Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Velo Orange Cigne Stem Overview

The Velo Orange "Cigne" stem is an "LD" type stem for drop bar mtb's
Background: In the weird world of off road drop bars, one of the main issues is getting the drops up in the air high enough that the drop position becomes your primary hand position. Let's face it, there are not many hard tail mountain bikes that were ever designed around such an idea, so typically you will find yourself retrofitting drops to a flat bar hard tail mtb. When you try to do this, you will find yourself fighting against two big hurdles that are hard to clear.

The first of these two hurdles is that the reach, or in old mountain biker's parlance, the effective top tube length, is going to be a bit too long for a drop bar. Why? because unlike flat bars, a drop bar adds to the overall reach of the cockpit. The "reach" of the drops adds to the effective top tube length, so stem length is critical to a successful drop bar conversion on an old mountain bike. The stem reach needs to be very short, typically.

The second hurdle is that the head tube lengths on most mountain bikes are relatively short compared to those bikes designed for drop bars. Why? Because drop bars have depth while flat bars are on a single plane. To make the drop section useful in almost every case, you need a stem with a steep rise. Those are typically very hard to find in short reach dimensions. It's either that or you get a frame designed around drop bars which will typically have a longer head tube to alleviate that issue. See the Salsa Fargo and El Mariachi models for a perfect example of what I mean here.

Back in the 1980's, builders of mountain bikes used a stem design that was most often associated with Potts, Ibis, and Cunningham bikes to get around the two hurdles I mention above. Known as the "LD" type stem by many, it is a simple and elegant way to get around the longer top tubes and shorter head tubes of mountain bikes when drop bars are desired. The trouble was that these custom builders either became something else, died out, or stopped producing these types of stems over the ensuing years till now. The only way to get such a stem was to contract a custom builder that was amenable to the idea of making stems to make you one, which is obviously very expensive. So, most riders just "make do" with whatever stems they can get.

My Karate Monkey with a Dimension riser stem in the shortest reach and highest rise available. 
Above you can see what I mean about "making do". This is my '03 Karate Monkey with a Origin 8 "Gary Ergo Sweep OS Bar" (Velo Orange has the identical bar as the Daija Far Bar) and I am using the Dimension stem in the highest rise and shortest reach possible. Without adding a stack-o-spacers on a longer steer tube, (which is impossible since I cut that fork in '03), this is the best possible set up I could get. Well, other than a custom stem. Anyway, the drop section is a bit too low for my liking, and as you can see, the tops are about at the same level as the saddle. I also wasn't keen on the reach, which was a bit too long for my tastes.

A quick mock up using the Cigne stem. Now that is a big difference!
Above here you can see my quick mock up using the Velo Orange Grand Cru Cigne Stem. Sheesh folks! Do we really need such long names?!! Maybe we could have called it the "Tom" stem, or the "Nancy" stem and made it simpler. Anyway......

Fancy pants long name aside, this stem radicalizes my set up. Check out the reach, which is 70mm for the stem. You can get an 80mm reach Cigne stem too, but I went for the shortest option here. Obviously, the height is there as well. Check out how much higher the drop section is. Totally usable now as opposed to marginally usable before.

You can check out all the technical mumbo-jumbo here if you want to, but the bottom line is that now one can get a tested, well designed, good looking stem for converting a mtb to drop bar use. This stem will make many more set ups far more versatile and workable than before at a reasonable cost. You could also probably use this stem to raise a road bike's handle bar to more comfortable levels as well, ala Grant Petersen's preferred handle bar height and other sundry rules.

I will do a more ride performance oriented review of sorts after I get this set up squared away with longer cables and housings. Until then, this should give you a better idea how a good, proper drop stem can make drop bars work better on a hard tail mtb designed around flat bars. The Cigne stem comes in black as shown, silver, or a special nickle finish. You can get Velo Orange components from your local bike shop.

NOTE- I bought the Velo Orange Cigne stem with my own damn money and was not paid nor bribed for this review. All statements are my own and may not reflect the opinions of Grant Petersen, Velo Orange, or anybody else on this planet. So there.


Phillip Cowan said...

In some of the french dialects "cigne" is the word for swan, although I think the proper french word is cygne. I suppose we could call it the "swan". For better or worse this style of stem is always gonna be known as the LD (and we all know why). I've got an old Concorde mtb built up as an XO-1 replica with mustache bars. I'm using a Nitto Dirtdrop stem, and it works fine but this is a more elegant solution. I like Velo-Orange because they always manage to to make up to date bike parts that still look like bike parts. It's a nice contrast to the anime/manga looking crap that's coming from the big names nowadays. Honestly, some of that stuff looks like it was lifted from a Power Rangers cartoon.

Ari said...

I am curious to know if this stem is stout enough for off road riding . Will it inspire confidence going downhill at night at 40 mph on a gravel road? Otherwise I think this is a much needed part. Good job on VO's part.

Guitar Ted said...

@Ari- Velo Orange had this stem tested to Mountain Bike Standards before they put them up for sale, so I would be confident that they will hold up. I have been skeptical of the off-road worthiness of these as well, but when you get to handle one, I think you will agree that they are worthy stems for XC mtb or gravel.

youcancallmeAl said...

Previously,another way was to use a stem riser adaptor and a 40 deg, 80mm stem

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancalmeAl: You could. It is certainly doable.

I would never advise that, nor do that myself on a bike for off-roading. YMMV.

Phillip Cowan said...

You said VO tested this stem to mountain bike standards and I'm quite sure they did. It would be foolish not to in today's litigation happy climate. My question is who established the standard and what does the test consist of? Just wonderin'.

Guitar Ted said...

@phillip Cowan: Velo Orange posted on their blog dated 4/8/16 that" The stem passed the ISO MTB tests, 100,000 cyles of substantial load in two directions."

"ISO" stands for "International Standards Organization" and their home page is here ==>

I'll let you dig into that if you'd like. Looks like a lot of heady reading to me! :>)

Phillip Cowan said...

The darned thing is probably stronger than the steering tube it's clamped to. I'm sure that ISO standard gets deep real fast so I'll just quit while I'm ahead. I'm just slightly amazed that there's actually a standard. Thanks again.

Pete Phoo said...

Hello Ted,

Great site and great information. I do a lot of experimenting with different set-ups, and am very interested in your writings.

I live in Asia, and I am having a factory here do some special pieces for me to try out. I will do a set of Ragley Luxy-like bars in titanium, and also a steep stem, 70mm, 40 degrees or so upright. After I get them I will give you more feedback.

Do you have an email address I can contact you directly on? Thanks.


Guitar Ted said...

@Peter Phoo- My e-mail is

Unknown said...

This stem is definitely off road worthy. I've been running mine on a 2014 Turner Flux 275 full suspension bike and have done some pretty aggressive trail riding with it. I'm using an answer protaper 20/20 carbon handlebar. It feels really stout and is pretty heavy so I'm not really worried about it breaking. My only concern was whether or not the single bolt at the bottom would hold off road, but I've yet to experience any slipping or twisting. So far so good. Posted pics of the setup over at the pinkbike forum to recommend it and got accused of trolling lol. They should have named the stem Nessie because it makes the bike look like the Loch Ness Monster, at least while running a flat bar.

Adam said...

How are you liking those handlebars?

Guitar Ted said...

@Adam: Too early to say definitively, but so far they are okay. Not my favorite, but not bad at all. They feel like an ergo bend traditional road bar.

Billyboy said...

beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder as to me it looks one ugly mother.
Ari ..if you ride down gravel roads at 40mph in the dark i wouldn't worry about the stem too much as you've so many other possibilities of accidents happening the stem would be my last concern!