Girvin Flexstem

Girvin Flexstem packaging

When the first RockShox RS-1’s hit the bike stores in 1990, they were revolutionary, and they cost a fortune. Everyone wanted a set but what could a mountain biker on a budget do to tame rough trails and conquer gnarly downhills without having to empty their bank account?

Get a Girvin Flexstem, that’s what.

Motorcycle Technology Makes the Jump

Back in the mid 70’s, the brother of a friend of mine bought a bike that had plastic panels to make it look like a motorcycle. It also had front and rear suspension that really worked. It was a blast to ride and the only problem was it was single speed and weighed about a ton.

In 1989, former motocross riders Paul Turner and Steve Simons established RockShox, started to make a practical front shock for bikes, and changed mountain biking forever.

C’mon, You Know You Want Some

RockShox didn’t gain instant acceptance among average riders and a lot of people dismissed them as being too heavy to lug up and down a mountain. When pro riders like Greg Herbold started to win races with them, the naysayers were silenced and RockShox rocketed to the top of every mountain biker’s wish list. Compared to today’s forks, the 1.8″ of travel they offered was pretty laughable and they were very expensive. I can’t remember exactly how much they cost in the bike stores, but it was way out of my reach.

A Cheaper Alternative

It wasn’t long before other companies started to produce their own cheaper, lighter alternatives to RockShox and guys like me flocked to these substitutes in droves. One of the first and most popular of the suspension fork substitutes was the Girvin Flexstem.

Girvin Flexstem Ad

Bob Girvin invented the Flexstem in 1987, making it the first aftermarket mountain bike suspension product. The Flexstem was a pretty simple design. It was basically a hinged handlebar stem with an elastopolymer bumper that absorbed front end shocks. The Flexstem promised 1″ of travel at a fraction of the weight and price of a set of RockShox.

A Flexstem also didn’t change the geometry of a bike. When the first RockShox came out, mountain bike frames weren’t designed to accommodate shocks so the installation of RockShox raised the front end a significant amount, changing the geometry of the entire bike.

A selection of elastopolymer bumpers of different hardness was available to customize the amount of handlebar movement and shock absorption. The basic Flexstem had an aluminum quill assembly and cro-moly dogbone but the company later came out with a much more expensive version that featured a titanium dogbone and integrated titanium handle bar.

Did the Girvin Flexstem Deliver?

I remember a guy I used to ride with saying that using a Girvin Flexstem made the difference between being able to see the trail ahead of you, or not seeing where you were going when blasting down a rough downhill stretch. Of course, he was also the first person I knew to get a pair of RockShox. I loved the ergonomics of my FlexStem and the reach and rise was just about perfect.  Other than that, I don’t think it was very effective. I experimented with different bumpers but I never found that my FlexStem did a very good job of absorbing shocks. It had to be a pretty big bump to make the handlebars move.

I kept my Girvin Flexstem on my mountain bike for many years but when I bought my first bike with RockShox it was relegated to the parts bin. I still have the old frame it was mounted on and if I ever restore it, maybe I’ll install the Flexstem on it. It’s a really neat reminder of when Mountain Biking was getting going and people were coming out with all sorts of interesting gadgets.

Speaking of which, stay tuned for the fascinating story of the Hite-Rite.

 

 

 

 

I'm a writer, social media marketer, and bike nut from Kelowna, BC, Canada. I got serious about cycling in about 1980 and have a special fondness for bikes made during that decade. I enjoy researching and writing about all bikes, but especially those made by small builders, many of whom only built bikes for a few years.

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2 comments on “Girvin Flexstem
  1. Mark Maloney says:

    Something is wrong! It’s September 2014 and I’ve just bought my first ever Girvin Flexstem!! Always wanted one as a kid and now that I’m restoring my first ever mountain bike, I’ve ‘treated’ myself to the part I wanted the most as a kid. I’ve gone for the XST titanium version which apparently retailed for £250 (US$400??!!)… It’s like 1992 all over again! Great site BTW. Cheers.

    • Bruce Goett says:

      Whoa, stop the madness! Good for you Mark – it’s fun to track down something that you coveted as a kid but was way out of reach, even if it’s totally obsolete now. I always wanted a set of Tange Switchblade forks. When I finally get around to restoring my 1987 Rocky Mountain Avalanche, I might try to track a set down.

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