WHAT: THE Flight bar-stem
HOW MUCH: $400
When you think of bike parts with sex appeal, certain bits come to mind: ultra-light XC wheelsets, carbon cranksets, disc brakes. Chances are, its not images of gleaming stems and handlebars that dance in your head like proverbial sugarplums. But take one look at THE's Flight System carbon barstem and your bike fantasies might change forever.
Possibly the coolest thing to come out of Toby Henderson's trendy workshop since his outmoded (but secretly still-admired) fenders, the Flight System is borne of almost pure carbon fiber, using aluminum alloy only for the clamp area. Where the carbon meets the alloy you'll find almost no evidence of the super-strong bonding process; the carbon weave pattern fades subtly to the flat black metal with nary a seam or bump. That kind of quality is the rule on the Flight System, whose stem features masculine-looking ridges and whose angular bars are aesthetically flawless. As if to flaunt its gorgeous construction and its elite $400 price tag, the Flight System's graphics appear prominently in a flowy script across its top. And it should. Because this thing is hot.
However, THE is adamant that their designers had more than aesthetics in mind when they designed the Flight System. They proudly state that the Flight System is not just intended for weight-concious XC nerds; in fact, they encourage its use on everything from race bikes to freeride rigs. While they acknowledge that carbon doesn't stand much of a chance when your forty-pound bike is cartwheeling down some Canadian mountainside, they offer a discounted crash replacement and claim that during regular use it will stand up to all the force your fat ass can throw at it.
So when we received our Flight System, I admittedly spent a few minutes ogling. But before long, it was on my 5×5 bike and headed for some of Southern California's best drops: at the local high school, that is. Hucking staircases, retaining walls, loading docks—the Flight System absorbed it all with the ease and grace of a prominent Manhattanite. The bar was stiff and sound, and proved its utility on the trail just as well. Compared to an aluminum bar set-up, it sucked up a good bit of the tiny stutter bumps and tooth-chattering vibration and took some stress of my hands and wrists. Although I can't say it absorbed a hell of a lot more than my prior carbon riser and aluminum stem configuration, it certainly did so with more panache.
Assuming you can afford the very pricey Flight System and you like the look, it's hard to think of any real negatives that come with it. It's available in a breadth of sizes from 90-130mm and comes in flat or riser styles, all of them light. Our test bar, a 110mm riser, came in at an impressive 290g. However you might want to think twice if you're planning on mounting a cyclocomputer to your bars; with the Flight System's oddly flared sections, that might require a little creativity.