It has been a couple of years since Thomson launched its Elite stems. Since its inception, the Elite stems, together with its range of seatposts, have credibly established themselves as the market leader. What a daunting task it must be for the engineers in Thomson to come up with a new design that will better the already magnificent Elite stems. The wait is finally over when Thomson revealed their new X2 (road) and X4 (mountain) stems for 2005. These stems are not meant as replacement of the current Elite stems, but are new addition to the Thomson range of products. The most significant difference about these new stems is the adoption of the new 31.8mm diameter handlebar clamp.
The new stems are targeted at those who demand a stiffer feel at the controls. The X-series enables the use of the new oversize handlebars, which offered more precise steering, tracking and better control while riding. Thomson claims that the new X4 are stronger than the current Elite stems, yet lighter by about 30 grams. The new stems are available in various length from 50mm to 130mm and in either 0 degree or 10 degree rise. The weight for the X4 ranges from 147 grams to 184 grams depending on configuration.
In the looks compartment, Thomson stuck with their original laser-etched finishing and comes in the all-familiar black or silver colour. The proprietary finishing has been well tested in the field and has proven its resistance against minor scratches. It is this fantastic characteristic that helps Thomson stuffs maintain excellent resale value even after a period of use. The fact is they never look used.
Although the X4 is the latest offering in Thomson?s stable, its design however, is not proprietary. The X4 shares the popular one piece CNC?d body coupled with a 4-bolt faceplate and a 2-bolt steerer tube clamp. While we have no doubt that this is one of the most efficient designs currently, we were disenchanted that Thomson has not been able to churn up some radical new innovations that will excite the community.
Thomson claims that the new X4 has the highest strength to weight ratio among its competitors. While competitors? stems are built for very specific uses, Thomson claims that the X4 is very versatile and is even strong enough to be use confidently on Downhill and Freeride machines.
Does it work
If you are thinking of switching to the X4, you must remember that your handlebar needs to be replaced too. The new 31.8mm diameter clamp on the X4 is not compatible with the common 25.4mm diameter handlebar, thus rendering your current bar useless. Currently, the choices for the 31.8mm diameter handlebars are quite limited though we expect available choices to grow in a year or two. When mounting the handlebar, do take note not to tighten the face clamp bolts beyond 35in-lbs (4.0 Nm). This is especially important if you are mounting a carbon handlebar. When over-tightened, the user runs the risk of fracturing the carbon bar. In addition, observe the gaps between the faceplate and the stem after you have screw down the faceplate. The two gaps (below and above the handlebar) should be equal in distance. This ensures clamping pressure is evenly distributed around the clamp area.
Having mounted the new stem and bar on our XC rigs, we took the bike to our usual testing ground. On paper, the oversized bars and its promise of better steering and stiffness looked hopeful. But on the ground, we realize that XC riders would not feel significant difference between the Elite and the X4. The X4 only feels marginally stiffer than the Elite in the trails. The moment we hit the tar road, we felt no discernable difference between the two. So unless you are a stiffness freak, or a weight weenie that happens to be a die-hard Thomson fan, we see no urgency in giving up your current stem for the new one.
The construction and quality of the stem is top notch and is nothing short of what we have come to expect from Thomson. If you are running a Downhill or Freeride monster and are thinking of putting your ride through a diet, the X4 might be a good consideration. Besides lightening up the bike, it also adds stiffness at the front end with the large diameter bars.
On the other hand, an average XC rider will not see a great difference between the X4 and the Elite. In the trail, the differences are subtle, and on the road, they feel the same.
If you are planning to build up a new bike, you might want to consider the X4 over the Elite due to the added stiffness and reduced weight. But if you already have a stem and are looking for a change, do remember to factor in the cost of a new handlebar when changing to the X4.