Tom Ritchey has provided us with a sneak preview of one of his most exciting products for 2012: an ultralight forged aluminum stem that reportedly weighs just 100g (100mm length) but yet is 30 percent stiffer than the current WCS 4-Axis model.
Moreover, Ritchey claims the new C260 also passes the rigorous CEN testing standard and records fatigue lives three to four times longer than those of earlier forged models – all without a single shred of carbon fiber or titanium.
Ritchey doesn't dislike carbon fiber per se, but he does strongly believe that while it's excellent in some applications, aluminum is still superior in many others – especially given the increasingly advanced alloys developed for the aerospace industry such as the one used here. He feels aluminum is a safer material for a stem, given the consequences of a catastrophic failure, and points out that carbon stems still often aren't as light as good alloy ones.
The key to the C260's ultralight weight is its slick design – in particular the handlebar clamp. Rather than use a standard removable faceplate, the C260 uses an over-center design that wraps 260° around the bar (hence the name). The faceplate is then affixed with two pairs of smaller-than-usual M4 steel bolts oriented at roughly 90° from each other. According to Ritchey, the effect is a "pseudo single-bolt clamp" that produces a more even, circumferential clamping force on the bar instead of the more two-dimensional crushing-type force of a standard faceplate.
The "over center" handlebar clamp on Ritchey's new stem wraps 260° around the bar, producing a more circumferential clamp force that should be safer on crush-prone carbon fiber
The steerer clamp isn't ignored, either. In contrast to the slanted 'bias' slot of current WCS stems, the C260 uses a unique, arcing 'radius' slot that's secured with three undersized M4 bolts oriented in opposing directions. Again, this is done to produce more even clamping force – especially important on ever-lighter carbon fiber fork steerers.
Ritchey will offer the new C260 in 80mm to 130mm lengths (in 10mm increments), with a flip-flop +/-6° angle. Versions will be available for both standard 1-1/8in steerers and the bigger 1-1/4in clamp size used by Canyon and now Giant (though the latter size will only mainly be available to OEMs for now). Riders needing a more aggressive position will get a -17° option as well. For those that want even more stiffness, Ritchey will also make the new C260 in a carbon wrapped Matrix version that's an additional 14 percent more rigid at a weight penalty of just 16g.
Color options will be the same as with the current WCS 4-Axis: Wet Black, Wet White, Wet Red and bead blasted black. The standard bead blasted version will cost US$109.95, Wet Black or Wet White will cost US$119.95, and Wet Red will tack on an additional US$10 on top of that. Matrix versions are quoted at US$159.95. Consumers should be able to purchase the C260 starting in August.
We'll have to wait a while to see it, but Ritchey also told us that the new over-center bar clamp has finally allowed for a "legitimate" one-piece molded carbon fiber stem that's being tested by the Omega Pharma-Lotto team. As Ritchey says that "carbon and bolts don't go together", we're guessing this new stem will use the same faceplate design but with some sort of separate aluminum nut arrangement for the steerer clamp (perhaps similar to what Easton have done with their EC90) instead of embedded threads.
Ritchey did say, though, that the new carbon stem will also come in 1-1/8in and 1-1/4in steerer clamp diameters, each with unique molds.
Contrary to some boutique-type ultralight stems, Ritchey's new C260 is constructed of fatigue-resistant forged aluminum and uses steel, not titanium, hardware.