Stem length/rise for a trail bike

Hey Lee,

I love the book — every time I ride, I pick out something to work on and try to nail it. But I’m curious…

I want to try a shorter/higher stem to improve my descending and (small) drops. The book says to try 40-70mm and 10-15 degree rise for this purpose. My bike (a large Stumpjumper FSR) came with a 105mm, 8 degree stem. Since I live in NorCal and still have to be able climb for hours after this swap, I went to a shop to look for a 70mm, 15 degree stem. The shop told me I was crazy — they said that was a huge change and I’d regret it. I wound up buying a 90mm, 10 degree stem, which they swear will be perfect for me.

So are those figures you quoted for a freeride bike or something? How short and high can you go on a trailbike without ruining the all-purpose handling? Or should I go tell the shop Lee and I respectfully disagree with their advice?

Thanks Lee… keep it coming…


Hey man.

Thanks re: the book. Sounds like you’re using it as intended.

Oh baby: Infographic nerdism — only at

But your stem … It sounds like the guys at the local shop are still drinking the old roadie Kool Aid. True: A 70/15 would be different. It would descend WAY better, but it would require you to change your climbing form. Over the years I’ve gone shorter and shorter — 150, 120, 110, 100, 90, 70 and now 50mm on all of my bikes (P.3, SX, Stumpjumper, Enduro and Demo). The way I see it, a shorter stem will always give you better handling and descending, and you can adjust your climbing style to get up the hills just fine.

HERE IT IS: For climbing, the position of your hands is NOT important. What’s *really* important: The relationships between your feet, hips, spine and shoulders. Straight arms or bent — it matters not!

Compared to stock, the 70/15 would have moved your bar 35mm closer and 9mm lower. The 90/10 moves your bar 15mm closer and 4mm lower. That isn’t much of a difference — if you want to try something new, make it a real test! Get a cheap stem and try the magic.


— Lee

PS: You can still rock bar ends with a super-short stem. It’s best of all worlds — just ask Greg Herbold.

23 replies
  1. chris says:


    I just moved to NorCal and the look of the East Bay hills and Mt Tam made me think of changing stems, but a month later I’m keeping my 50/10 because I’m getting up everything, it just took a little training (my legs and lungs were the weak link, not the stem). Maybe it helps to pop a wheelie onto the top of any rock or root that tries to stop my front wheel (without losing traction on the rear wheel because I remain seated)?

    I too used to run some embarassingly long stems. Anodized purple or blue.


  2. stads says:

    Thanks for great input (and a sweet graphic), as always.

    Everyone else:
    So I’m back on the hunt for a 70/15(ish) stem. Am I crazy, or does almost nobody make this? I need a 31.8mm bar clamp and something tough but reasonably light — this is for a Stumpjumper, after all. Recommendations? The 90/10 Thomson X4 I bought today looks pretty sweet, too… it wouldn’t hurt if your recommendations are at least half as sexy.


  3. Anthony says:

    Truvativ XR stem
    60mm, 75mm, 5º and 12º
    31.8mm bar clamp.
    3D forged, light, all-mountain rated, good looking.
    less than $20 on the internet.
    google it if your LBS doesn’t carry it.

  4. Scubapro says:


    Glad to get confirmation that I’m going the right direction…I too have been going with a shorter stem over time. Started with 100×10, then 90×5, now at 70×0 and just ordered a 50×0.


  5. stads says:

    OK folks, I’m taking all your advice and going for short short short. I tried 5 shops before I found what I wanted, but sometimes instant gratification takes determination. I picked up a 60mm / 17 degree Bontrager Race Lite today. It looks tiny and I’m not wild about the 2-bolt bar clamp, but I’ll give it a shot in Moab this weekend. Wish me luck…

  6. Wilbur says:

    I have been migrating to shorter stems also. I am curious when upgrading forks or if the stock fork has excess steerer tube, are you using any spacers to raise the height of the stem, or no spacer/thin spacer and run as low as possible. I understant all the benefits of a short stem, but how about hand height relative to saddle height for trail riding or in a FR/DH situation when the saddle is sunk? Does this drastically front end traction? Thanks

  7. leelikesbikes says:

    Great question.

    I always leave about 5mm of extra so I can play with spacers and possibly mount the fork onto a longer head tube.

    I’m trying to devise a fit system for ‘real’ riding, with the saddle down. It’ll be based on your body dimensions and your bike layout, and it’ll place you in an attack position that suits your riding style. But that’s a ways out …

    Like I said above, your hand position isn’t as important as your hip/shoulder position — as long as you drive your weight into your pedals, your bar position isn’t super important. For trail riding I usually run my bars about even with my saddle height. With the saddle down, that usually puts me in a good place.

  8. Josh130 says:

    None of you will regret it. I just switched to a short stem on my XC hardtail (about 60 I think, it was just lying around the house) and I love it. No real difference on the climbs, actually it makes it easier to stand and sprit so over all I’m faster. On the descents I no longer feel out of control, in fact I’ve been railing turns and manualing things more than on my fully cause the hardtail is so light.


  9. Noah - OTE Sports says:

    I love my 50mm 0 degree Thomson with a 2″ riser bar. When climbing a long steepy, I usually just grab my bars and simulate having bar ends and focus on my body position. Readers may want to check out the offerings from Ergon grips.

  10. rey_s says:

    A great, but overlooked stem you could use is the old style race face deus stem. There was a small batch made in 70mmx15 deg in black, white, and red. I was able to get one of a webstore and its been great. its a good compromise of lightweight and strength. am sure there are still a couple to be bought of the webstores. you just have to look. I use that and a titec scooper post and you can hammer up and scream down

  11. Van says:

    I too took the suggestion in the book and purchased a shorter stem. I replaced the stock 90 mm Easton stem and 1 inch riser bar on my Giant Reign with a 50 mm Azonic Aggro stem and 2 inch riser bar I had lying around the house. I feel more stable descending and it’s easier to manual and wheelie. But now cornering feels worse. The front wheel washes out in corners and feels a lot more sketchy, like it’s not weighted enough. Do I have to modify my cornering technique/riding style with a shorter stem? I just got used to my stock setup.

  12. leelikesbikes says:

    I guarantee you’ve been leaning forward on your long stem, and now you’re leaning backward with your long stem. Find the mid point: on your pedals, with weightless hands. That’s the key to almost every move — on every bike.

    For advanced cornering you might lean forward, but make sure your default is weightless hands.

  13. Van says:

    Thanks for the reply Lee. I needed to get back to the basics like you said, learning how to touch my bike. You’re reply helped a lot. The weightless hands also goes with standing on your pedals so my center of gravity is centered lower then if I was on the saddle. Thanks once again.

  14. Roberto says:

    What I think when searching for a correct stem is not just a determined size. I think that the frame size / body size would determine the right stem. On one of my bikes I tried a 110/5 stem but felt too stretched out, so I tried a 90/6, and felt too short. I changed to a 100/10 stem and wider handlebar and I have the right combination in my opinion. going to a 70 stem for me would be too short.

  15. Rick says:

    I am currently riding a Thomson 90mm w/5 degree rise on my 575 and have considered trying a shorter stem. Unfortunately none of my friends or any of the local shops have one for me to demo. I do, however, have a 2″ riser bar that I purchased at a swap meet but have never used. I am currently using a 1″ riser bar. My question is this: Couldn’t I achieve the same result installing the 2″ riser bar and adjusting the sweep back towards the saddle as I could by installing a 70mm stem?

  16. Shark36 says:

    Hello Lee. I read your article several time, but still I read also some other articles, so I am in a dilema.

    I would like to change the stem at my AM bike, to bring the bar closer to me (I have a feeling, that the frame is a little to big; but really a little to big for me). My option is to change the actuall stem of 11 cm and 6 deg., for a 7 cm and 35 deg. stem. Than if it will be still not enough, I would put instead 40mm raisebar, 50mm raisebar.

    But I read in some articles, that such a change of stem (for 4 cm) can destroy the balance of an original geometry of the bike – and I really woulnd’t like to do that or to crash becouse of this. What is your opionon on that change?

  17. leelikesbikes says:

    As long as you ride correctly — with your weight in your feet and your hands neutral, your bike will handle fine with any stem.

    But shorter stems definitely improve handling. You’re on the right track.

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