A BMX stem has a couple of options. Most riders need to choose between a top load and a front load stem. The front load stem puts the bars out in front of the stem. (just like it says). While the top load puts the bars up on top of the stem. This really is a personal preference. However, it does have a small impact on your riding style.
What is a Front load stem?
A front load stem holds the bars out in front of the bike. This usually keeps the bars lower than a top load. While front loads are the standard kind of stem, a lot of riders are switching over to topload.
In my opinion, the front load stem is a little weaker. This is because of the weight and pressure put on the bolts upon impact. When landing big drops or casing a lot, the weight is pushing into the bolts cupping the bars. This will lead to broken stems more often.
What is a Top load stem?
A top load stem is my personal favorite. They put the bars on top of the stem and give it a little more rise. The little bit of rise that you get out a top load stem will make the bars feel a little taller.
Top load stems are a little stronger because of the block of metal supporting the bars. Upon impact or cases, the weight and pressure are absorbed by the core of the stem instead of the bolts.
Stay away from hollow stems. Even though they are lighter and maybe look cooler… they break. Think about how much force goes onto your bars when you land flat. With a hollow stem, there is less metal to absorb the force.
How does it affect my riding?
Does it really matter?
Normally, I’d say no. But I remember when I first got a Sunday Freeze top load. It really changed the way that my bike felt. It made bars and hops feel a lot easier. So if you are looking at a way to up your riding a little, try switching it up.
BMX stems range from 46mm to 54mm. Most commonly around 48, 50 and 52mm. The reach is commonly overlooked when buying a stem.
A stem with a longer reach will add on to how far away your bars are from the head tube. This makes barspins and x-ups harder.
Now, a stem with a shorter reach will make bars easier. This also makes the bike more responsive and less controllable.