|One of the original suspension stems. The Girvin Flexstem (originally known as the Offroad Flexstem) used elastomers to provide some damping. (photo from MOMBAT.org)|
|One of several versions of the Softride suspension stem. I remember when it was known as "Frankenstem." (photo from MOMBAT.org)|
Recently, the editors of Dirt mountainbike magazine listed the stems as one of "The 15 Worst Mountainbike Products Ever." They wrote, "The young 'uns amongst you might not believe this, but there was a time when even the validity of front suspension forks was questioned." (Yes, I was one of those who questioned it -- and in many circumstances, still feel the same way). "For those that weren't sold on this newfangled idea, but didn't want to suffer the pain that a fully rigid bike dished out, there was an alternative . . . the suspension stem. The most well known of these was the Girvin Flex Stem, and that was a crime against suspension itself, but its saving grace was that it was at least relatively cheap compared to a suspension fork. The Softride stem on the other hand was the supposed dog's bollocks of suspension stems, and it cost as much as many suspension forks . . . but unsurprisingly it was just as rubbish as the Girvin, which is why I think it's the Softride in particular that needs naming and shaming."
Although the stems were primarily intended for mountain bikes, I imagine some were put into service on road bikes. Nevertheless, perhaps hoping that road riders are either unfamiliar with the old follies, or have perhaps forgotten about them, this new crop of suspension stems are primarily aimed at road riders. I'm still convinced that they're even more unnecessary on road bikes than they were on old mountain bikes.
|It's even more complicated than it looks.|
(photo from Nailed.it)
Or you could just run larger tires and keep your body loose over bumps.
By the way, their marketing materials mention Newton's 3rd Law so much, you'd think Sir Isaac had a hand in developing this thing.
The Naild R3ACT stem is actually a pretty complex item, as it incorporates extra linkages which keep the handlebar angle constant even as it pivots up and down. But more than the pivoting of the stem, the system also incorporates elastomers in the fork steerer, so it isn't really something that can be retrofitted to an existing bike -- the bike must be designed for the system from the beginning.
|Simpler than the Naild R3ACT, but I suspect just as pointless.|
(photo from the ShockStop Kickstarter page.)
Here's what they say on their Kickstarter page: "Bikes should be comfortable, but ride more than a few miles and you realize very quickly that bikes are stiff, and they transmit every little bump straight to your hands and arms. After a while those impacts and vibrations make it hard to enjoy the ride."
Again - anybody who slams into every pothole and road imperfection with arms locked probably doesn't enjoy riding much anyhow.
In their promotional video, the company claims that with ShockStop, "You can relax and enjoy the ride. Instead of dodging every little bump and crack, you can focus on the road ahead." Suspension stem or not, focusing on the road ahead for bumps and cracks is still a good policy. Good technique is essential with or without suspension.
I still have some questions about this new generation of suspension stems, so I thought I'd go right to the source -- and ask the ShockStop stem directly.
Retrogrouch: So, isn't this basically just a reboot of old rejected mountain bike technology?
Retrogrouch: Couldn't a person save a lot of money by keeping their current setup and just learn some decent riding technique?
I'll take that as "Yes" on both counts.
Fully expect to see the current crop of suspension stems selling cheap on eBay in a few years, just like those old Girvins and Softrides do today.