Carbon steerer breakages sidebar: More to Vaughan’s stem situation than meets the eye

  • By Zack Vestal
  • Published Jun. 14, 2010
  • Updated Jun. 16, 2010 at 6:58 PM EDT

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Although Brian Vaughan and his teammate were both using FSA stems when their steerer tubes failed, the photos of Vaughan’s bike and his teammate’s bike both show evidence of incorrect installation. Neither appears to have used correct spacer placement, and both appear potentially over-torqued.

But Vaughan doesn’t blame his FSA stem. He now thinks it was an Easton stem that caused the initial steerer tube damage that resulted in its failure. After inspecting his steerer more closely, he says the crack appears to originate from a mark on the steerer that matches exactly the internal cutout on his Easton stem.

Vaughan is convinced that the huge interior cutout on his Easton EC90 stem is what really triggered his steerer tube failure.

Vaughan’s concern is two-fold: that at least one opportunity to correct the installation was missed, and that the number of stems that Trek would deem “incompatible” is actually quite large.

Vaughan’s 6-Series Madone arrived with a 120mm Bontrager Race X Lite aluminum stem. “But I’d been riding a 130,” he said. “So I found an Easton 130 in my equipment storage and put that on, with the stock Bontrager bar. So that’s what I rode for the first month.” Vaughan installed the Easton stem himself and didn’t use a torque wrench.

But he hadn’t cut down the steerer tube. The way Vaughan describes it, he rode the Bontrager stem, then swapped to the Easton and rode more. He then took it to a dealer to get the steerer tube cut to length. “The dealer cut the steerer tube for me. So obviously they took the stem that I had on off, took the fork out completely, looked at it obviously, cut it, put it back on, put the Easton stem back on and gave me the bike. And I actually raced it that way for a couple weeks more.”

Vaughan feels like it was a missed opportunity for intervention in terms of torque, spacer placement, and stem compatibility. He also thinks that if Trek’s installation guidelines are so narrow as to be easily overlooked, maybe they’re too narrow.

“If you have to do those measurements on every stem, interior and exterior so it’s not just the cutout on the back, it’s the interior cutout at the front of the stem… You know I’ve found 3T, Easton, FSA all have cutouts on the back side of some of their stems. Who knows how many stems have a larger hole on the inside?” he asks.

Vaughan has so far declined to return his fork to Trek for inspection or replacement.

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