Ask Pinkbike: Which DH Bike, Stem Length, Getting Into Slopestyle

May 11, 2017
by Pinkbike Staff  
Ask Pinkbike Header

Here at Pinkbike we get inundated with all kinds of questions, ranging from the basic "Can I have stickers" to more in-depth, soul-searching types of queries like if you should pop the question or what to name your first child. Ask Pinkbike is an occasional column where we'll be hand-picking and answering questions that have been keeping readers up at night, although we'll likely steer clear of those last two and keep it more tech oriented.

Gambling Addiction

Question: Pinkbike user explodinglamas asked this question downhill forum: I'm pretty keen to buy my first proper DH bike, either a Norco Aurum or a Scott Gambler, both of which are 2015 models. Price-wise, the Aurum wins. I work at a store that stocks them, so my staff pricing brings it in at a whole $700 AUD less than the Gambler. Not only that, the Norco also a better spec'd and lighter bike. However, the Scott is the bike that I saw and instantly thought ''That's it, that's the one!'' This, despite it not having as good of a spec, being heavier, and costing more - I can't remove it from my list. The Aurum is the obvious choice, but I want the Gambler and to hell with the consequences!

So, should I be smart, save the money and buy the Aurum? Or go with my heart, which is yelling ''GAMBLE, YOU BASTARD!"

bigquotesI've ridden both of those bikes, and unless you ride at a near pro-level and on some seriously nasty terrain, the Aurum will likely be the more enjoyable bike. Both are probably going to let you go as fast as your skills allow, but the big, forgiving Gambler could take more effort simply because it's, well, big and forgiving. The Scott is thought of as more of a ground-hugger, whereas the Norco is a more efficient, playful machine.

But I don't think you should listen to me, to be honest. We spend thousands of dollars on bikes to pedal and coast around in the forest because it's what we want to do, not because it makes the most sense or anything due to with applying logic. Don't buy the bike you think you should buy and instead buy the bike that you want to buy. That $700 might feel like a lot of money right now, and it is, but it won't when you're opening the box that your Gambler gets delivered in.

- Mike Levy

Adam Brayton s Scott Gambler - Fort William World Cup 2016

What's the shortest stem you've run and did you like it?

Question: Pinkbike user @Paxx asked the question in the All Mountain, Enduro & Cross-Country forum: What's the shortest stem you've run and did you like it or not?

bigquotesShorter stems can grant a rider more responsive steering on the bike but there is more to consider when looking to shorten up that stem. One important point when looking into a very short stem on many of the major manufacturer's bikes is whether the seattube angle is steep enough. If a bike has the reach lengthened but the seat tube doesn't steepen enough to accompany that change, a shorter stem has potential to further exaggerate issues with body position when climbing, especially for taller riders. The width of the bars that you like to run with also play into this. When first stepping down to a 40mm stem (previously a 50mm on that and other bikes) a number of years ago these points were immediately noticeable, while also finding it a little more difficult to weight the front wheel sufficiently when descending—at least at first. The result was more exaggerated body movements in order to get the bike to track and corner as needed, but while climbing there was extra movement and effort required in order to have a position that kept the spread of weight where it needed to be.

The companies that are really pushing this forward—the likes of Mondraker, Pole, Nicolai—have very aggressive seattube angles (with the exception of Mondraker) that aim to position the rider in such a manner that along with the long reach, they're able to run a shorter stem. If comfort and efficiency when climbing are key to you, then seriously consider whether the bike you want to run a short stem on is really capable of it, without making you suffer for the other 50% of the time you're on the it (climbing—unless you only shuttle/ride chair lifts).

Even with the above, rider preference comes into play in a large way too. Sam Blenkinsop is a good example of this. Sam actually runs a 60mm stem on his large Norco Range, so that he can keep the wheelbase shorter, but he also finds that he has more traction on the front and better weight distribution over the bike by going this route. If you have the opportunity to try a shorter stem from a friends bike, or maybe your LBS has a demo bike with a shorter stem that they'll let you borrow, go for it. It's good to be aware of the potential drawbacks to running a super short stem (rider position, front wheel traction, and weight distribution to name a few), but better yet, it's good to try different things and see what you feel works best for you, especially when it concerns the fit of your bike.
AJ Barlas

Nicolai Mojo Geometron 29 Prototype
The Nicolai GeoMetron has a steep seattube angle and long reach that make a short stem possible.

How do I get into slopestyle?

Question: Pinkbike user @georgebooky asked this question in the Freeride & Slopestyle forum: Hi all, been mountain biking for a while and have been wanting to get into slopestyle. Could anybody recommend a first bike $850 max (if that's possible). I was also wondering if to start laying down basic tricks should I go to my local skate park or BMX track? I have some sick dirt jumps near me but they need a bit of work. Any advice is appreciated .

bigquotesIf you're dead set on purchasing a new bike, I'd suggest trying to scrounge up an additional $150 before heading down to your local bike shop. It seems like that $1000 pricepoint is the sweet spot when it comes to dirt jump bikes that will be able to take a beating and aren't spec'd with overly heavy parts. Of course, your money will go a lot further if you don't mind a used bike – just make sure to inspect the frame, fork and wheels before taking it home, since the life of a dirt jump bike isn't typically an easy one.

As for learning basic tricks, while the skate park and BMX track are good places to practice, those dirt jumps you mentioned are going to be the best place to learn and progress. If they need work, well, time to to grab a shovel and start throwing some dirt. Find out who the trail boss is and see if you can lend a hand to get them up and running again.

Learning tricks onto a dirt landing can be tricky, and not everyone is fortunate to have access to a foam bit or an airbag, but there are a couple ways to make that learning curve a little less painful. Building a jump with a mulch landing is one way to ease the sting of hitting the ground. The mulch is much more forgiving, but it's also supportive enough that you'll be able to land and roll away when you have the trick figured out. Depending on exactly what tricks you're trying to learn, I'd also recommend finding a step-up with nice wide landing, one that you don't have any trouble reaching. This way you won't be quite as high above the ground if something does go wrong, and if you do happen to case it the consequences won't be so harsh. Have fun out there, and take your time progressing – start with the basics before going for that corked-720 that we all wish we could do.
Mike Kazimer

Norco One25
Specialized P.3
There are several worthy options in the $1000 USD range when it comes to dirt jumpers, including the steel Norco One25 (left) and the aluminum Specialized P.3 (right).

Have some unresolved tech questions? Jump in the Pinkbike Forum and we'll look to answer it for next time.


  • 71 3
 Buy norco, sell frame turn around and buy gambler frame.
  • 3 10
flag wakaba (May 11, 2017 at 22:36) (Below Threshold)
 Get the more modern Gambler. Long, low, 60 degree Headangle when plowing. Its an awesome machine. Short stems work very well. I ride a 20mm low Thomson with a 30mm riserbar on Emerald on my downhill-bike for years. Comfy, not twitchy and fast.
  • 2 0
 @wakaba: @wakaba: Geometrywise the Gambler hasn't changed since 2015, has it? But in 2018 we might be getting the new linkage that brendog is running.
  • 1 0
 @explodinglamas - buy the gambler. Wont regret it.
I have a 2014 Gambler, thought Id try another dh bike (test rode a Glory & rode a Bansher Darkside a few times) and Im still with the Gambler.
(Slightly disagree about the Gambler being a ground hugger, I love getting my gambler up in the air, loves it!)
  • 50 5
 Don't buy a bike based on looks or what you "think" you will (or should) like. Demo everything you can get your hands on, then decide. What you end up liking may surprise you.
  • 23 1
 I actually find the idea of spending months demoing tens of bikes very unappealing. For starters it costs about $80 a pop (half day!) where I am, and that's only refunded if you buy the bike, so you could easily pour hundreds into demos - unless there just happens to be all the brands you're interested in doing a demo day at the time you're looking for a new bike. Second, sometimes a bike is on sale or you have limited time to choose/spend the cash, also if you leave it too long the cash might go elsewhere, like car or house repairs. Also I can guarantee every bike in the price bracket of the Gambler will outride 95% of us Pinkbike punters.

Sometimes it's just love at first site, and that's ok with me.
  • 53 4
 @jkwilliamz Bullshit!! All bikes are really capable and fun right now. If the bike looks good, and is giving you a boner, buy it! It's the bike setup that makes that biggest difference.
  • 23 0
 @abzillah: no no! I wouldn't buy a bike that gives me a boner. That's dangerous surely.
  • 14 0
 @abzillah: and seek a bike park if you experience an erection lasting longer than 4 hours
  • 2 0
 I bought the original Specialized Demo 8 because I just had to have it . . . Wasn't the worst choice in my life. I've since owned and sold and owned about 5 other bikes, but don't let that stop you! Get the gambler, it's what you want.
  • 11 1
 @abzillah: Do you just look at the bike or do you RIDE it?
Don't get me wrong, looks count for something, and if he's keen on the Gambler, all I'm saying is he should make sure he falls in love with how the Gambler RIDES before pulling the trigger. Smile

@bentown: You don't always have to pay money to demo a bike, try your buddies rides, check for free demos in your area, outerbike, etc.

I just know that I ended up falling in love with a bike I didn't like the "looks" of at first. I've also had the vise versa.
  • 3 6
 @es7ebanlv: Agreed. Follow yer willie because it's going to be a better time when you pull off the trail and just sit there admiring your bike. Absolute performance that sacrifices this crucial part of the ride is not worth it. Same with women.
  • 7 0
 Regrets matter too. If the Gambler works for you and you're thinking about the price difference, you need to ask "If I buy the Aurum or something else, every time I go riding will I regret not getting the Gambler?" There's nothing quantitative there, but it matters. It sounds from here like that might happen.
  • 1 0
 @number44: or just listen to reviews and make a gut decision.
  • 19 0
 Just make sure an online review says it climbs like a mountain goat/xc bike/surprisingly well and that it descends like a beast/DH Bike/ riot
  • 5 0
 @es7ebanlv: "Don't tell me what to do and don't call me Shirley."
  • 9 0
 Meh. Talking about any new/modern bike, your enjoyment of it is like 99% in your head. and any decent rider will be able to improve and have fun on virtually any modern bike. I know guys who buy the dopest, sexiest bikes ever, and they're all super fun to ride and well-reviewed, no mechanical issues... but they're still constantly buying new bikes every 1-2 years because they always think there's something better out there.

My only 2 pieces of advice are:

1. Cheap gear can be expensive. Whatever you buy, make sure it actually works for what you're trying to do with it. If you don't have the money for it now, it's better to save up rather than buy something that will break/malfunction/hurt you/not fit you. I've re-bought a lot ski/bike/brewing/etc gear just because I was being stupid the first time around.

2. Once you have it, just learn to be happy with what you have. I don't care how nice your gear is, if you let consumerism, jealousy of other people's gear, and "what-ifs" get into your head, you can talk yourself out of loving ANYTHING. As long as you have a working bike, you can always improve and have fun.

Whether you decide based on demoing loads of bikes or just a gut/boner decision... being happy with what you bought is really just a decision you make in your mind, it's not about the bike. I honestly don't think it's possible to hate ANY new bike from a major brand... especially in the Gambler/Aurum price bracket.
  • 1 0
 @bentown: I agree you that it's unreasonable to demo that many bikes, but you really should demo at least two. You can narrow down it down by reading reviews and other people's takes based on similar riding styles. I loved the look of the Bronson, loved what the reviewers said, but so glad I demoed one and bought something else.

This dude better not just be all cranked up over the looks of the Gambler only. If you spend more time looking at your bike than riding, there's a problem.
  • 1 0
 I get how you want to buy the bike that you love. But sometimes the bike doesn't love you back. And that's just sad.
  • 15 0
 For the amount of money we're spending on our bikes, it only makes sense to buy what makes us truly happy. There were a lot of other choices back then but I still find myself staring at the bike that I bought and feel very good about it. Two years on and the feeling hasn't changed. :-)
  • 3 0
 Couldn't agree more. Some of the worst decisions I've made were the 'sensible' choice at the time, and you're basically left still wanting the one you wanted in the first place regardless if the sensible one performs better or not.
"If you don't turn around and stare at your car after you've parked it, then you've bought the wrong car" still holds very true in mountain biking for me.
  • 2 0
 @gibbon-on-an-orange: Yep I just did this with car stereos. Ordered a JVC online because of its sensible price. A few days later I ended up at a store that had that JVC next to a slightly more expensive Kenwood. After playing around with them for a while I liked everything about the Kenwood more so I bought it right there on the spot. I KNEW I wouldn't be happy if I didn't get the Kenwood, and I KNEW I didn't want to be in the position of always wanting that thing I didn't get that I should have gotten instead!
  • 1 0
 @gibbon-on-an-orange: Yup. what ever with what "They" say is sensible or the wise choice. Go with your gut feeling. What works for me may not work for you
  • 5 1
 First time in my 20+years of riding that i felt truely at home on a bike was with a 2013 gambler in lrg. Every other bike that i've owned had felt wanting in some department, a compromise here, or a compromise there, always left me looking for the next "better" bike, but ever since throwing my leg over the Gambler i've never wanted for more, i'm content, i'm comfortable and i'm riding better harder and faster than i've ever ridden (Not that that means much, i'm still a slow, talentless hack), i'll truly be in tears when the day comes to retire it.
  • 7 1
 Couldn't you buy a canyon stitched 360? Its just over 1000 bucks and you get a pike dj, good hydraulic brakes and quality wheels.
  • 4 1
 Or a YT for $895...
  • 2 1
 Stitched 180 has a reasonable spec for peanuts.
  • 5 3
 Buy a good used DH bike! Save yourself at least half off the retail and you will be just as happy and you wont stress after you take that first (inevitable) fall where your bikes gets dinged or scratched. DH bikes are for the most part bulletproof. There are very few components you have to changed out side of Brake discs and pads. (cheap). Get a good bargain and go have fun.
  • 15 0
 It says he's working at a shop that carries those bikes. I promise if that's the case he's getting a smoking deal that would probably match or be better than whatever he's getting a used bike for.
  • 2 1
 @Rucker10: I thought that was going to be true, until I realized that even at dealer cost a carbon dh frame and shock would run me just under what a well spec'd aluminum used one would. But all the power to him if he's buying new! Just buy what you love and freaking send it!
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy you know whats up bro. "buy with the heart, not with the brain" was the best thing I ever did choosing a new bike. I mean, i ended up with something complete overkill for most of the riding I do, but I dont care because I love it!
  • 8 6
 Re: Stem--headtube angle is important too. A steep head angle (like 69-70, on XC bikes) makes the bike twitchy or sharp-handling, and a short stem amplifies the feeing.
  • 2 8
flag jclnv (May 11, 2017 at 19:13) (Below Threshold)
 No it doesn't.
  • 9 1
 @jclnv: yes it does
ever tried it on an xc bike?
  • 4 4
 @taprider: I run a 50mm on my XC bike. If a bike has a HA that's too steep the last thing it needs is a long stem putting even more weight forward.
  • 2 0
 I'be tried everything from 100-40mm on my old XC bike, 60mm with 750mm bars was the sweet spot. 40 was way too short. Twitchy, no front traction and had to correct after every turn.
  • 3 3
 I thought of you guys when I just read a bike test on Bike Radar.

"The 90mm stem fitted to XL Cambers is as welcome as a fart in a space suit. It makes the bike feel nervous and precarious, especially on steep terrain or in tight bends. To avoid the bike running wide or tucking under, a shorter tiller is a must

Fortunately, the frame is relatively roomy. With a long 478mm reach (claimed) there’s room to fit a shorter stem without putting the bar in your lap. I went for a 50mm number. This took the handling from ‘wayward shopping trolley’ to ‘housefly’ and enabled the low bottom bracket to come to the fore, helping the Camber to whizz through tight trail sections with addictive agility.

The steep 69-degree head angle is a little twitchy at speed. It’s a lively, agile ride, if not the most stable and confidence inspiring."

Can't believe I'm having to post shit like this in 2017. My 3 year old could work it out.
  • 4 0
 Guys, you can go to a shorter stem on any bike, you just have to get wider bars to compensate. Wider bars offset the twitchiness of going shorter.
  • 1 1
 @jclnv: Give it some time. Read the review again. And test on a bike. You'll get it.

Tell your son I said hey.
  • 1 1
 @McNubbin: Yup, you can do that too. But wide bars aren't always the best for XC.

Look at every World Cup bike. Long stem. Norrow-ish bars.
  • 1 0
 @sevensixtwo: Read it again. Confirms what I said. Thanks.
  • 2 0
 @sevensixtwo: your right but XC is a different breed, usually roadie crosover
  • 1 0
 @bikeetc: I know. I tell myself that every time I miss a podium by a few spots. It doesn't help Blank Stare
  • 2 0
 @jclnv: Have your son read it, he can explain it to you.
  • 1 1
 @sevensixtwo: My daughter said "don't worry Daddy, those Pinkbike kids are dumb". That's the end of that I'm affraid. Have fun out there on your 90's MTB.
  • 2 0
 @jclnv: i think its just different riding styles. I come from a moto-x back ground and for me I keep getting shorter stems and the ride gets better. 35mm stem and 780 bars, awsome control and stable at speed.
  • 1 0
 @jclnv: Actually, I really wish I had kept my old 90s bikes. Not enough room, my stable is already at marriage counseling level.
  • 1 0
 @bikeetc: Yup, spot on. Thats similar to how my new TB3 is setup. Jumping so much more stable with a short stem. Have you seen the new 40mm Thomson X4?

My Highball (xc) has 60mm with 680—California hardpack with razor race tires is too sensitive for a 30mm.
  • 2 0
 @McNubbin: wider bars indeed offset the change in handling that a short stem causes, up to a point. Then it's also a matter of weight distribution. Not enough weight on the front wheel equals easy wheelies and washouts in turns. I didn't have to read any of this on a mag, it's 1st hand experience with 4 different stems on the same,70 deg HA XC bike. On my tral bike (66.5 deg) a 40mm stem is perfect.

Wheel size and weight also have an effect on steering stability.
  • 1 0
 @justwan-naride: Did you reduce front spring rate and tire pressure to offset the rearward weight bias?
  • 1 0
 @jclnv: level up!
  • 1 0
 @justwan-naride: Excellent point. while my bike bombs down hill and manuals like a king. It pushes through corners, need to shift weight fwd to rail a bermless corner.
  • 1 0
 @jclnv: Tried everything possible because I really believed in the 40mm stem, but unofrtunately it didn't match the steep geo at all. On a coil fork then so no, I didn't change spring rate.

Not too bad at slow speed, but when things got faster/rougher it was too much work and hard to control. For me steep HA needs a stem of 60mm or more. Low stack helps too.
  • 2 1
 Stem? Wheelbase, head angle, low bottom bracket, cog is what matters. Stem lenght is riders preference. This is the year 200 of bikes. Same silly question reasked since Mr Drais invented his pushbike.
  • 3 0
 Wow. I hope that first guy wasnt waiting since last june for an answer....
  • 1 0
 A 740-750mm handlebar is too narrow for a 40mm? Would it be feel twitchy? (Thinking in custom geo, what stem lenght design the geometry around)
  • 2 0
 Anyone tried that fireball that keeps getting advertised on PB for a dirtjump bike? under $1k.
  • 1 0
 It's not the bike, it's the RIDER! Plus, eventually you'll get used to the bike you own anyways. I'd pick the one with the best specs.
  • 2 1
 "60mm stem on his large Norco Range, so that he can keep the wheelbase shorter" ??? How does stem length change the wheel base?
  • 1 0
 I'm assuming this means he can run a smaller bike with identical reach than if he were to run a bigger bike with a shorter stem. All things being equal he'd have a shorter wheelbase.
  • 1 0
 Using a large frame, longer stem vs xl frame and shorter stem
  • 1 0
 @ryan83 & @sjdeweese: makes total sense now, just didn't put 2 and 2 together when I read it, thx
  • 4 6
 @georgebooky - I have a hardly used 2011 Banshee AMP with Fox 32 831, Profile cranks, Industry 9 rear hub and Spank tweet tweet rims front and back. If you're truly interested shoot me a msg and i'll send over pic's and price
  • 2 0
 that first resopnse from mike levy the second paragraph was art, wow
  • 1 0
 Trampoline bike helped me with tricks feel like that should of been thrown in there
  • 1 0
 Stem and fork off-set should be pretty much the same for optimal (neutral) handling.
  • 1 0
 The part about the stem and seat tube is completely incorrect. Holy crap.
  • 1 0
 But if you have a steep seat tube and a short stem you can steer with your knees!
  • 1 0
 Don't buy, borrow your dentist friend's bike!
  • 1 0
 Buy by look and feel, then master the skills
  • 2 2
 Buy the gambler. That bike is life changing.
  • 1 2
 2016 half price enough said -
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