Vecnum FreeQENCE Suspension Stem
289g (90mm as tested) £260
The Vecnum FreeQENCE Suspension Stem is a beautifully executed and super refined model that addresses the limitations of traditional single pivot designs and indeed, suspension forks, which will alter a bike’s geometry. The highly industrial aesthetic won’t be to everyone’s tastes and it’s quite an investment. Nonetheless, it’s the best suspension stem I’ve ever tested- and I’ve run a few, long-term.
Pros: Beautifully engineered, progressive damping, doesn’t alter geometry, Simple to adjust, no issues with bottoming out.
Cons: price, fewer length options than some brands.
The stem itself is made in house from beautifully machined and anodised 7075 T6 series aluminium alloy and employs titanium axles and fasteners (which helps keep the weight below 290g- for a 90mm model, as tested). For context, the 90mm Redshift Sports Shock stop Suspension Stem uses elastomers and is 11g heavier, although its Pro sibling is a little lighter (cited as 234g for 100mm).
Now, suspension stems have been around for over 30 years. In common with Kinekt Suspension stem, Vecnum employs a parallelogram design, which works to the same principles as a rear derailleur. This is easily adjusted using a 3mm Allen key. No need to open the stem and switch springs, or elastomers, which is a serious boon-especially by the road, or trailside.
The other major difference is that it’s a four-bar dual pivot system, so spreads the load equally and theoretically, cuts unwanted bounce. No call for lockout, or similar devices. Unlike elastomers, there’s no issues with cold induced stiffness either.
Vecnum say it caters for riders between 50 and 120 kilos, which is a good bit heavier than the other stems, which we’re still very fond of. There are three lengths, 90, 105 and 120mm. Covers most bases but Kinekt offer theirs in four (90, 100, 105 and 120mm) and Redshift Sports, five (80, 90, 100, 110 and 120mm).
30mm travel (20% downward, 10% up) is another definite plus on the comfort stakes and comparable with some gravel forks. Replaceable slide bearings (bushings) are what supplies the zing and turn on hollow titanium axles, which save weight but also resist fatigue better than other options.
Tucking these within the stem protects them from gloopy, gritty stuff and better still, we’re told there’s no need to lubricate them and all this is backed by a two-year warranty.
Fitting & Setup 4.25/5
As I suggested in my opening paragraph, this is very straightforward but not to be rushed. I was able to simply switch straight over from the Kinekt, without so much as losing a spacer. Vecnum include a handy gauge, removing any guesstimating. Vecnum also recommend applying carbon gripper paste, such as this Muc-Off Carbon Gripper Paste although in this instance, I opted for Peaty’s Max Grip Carbon Assembly Paste .
Slid the stem in situ, introduced the bars and with Aheadset preload set, torqued everything down to 6nm. From here, it’s a question of testing the stem for travel. I was pleasantly surprised to find the stock setting firm but progressive enough as a starting point, so ran it this way for the first few hundred miles-as a control.
Fixed gear winter trainer was the obvious choice, especially since I’m often ascending out of the saddle, placing quite a bit of my modest 70 kilo frame atop the bars. There is also a relatively steep drop from saddle to bars, which will also betray unwelcome bounce.
Contexts where the otherwise charming Kinekt was prone to rebound and audible top-out. I’ve tested ours in the usual/expected contexts, from asphalt jungle, country lanes and with a switch of tyres, dirt roads and moderate trails-where you’d take a cyclo cross type build, essentially.
Wow! In a word. Run stock, 190g lighter than the Kinekt, the bike’s front end immediately felt more responsive, yet ironing out any surface imperfections progressively. Much stiffer than the Kinekt, yet more compliant than the Redshift Washboard tarmac just turned into a gentle ripple, meaning I could concentrate on turning a high cadence. Snatching away on sudden, steeper gradients, the absence of power robbing flex gave a really planted, dependable feel. Several hundred miles of road riding confirmed the design overcame any requirement for a lockout switch/function.
No rebound, no annoying bob, just sublime silence. This narrative remained unchanged, regardless of how low the temperature dipped, or despite long, steady miles in rains reminiscent of Blade Runner.
Switching to beefy 38/35mm cross tyres, and heading for dirt, I found the default tension setting adequate, rather than astounding. Damping was still palpable but whipping out my 3mm Allen key and turning counter clockwise allowed me to fine tune travel, quickly and easily. It’s worth noting that unlike forks, suspension stems (and indeed, seat posts) isolate the rider, but not machine from shock. Suspension forks may be a better investment if you’ve a less mechanically sensitive riding style.
However, within seconds, I’d got travel and compliance bang on, the system responding subtly and progressively from gentle ripples to hoof prints and deeply set tracks typical of tractors and other agricultural vehicles. Aside from unleashing the bike’s direct, efficient handling, this also had a positive effect upon my fatigue. Other factors, including glove choice play their part but come the end of 50-mile outings, hands, wrists and shoulders felt les tense, day I say battered.
Now, that’s not to say the Kinekt didn’t have a positive effect in similar contexts. However, the more active movement meant it was slightly harder to keep the same pace and concentration through more technical sections whereas the Vecnum combined the best parts of a suspension unit but without the trade-off (save for some weight, obviously). Braking on a descent with more weight placed on the drops, the stem will move, yet everything else feels planted allowing me to focus exclusively on the ride, terrain and potential hazards.
Arguably in a competitive context, you would’ve set the travel beforehand and stuck with it but the ability to fine tune simply and quickly is a serious boon. One that gives it a definite real-world advantage over both the Kinekt and Redshift Sports. Again, even when things have gotten decidedly wet and mucky, the internals have been well sheltered from the lion’s share.
Obviously, it’s a given that you’d swerve the jetwash but regular blasts with bike wash and sudsy bucket soakings haven’t done anything to challenge the claim that bushings/bearings are maintenance free. In fairness, this is also true of the Redshift Sports Shockstop Stem’s elastomers (although I’ve always found elastomers appreciate periodic blasts of silicone spray, especially during winter).
In comparable contexts, I’ve needed to bribe the Kinekt’s spring/elastomer with a moderate helping of Green Oil Eco Grease. I’m inclined to give fasteners periodic inspection- check threads have a protective coating of anti-seize to rule out any risk of galvanic union between them but otherwise, no hint of wear.
I wasn’t expecting anything different, given the asking price but the stem’s anodizing is top notch. It is still packet fresh, despite the odd, inevitable direct hit from rogue stones, and similar projectiles. Again, I am fond of treating bikes (especially those in hard service) to regular waxing and the odd lick will only help here, too. I am advised that replacement bearing/bushing kits are available, when they do finally wear out.
At £260 the Vecnum freeQuence is a sizeable investment. However, this is reflected in the specification and build quality. Cane Creek eeSilk comes in at £220, offers 20mm of travel and is closer to Redshift Sports Shockstop . Both employ front loaded elastomers. However, it differs from this (and the lighter Shockstop Pro sibling) in that it employs a lock out switch, allowing instant transition from lumpy trail to smooth tarmac.
The Redshift Sports Suspension Stem (£179.99) and Pro (£240) are simple, effective and have a less industrial aesthetic, which may extend the appeal to Audax and more traditional touring audiences seeking some subtle comfort. The Pro employs a two-tone gloss/satin finish and titanium fasteners, which is where the weight savings and cost come from.
Then of course, we have the Kinekt at (£169.99). It works to the same parallelogram principle as the Vecnum and with a choice of springs as standard. Aside from the 7-degree model we’ve tested, they also offer loftier 30 and 50 degree rise options, which extends to the appeal to cargo/utility and more upright e-bikes. 15-20mm of travel is respectable and switching springs is no drama. However, at 475g for the 90mm, its portly and bulkier aesthetically, which may be a turn off for some.
The Vecnum freeQuence Suspension Stem is by far the best of the genre I’ve ever used. The level of refinement and build quality are extremely high. I’d not hesitate to recommend it to competitive ‘cross and gravel riders who are wanting impressive damping but without the weight, complication and geometry issues presented by suspension forks. That said (and this goes for suspension contact points, per se) these are designed to cushion the rider from shocks. Suspension forks might be a better investment if you are doing a lot of dirt and harder on your equipment.