Monday, September 16, 2013

Stack Height - A Visual & Aural Exploration

When a message from a couple of bike-touring friends recently put the idea for an article about stack height in to my head, I naturally jumped at the chance. Stack height is one of the more interesting topics in the world of cycling and I had been waiting some time for the opportunity to write an in-depth analysis.

The friends in question, Alex and Kat (or AlleyKat), are currently travelling around the world by bicycle - tandem bicycle - and have a wealth of interesting and informative content about their trip as well as some amazing photos documented on their website, Unfortunately there is currently no analysis of stack height to be found there.

For those readers not familiar with the terminology, stack height refers to the number of steerer tube spacers mounted between the head tube and the stem on a bicycle.
Particularly important in road cycling circles, a low stack height is preferred as it is considered very aesthetically pleasing and the mark of a professional (looking) rider.
Although this stem position is considered very pro, the same cannot be said for the glasses!

Nobody actually knows why this is the case, perhaps getting a sore back when you ride is one of the criteria for being a professional cyclist. The ultimate stack height, and one which every road rider should aspire to is the “slammed stem” in which there are no (zero) spacers between the bottom of the stem and the top of the headset bearing cover.
In fact, “slamming” the stem is considered so important that there's actually an entire website dedicated to it. Although this is not really saying much seeing as how there's also an entire website dedicated to telling you if your computer is on and another one showing people pointing at your mouse cursor.

But if you've slammed the stem and are still feeling like you want to get even more pro, the next step is to remove the headset bearing cover altogether.
This gets you even lower (marginally) and shows that not only do you care more about low stack height than you do about comfort, but also more than you do about the durability of your components -  which is very professional indeed. If you somehow still feel the need to get even more pro than this then you will need to find a stem with a massive drop to further improve your riding position.
A tall stack height should obviously be avoided at all times as it is not considered professional and could damage your reputation in certain cycling cliques.
The message from AlleyKat about stack height had come direct via the Internet from the country of Kyrgyzstan – I'm not sure where this is but if anybody out there knows, and has any spare vowels lying around the house, they are in desperate need. The AlleyKat bike-touring adventure began in Holland in mid-2012, initially on two touring bikes and included a lot of “cat love”.
As time has passed, two have become one, and the journey now continues through central Asia on a tandem touring bike, affectionately known as TanNayNay, and the "cat love" has now progressed to a different type of love.
Alex told me that the idea for an article about stack height had come to him one day whilst hiking because he had got the song “Fuck Shit Stack” by Reggie Watts stuck in his head.

If you haven't heard this song, it's definitely worth a listen but keep in mind that it includes a number of profanities (most of them actually). As a further warning, the introductory credits caution that “This clip is uncensored” so before you click play at maximum volume, keep in mind that it may not be suitable for your workplace, particularly if you work at a childcare centre. That said, it might be completely suitable, after all, I have no idea what you do for work, where you work, or if you do even work.

The original version, complete with profanities, can be found here:

But if you do want to listen out loud and forgot to bring your headphones in to work, then I've put together this censored version for your listening pleasure – although the pleasure is probably limited to those people who enjoy the sound of high-pitched beeps. Hopefully you can enjoy the experience of listening to this song at work, at full volume and without raising any corporate eyebrows.
So here it is, the fully censored version of “Fuck Shit Stack”, affectionately known as "Fun Ship Stack":

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