The Stem formerly known as Nitto Pearl

stems_NP_1

Once upon a time, most stems had quills that inserted into the steerer tube. The stems were made from forged aluminum. Cinelli, 3TTT and others offered them. They were attractive and relatively lightweight, and stem failures were unheard of. Many of these old stems are still ridden daily, decades after they were made.

Today, most stems are for Aheadsets and clamp directly to the steerer tube. The first ones usually were welded or CNC-machined. Today, most are forged as well, and they no longer break as often as they used to when this technology was still new. They are a little lighter, but the most important reason for the switch is that the fork makers no longer have to thread the steerer tubes. The threads had to match the frame head tube, which required a different fork for each frame size. With threadless forks, one size fits all.

One manufacturer has continued to make forged aluminum quill stems during this time:  Nitto in Japan. Their top-of-the-line model was called “Pearl” until recently. For some reason, Nitto cannot use the name “Pearl” any longer, so now they are simply called “NP”. I imagine this being short for “Nitto Pearl”. What hasn’t changed are the high quality and the beautiful finish. The classic Italian stems never looked this nice.

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Another reason to like the Nitto “NP” is that it can be equipped with the Grand Bois/Compass decaleur – the only decaleur with tolerances tight enough that your bag doesn’t jump out when you ride on bumpy roads.

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The decaleur is modeled on an old Alex Singer design. It replaces the bar clamp bolt of the stem, and it comes with all the hardware needed to install it. We also offer Grand Bois wonderful fillet-brazed steel stems (which are also made by Nitto), but they are expensive, so you better know your stem length before ordering one. The Nitto Pearl is a great and more affordable solution to getting a reliable decaleur.

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The decaleur is a quick release for your handlebar bag. It keeps the bag away from the bars, so you can use all hand positions. And when you leave your bike, you simply pull the bag upwards and take it with you. You still need a rack to support the bag, as the decaleur only serves to stabilize it at the top. Rack and decaleur combined weigh less than most bag attachments that only attach to the handlebars, plus, it puts the bag low over the front wheel, so your bike handles better.

The Grand Bois/Compass decaleur has proven itself very durable. After having seen too many decaleurs that failed, usually far from home in the middle of long rides, we are glad to offer a solution that works reliably.

Compass Bicycles now offers the Nitto “NP” stem in lengths between 80 and 120 mm, as well as the matching decaleurs. Click here for more information.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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31 Responses to The Stem formerly known as Nitto Pearl

  1. sisyphus says:

    I am a fervent Nitto Pearl user. I recently had a frame that required a 130mm stem. Evidently Nitto no longer makes the Pearl stem in a 130mm. I searched the world looking for a Pearl in a 130mm. No Luck. My solution was to build a new frame with a 1 cm shorter top tube. Now I have a Nitto Pearl 120mm fixed to it. Perfection.

  2. Fred Blasdel says:

    The vast majority of threadless stems are 3D-forged, not CNC.

    It would make no sense to make millions of them a year through such an expensive process, that’s solely the province of aftermarket ‘upgrade’ companies like LH Thomson. Before the modern forging design came out about 10 years ago, they were primarily welded from a tube and two clamps.

    The switch had little to do with the logistics of the threads themselves, the cheapest bikes still use them! The threadless design is easier to do well, and there’s a massive improvement in stiffness-to-weight.

    I will admit that setups with tall stack heights and/or very short extensions look much better as quill stems

    • You are right about the failures mostly being with welded stems. I changed the post to reflect that.

      The cheapest bikes often use outdated technologies, since the factories have huge investments in setup. It’s easier to keep going than to change to something. With smaller-scale, outsourced production (think Surly et al.), not having to cut threads and only having to stock one size of fork provides significant savings. At least it did when I talked to Kogswell about spec’ing the P/R a few years ago.

      • Frank says:

        I don’t see where Fred said anything at all about which stems suffer from failures. Actually it is news to me that threadless stems had a noticable history of failures. I am aware of the famous “death stem” by AVA and had it on a Peugeot bicycle myself, but that’s a quill stem.

      • I wasn’t referring to Fred, but to my own comment on the blog that the Aheadset stems now don’t seem to fail as often as they used to. A friend spent a week in the hospital when his welded (?) ITM “The Big One” stem failed. And I’ve had numerous recall notices flutter across my desk over the years… I’ve heard the rumors of the AVA “Death Stems”, but never heard of one actually fail. And with high-end stems like Cinelli or TTT, the failure rate appears to have been close to zero over decades of hard use

      • Frank says:

        Hi Jan, thank you for clarifying this.
        Note that the “AVA death stem” is quite real. Some pictures are on this site: http://theheadbadge.blogspot.de/2012/08/death-stems-demystified-ava-and-atax.html
        My own AVA stem looked like the one in the first photo on that site when I removed it from the fork. I had found the bike in a garage sale and then disassembled everything to clean it anyway, so I never rode it with the broken AVA stem in place. I doubt it is very deadly, as it seems to fail slowly and gracefully, at least the part inside the fork.
        IMO failures of this kind are more about manufacturers doing a proper job when manufacturing something, and not so much about the threadless vs. threaded design.

      • AVA is one of those glorious names that eventually was stuck on downmarket and poorly made parts. During the 1930s, AVA was part of Mavic, and made the finest aluminum stems and other parts. The AVA Randonneur handlebars were the best bars of their type in the 1940s… but by the 1970s, the AVA brand had no connection to Mavic any longer.

  3. Steve Palincsar says:

    Isn’t there something special to know about how Nitto measures the Pearl — oops, I mean NP — stem compared to all the other Nitto quill stems?

  4. Mark says:

    The Pearls I have owned had cones, not wedges. When did the change occur?

  5. Robert says:

    Anyone ever drill and tap a 5mm hole in one of these? :)

    • Cory b says:

      I have drilled and tapped a couple similar stems.. Many thousand kilometers later and no issues at all.

  6. Michael says:

    Will your decaleurs work with Nitto Technomic and Technomic Deluxe stems? The clamp looks the same on them as the pearl.

  7. Blake Anderson says:

    Beautiful stem and beautiful decaleur. Is there any way to adjust the decaleur height to fit different frame / stem height / front rack / bag size combinations?

    • Unfortunately, with a horizontal bolt, you can’t adjust the height. In any case, you want the top of your bag level with the handlebars, so you can access it. That is the reason Berthoud handlebar bags come in three heights.

      Adjustable decaleurs inevitably come loose – ask anybody who has ridden a Gilles Berthoud decaleur on rough roads.

      The decaleur for the Grand Bois stem can be used with a drop kit, which allows you to lower it. We’ve tested that setup for many miles of very rough roads with no problems.

      A good constructeur can also make you a custom decaleur that places the bag lower.

  8. sisyphus says:

    Of course I meant to write 1cm longer. Oops!

  9. sisyphus says:

    Pearls are measured along the side and not across the top like the Italian quills were. As a result, Pearls are longer in the “same size” than Italian quills.

  10. TobinH says:

    I’m glad every time Compass adds another part to the lineup – it’s a great store to deal with, and every part I can get here means one less time I have to deal with another’s mysterious shipping practices. Perhaps consider adding some cloth bar tape, and a nice seatpost – maybe Nitto’s S65. Thanks!

  11. Michael says:

    What does it say on the drive side (not pictured)?

  12. Steve says:

    I would be far more concerned about breaking steerer tubes than stems on threadless systems. Threadless systems can also suffer more from user error by introducing new variables such as crushing tubes from overtorqueing, bad stem clamp placement, incorrect length/cut of steerer tube, using non-oem stems, or carbon fiber/aluminum incompatibility issues between steerer/stem.

  13. Alex Merz says:

    The late ’80s and early ’90s Modolo stems for threaded steerers, with a bolt through the main support member, were notorious for failure.

  14. Paul says:

    Looks like Sinyard’s hound dogs are at it again. You know, “Pearl” kind of has a resemblence to “sPEciALized”.

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