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by Dave Rome
August 20, 2020
Photography by Dave Rome
Hidden on-the-bike tools have quickly become commonplace within the mountain bike world. However such things have been a little slower to hit the dropbar world, partly because component failures and adjustments aren’t as common, and also because road jerseys have pockets, and saddlebags are just dandy.
Today Granite Designs has announced its first dedicated product for the dropbar market, a small tool that fits within the steerer tube of most modern gravel and road bikes. And while such tools exist from many other brands for use with suspension forks, the new Stash RCX is the first one I’ve seen that works with enclosed carbon steerer tubes.
Having already reviewed the Stash mountain bike tools for Pinkbike earlier in the year, I recently got my hands on this new road version. It’s a clever product and one that’ll certainly inspire others.
Look to the mountain bike world and you’ll find similar steerer-based tools sold by the likes of OneUp, Specialized, Granite Design, and more recently Bontrager. What all of those tools have in common is that they replace the headset’s star nut or compression fitting and achieve headset bearing preload in a different way.
Those mountain bike tools are all designed for use with an aluminium steerer tube, and with the exception of the OneUp (which requires the inside of the steerer tube to be threaded for the tool), they require the steerer tube to have an opening hole at the bottom where the fork crown meets. That hole means these tools can use plates at the top and bottom of the steerer, along with a long bolt, to preload the headset bearings.
Now look to almost any modern rigid carbon road or gravel fork and while you may find an aluminium steerer tube, you almost certainly won’t find that gaping hole at the bottom which makes these tools work.
Granite Designs, the accessory arm of mountain bike brand Funn, has a solution that’s remarkably simple in hindsight. The company’s simply adapted its MTB Stash tool to work with the type of compression expander commonly used in carbon steerer tubes. You install the compression expander deep into the empty steerer, and then the tool’s 7075 aluminium holding cylinder is threaded into that. The headset preload is then set by tightening the bolt in the cylinder. Installation on my first go only took a few minutes, and Granite even supplies the long hex keys needed (although no long bits for your torque wrench).
Confused as to how to works? Watch this quick how-to video. Also, there are a few fitment quirks and limitations to be aware of, but I’ll get to those soon.
Ok, so you’ve replaced the compression fitting (or star nut) in your fork with the Stash RCX compression fitting, now what? Well from the outside it all looks remarkably normal. There is a small, approximately 3 mm-tall ring that sits above your stem or top headset spacer, something that just looks like another spacer. The multi-tool’s plastic cover then sits on top of this. My sample is the anodised orange option, but Granite Design offers a stealthy black one, too.
The supplied tool is rather minimal but works for most applications.
The multi-tool is fairly simple. There’s no chain breaker or tubeless plug kit here (although I speculate that such things are on the way for your bar ends, much like what Granite offers in the MTB space). What you get is a folding tool that includes 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6 mm hex bits, T25, and a flat-head screwdriver. The separate spoke key works with 0-, 1-, 2-, and 3-sized spoke nipples, and features a valve core tool, too.
The tool simply sits in the plastic top cap and doesn’t rattle one bit once shoved into the bike. I’ll repeat that as it deserves attention: this tool assembly does not rattle. The plastic top cap can also be used without the tool in place, for example, if you were racing a crit or trying to beat Ronan McLaughlin’s Everesting record (pffft, as if).
Speaking of which, the tool is respectably light. The multi-tool weighs 68 grams and all other pieces are 43 g for a total weight of 111 g. Not bad given the stock expander wedge, top cap and bolt of a Specialized Tarmac SL6 weighs 38 g, and many other expanders are commonly more again.
My review on Pinkbike details my thoughts on the tool itself, but the short of it is that it’s, well, short. That short length means there’s not a tonne of leverage, and the bits themselves can struggle where bolts are countersunk, such as on some seat posts or the rear derailleur mounting bolt. Additionally, there is no 8 mm hex here, but that’s of limited use with such minimal leverage anyway.
Those short tool bits can cause clearance issues. For example, the 5 mm hex won’t reach the mounting bolt of a SRAM AXS derailleur.
Reach aside, the tool is of good quality. The steel is durable and the tool sizing is better than many other multi-tools – good news if you’re used to rounding bolts with your current multi-tool. The spoke key works, but in reality, you’ll probably only ever use the valve core remover function. Just don’t lose this piece (thankfully it is magnetic).
One thing to note is that the tool will sit in the firing line of your dripping sweat. The plastic cover offers an O-ring and generally the tool is well protected, but a little light oil once in a while won’t go astray. As a perk, that headset preload bolt is no longer in the firing line for sweat (and therefore rust).
So assuming having a simple multi-tool at easy reach appeals to you, there’s one more thing to be aware of: compatibility.
Granite says its RCX tool fits any round 1 1/8″ steerer tube with an internal diameter between 23.5-27 mm. The tool’s cylinder measures in at 23.2 mm in diameter. For reference, the steerer on the pictured Specialized SL6 sits at 23.3-23.6 mm (it’s not truly round), while I measured an Enve Road Disc fork at 23.3 mm.
In this way, the RCX should fit within the majority of carbon and alloy steerer forks, assuming they’re round in shape and have a flat surface on top. The design also assumes you don’t have anything inside the steerer already, such as a Di2 battery or cabling running through. And sorry, no aero integrated stem designs allowed here. Still, the Stash RCX should fit a good majority of modern bikes on the market, however, being able to fit it within the steerer is only one matter.
The tool’s hosting cylinder (the orange part) is made strong with a 7075 aluminium construction. The issue is that its dimensions are fixed.
My biggest issue with this design is the lack of control over whether the carbon steerer receives any anti-compression support at the stem clamp. This is an issue James Huang covered in a previous review of a weight-weenie carbon expander plug where the issue of safety was raised by composites safety expert Raoul Luescher.
“People often make the mistake of thinking that the plug is solely to preload the headset bearings,” said Luescher, who has a video dedicated to the topic. “However, due to most carbon steerers not having much in the way of hoop strength, due to the difficulty in laying down 90-degree fibers in a production environment with the process used, the plug is important to contain the hoop loads from the stem clamp. Thus I do not recommend ultralight or poorly designed or installed plugs in most steerer tubes as we see lots of cases of delamination caused by the stem clamp.”
In the case of the Stash RCX tool and the tested Specialized SL6, the tool cylinder wiggles ever so slightly within the steerer when the stem is loose. Tighten the stem to 5 Nm and the tool cylinder is then truly locked into place, proving that the carbon steerer is compressing by a fraction. This isn’t totally abnormal, but that compression at the stem would typically be mitigated (and resisted) by the long compression plug Specialized supplies with its bikes.
The Stash RCX versus what’s supplied with a Specialized Tarmac SL6. Yes, the Stash RCX tool also uses an expanding compression plug, but it’s where it sits that matters. Ideally, you want that compression plug to sit exactly in line with where the stem is clamped. In Granite’s case, it’s the tool’s cylinder that sits inline with the stem.
However, the issue isn’t so clear cut. There are a number of high-end carbon forks now on the market that are forgiving in regards to what compression plugs must be used. And in the case of an Enve All-Road fork, Granite’s Design actually looks to offer substantially more steerer tube support than the supplied compression plug, and it’s a pretty snug fit, too. Meanwhile, this is all an absolute non-issue with alloy steerer forks.
That sadly leaves a number of questions related to which forks will and won’t work with the Granite Designs Stash RCX. For now, I suggest you heed the general advice that if your fork or frame manufacturer strictly requests that you use the supplied anti-compression expander plug, then perhaps give this clever little tool a miss.
If you’re well and truly set on ignoring such safety warnings, then at least check that the RCX’s cylinder is a snug fit, or fashion some soda can shims until it is. As long as the tool’s cylinder offers a snug fit, then, in theory, it’ll act as an extended anti-compression sleeve, and arguably it then becomes a benefit to safety.
Granite Design has already teased that the RCX is just the beginning of its entry into the road and gravel space. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Stash RCX inspires other brands to start hiding tools in carbon fork steerers.
The Stash RCX isn’t a perfect solution, but I still appreciate what’s on offer. When it comes to mountain biking I love knowing that while my pockets are empty, I still have a tool at the ready for adjustments or removing a tooled thru-axle. And given I now commonly find myself jumping on the gravel bike without dedicated cycling kit, it’s this stashed type of tool that I’m sure all my bikes will have in years to come.
This is the mountain bike version of the Stash tool. Note the different design that requires a large opening at the bottom of the steerer tube. Interestingly the tools themselves are identical, and so you could buy multiple compression fittings for your road and mountain bike and simply swap the tool between.
By contrast, the Stash RCX takes a far more elegant solution to offering headset bearing preload.