Saturday 10 April 2010

Quill stems and Paris-Roubaix

This is what is called a quill stem. It's the "old fashioned" way of connecting the handlebars to a bicycle, out of favour amongst racers who prefer the slightly stiffer "aheadset" system, but still in use on virtually every utility bicycle. It's a very good system. You can adjust the height of the handlbars simply by undoing the bolt at the top, sliding the handlebars up or down a little, and doing it back up again. Much more straightforward than the process with an aheadset.

This particular quill stem is on a beautiful racing bike on which Hennie Kuiper won the 1983 Paris-Roubaix race. Paris-Roubaix is known as probably the hardest race in the world, a major strain for both man and machine. "The Hell of the North" was immortalized in a fantastic film called "A Sunday in Hell".

Other features of this race winning bike include five speed non-indexed derailleur gears, single pivot brakes, and a steel frame.

So, why is the quill stem of significance ? Last year it was one of the points criticised by a clueless British newspaper reviewing a "the cheapest bicycle in the UK". There were many things wrong with that bike, but amongst the things picked out by the Guardian journalist was the quill stem, as if this was an actual problem. It's not. Quill stems work on millions of bikes every day and they simplify adjustment without extra expense. It's a shame that the newspaper decided to try to offer advice as it was not good advice. It's always better to get information about bikes from people who know about bikes, and of course most of the people who bought one of those Asda bikes would have been better off with something like this.

The bike is from the Velorama bicycle museum in Nijmegen. It was on display in Assen at the start of the Vuelta a Espana last year.

Paris-Roubaix is held annually on a Sunday in April. This year they'll be racing for 259 km on the 11th of April. Tomorrow. Well worth watching on the TV if you can't be there. I'll be recording it, as the ligfietsopstapdag is on the same day.

The wikipedia page about Hennie Kuiper says that "His serious introduction to the bicycle was to and from school". That's the case for virtually all Dutch children, of course, which probably goes some way to explaining why the Dutch have been so successful in cycle racing.

You can buy quill stems, threadless stems, and different shape handlebars in our webshop.


jrg said...

I think the 'quill stem' comment in the Guardian article reflects more on the bike shop owner than the journalist.

SteveL said...

I think quill stems are good on kids bikes as you can increase bar position as the kids get bigger. aheadset designs are way less adaptive, so it's a shame that child bikes in the UK have gone over to them.