Your Guide to Buying a Quill vs. Threadless Stem

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Your Guide to Buying a Quill vs. Threadless Stem

The bicycle stem is the part of the bicycle where the handlebar connects to the steering tube of the bicycle fork. There are two types of stem design systems: threaded and threadless. Each is customised to its respective headset and fork patterns. Threaded stems have a quill, which is a cylindrical tube that one inserts into the bicycle fork and then bolts it tight with a wedge nut, whereas with threadless stems, the headset slides on and clamps the stem to the steering tube. Bicycle stems come in different lengths to help riders reach the handlebar comfortably.

While the choice of which stem to use is predetermined by manufacturers, because the stems need to be compatible with the entire system, a few tinkerers convert quill stems to threadless stems easily using adapters. Whether you are an avid cyclist, a bicycle traveller, or use a bicycle recreationally for the weekend trails, it is useful to know the basics about bicycle stems, including the difference between the two types and the availability, maintenance, price, and aesthetic appeal of both. You can shop for bicycle stems from cycling shops or those that sell spare parts in brick and mortar stores; alternatively, online stores and auction sites such as eBay offer a myriad of styles at reasonable prices and speedy shopping with items delivered to your doorstep.

Comparing the Quill Stem and the Threadless Stem

There are two divergent camps when it comes to selecting the best type of bicycle stem, some rooting for the traditional quill or threaded stem, while others cling to the modern threadless stem as the stem of choice. Quill stems are classic and solid with an attractive vintage feel, whereas threadless stems are popular with their high handlebar and a wide range of parts available without difficulty.

The Looks Department

Classicists claim that quill stems win hands-down when it comes to aesthetic appeal because of their retro-elegant lines and form. Although threadless stems are geared towards performance in racing bicycles and look chunky and robust when compared to the quill stems, this has not lessened their popularity for use in most modern bicycles. Thus, the use of vintage-style quill stems is now mostly relegated to utility bicycle stems and for special-interest consumers who do not want anything else.

Handlebar Height Adjustability

Here again, the quill stem fares better than the threadless one when it comes to ease of raising and lowering the handlebar. The inverted L shape means a good part of the long tube is inserted into the steering tube, making it easy for you to fine-tune adjustments to whatever you are comfortable with. With inflexible threadless stems, the options are limited by the height of the steering tube, turning handlebar height adjustments into long processes of trial and error.


Threadless stems are mass-produced and easily obtainable in a huge variety of styles, colours, and angles, making mixing, matching, and changing as easy as flipping a stem, which you can if you want to. They are also fun and extremely versatile, as you can switch parts around from bicycle to bicycle. Finding parts for old quill stems is difficult although online sites can get you what you need if you are in the know about how to go about searching for the right stem. The Japanese-made Nittos, for example, are strong bicycles specially made with quill stems and are a hit with those who prefer threaded stems.


Threadless stems are easier to work on and simple to maintain and adjust, unlike the quill stems that require a specific headset wrench to loosen the lock ring every time you want to adjust or tighten the bearing. Threadless stems are sturdy, and their performance-driven build can withstand the heavy pounding of rough and unpaved surfaces. Quill stems, on the other hand, because of their difficulty in adjusting bearings are less prone to poorly adjusted bearings like some threadless stems which cause damage to the bearings. Sometimes the threads on the headset or steering tubes of quill stems sustain damage and become useless, resulting in costly replacement.


Material and weight determine the price of the stem. Bicycles with threadless stems are much cheaper than those with the threaded stems because of lower mass-production costs and the use of lightweight material. The manufacture of threaded stems requires more skill and a longer process than the threadless ones, and their prices reflect this extra cost. If your budget is small, look for used stems. Provided they are in good working condition with no serious damage, their lower cost is a good value for you.


Bicycle stems made from durable material can withstand the frequent bumps and scratches while offering good overall performance. The construction of threadless stems allows for use of lightweight material such as carbon fibre or an aluminium alloy, making the bicycle lighter. Aluminium quill stems are comfortable and lovely to look at, but are heavy in weight when compared to the threadless ones. Bicycle stems made from carbon, steel, and titanium are pricey but worth every extra degree of comfort and quality.

The following table compares the quill and threadless stems, showing the advantages and disadvantages of each.




Aesthetic Appeal

Yes, vintage look

Little, modern look

Height Adjustment

Yes, fine tuning

Limited, inflexible





Less common

Popular, widely available


More difficult to maintain

Easier to work on and maintain, sturdy frames



Less expensive

As you can see from the table above, your selection of stems depends largely on your requirements, your personal tastes, your biking activities, and the size of your budget.

How to Measure Your Bicycle Stem

Lock your bicycle with the handlebars straight out. Use a tape measure to measure the handlebar and find the exact centre just above the headset and measure from the centre of the handlebar to the centre of the headset or steering tube. The figure you get is the measurement of your bicycle stem. Many bicycles have a quill bolt for quill stems and a headset-adjusted bolt on threadless stems. Now that you have your stem measurement and know what type of stem you have, go to eBay to shop for the stem most suitable for your bicycle.

How to Buy a Quill or Threadless Stem on eBay

Search for 'threaded stems' or 'threadless stems' on the eBay home page or any other page using the search bar. If you have a brand in mind, go ahead and search for that instead; this cuts down on the thousands of results you get with a more general search. If you are looking for a replacement stem, make sure it is compatible with the items listed, whether threaded or threadless, and that it matches with the diameter of the steering tube. If, instead, you are looking to buy an entire front end of a bicycle with stem, handlebar, headtube, and fork, then the compatibility issue does not come up.

Check photos of used stem listings for bends, scratches, and missing bolts, which are easy to see with eBay's zoom function, and ask the seller for any clarifications. Once you are sure about the item and feel it offers good value for your money, you are ready to purchase using PayPal for security and safety.

Care and Maintenance of Your Quill or Threadless Stem

Check for loose bolts once a month and address any squeaks immediately by removing the bolts that hold the stem to the handlebar. Slide the bar out and clean and wipe both surfaces, greasing lightly. Put the handlebar back in place and grease all bolts. If your stem is threaded, pull it out and grease it, then loosen the bolt attached to its head without removing it completely. With a threadless stem, unscrew the top cap, loosen the stem clamps and remove the stem from the steering tube, then grease lightly. Clean and grease your clamping surfaces and a threadless stem once a year, and every six months for the threaded stem. The greasing goes a long way towards keeping your bicycle in excellent working condition.


The humble bicycle stem serves to hold up the handlebar and steering tube and steer the bicycle while keeping the rider safe. Quill stems were first on the scene and, according to diehard fans, are here to stay, with their vintage style look and elegant lines and ease of adjusting the handlebar height. Threadless stem supporters wax on about their stem as the industry standard of racing bicycles, with a variety of styles and designs and an overall lighter bicycle because of their system.

Since the stem is the first point of contact of the body to the bicycle, it has a significant effect on the way a person's upper body feels when riding. Quill stems provide the most comfort, thanks to their ability to handle height adjustments. Threadless stems have problems with adjusting the handlebar height to a comfortable fit and thus come with a degree of discomfort, especially if one cannot adjust the handlebar height. The variety and mix-and-match options that threadless stems offer, however, goes a long way to making up for this inconvenience. Whatever one fancies, eBay has a stem for every shopper and budget.

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