Back when mountain bikes had 73-degree head tube angles, stems had quills and were at least 120mm long and wheels were only 26-inches in diameter, one of the early suspension ideas was the Allsop suspension stem. It featured a parallelogram design and a spring so that the bar would drop when you hit a bump. The marketing materials worked from the logic that you only needed to suspend the rider, not the whole bike.
Okay, we know that’s silly, but seriously, you can stop laughing now. Here’s a hanky to wipe your eyes.
Aw heck, there’s this other side to that stem. Everyone who rode one said it was better than no suspension at all. There just wasn’t enough travel for it to soak up the bumps you hit when mountain biking. However, I never saw anyone ask a perfectly reasonable question: Would it help in the case of a road bike hitting potholes? I kinda always wondered.
Miracle of miracles, I have my answer now. Redshift Sports is a component manufacturer known for creating unusual responses to reasonably understandable dilemmas. the Shockstop is a stem with a pivot just ahead of the steering axis. Inside the stem lie two small urethane elastomers that the stem squeezes under load. Included with the stem are six elastomers of a number of different hardnesses, so you can choose between maximum firmness, which feels like some titanium stems I rode in the Long Ago and cushy, which will allow the stem to move through its full travel.
According to Redshift you can get up to 10mm of travel with a flat bar bike, but up to 20mm of travel with a drop bar bike. When you think about the amount of travel you derive from forks by Lauf and Fox, a 20mm travel stem starts to look interesting, at least on paper.
Shockstop goes for $139.99—a whole lot less than a new fork. You can add a computer mount, the Shock Stop Mount for Garmin, Wahoo, Joule, Polar and more, for just $29.99.
I’m riding with a 110mm stem with a -6-degree angle. The stem comes in four lengths: 90, 100, 110 and 120mm in a +/- 6, as well as a 100mm length with a +/- 30 angle. The bore diameter is 31.8mm, but they offer shims for 25.4 and 26.0mm. It comes in all the different hues of black. Our stem weighed in at 291 grams.
For purposes of my riding, I installed the two softest bumpers, partly just to see how noticeable the stem movement would be, and if its movement would be disturbing. And of course, I was curious to see if I felt there was a positive benefit.
Let me be clear: In your first ride on this stem, you are likely to hate it. It’s different, very different. And it’s a kind of difference that you are unlikely to find appealing. I had to keep an open mind and stay out for more than 10 miles.
I began with a couple of road rides just to see if bar movement resulting from hitting a pothole or pavement seam would cause any problems with handling. The answer was a reasonably quick no. While that part didn’t surprise me all that much, what did surprise me was the fact that I really only sensed actual bar movement when my hands were on the brake hoods. When in the drops or on the bar top, the sense I had was that the front tire was soft, like you experience with a slow leak.
Out of the saddle, I could feel the stem’s movement, but unless I was really throwing my upper body around, weighting and unweighting the front wheel, I didn’t detect much in the way of movement, certainly not enough to cause me to sit down or reduce my effort.
Recently, I met up with a bunch of friends to ride some of our favorite dirt roads in Western Sonoma County. My litmus test for great gear is that generally, it should disappear into the background of your ride experience. Some items deserve to call your attention, but at a point, anything you change on your bike should help make your experience more seamless and transparent.
On our descent to Austin Creek, a switchbacky affair with a single singletrack line down an old fire road I punched through any number of bumps, over branches and around rocks. With my hands in the drops I never once experienced my attention being drawn to the stem movement and the real trial came during the very end of that descent with my drop into the creek and my ride across those river stones to the far bank.
I’ve just finished a weekend of racing cyclocross—three races in three days, and I rode the bike with this stem all three days. My upper body is reasonably sore, but what I’m not experiencing is the nerve pain I’d expect from all the shock I delivered my neck from the great many bumps I hit. Call me a believer.
My only question is when they will do a tricked-out light version.
Final thought: I could see the day coming when I have one on each of my drop-bar bikes.