Since launching the Morf in 2016, Stif have taken four years to develop and launch this Squatch, their first 29er hardtail. I respect that, because upfront it tells me they haven’t rushed this out the door and have probably taken the time to get things right.
Ten years ago, I tried a small 29er and felt like I was on some weird janky clown bike. Didn’t look at any for years after that. Four years ago, I got hold of Stif’s 27.5in wheeled Morf for review, liked it so much I built one of my own, and still have it.
Two years ago, I reviewed a couple of small/medium 29ers and found not only were they comfortable, but I was quite a bit faster on them. Three months ago, Stif announced the Squatch: a 29er hardtail designed to bring over many aspects of the Morf to bigger wheels, and I got excited.
Design and Build
Looking at them side by side, the Stif Squatch carries a lot of frame features over from the Morf, but changes a few things. The chainguide tabs are, at last, ISCG-05, and the spacing is for a boost hub.
Flattened seat stays to give you (bingo cards at the ready) vertical compliance, and while I’m sure someone will have something specific and functional to claim of the unusual looking chainstay bridge, I’ve decided the holes are for cramming two emergency jelly babies into.
As with Stif’s last hardtail, the Squatch is designed to mimic characteristics and geometry of a full suspension bike, and to assist with this they’ve given the Squatch a massive 80mm bottom bracket drop. Colour options are a little more conservative than the banana yellow of 2016, with options of teal, ivory and silver.
In terms of spec, this build (PRO 175) is one of three options, which has a SRAM G2 RSC Brakes, SRAM GX drivetrain, and a Rockshox Pike Ultimate doing most of the work. Finishing kit is all Burgtec, and the dropper post is a KS Lev. All fine choices.
The Pike Ultimate is an easy to set up fork. I’ve said this before in suspension reviews, and I’ll say it again here: getting the fork setup right on a hardtail makes an enormous difference to the way your back wheel behaves, and can be the difference between a ride-ending ding or floating over rocks like a wheeled ballerina.
SRAM GX drivetrains are something I heard a few local riders grumbling about straight after launch, but I understand SRAM revised the mech cage to address some issues. This one served me just fine through assorted winter muck.
Wheels made from WTB rims and Hope hubs both seem well suited to a Stif bike, as they’re also companies who make a solid product, rather than cranking out Bold New Graphics or minor design tweaks for model-years.
Upfront, there’s a Maxxis Minion DHF in 29×2.6in. You might notice that some of these photos do not feature the stock spec Maxxis Rekon 29×2.6in rear tyre. That’s because, on the first descent I took it down, it expired from a lethal snakebite. Unlucky, but I’d spec a meatier tyre anyway.
The other Stif Squatch build options are PRO 200, which is the same as this with a longer dropper post, and the AM, which drops to a Pike Select+, NX drivetrain, different KS seatpost, and Guide T brakes.
The Stif Squatch, Compared To The Morf
I love my Morf, especially at the spec I’ve built it up to, but it always had a couple of bugbears that put it immediately behind the times at launch: non-boost spacing, ISCG-OLD chainguide mounts. Not deal breakers, but old standards are ticking clocks when it comes to choice of parts. For instance, the only compatible chainguide I could find for ISCG-OLD and a 34t oval chainring, I had to buy direct from China.
The Stif Squatch brings things bang up to date, with ISCG-05 tabs, boost hub spacing and, like pretty much everything else that’s turned up at Singletrack Towers for the past year, 29 inch wheels.
The length, height and wheel size of the Squatch do make it a bit less playful than the Stif Morf, but conversely more capable of ploughing over things. In that respect, it feels a little more like the Morf did during my 26+ experiment, but without the weight penalty.
The Squatch’s steep seat tube (Squatch tube?) really is a boon for easy climbing. The curve in the seat tube means you have a minimum 78 degree seat angle from rails to bottom bracket; if you’re not so tall and run your seat lower than the maximum height, that effective seat angle gets even steeper. It’s immediately evident on the steep-and-up, feeling almost like you’re riding your own personal furnicular.
The Squatch is definitely not just a big-wheeled Morf. They’re different bikes, but clearly siblings with the same mischievous streak running through them.
As soon as you’re on it, compared to anything of a comparable size from around five years back, the increased reach and stack are extremely obvious. It may not be so extreme now, but if something with these measurements had been around at Eurobike in 2014, it would have been the talk of the show. It took a little getting used to, and provides a lot of room to move around.
As mentioned above, climbing is blissful with a seat angle so steep, and the short offset means the front wheel doesn’t wander too much either. Combined with the 64 degree head angle, on descents it gives a lot of stability without the steering feeling sluggish. It never once felt like the front wheel was trying to tuck under me in corners.
As with the Morf, Stif designed the Squatch for a 130mm fork, which naturally, combined with the rollover of bigger wheels, gives you more value-per-millimetre. As well as that, shorter travel helps preserve the geometry. That means that on choppy descents and hard landings, the effect of suspension travel steepening your head angle is reduced, again contributing to greater stability.
After once building a hardtail with a 160mm fork because MOAR TRAVUL BETTER, in the near-decade since I’ve found I get on best with 130mm if there’s no rear suspension. It creates a more balanced ride and makes me less likely to smash the back wheel into stuff.
Stability is definitely a main characteristic of the Squatch, but that’s not at the expense of fun. It is absolutely great at powering down and over things.
Three things I like
- Steep seat angle – It is bliss to feel my core muscles sitting bolt upright on this bike while chugging up steep road climbs.
- Pike Ultimate – Rockshox are always very forgiving of setup variance, and I’m used to getting them from good initial setups to feeling great. These felt great right off the bat, and hardly needed any tweaks off the defaults fro me weight.
- Those seatstays – With the chainstays and dropouts, I think they’re a really beautiful piece of frame design, and I’m glad they carried those shapes over from the Morf.
Three things I’d change
- The tyres – I get on a bit better with Maxxis’ DHF than I used to, but still find it more prone to washing out that a DHRII or Onza Ibex. The Rekon makes sense to me for summer, but given I mainly ride hardtails in winter, I’d always go burlier.
- Add a chainguide – While a chainguide is not strictly necessary for a hardtail with a brand new drivetrain, they count for more as it wears, so I add one as a matter of course.
- Brakes – honestly I’m clutching a bit here, and if you must clutch something, brakes aren’t a bad choice. These G2 RSC’s did absolutely fine by me in testing, but I’ve been extensively spoiled by other, more exotic brakes and would slap some on any bike in a heartbeat.
Stif’s Squatch takes a lot I liked about the Morf and brings it into 2021 with big wheels. An incredibly sure-footed 29er, excellent up and down. If you get a Squatch as an alternative to your full suss for winter, you might just end up reversing which one you call “the big bike”.
|Product:||Squatch PRO 175|
|Tested:||by David Hayward for 1 month|