We’ve managed to pull Sanny off his Surly Ice Cream Truck long term test bike just long enough for him to grab the chance to do the World’s first test ride of Stooge’s latest creation, a Titanium Fat Bike.
When I was offered the chance to grab a ride on the very first Stooge Titanium Fat Bike, I jumped at the opportunity. Now at this point I should point out that the frame at 18 inches was a little small for me. At 6 foot 1, I hover around the 19.5 – 20 inch mark for a frame. However, with a suitably long Thomson lay back post, I was able to give the frame a proper shakedown over a couple of days and have formed some very definite opinions about it.
Stooge arrived on the scene a couple of years ago. The brainchild of Andy Stevenson, their first frameset was a steel 29er designed around a slack geometry with a large offset rigid fork. In a very short time, the steel frame has drawn a loyal band of enthusiastic followers who have heartily embraced the design ethos of Stooge Cycles. Since then, the range has expanded to include a Titanium 29+ and a Titanium B+/29 but there is now a new kid on the block, the Titanium Fat Bike. I’d only previously ridden the Stooge Titanium 29+ frame for a very brief time but came away intrigued. So how does the Fat Bike shape up?
Frame build up
Stooge intend to offer the frame in 3 sizes – small, medium and large/extra-large. Time between ordering and delivery is currently estimated at 8 to 10 weeks, with a £300 deposit required to confirm the order. Stooge intend to take a semi-custom approach whereby if the rider wants to make changes to the frame such as where they have a long body but short legs, Stooge aim to accommodate such requests for a small additional charge. In addition, Stooge are looking to offer a steel frame and fork option which will come in considerably cheaper at £599.
Being sold as a frame only, the build is left to the owner’s discretion. This particular bike is the pride and joy of my riding buddy, Brian Dawson, who has spec’d it with a strong but sensibly light parts list in order for it to be used for his first love which is bikepacking. The drivetrain is a 1 X 11 set up with an 11 – 42 Shimano cassette and XT rear mech mated to a Hope chainset at the front. The front ring is a 30 tooth number. Wheel duties are handled by a set of DT Swiss BR 710 rims matched to a pair of Hope Fatsno hubs. At only 675 grams for a 76mm fat rim, these are considerably lighter than what I am used to which has a marked effect on how the bike handles and picks up speed. Tyres are Bontrager Hodags set up tubeless. The spacing between the knobs and their lack of depth make for a lightweight tyre that rolls particularly quickly on tarmac as well as off road. They remind me of 45North Husker Do’s in terms of their lack of rolling resistance, albeit with more grip when hitting the dirt. The fork is a bolt thru 150mm Bontrager Hare Pro carbon number. Its appreciable lack of weight makes for a front end that can be popped up easily on technical climbs. Rounding things off are XTR Race brakes, an XTR shifter and Thomson finishing kit. All good, reliable, top end gear.
Ooh! That’s a fancy frame!
The frame itself is a bit of a visual treat with a number of design features that really appealed to me. Starting from the front, the 44mm internal diameter head tube with pressed head badge is 130mm tall. Coupled with the Haru Pro fork, this makes for a tall front end. Current fashion is to go long and low with a slammed stem but the more bikes I ride, the more I have come to realise that a low front end brings a number of limitations which compromise handling in my opinion. More on that in a bit. The quality of the welding is excellent – clean and smooth throughout. The downtube is ovalised at both ends and just looks right. The bottom bracket is 100mm wide and threaded. Joy of joys! No press fit creaking to endure! Cables run underneath the downtube which frees up space and clutter from the main triangle allowing for frame bags to be mounted without fear of fouling gear cables. At the back, the chainstays taper in while the seatstays are straight. I caught my heels a few times on the latter but am happy to report that Stooge are looking to taper in the seatstays on production models. A direct mount is used for the rear disc brake which lends the whole frame a clean appearance while the dropouts are of a cowled design which is a gold plated good thing in my book. The design makes for a larger weld area thus yielding a stronger back end. In case of pilot error, the rear dropout is replaceable.
What about the ride?
As I said at the start, the bike is slightly too small for me. However, after a couple of days of riding, I feel that I have enough pilot hours to express my initial thoughts. First and foremost, the Stooge is one fast machine. Whether it is just the lack of heft in the wheels or also the frame design, the Stooge shifts! On more than one occasion, I found myself to have run out of gears. My legs were spinning as fast as a very spinny spinny thing but I was left wanting for a lower gear. I have reservations about 1 x 11 gearing and this set up did little to convince me that a move from a 2 x set up will be happening any time soon for me. However gear choice is a personal thing and the bike itself positively encouraged me to go fast. Stamping on the pedals, it felt like a faster version of my Salsa Beargrease. Truth be told, there were times that I forgot I was on a fat bike.
Despite being an 18 inch medium, with 750mm bars, I was able to find a comfortable position for several hours of riding. Off road, the sprightly feel of the frame translated into all day ride comfort. The more I rode it on lumpy trails, the more I appreciated the Stooge’s ability to just get on with the job in hand. The relatively tall front end pays dividends on steep and loose descents. As I wrote earlier, the current fashion for low bars baffles me. I like to be able to shift my weight about and not feel that I am going to be pitched forward when the trails turn downward. With the Stooge, the high end enabled me to tackle steep chutes with a real feeling of confidence. What it lacks in front suspension, it more than makes up with a riding position that engenders a sense of control.
In terms of length, I prefer to be a little more stretched out but that’s what happens when your test bike is a little too small for you. Despite this, the Stooge still felt stable on the descents, both on fast and flowing sections of fire road and on singletrack. It isn’t a downhill trail slayer but it sure can shift when you want it to with no unpleasant handling characteristics.
Uphill, the only limiting factors I experienced came from the tyres which lack the Velcro like traction of a Surly Nate in loose, wet and muddy conditions and the 1 x 11 gearing. 30 – 42 is fine for trail centres but I like to tackle steep, technical climbs where a lower gear isn’t really an optional extra but an absolute must. Up until the tyres broke loose or I ran out of gears, the Stooge felt stable and planted with no discernible front wheel vagueness. With “proper” gearing, I reckon the Stooge would kill it on even the steepest ofclimbs.
Heading into rock gardens (or chunk and gnarr as my friend Andy likes to refer to such things), the lack of weight in the wheels means that the Stooge is more easily knocked off line than my Surly Ice Cream Truck. But then, we are talking fat bikes here and the ability to just go for it is something that doesn’t present with a normal sized mountain bike tyre (whatever size they happen to be this week!) The trade-off is one I expect that most riders would be happy to live with.
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Thoughts and musings
If I was to try and describe the Stooge in terms of Star Wars, whereas a Surly Ice Cream Truck is like Chewie’s crossbow blaster, a serious heavyweight weapon that slays all before it, the Stooge is like a lightsaber, an elegant weapon from a more civilised age. It doesn’t have the all out, bulldozer like quality of the Surly. Rather, it is a versatile machine as much suited to long days out in the saddle, exploring off the map, as it is for fast and furious blasts along wooded singletrack. On first acquaintance, I definitely want to go on another date! Me likey!
|Product:||Titanium Fat Bike|
|Price:||£1200 (frame only)|
|Tested:||by Sanny for|