There are a certain bunch of people, a bunch who have a thread 28 pages long on this forum, that will declare that this is The Best Bike Ever. I may be about to upset a large amount of them. Please bear with me while I explain.
Andy, the owner and designer behind Stooge Cycles, went out with an aim to build “the sweetest handling, best looking steel 29er on the UK market”. A bold aim. There are many excellent rigid steel 29ers out there and I’ve been lucky to try and own quite a few over the years including offerings from Salsa, Singluar and Jones. The Stooge is certainly one of – if not the – prettiest bikes that I’ve ridden over the past few years. Enviably pretty.
The Stooge is available, frame and fork only for the tidy price of £450. For financial reasons, there is only one frame size at present, with a 23” top-tube. Riders have to work around this, and it’s not something that everyone will fit. The frame is made with double butted 4130 chromoly tubing and has an eccentric bottom bracket for single-speed duties. With a 69 degree headangle and 55mm fork offset it fits into the progressive, or modern, geometry bracket bang on and it gives it a very nice responsive feel on certain trails. But a less forgiving one on others…
Our build came with an eclectic mix of kit from Pauls Components brake levers, Salsa Bend 2 bars, Avid BB7 brakes an XT 1×10 drivetrain with a Hope expander ring. An uninspiring, creaking, slipping Ti seatpost from Torus refused to stay put – but that is not the fault of the Stooge. The wheels were a nice upgrade, with a set of Velocity Duallys with a Vee Rubber Trax Fatty on the front and Specialized Slaughter crammed into the rear.
This was not my first time test riding a Stooge. The first time was a loan from a friendly Manchester shop who were interested to see what I thought of it. The Stooge was incarnated in its single-speed form, the way I spend most of my winter riding – rigid and one gear. It was envisaged as a bike-packing bike, the use that many people have been building them for. It came with narrow rims and moderate 2.3” tyres. But it was pretty uncomfortable to ride over long distances to be honest.
After a weekend trip bike-packing on it, I decided it was too uncomfortable and the frame bag area was too small. It was great to climb on, but unpredictable downhill while loaded. Perhaps my two Fargos have pampered me over the years. 9 months later, I found myself back on top of a Stooge and doing it all over again, but with some differences. I was going to treat it like a mountain bike, and ride it down mountains and trails.
With the 29+ front pressure nice and low, I went out and did some rides on my local trails in Calderdale, a few 90km off-road commute days back and forth from work, and a day in the Lakes. While my wrists were ok – go Team Big Fat Rubber Un-dampened Balloon on the Front – my back was still a mess. Dropping the pressure on the 2.4” Specialised Slaugher right down did nothing but cause pinch flats. And sadly, there’s not enough room for a 29+ rear. An experiment with a 27.5+ rear helped, but wasn’t ideal with clearances either.
So herein lies the problem. Again from the Stooge Cycles mandate: “To ride a Stooge is to be transported back to simpler times in a way you certainly don’t remember”. I remember simpler times, but they were pretty unconfortable too – and I’m not getting any younger. Sure, the new “spec du jour” with a 29+ front end and wide rims help, but they do not turn a very uncompliant fork and frame into a more comfortable ride.
I’m really quite divided about this bike. On one hand, I want to love it. It is so, so pretty, it is from a UK designer who obviously wants to create something he believes in, but I don’t think it’s quite what it could be. For me, it’s too stiff for longer rides on rockier terrain. Its slack front end pushes you to go faster, but it gets you into trouble quickly. But, there is a Ti version in the pipeline, maybe that’ll help the comfort issue. We’ll see.
|From:||Stooge Cycles - http://stoogecycles.co.uk|
|Tested:||by Greg May for|