Those of us of a certain age can remember a time when off road bicycles came with a rigid fork, stem and seat post and the only suspension was your arms and legs. Then came a revolution of suspension ideas, some innovative and useful and some just downright awful. But at the beginning of this revolution a few companies began to produce stems that suspended the rider via the handlebar from the chatter of the ground. they weren’t in anyway a 170mm suspension fork but they could enable you to barrel down a rock strewn or wash board trail without losing vision as the rigid fork shook you to bits. they were simple and worked and were only superseded by the plushness of a suspension fork.
Todays typical gravel bike has a rigid fork (yes there are a few exceptions from Fox and Cannondale etc) and the sort of rides we take those rigid forks on are much the same as we took and take a mountain bike on, albeit in my case a lot slower speed. So the time of the suspension stem might be about to shine again.
The stem has a very similar way of operating as the Kinekt 2.1 seatpost i tested recently and is a parallelogram design with a standard steerer clamp and a double face plate fastening making it very easy to swop on and off the bike and adjust. Similar to the seatpost it comes with a range of springs to suit the rider weight or riding style. it is suggested that if you ride more technical trails then fitting the medium spring would be a good place to start. swapping the springs is easy, there are very good instructional videos on the Kinekt website to guide you. One tip I would give is to keep the tiny grub screw that you have to remove very safe, I had visions of spending an hour or two trying to find it if it had rolled off the workshop counter, thankfully this didn’t happen but it is tiny and easy to lose. the stem is very well made from top quality materials and looks like it would stand a lot of abuse. It weighs 468g which is quite a lot more than the stem i usually run, is this increase in weight worth it?
The Ride, I fitted the medium spring as suggested and found i could easily move the stem just by pushing down on the bars so i took a short ride up and down the road outside my house and I could bottom out the stem easily. This wouldn’t work for me on the usual off road routes I ride. So i fitted the hardest spring in the box (you get three grades with the stem) which seemed a lot better and went for a proper ride
The test period was over around 2.5 weeks and i tried to ride all the trails I would have taken my normal stem on, this included technical forest trails, pure gravel tracks and at least one nearly 75% tarmac ride and a couple of off road night rides. The stem worked flawlessly and definitely damped out some of the roughness of the terrain. I do think though that an even harder spring would have worked better for me, the stem moved on the mildest of terrain, which it is supposed to do but i needed it to work on the harder hits and by the time those started the stem had already used up all of it’s travel and it bottomed out. Out of the saddle efforts on climbs did cause the stem to bob a little, again i think my weight and riding style could have benefitted from a harder rate spring. There was no visible side to side twist to the stem, a testament to its construction and I was definitely less beaten up at the end of a rough ride, my shoulders and neck ache after 40+ miles usually and this was markedly improved. There is a period of getting used to the feeling of the stem moving and at the beginning I will admit to stopping and checking that the front wheel bolt through axle wasn’t loose (it wasn’t!) but once i got used to that feeling I just rode the bike as normal.
As you can see from the video the stem managed to keep the camera quite still along a little descent and a gravel bridleway. Over a long distance on varied terrain i can see the benefit of a suspended stem. Long distance off road touring would be an ideal application. Bike packing too but you would have to carefully choose the spring rate to compensate if you load up your bars with luggage
Conclusions This stem is a quality made item, construction and materials are first rate and it looks like it would stand the test of time. It is however quite weighty compared to a non suspended stem and also costs £169 in the UK. It works perfectly and isolates the rider from a lot of the gravel chatter and rooty trails we get here, but finding the best spring for your riding style is paramount. it’s not a substitute for a suspension fork, you will still have to pick a line and find the smoothest path as normal but at the end of the ride you will feel less beaten up and fatigued and that means you can ride further and for longer.
As with all my tests, this is an impartial and real world review. I’m not sponsored and I’m just an average rider like most of the cyclists out there. I do inform anyone who sends me things to test that It will be an honest review good or bad