Fatter tires make for a very different 29-inch Stache than we have known so far - still very enjoyable, only differently
Four years ago this writer had the opportunity to ride along with Gary Fisher himself during the Trek conglomerate’s annual launch event in the Dolomites. The man with the most famous mustache in the biking industry, who was already approaching his 70th birthday, rode like a champ in harsh terrain and weather. During the event, Trek’s developers told us that they have been working with Fisher on the Stache line of bicycles (short for “mustache” in honor of the great GF, of course), which, they claimed, are pure and simple “fun bikes” – the kind mechanics buy for themselves.
A lot has happened in the years that have since gone by: new standards have come and gone, the 26-inch wheel died, and the new “Plus” wheels we born. Trek’s engineers and marketers decided to convert the Stache line to monstrous 29-plus size wheels as they try to maintain the elusive fun factor of the standard-width 29-inch Stache.
The bike we got to test was the Stache 9 29-plus, which is the more expensive of two existing models. We were very curious to see how it handles on our usual riding trails, and to gauge how the monster wheels grip the loose gravel of late August trails.
The Stache’s frame is made of Trek’s highest-grade aluminum. It boasts all the new standards, including the requisite 148mm Boost rear axle and internal cable wiring for gear and dropper post cables – so far, nothing out of the ordinary. Where Trek innovates is primarily in geometry – chopping the chainstays down to a mere 420mm(!), which is short even for 26-inch bikes, not to mention the 29-plus. To engineer this miracle, Trek’s engineers chose to lift the chainstay on the drivetrain side to fit the rear wheel in the desired location.
Additionally, Trek also installed drop-outs that allow the rider to choose between 29-plus, “regular” 29-inch, or 27.5-plus wheels. These horizontal dropouts allow 15mm of rear axle movement, which also bodes well for those who choose to set up the Stache as a single-speed rig (a horizontal dropout allows configuring chain tension for a single gear).
Which parts stand out?
Unlike other bikes we test, in the Stache’s case it seems to us the most important component, after the frame, is the tires – first, because they are h-u-g-e, and secondly – because Trek managed to manufacture 3-inch tires which grip like crazy at a very reasonable weight of more or less 900 grams, which is very low in the 29-plus category.
The tires are mounted on Sun Ringle rims with a monstrous width of 50 mm, which at first glance appear like Trial rims. The Sram X1 1X11 drivetrain worked great during the test, as did the Shimano XT brakes and KS Lev dropper post, all spot-on choices by the of product manager in Wisconsin.
The front suspension selected for the task is the Manitou 34 Magnum Pro air-spring fork with 110 mm travel, also with 110 mm Boost standard axle. The fork generally worked smoothly and well, but has two significant drawbacks. First, to understand how to adjust air pressure, rebound, and compression, you’ll have to remember high school calculus. We have never encountered such complicated instructions in a fork manual. Second, and even more seriously, Manitou developed its own quick-release 15mm axle called the Hexlock. On the first time we made the mistake of removing the front wheel, it took us 20 minutes and four different YouTube videos to close this alleged “quick” release. Quite frankly, it is the biggest engineering failure in the mountainbiking world we have encountered in recent years. By all means, you are welcome to see for yourself on YouTube.
On the trail:
The Stache proved quite a challenge already at the parking lot, just after we picked them up from the distributor. Trying to secure the huge wheels strained our poor Thule roof rack, whose straps could only barely wraps themselves around the them.
Swinging a leg over the steed, we found that the 18.5-inch Stache frame fit us well, and aside from a wish for a stem 10 to 20mm shorter, we felt completely at home in terms of riding position.
It is difficult to compare the riding experience on the 29-plus Stache to a normal 29er. On the one hand, it feels very similar, both in terms of geometry and riding position, yet on the other hand the amount of traction and rolling resistance it provides creates a very different experience from non-Plus bicycles.
Already on our first few rides, we noticed that the air pressure of the Chupacabra (a type of South American yeti, if you must inquire) tires is critical to the bike’s behavior. While running pressures of 14 psi or less, we experienced substantial bobbing from the tires, as well as a feeling of “smearing” during turns. However, running 20 psi or higher means the chubby rubber loses all of its suspension, and the bike felt hard and unpleasant. We finally reach an individual compromise – 16-18 psi which reduces the wobbly feel, and yet still provides some suspension from the tires.
One cannot avoid the fact that despite the Trek’s completely-reasonable weight, there is a noticeable difficulty while climbing, especially at low speeds beneath the wheels’ specific momentum and inertia threshold. In these conditions, the tire and wheel weight along with the increased rolling resistance made us huff and puff more than we’re used to. On the other hand, the amount of traction that 29-plus provides makes choosing smooth or successful lines redundant; the Stache’s rider can sit comfortably in the saddle and as long as his or her legs muster the strength to keep the pedals turning, the tires will somehow latch on to the ground and pushed forward. We were able to climb ruined and traction-less sections of the trail with zero attention and without any special effort.
On technical descents and singletracks, the Stache has several advantages over the standard tire hardtail. The tires provide gallons of traction, which allows the rider to enter (and exit) turns very aggressively. We found ourselves trying to force the front wheel to slide after a few first rides during which we simply could not reach the tires’ limits. In addition, the Stache boast very good geometry, making it relatively nimble despite its huge wheels; the bike turns and bounces around with surprising ease.
When the correct (i.e., low enough) air pressure, the tires also add an additional layer of suspension beyond that provided by the fork, which did its job quite well regardless. We found ourselves riding in relatively violent trails faster and more aggressively than we could have steered a regular hardtail through. However, just to emphasize yet again – this is not a full-susser, so the margin of error is limited, and Stache will remind several times each ride that they do not have a rear shock.
The Trek Stache 9 is not a standard bike, and only once we internalized this fact and switched to a more relaxed riding mode going up and a more “naughty” one on the way down, did we feel that we are getting the most out of it. The Stache is fun in a special sort of way – it has the elusive “fun factor” we often talk about. The combination of enormous wheel with a nimble geometry and decent weight make the package hard to ignore.
However, understand that this is not the bike that will bring you from point A to point B the fastest, not on climbs nor on descents. The bike will fit an experienced technical rider looking to enjoy as much as he or she can on the trail and the challenges it offers, rather than finish it in first place.
We find the Stache will be great for many riders as a second pair, alongside XC or Enduro bikes, in order to diversify the rides and improving their skills.
|Highlights (for 18.5-inch frame)|
|3-inch Chupacabra tires|
|Sram X1 1×11 drivetrain|
|Head tube angle: 68.4 degrees|
|Chainstay length: 420mm|
|Weight (ride ready):29.3 pound|