Stafast Suspension Stem Review
From the company’s website – “Stafast is the one-of-a-kind component that will revolutionize your cycling experience”. “Stafast’s adjustable bike stem allows you to operate closer to your maximum potential than any other equipment”.
JOM of the Gravel Cyclist crew took delivery of Stafast’s new suspension stem approximately two months ago. For those who have been around cycling a while, you may be thinking – “hasn’t this been done before?”
What’s Old is New Again
The sport of cycling can be cyclical (pardon the pun), meaning that old ideas are sometimes re-invented, aided by improved construction methods and technologies relating to computer aided design. In the case of many of the original suspension stems manufactured by companies such as Softride and Girvin, we are talking about designs and technologies that are over 20 years old. In 20 years, so much has changed in the sport of cycling.
Not counting the suspension features of the retro stems in the photo below, but case in point concerning advancement of technology. The quill stem interface with a fork’s threaded steerer tube is considered old technology nowadays.
Stafast is one of several companies who are re-inventing the suspension stem – 20+ years ago, these stems were marketed towards mountain bike use, but the latest crop is aimed at the growing cyclocross and gravel cycling markets. Rough courses and roads don’t necessarily need a suspension fork, rather something more subtle to take the edge off the bigger hits.
How Stafast’s Approach Differs
The stem designs from 20+ years ago relied on an elastomer or spring for their dampening. Stafast’s stem uses an adjustable air shock, similar in appearance to what you’d find on the rear end of a full suspension MTB. Pressure ranges from zero to 275 psi, providing a large bandwidth for tuning of the stem.
At maximum, the Stafast stem has approximately one centimeter of travel. You’re probably thinking that isn’t much. But when you consider placement of the shock relative to the stem, the fulcrum / lever effect comes into play. When installed, one’s handlebars reside at the end of the stem. With a rider’s hands placed on the brake hoods, you can expect about an inch of travel when taking the bigger hits.
While Stafast provides a very helpful video and installation notes on their website, the following needs to be considered before ordering a Stafast stem:
- The system works with a 1 1/8″ steerer only – sorry 1″ retro-grouches!
- Your fork steerer must have at least 1 1/2″ to 1 5/8″ (2″ or 50mm is a safe bet) of height for the stem to be installed.
- At minimum, a 2mm spacer needs to reside beneath the Stafast stem when installed.
The Stafast stem offers a 25mm range of adjustment (about 1″) in height, sans adding or removing steerer tube spacers. Out of the box, the stem ships with its adjustable height set in the middle of its 25mm range.
To raise or lower the stem:
- Pressure must first be removed from the shock by depressing the Schrader valve at the bottom of the stem.
- Twist the center cylinder by hand – or use the supplied wrench – either method will raise or lower the stem’s height.
- This height adjustment will not affect pressure or rebound settings.
Stafast offers a stem calculator for those who need additional assistance with stem setup.
How does it ride?
The Stafast stem serves well in the gravel cycling genre. It takes the buzz out of rough terrain for gravel rides, and could certainly save the rider a lot of fatigue as the hours pass by on long events.
Tire pressure is one of the biggest factors for ride quality when riding dirt and gravel roads – the Stafast stem will not substitute in this area. Riding a 40mm tire (tyre) at 60psi on a rough gravel road will feel harsh. Riding the same tire at 40psi, and the ride will be almost sublime. Riding in combination with a Stafast stem and optimal tire pressure, the ride will certainly feel much better, with less jarring transmitted to the rider’s hands and arms.
Climbing and out of the saddle efforts will feel a little unusual at first, you will notice the bobbing action. Descending a steep grade you will notice brake dive (meaning the handlebars will rotate downwards), especially if the bottom of the grade is heavily rutted. However, a good descending technique is to be off the brakes if one encounters rutting or other harsh obstacles. It is always best to allow the bike to float, as braking and wheel lockup can cause one’s bike to skid across these obstacles, resulting in a lack of control. During ordinary braking efforts, the dive effect isn’t triggered.
The Stafast stem isn’t light, tipping the scales at 370 grams for our test unit. If you’re considering a suspension option, an additional 200 or so grams over a conventional stem isn’t much, particularly when you consider how much weight a suspension fork can add.
The Stafast suspension stem won’t be for everyone. Despite the average gravel machine tipping the scales at 19lbs or more, the weight weenies among us may eschew those additional grams on their bike. But for those who realize that bicycle weight is but a small part of the equation, the Stafast stem offers a real and relatively affordable suspension solution without the need for a new fork, or bicycle.
Available in two sizes, 95mm and 105mm, Stafast’s stem retails for $US 350.00.