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I currently have a 90mm stem, and have heard suggestions to go with a shorter, 50mm or 70mm stem. These are general suggestions supposedly to improve the bike handling, not necessarily specifically for me and fitting on my bike.

does this really make any difference? I am on the cusp between medium and large frame, and went with the medium, since the 29'er's standover was already pretty high even on the medium.

Is going with a shorter stem just making the cockpit smaller, or is there an actual handling improvement with shorter stems?

on the gravity bikes (especially the ones with the fork stanchions that come all the way up to the handlebars) I often see itty bitty little stems....
 

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The shorter stem will bring the handlebars back and make the cockpit smaller. I am 5'11" and ride a medium 29er. My bike started with an 80 mm stem and 660 mm bars. I switched to a 70 mm stem and 685 mm bars and was a little cramped and I thought the steering was very quick, bordering on jittery. You may try going to an 80 mm stem and a little wider bar and see how it feels, but on a XC bike I would not try anything drastic. I ended up with the stock length stem and the 685 mm bar. I am in Central Virginia and a lot of the singletrack is pretty narrow and the bar width is a good compromise.
 

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I went down to a 60mm stem this season and my steering is much more responsive. I didn't have any complaints before, but found myself over reaching while climbing, and i was pleasantly surprised by the steering difference.

Sent from my SPH-L710 using Tapatalk 2
 

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Fat-tired Roadie
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It does matter. Generally moving my grips forward or back pulls my whole position forward or back. It can even pull me off balance.

I look for a position that gives me a good balance between being able to pop up and float my front wheel and having it behave predictably. Too short is really irritating on climbs. Too long makes the bike tend to nose dive under braking and rolling into compressions and things.

Experiment with it. Use cheap stems.
 
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