physically touching or needing a custom bar like the Pacenti. The super broad face clamp takes it well clear of most CNC machined stems in terms of resisting bar torque too, so tire feedback and line accuracy get an immediate boost. Despite some aggressive-looking sharp edges we’ve been giving it a complete beasting for a while now without any ill effects. Extra performance does cost extra compared to generic competition though.

Best Mountain Bike Stems: Truvativ Hussefelt

(Image credit: Truvativ)

Truvativ Hussefelt

Strong and stiff but with a slight weight penalty

Price: £25 / $32
Sizes: 40, 60mm x 31.8mm
Weight: 210g
Reasons to buy
+Unshakeably strong and stiff bar to bike connection+M5 bolts make torquing less tentative
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy-No 35mm bar option

If you absolutely never want your stem to move however hard you land/crash/turn and you’re still on skinnier handlebars, then Truvativ’s Hussefelt has been the burliest stem around for years. Allegedly named (slightly wrongly) after the legendary Icelandic Husafell lifting stone used to test Viking strongmen, this big knuckle of forged alloy is unashamedly thick-walled and brutish in design. With only minimal weight reduction on the polished raised logo faceplate, it takes the scales over 200g. With opposed 5mm stem and bar clamp bolts locking it into place it gives a totally rock solid, seismic proof connection between your bars and your fork. You get black and white finishes but it only comes in 40 and 60mm lengths and neither the Hussefelt nor the slightly lighter but considerably more expensive Holzefeller stem come in 35mm bar versions. 

Best Mountain Bike Stems: Pacenti P-Dent

(Image credit: Pacenti)

Pacenti P-Dent bar and stem

Ultra short, ultra snappy bar and stem combo

Price: £189 / $219.99
Sizes: 20 x 35mm
Weight: 110g
Reasons to buy
+Unique ultra sensitive, snap reacting silly short stem steering+Competitively light and priced with great bar feel
Reasons to avoid
-Needs a long bike and a taste for freaky fast reactions-Competitively priced but not cheap

This unique bar and stem combo use an incredibly simple idea to create our favorite defibrillator for bikes with dead handling.

The P-Dent name refers to the fact the handlebar has a large convex section (or dent) in the back of the center clamping section so it can actually partially wrap around the fork steerer. The bar and steerer clamping sections of the stem also intersect to create an effective length of just over 20mm. That gives an ultralight, instantly reactive steering feel that’s incredible for accurate line and traction tweaking. That’s why our two Pacenti sets are in constant use brightening up the handling of the dullest bikes or taking already awesome bikes to another level. Obviously, you need a long reach for the super short stem not to feel cramped on your bike, but if you like properly direct reactions, this is the way to go. Pricing and weights are competitive for a lightweight stem and great feeling 800mm wide, 35mm diameter carbon bar which comes in 15 or 25mm rises. While first-generation stems had a habit of cracking, the newer design has given us no problems.

Best Mountain Bike Stems: Ritchey WCS

(Image credit: Ritchey)

Ritchey WCS C220

Feather-weight but trail-tough

Price: £85 / $90
Sizes: 35-110mm x 31.8 or 35mm
Weight: 105g +
Reasons to buy
+Very lightweight yet trail tough in wide size range+Unique clamp holds bar while you tighten
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Some flex with wide bars

If you’re trying to shave weight off your bike without obviously compromising control then Ritchey’s WCS stems have always been a top option. The latest versions come in a very complete range of sizes from 35mm upwards and in 31.8 and 35mm (£89 / $90) handlebar options. The cleanly forged construction gets a little bit of machined cleaning and polishing and the steerer clamp is cut away slightly too. The 220º bar clamp is unique in that it actually lightly clips most bars in place as you tighten the thin, H front plate making set up easy. Although you can provoke some movement if you really wrench on wide bars the broad clamp means it’s solid enough for most riders and it’s definitely one of the few obviously light stems we’d be happy full gas.

Best Mountain Bike Stems: USE Ultimate Vyce

(Image credit: USE)

USE Ultimate Vyce

Secure hold with knee-friendly design

Price: £80 / $110
Sizes: 40, 50, 60mm x 31.8 or 35mm
Weight: 110g
Reasons to buy
+Impressively secure bar holding for minimal weight+Neat looking, knee friendly ‘strap and wedge’ design
Reasons to avoid
-Strap and wedge design is a fight to set up and adjust-Minimal metal reduces suitability for gonzo riders

While a basic cold-forged stem with a bar clamp at one end and a handlebar clamp at the other is all anyone needs, some people like to be different. If that’s you, then USE’s ingenious jigsaw puzzle stem is a light and trail-worthy way to bolt your bars on.

The single metal part of the stem is effectively a strap that loops around the bars and then the fork steerer which is pretty neat. Getting the expanding plastic wedge block assembly between the steerer and the bars is more of a fight though, so prepare to be patient and remove children's ears and delicate objects from the immediate area before attempting assembly. Make sure you get the angle right as you crank up the two opposing bolts to lock everything into place too, as once it’s set tight, it’s a pain to loosen and adjust subtly.

The updated twin bolt design is impressively stiff for its minimal weight and the clean rounded rear lines make it very knee-friendly compared to back bolted designs. Considering all the cunning R&D involved it’s a decent price too. 

Best Mountain Bike Stems: Hope AM FR Stem

(Image credit: Hope)

Hope AM/Freeride

A strong performer backed by unparalleled support

Price: £95
Sizes: 35, 50, 70 x 31.8 or 35mm
Weight: 130g
Reasons to buy
+Full range of anodised colors, sizes and standard or direct mount/top clamp styles+Tough, with brilliant factory direct and event support
Reasons to avoid
-Intricate UK manufacturing makes them expensive-Decent but not dazzling performance

Immaculate Lancashire machining makes Hope’s stems expensive compared to Far Eastern fabricated competition but they come in a massive range of styles and sizes as well as a trademark palette of anodized colors.

Keen but not excessive machining from cold-forged alloy ingots puts the Hope stem comfortably mid-pack in terms of weight and stiffness. Stainless steel bolts reduce worries about stripping when tightening though and they’re reassuringly tough even when worked hard in a gravity situation. There is a specific DH stem design too, plus direct-mount and even single piece stem and top clamp for Boxxer, Fox 40 and Marzocchi 888 forks. Hope’s factory direct or ‘van at events’ support is legendarily beyond the call of duty in the UK too, so you know they’ve got your back.

The remaining machining ripples are a real attraction to some people, but it’s the ability to color match their stems to other Hope components that’s the real driver for most people to dig deep into their pockets to get one.

Best Mountain Bike Stems: Syncros

(Image credit: Syncros)

Syncros Hixon iC SL bar and stem

An all-in-one that looks and rides great

Price: £299.99 / $330
Sizes: 40, 50, 60mm x 780mm
Weight: 290g
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Sci Fi looks+Great ride feel
Reasons to avoid
-Non adjustable bar sweep/rise, awkward to fit accessories to-Conventional set ups are lighter and cheaper

Syncros’s Hixon all in one carbon bar and stem looks amazing in a sci-fi way and feels great on the trail but bar fit and accessory mounting are very restrictive and conventional bar and stem combos are lighter and cheaper.

The Hixon (and lighter, narrower bar Frazer XC combo) add an instantly futuristic look to your front end. They’re available to mimic fashionably short stem reaches and the latest versions extend span from 760 to 780mm. If the angle of sweep and rotation works for you the actual bar feel is really nicely balanced between accuracy and buzz damping control. 

You obviously can’t adjust that rotation angle though and the way the handlebars push forward and then swing back makes the tip sweep pronounced compared to most conventional bars. Attaching lights and other gear to the bars is potentially very awkward too. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that, at just under 300g, they’re not even lighter than a conventional bar and stem combo that adds up cheaper in cost too.

Best Mountain Bike Stems: OneUp EDC

(Image credit: OneUp)

One Up EDC stem

Best for those looking to take advantage of on bike storage

Price: £69 / $79
Sizes: 35 or 50mm
Weight: 157g
Reasons to buy
+Clever solution to keep tools on your bike+No need to tap your steerer tube
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult to install without pre-loader sold separately

One Up's EDC (Every Day Carry) opened up a whole new area of on-bike real estate for storing multi-tools and spares. The trouble was you had to cut threads into your steerer tube which is an intimidating prospect, even for an experienced mechanic. If you're keen to take advantage of the unused space inside your steerer tube but don't want to risk damage, the EDC stem allows you to store tools worry-free.

Using a clever preload system you can adjust your headset preload without the need for a top cap or star nut.  It may seem like a catastrophe waiting to happen, but if the EDC stem burly enough for Rémy Métailler, it's burly enough for any of us. The Squamish based BC outfit is only currently offering the EDC stem for 35mm bars and in 30 or 50mm lengths. 

What you need to know to pick the best mountain bike stem

1. Price

The great news is that stems don’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, we’ll go further than that, if you told us we had to have a £20 / $30 stem or an £80 / $105 we’d nearly always go for the cheaper options. That’s because most stems start life as very similar forged alloy lumps. From here the cheapest stems are just drilled and threaded for the relevant bolts and maybe anodized or painted before dropping into the shops. Most expensive stems start the same way, but then they’re expensively, extensively sculpted, shaved and carved into pointier, prettier and slightly lighter shapes. Every time you cut into that basic block or turn a rounded organic shape into something sharp though you’re increasing the chance of it cracking, snapping, creaking, or at best, twisting a lot more for a given bar load. Some stems are even machined from solid billet with no grain alignment and it’s no accident you won’t find any of them in our recommended list here.

2. Design

Whether you’re looking at a cheaper forged stem or something that’s been whittled, the same basic rules of leverage apply. The broader the clamp - either onto the fork steerer or the handlebars - the stiffer the connection will be for a given weight/wall thickness. You’ll also find some very fancy/funky designs from people like USE which actually work fine once you’ve fought the bits together in the right order. If there was ever a case for keeping things simple though we’ll take a fat, simply forged stem with big 5mm bolts, over a brittle metal basket with tiny Ti bolts every time, whoever is endorsing it.

Interestingly while carbon stems are a thing in the road world, very few have dared creep onto the dirt and even then they’ve stayed firmly on the lightweight mountain bikes.

3. Specialist Stems

The most obvious category of specialist stems is the direct mount versions that bolt directly onto the top crown of a double crown DH fork. There are some other outliers though like Syntace’s cunning and reliable angle-adjustable stems. Others include optional mounts for cameras/lights in the front plate  The OneUp Components stem even works as the anchor block for preloading the steering bearings, leaving the inside of the fork steerer clear to mount their hidden tool system inside.

4. Weight

You can get stems under 100g and they might survive for months if you’re a very light and careful rider. However, given that even the heaviest stems here are only a smidge over 200g and that most short stems are under 150g, whatever the price/design we really wouldn’t worry about weight. Especially if going too light compromises safety.

5. Dimensions

We’ve covered stem’s that are available in lengths from 25mm up to 100mm, we concentrated mostly on shorter reach units as that’s the most common upgrade switch for more responsive, lighter feeling steering. We’ve covered both 31.8mm and 35mm handlebar diameter stems too. 

Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He got an archaeology degree out of Exeter University, spent a few years digging about in medieval cattle markets, working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit he’s also coughed out a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too. We trust Guy's opinion and think you should, too.

Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel Ltd MTBs, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Di2 Disc road bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg