Review: Stem CAPtain Compass 2.0

Stem CAPtain make a range of products that are undeniably useful and conveniently located. A Stem CAPtain replaces the top cap on your steerer tube (above the stem) of your bicycle allowing you to glance at your compass with ease. They can be easily installed in about a minute and attract quite a bit of attention due to their unique design; an idea that surprisingly nobody else has come up with.

Available in their arsenal of products are a clock, thermometer, bottle opener, picture frame and compass.

stem captain

I purchased the Stem CAPtain compass from a bike shop in Melbourne, where I was advised that they hadn’t actually seen any compass model that worked as described. They offered it to me at a price worth giving a go, and as I played with it on the palm of my hand (it seemed to work) I grew more excited at the prospect of having this little device riding astride my steerer tube.  I thought about all of its usefulness on a touring bike in foreign cities where a deceptive curve in a road is enough to throw out your sense of direction.

I got home, pulled out the existing stem cap and bolt, replaced it with the new Stem CAPtain and went for a quick spin.

Does The Stem CAPtain Work?

stem captain

Well… no.

At first, I thought it was fine, but after clocking up a few hours the conclusion is that it simply doesn’t. According to Stem CAPtain, “bumps, bouncing and road vibes will normally make the compass align correctly while riding”, but even on poorer road surfaces, I didn’t post any accurate results. I did notice that overnight, the compass righted itself, the needle worked back to the right location.

It didn’t work accurately for a number of reasons:

The tilt of the bikes head-tube angle didn’t help. The setup included using the compass inserted all the way into the top cap cup. After that gave me barely any accuracy, I adjusted the tilt so that the compass sat parallel to the ground. This improved the accuracy marginally, but the new location still did not an effective compass make.

The compass quickly developed air bubbles. I would’ve only had it for 3-4 days when the compass developed a decent number of air bubbles. The air bubbles affected the compass’ needle’s ability to move smoothly – to the point where it was wildly inaccurate. And nobody needs a compass that shows a complete disregard for practicality.

It is worth noting that Stem CAPtain provide the compass with a de-magnetised bolt to minimise any interference with magnetic fields. I think this is the least of their worries.

Icing On The Cake

I was riding home on my regular commute. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon with marvellous blue skies. I had already given up on the compass by this stage and was planning on removing it from my bike to keep in the archives. But the unimaginable happened: the Stem CAPtain decided to put itself down by ejecting from my bike of its own accord! I am not a litterer, however, and I spent the ensuing 10 minutes looking on the road and the verges for the little compass whom I would’ve liked to love. Clearly, the shame it had brought to its owner was just too much to take – it was long gone. I felt guilty as I had left that rubbish somewhere on the road, but also happy to save some time in the Stem CAPtain removal process.

Update: Stem CAPtain Compass 3.0

August 2012: Stem Captain has just informed me that they are ready to ship a new version of their compass, the Compass 3.0. I haven’t sorted out an opportunity to review the compass yet, however, I have been assured that the spherical design is working really well for them.

stem captain

  1. Hrmm. I was thinking about getting one of these myself as they looked handy. I’ll just have to use the compass in my phone instead (still working out how I’ll keep it charged while on tour though). I know Noel McFarlane from Vivente/Gemini bicycles uses a stem mounted compass on his bikes and he seems pretty happy with his and has been using it for a while. Here’s what is says on their website:

    “Whilst on the issue of handlebar space we are great advocates for compasses on handlebars. There is a lot of ferrous metal in a touring bike and a compass will not work correctly unless it is in a plane that is above this metal. The one we like is a Recta model (“Clipper”) which measures 23mm across the top, is very light, and may be attached to the top of the handlebar with two cable ties. You don’t have to be on a tour to benefit from having a compass on your handlebar. ”


  2. Interesting review. I had wonder about the value/accuracy of these sorts of compasses having had experience with a “proper” map reading one.  So thanks for sharing your excellent review.

  3. The Stem Captan 3.0 compass is crap too. Don’t waste money just get a good pocket compass.

  4. Manufacturer’s Note:
    We would like to acknowledge that this product, released in 2012, had its share of issues. We quickly learned from that and released the StemCAPtain Compass 3.0 later in the same year, and the 2.0 was subsequently obsoleted. The spherical Compass 3.0 has performed much better and received excellent reviews. We hope you will not read this negative review and take it as a reflection on our other great (and current) products. Cheers!

  5. Brian,
    We are sorry to hear you had an issue with the Compass 3.0. Please let us know what specific issues you were encountering and we will either fix it or provide a refund. One point we try to make clear — but doesn’t always seem to come across — is that our compass, or any traditional magnetic compass, will not work in the presence of magnetic interference. Steel bike frames or near by components, a GPS on the handlebar, or a ferrous stem cap bolt (we provide a non-magnetic stainless steel bolt with our compass) can all cause this. So if you have a steel bike, you are indeed better off with a pocket compass! Please let us know if there is anything we can do to make things right and we apologize for any inconvenience.

  6. Well Mike, thanks for the…. offer? I have looked at three different adds for the the Compass 3.0 and none of them say anything about steel bikes, or GPSs, or anything else about limitations of the damn thing. How odd. Maybe you need to actually print (in real words) that the product may not do what is is designed and built for. I would be willing to bet that 90% of the Compass 3.0s sold are mounted on big heavy tour bikes that don’t even think about the added weight. How many of those do you think are going to be steel? Lets just say most. How many of those do you think have a GPS device mounted… most again? Maybe not most but a large amount do. Maybe you need to better indicate the units limitation since it “doesn’t always seem to come across” or is totally missing in your product adds.

  7. Brian,
    We understand your disappointment and apologize the message didn’t get through. We are not trying to fool or mislead anyone, this only makes more work for us and if that was truly our attitude it would quickly put us out of business. On our website we (attempt to) clearly disclose the issue. And we don’t run many ads, but any that we do link back to our site. We can’t always control what re-sellers do on Amazon, etc. But your point is well taken and we will increase our efforts. One difficulty we have is that it WILL actually work on many steel bikes, or if a GPS is mounted far enough away. Some people are understanding of this and willing to take the chance, and we have a no questions asked refund policy if it doesn’t work out. Again sorry for the inconvenience and disappointment this caused you, and if there is anything we can do to make it right let us know.

  8. Yeah, you can stop marketing a known defective product and admit it was only made for looks. Why do you say “if there is anything we can do to make it right let us know”? Common damn sense. But it won’t matter because you will continue to market a POS compass knowing that most consumers are going to react like I have. Throw their hands up in the air and kick ourselves and stop buying crap without holding it in our hands 1st. When did America start following China’s small bussiness model of market crap and know that most wont be returned?

  9. Brian,
    So sounds like you DID buy it online then? You didn’t have to — our compass is offered in bike stores all across the USA. And like most any bike product, if you would like to hold in your hands before you buy, all you need to do is ask your local bike store to get it and they will usually have it there next day. This is actually our preferred method of selling the compass because people can make sure it will work with their bike. We appreciate your feedback, but we aren’t trying to deceive anyone or market a defective product. The compass is not compatible with all bikes. We try to make that clear. Sorry your experience was a negative one.

  10. “Sorry your experience was a negative one”? You should be sorry that the device you designed, manufactured, marketed, redesigned (allegedly), remanufactured, then redistributed doesn’t do what compasses have done since the Chinese first build them around 200 BC. I remember when American products were a step up from Asian products, those days seem so long ago now. I also enjoyed your little fairy tale about having any bike store order a product so it can be held and looked at prior to purchasing. I couldn’t test ride the bike I bought prior to purchase let alone a badly designed bike decoration like your Compass 3.0. When I realized I had been ripped off by paying for the Compass 3.0 I didn’t bother to contact the seller or manufacturer because buying anything online is a kind of Buyer-Beware situation. I was disappointed that it was so lame but not terribly surprised. That was all over 10 months ago. When I saw this product review I thought maybe I could help riders or bike shop owners save some time and money with a quick note. Then out of the blue, you contact me to tell me that you are sorry that buying something from you was a negative experience for me? Now that you have tapped dance around the construction and marketing problems, maybe even given straight up deceit, I think I will reassert my effort to make my experience with you, your Compass 3.0, and Company easier to find by any new prospective buyers than your product’s written limitations and shortcomings that seem impossible to find online. I am willing to bet the compass packaging doesn’t list any limitations, does it?

  11. Brian,
    We simply saw your negative comment in this review and are trying to help. If we would have noticed it 10 months ago, we would have reached out then. Did you buy from our website, or a local shop? If so, you would have gotten the message about the potential for magnetic interference on some bikes. As stated earlier, we can’t always control what 3rd party sellers do or how they advertise. It’s not a defective product and there is no intent for deceit. An analog compass just won’t work in the presence of the magnetic interference – it’s physics, not a design issue. Our policy is to try to make this as clear as possible and if there are issues we refund with no questions asked. Happy pedaling.

  12. So there you go people. A representive of CAPtain (http://www.stemcaptain.com) admits they make crap for products that don’t work but some of the time. Bacisly tells me he’s sorry for stealing my moeny but hey, that’s how the world rolls. And after repeating the same thing over and over deletes their comments rather than correcting the situation. My suggestion, again, don’t waste time on their products they are all crap.

  13. Brian,
    It appears our comments have been deleted (we didn’t do it), but we started this conversation by offering you a refund, and that offer still stands. Even if you didn’t buy direct from us, we would honor that. And if you were not up for sending the product back, we’d be fine with that to. Please shoot an email to mike@stemcaptain.com if you would like to follow up.

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