by Steve Wentz
I love chocolate chip cookies. The butter, the sugar, the chocolate chips, I don't know how it could get any better. I think one thing I really appreciate is the fact that the best ones tend to be homemade. There is a certain amount of care and love that goes into the best homemade cookies, and that is something that is rarely up for sale. Like those favorite cookies of mine, Enve's new direct mount stem is made in the good ol' US of A. Specifically, it is made in their factory in Ogden, Utah. Luckily for well to do cyclists, Enve's new labor of love is up for sale, and I was fortunate enough to get to try out this homemade masterpiece. It looks good, it is really light, and Enve's strength claims are reassuring. Lets see how it performs in the real world.
Carbon Direct Mount Stem Highlights
- Material: Full carbon
- Weight: 117 grams (50mm), 112 grams (60mm)
- Rise: 20mm (50mm length), 15mm (60mm length)
- Clamp: 31.8mm
- MSRP: $340
It seems to me that on paper the biggest highlight is the scant 117 gram weight. It is the lightest direct mount available to my knowledge, and around 50 grams lighter than many competitors. That's a bit over a tenth of a pound, the importance of that weight savings is of course up to you. Enve put this carbon direct mount stem up against other competitors, and it compares favorably strength wise, but without lots of the girth. On their machines, they tested leading bars on the stem, and every bar failed before anything would happen to the stem. The stem is available in 50mm or 60mm lengths. Interestingly, the 60mm weighs less than the 50mm, because the tighter confines of the 50mm means different manufacturing processes have to be used in both.
As mentioned before, this stem is made in the US. That to me is one of the most important highlights. I like knowing I'm supporting US jobs. I happen to make my living as a small business owner, and I try to buy things locally whenever I can, even if it is at a slightly higher price point. That being said, I'm far from a hippie, as I have literally burnt tons of dinosaurs driving all over to ride my bike. But I still think every little bit helps, and we all choose our battles. The largest battle of all with this stem will of course be the price. At $340, I can't say for sure if it is sensible to pay triple what many other quality stems cost in order to save a few grams and support US manufacturing. Enough about the numbers though, I feel it is high time to mount up this beauty and see how it handles in the dirt.
The first impression of course is taking the stem out of the box. The no-nonsense cardboard packaging is subtle, simple, and really underscores the marvel that awaits inside. Taking the stem out of the box, it is very apparent that it is light. It is really, really light. I liked the fact that it also looks robust. I'm not a huge fan of direct mount stems that have multiple pieces connected to a faceplate. I've had one bolt come loose before which set off a chain reaction of everything loosening up. That is NOT COOL. While my teeth aren't perfect, I want to keep them, and I don't want to even think about anything going wrong with the front end of my bike. The 50mm Enve stem I tested actually looks slightly similar to the previous stem I had on my bike, the Truvativ Holzfeller. That's a good thing in my mind, because I never had an issue before, and that same robust look instilled a sense of confidence right away. A small bonus point for Enve is the fact that their stem clears steer tube spacers very well. Some stems come so close to the steer tube that they require the use of very thin spacers. Bravo to Enve for leaving a little bit of clearance in this area.
Upon installation, the Enve showed its only flaws. I put the stem on the top clamp of my fork, and put the bolts in. The rearward bolts were no problem but the front pair would not go into the stem. It seemed as though there was a half a millimeter or so of clearance lacking. Before I pushed them in I inspected the bolts, as I thought maybe the faceplate and direct mount bolts were switched, making the tight tolerances an issue. Once I ruled this out, I pushed the bolts a little bit harder, and they went through the stem and were ready for install. Unfortunately, during this process the bolts chipped away a little bit of the paint that was on top of the stem. To tighten the bolts I took out my torque wrench which like many others, uses sockets which attach to 4mm and 5mm allen heads. I set the correct torque (which is conveniently indicated on the stem) and proceeded to tighten the bolts slowly. Here I again encountered a slight issue on the forward pair of bolts. I had to be really careful to orient the torque wrench toward the rear of the bike, because there is so little clearance in the hole that the bolts go through. That robust look of the stem unfortunately made it a royal pain to install bolts using a torque wrench, which in my opinion is the only way to go with a carbon stem. I nicked the side of the stem with the socket 5mm attachment while tightening it to torque, and that created a small paint chip as well.
On the positive side, aside from the good steer tube clearance, the Enve stem also features a grippy texture on the bar clamp area. When I had the bar snug and even before it was torque spec tight, it still felt very solid. I had no worries once installed that the bar would ever slip.
On The Trail
I eventually made it to dirt after all that time spent double-guessing myself. What can be said about a stem's performance? I rode Enve's stem first with my usual Truvativ Holzfeller bar, so I could accurately compare apples to apples and isolate the stem as something new. I've got to say that I couldn't tell a difference in performance with my usual setup. It was as stiff as the last stem I had and there was never a bar slip during the entire testing period. Through mud, snow, rain, dust, no issues. I tried to wrench it in corners, I tried to (and did) over-clear jumps, I screwed up a lot of stuff to try to get a hiccup out of the carbon stem - but it was all for naught, as the stem never flinched.
I double checked the torque specs once and everything had stayed snug. Of course the Enve stem is lighter that my last setup, but I couldn't really tell I was going faster. I also tried the stem with Enve's new Minnaar bar for the ultimate in cockpit envy, and that did provide a bit more damping on the chatter bumps. I have to attribute that to a carbon bar more than the bar/stem combo though.
In the end, this seemingly mundane trail performance from Enve's stem is rather remarkable. For a lot less weight relative to competitors, Enve made a stem that does everything on trail that is needed. It stayed tight, held everything it should have, and never had me doubting its ability to keep me on the trail.
Things That Could Be Improved
If the bolts that came with the stem would have had just a slightly smaller diameter head, the stem would not have had to suffer from slight nicks in the finish. Also, with a little more room for proper torque wrenches, there would not be any marks in the finish from installation. Using 4mm bolts for the faceplate whilst the direct mount bolts are 5mm is another negative in my mind, I'd rather have the same bolt heads for both parts of the stem. Finally, the graphics did not line up perfectly. While all of these issues are essentially cosmetic, I would guess they are very important for riders looking to have the best possible equipment on their bikes, certainly at the price Enve asks for this stem.
Long Term Durability
I have no worries about long term durability. Everything on the stem from a carbon standpoint seems to be unaffected by the slight paint chips. For that reason, I don't see anything in the future that would cause a problem. Were your bike to take a massive tumble and have a chunk taken out of the stem by a rock, then I'd see a very good reason to replace it. However, that could be said of any stem, so I wouldn't fault Enve for that.
What's The Bottom Line?
The issue of the bolts cracking the paint ever so slightly upon installation is a very superficial problem. The issue of my torque wrench and socket adapters not fitting the stem perfectly could be a fluke. I strongly believe my gripe about having 4mm and 5mm bolts on the same stem could be over the top. The added fact that the graphics don't match up perfectly is another questionable complaint. That being said, whenever you make the most expensive product on the market by far, it had better be perfect. It was on the trail. I just wish it was perfect all around. I see no issue with the stem from a performance standpoint. It is a borderline engineering marvel. The only question left to answer is a matter of worth. What is it worth to have a made in the USA stem that is the lightest and one of the strongest? I surely can't answer that for you. Personally, I'll save the gram counting for someone else. Why? Because I eat cookies.
Visit www.enve.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Steve Wentz has always done things and ridden his own way, and he's really happy about that. He grew up in the middle of Southern California and had to build his own trails to ride when he was too young to drive. To make a long story short, that's what he's still doing today, minus the California part. Now he tries to do that everywhere. He has been to every continent except for Antarctica, and has either raced, built trail or been able to ride all over. He loves seeing the world, for better or worse. He has been through ghettos where children beg for pennies, and that really gives perspective to our world where a pair of soft rubber tires costs $150. That being said, he's skidded on those soft rubber tires on so many race courses and trails he can't even count anymore, and he loves it. He'll always ride if he can, and race if he wants, but now he tries to do it with an eye on the course and also an eye to what is practical, what is worth supporting, and what he thinks can benefit the sport as a whole.