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Thomson Elite 4X stem review

Is the mid-90s must-have brand still a top choice for immaculately machined bar holding?

Thomson Elite 4X stem shot from the side
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Bike Perfect Verdict

A classic retro look machined stem that’s seriously stiff but a lot more expensive than forged equivalents and heavier than other machined options

Pros

  • +

    Immaculate quality

  • +

    Stiff and secure

  • +

    Full range of lengths

Cons

  • -

    31.8mm only

  • -

    Face-plates can be fragile

  • -

    Lighter options are available

  • -

    Black or Silver

Thomson built its reputation for meticulously machined components in the aerospace industry (the first incarnation of the company was actually bought out by Boeing) but when the owner's daughter started racing bikes in the '90s they jumped into performance bike parts too. While the limelight has faded over the years, this stem proves the products are still as good as ever and can compete with the best mountain bike stems.

Thomson Elite 4X stem shot from the side

Thomson etchings are printed both ways so the stem can be flipped without looking wrongly fitted (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Design and aesthetics

The Elite X4 stem starts as a single piece of extruded 7000 series alloy billet which is then carved into shape mechanically, polished, anodized, laser-etched with the Thomson logo (both ways up so the 10-degree rise can be flipped without looking weird) and then gets a four-bolt faceplate added. The rear of the stem and the faceplate are rounded with recessed bolts to reduce the chance of painful knee contact, the bar clamp is highly polished inside although there’s still enough surface texture, and flat edges and sharp corners give it a classic machined aesthetic. It comes in 0- or 10-degree rises and this specific design stretches from 70 to 130mm, making it ideal for road, gravel, 'cross or XC bike use. You still get Thomson’s signature cloth bag for the stem as well, although the matching top cap ($9.95 / £10) just comes in a plastic bag. Thomson sticks to binary silver or black color options too, so if you want gaudy, go elsewhere, and there’s no super short 35mm option if you are a mountain biker. 

Performance

Weighing in at 155g for a 90mm length, the Elite X4 is 20g heavier than Hope’s equivalent machined stem and a lot heavier than the benchmark sub-100g Syntace Liteforce piece. It gets steel bolts rather than the titanium ones in the Syntace too, despite them being close in price. I'm glad the 3mm Hex key heads are at least steel though, as I'd be terrified of rounding them if they were alloy. 

Once nipped up carefully, the broad bar clamp gives an almost complete wrap with very small gaps top and bottom, and despite being polished it gives a really solid bar hold without needing excess torque. The thick-walled neck of the stem gives a very stout feel as well, with no obvious flex or twist even heaving a single-speed gear round at max torque on Thomson’s stiff 46cm-wide drop bar and long TRP Hylex RS hoods. That translates to very tight tracking and precision on the bike too, but on the flip side, it’s not so forgiving on rough surfaces. When DH bikes still used long stems most riders used Thomson for their strength too (they now do specific short reach, direct-mount and BMX stems for rowdier riders) although the warranty is relatively short at two years. I’ve also cracked a few faceplates over the years, although spares availability is good and service speedy if it does happen.

Thomson Elite 4X stem face plate detail

The face-plate offers a wide clamping area on your handlebar (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Verdict

If you’ve been riding for a while - particularly MTB - Thomson doesn’t need an introduction and the Elite X4 stem still delivers all the stiffness and meticulous machined carved aesthetic that it made its name for. There are lighter, just as stiff, and better-warrantied options for a similar price though, and far cheaper forged stems that perform just as well. 

Tech Specs: Thomson Elite X4 stem

  • Price: $121.95 / £95
  • Weight: 155g (90mm) 
  • Diameter: 31.8mm
  • Length: 70 to 130mm in 10mm increments. 0- or 10-degrees
  • Colors: Black or Silver

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 spent a few years 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 penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg