In this era of hi-zoot, threadless/integrated headsets and clamp-on stems, old-fashioned threaded headsets and quill stems seem almost quaint. I don’t normally think of myself as a Luddite, but I have to admit, in this case I far prefer the old to the new.
Sure, threadless systems have their advantages; the headsets are easy to adjust and the stems are stiff and strong. The downside though, is that making adjustments to bar height requires purchasing a new stem, an extender, or even a new fork. And, of course, once the steerer tube is cut, there’s no going back.
I have to wonder if the oft-touted advantages of threadless systems are actually of any use to the typical commuter or utility bicyclist. I’ve run threaded headsets for decades and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to adjust a headset. Also, unless someone is racing or riding offroad in rugged conditions, how stiff does a stem need to be? Instead of worrying about stem stiffness, we transportational bicyclists might be better off heeding Sheldon Brown’s advice.
I suspect the real reason the industry has pushed to promote threadless headsets is that they reduce inventory for both shops and manufacturers. With threaded steerers, suppliers need to stock a different fork for every frame size. With threadless steerers, suppliers only need to stock one fork size, which can be cut down to the customer’s preference at the time the bike is assembled. Certainly this is a legitimate approach when looked at from a business perspective, but it offers no real benefit to the end user.
I must admit, I simply prefer the look of quill stems. To me, they’re more elegant and look less industrial than clamp-on stems. But beyond their aesthetic qualities, they also offer the tremendous advantage of being fully adjustable over a vertical range of a few inches. Proper bar height is crucial to rider comfort, and for most people, the ease with which quill stems can be adjusted is likely to outweigh any benefits associated with threadless systems.