There has been no significant development in stem design in years- Discuss
I can see how this might make an interesting essay title for component nerds but, joking aside, this might be a valid point. A stem fulfills an essential but limited function. Unless you go down the integrated stem and bar route, not much has changed in decades.
The stem connects bars and steerer and is not really that sexy. There is not much scope for development apart from adjusting the weight or the number of bolts on the face plate. Despite the fact that we probably look at the stem more than any other component on a bike, it is pretty dull. No one gets excited about a stem.
Well, try telling the guys at Ritchey. The Ritchey WCS Chicane represents their most up to date thinking about this overlooked and under estimated component.
Slippery little thing
With the WCS Chicane, Ritchey have embraced the whole ‘aero’ thing. The result is an organic design that would not look out of place on a Mike Burrows bike.
The detailed theory behind aerodynamic drag and cycling is beyond me but you can read all about it here. Bearing in mind the Team Sky mantra of improving performance by a series of ‘incremental gains’ Ritchey have come up with a very slippery looking stem to help you on the way!
In purely practical terms then, Ritchey have designed a stem that seems to meet all the basic aero criteria. It looks smooth and there is nothing to disturb the air flow. The clamp bolts have been reversed and they have done away with steerer bolts altogether in favour of an internal wedge. The whole assembly has been topped off with a magnetic lid!
The 175g Chicane stem is no weedy confection, it made from tough 2014 alloy. Be aware though, it only comes with a 10 degree angle so it will probably be best suited to road bikes.
Fixing to my faithful Mason Bokeh, I found the Ritchey WCS Chicane is more fiddly to install than a normal stem. For one thing, you cannot stack stem spacers above it, so you will have to cut your steerer tube fairly accurately. For the purposes of testing, I simply adopted a higher bar position. If you like the ‘slammed’ look, the Ritchey WCS Chicane will look very sleek.
“Remember – if you can’t be fast, look fast!”
Getting to the handlebar fitting, this is a little awkward. The bolts are hidden behind the hinged faceplate and secure at a difficult angle. To further complicate matters, Ritchey have specced a pair of very small Torx bolts while the bolts to cinch up the steerer are Allen bolts. Nothing like consistency…
I have to admit to being a little worried as I headed out on a typical gravel ride of 60 miles or so. Everything is held in place by an expander wedge…am I going to die? Predictably, I had no issues at all and the stem behaved just like any other stem! Not even the gnarliest trails I know encouraged the Chicane to loosen its grip.
The Ritchey WCS Chicane stem is rather weighty and a little awkward to install. The aerodynamic gains are probably minimal but maybe this is offset by the looks.
At £97, it is up against lighter opposition and face it, it is quite expensive! If you like the looks though, maybe you can forgive the extra timber.
No one likes it when a component uses different sizes/types of bolt. Please, please, please can we keep the bolts all the same?
The stem comes in sizes from 80mm to 130mm in 10mm increments, all with an 80° angle. The Ritchey WCS Chicane Stem is available in the UK via Upgrade Bikes.
Ritchey have pointed out that the Chicane stem is primarily aimed at road bikes. The alloy WCS C220 is probably a more suitable stem for gravel bikes. It is lighter, a bit cheaper, with lots of angle and steerer options.
Last modified: 28th June 2019