Stems: How short is too short?

I’m taking your advice and installing a shorter stem. My question is “how short is too short?” I’m riding a Giant Trance with a 110mm stem; would going straight to a 40mm stem be too big a change? Or just too short for the bike?
Thanks! Dan

The more you click, the more I can post. Lee Likes Groceries dot com!

Hey Don,

As someone who rides bikes with 50mm stems and motos with direct-mount handlebars, I’ll say this: The shorter, the better!

At least from a handling perspective. The shorter your stem, the more your bike will braaap the downhills. Many riders have trouble climbing with super-short stems, but you can learn to climb with a shortie. I defy any mortal to out-climb pro DHer Curtis Keene with his 50mm stem and flat pedals …

As long as you’re on a correct-length bike, a 40 or 50 mm stem will work fine. But it will be a huge change from your 110. Expect your bike to feel very different.

My advice: Buy or borrow a cheapo 50mm stem and see how it feels. Give it a fair chance. If it wigs you out, try a 70.

Remember to ride with your feet. Your hands are just there for control.

A quick rant

Unfortunately, mountain bikes came from road bikes. It’s taken us 20+ years to evolve from the road-based long/low position — remember the 150mm stems and flat bars? — to a shorter/higher/saner position. If mountain bikes had come from moto, we would have had short stems and riser bars the whole time.


— Lee

8 replies
  1. Don says:


    I borrowed a 70mm stem and got on so well with it that I went and bought a 60mm. It still feels a little twitchy at slow speeds, but I don’t see myself ever riding anything longer then a 70 again. But what’s this “ride with your feet” business?


  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Cool re: the stem.

    Re: riding technique — read the skills section of this site, buy a book, or sign up for a clinic. The skills section has tons of info.

    Writing a script for a video right this second …

  3. JoshG says:

    I recently tried to go from 120 stock on my XL bike (I am 6’6″) & found that a swap down to a 75mm was too drastic for me to adjust to over a couple weeks. I think part of it is that my bike might be a little short for my super long torso… So I am back to a 90 still a lot different than where I started but 75 was just too much.

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    This whole stem length thing is a trip.

    There’s no question that bikes handle better with short stems. But you have to account for the human too. If you’re tall, and your bike is short, a long stem it is.

    When I run for President, everyone will have a long top tube and a 50mm stem …

  5. Trevor says:

    most bike manufactures are going over the the long top tube and shorter stem, most of the specialized bikes have rocked the long and short set up for years, and every bike mag you ever read will rave about how well they handle.

    you will only really find full of xc bikes with longer stems 90mm (ish) as it help them climb!

  6. Ryan says:


    Keep in mind that bars have a rearward sweep to them, so a 0 mm stem – several of which exist – would put your hands behind the steering axis. I don’t know the stem length that would put your hands right in line with the axis, but I’d guess it to be just less than the popular downhill stem lengths.

  7. Tysen says:

    A lot of cruisers have North style handlebars that sweep back behind the steering axis. They ride fine. Though you would be dealing with the tiller effect again.

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