Review: StaFast revisits the suspension handlebar stem
Various bicycle components companies have been attempting to market suspension handlebar stems since at least the 90s, mostly to little success. Indeed, many of those stems are now mocked, with their overbuilt construction, pogo-like springs or stiff elastomer dampers. But now Michigan-based manufacturer Aeroforge is taking another crack at it, using modern technology to create its StaFast stem. We took it out for a few rides to see how much difference a couple of decades make.
First of all, the aluminum-bodied StaFast does indeed look nice – it's stealthy and sleek, and the sort of thing you might want to display even if you never put it on your bike. It tips the scales at about 350 grams, so while it's certainly not going to turn your bike into a hulking monster, weight weenies might take offense to it.
It features a miniature air shock, which can be set up for individual riders' weights and riding styles using an included pump – an online calculator gives users a starting point, based on their personal data. The StaFast also allows riders to adjust the stem angle, which is a nice feature all on its own.
Once up and running, the stem offers about 1 cm (0.4 in) of travel. That might not sound like much, but keep in mind that a centimeter back at the stem will translate into considerably more movement out at the ends of the bars. Additionally, although it can be used on mountain bikes, it's also intended for minimizing bar vibrations on road bikes – in other words, it's not meant to soak up huge hits.
We initially tried installing it on a road bike, but discovered that it would be necessary to purchase an adapter in order to accommodate the bike's carbon fiber steerer. Instead, we next tried it on an aluminum fatbike, which it went onto no problem.
Upon taking it out on the road, we found that it did indeed smooth out the bumps and buzzes. That said, however, it would have been much better if its rebound could be adjusted. As it was, when riding over potholes, the stem would quickly (and disconcertingly) snap back up after compressing. Although a company rep told us that the rebound softens after a break-in period, it would certainly be preferable if it could be adjusted to one's liking right off the bat.
Additionally, because the suspension is located behind the bars as opposed to beneath them (as would be the case with a suspension fork), they do twist forward a little as they move down. It's subtle and by no means a big deal, but it is worth knowing before buying.
The StaFast stem is available now in two lengths, and sells for US$350. It's a nicely-made component and is definitely several steps up from its predecessors performance-wise, although potential buyers might want to wait for a next-generation model before taking the plunge. In the meantime, they may also want to check out the ShockStop suspension stem.
Product page: StaFast
Special thanks to the guys at Hardcore Bikes in Edmonton, for their assistance in this review.