Quill vs. Threadless Stem Adjustability

One of my RBW list compatriots recently took the position that quill stems allow for more and easier bar height adjustment. By the time I finished my rambling rebuttal, my session had timed out, so I put it here instead.

My friend’s position

Quill stems allow for far easier (and far more) bar height adjustment, which is why I prefer them.  I also prefer threaded headsets because I can remove the bar & stem from my bike and not have the fork fall out onto the floor.  Threadless headsets were invented by an industry that was lazy and wanted to make more money (by only having to stock a single fork/steerer combo), and were a solution in search of a problem… especially at the beginning.  Sure, now they allow things like CF steerer tubes, but there’s no way in hell I’d run one of them, either.

I have to disagree

Except about carbon fiber steerers – there’s nothing sadder-looking than a ‘cross racer trudging out of the mud with a broken-necked Scott, bars dangling free, slung over his shoulder.

I find it easier to make large changes to bar height and reach with a threadless stem. I now have more (functional) bikes with threadless stems in the garage than quill. If you count my friend’s dumpster bike, it’s a tie. Once I learned that you tighten the star nut and THEN tighten the stem, it’s pretty easy to change height. Add in faceplate stems and you’re 100% ahead of the game when it comes to messing around with your cockpit. Spacers are expensive at $2 each, but takeoff threadless stems seem to just appear. $10? Free? The last quill stem I bought was $20 used, and I’ve never used it.

Dialing in the bars of the Trek Belleville and the Fisher Utopia has had me fooling around with spacers and stems, one for max height, the other for minimum. The Belleville is done, and the only problem is the ugly black spacers I had. With the black Brooks, they’re starting to look okay, and with black grips, they’d be invisible.

I never change stem height once I’ve dialed in the bike’s fit. The three main quill-bearing bikes (one just out of service) have had their stem height changed about twice each in the past 7-10 years; all three down a little, and back up to the maximum height. I can’t get any more height out of them without deciding the risks are worth the visible Max Height mark, but since I don’t change height, the ease of downward adjustability isn’t an advantage, and the impossibility of upward adjustability isn’t a disadvantage.

It took three stems and two bars to dial in the fit on my Quickbeam, but the Fisher can fit me (6’2″), or my kid (4’10”), by moving spacers and swapping stems. A quill stem that could do that would have a hinge in the middle. It would be hideous, and heavy, but the Fisher’s long stem is prettier than any quill stem I’ve ever owned. It’s light, silver and shiny, and doesn’t match the Army Surplus aesthetic of the bike at all.

I must be particularly difficult tonight

I find I disagree with the “lazy industry” comment, too. A lazy industry wouldn’t make any changes – it would just price itself out of the market. I don’t feel greedy or lazy, but my time and money are finite resources. I hope that every time I see a way to make a process easier, faster, or less prone to failure, I do it. I hope everyone does.