What the hell is 29+?
When Trek decided to create a bike in the ‘plus hardtail’ category, they developed the Stache from the ground up using 29″ diameter wheels, instead of jumping on the existing 27.5+ wheel (27.5″ diameter with 2.8-3″ tyres) size bandwagon.
Not sure what we are talking about? Here, have a read of this if you’d like to know what a plus-size bike is all about.
Essentially, Trek developed the Stache around 29+ wheels due to the increased contact patch of the tyre when compared to 27.5+, but it wasn’t going to be so simple. 29+ wheels are huge, too big to fit into a normal shaped frame, hence the wildly asymmetrical rear end of the bike and its elevated chainstay arrangement. There have only ever been one other 29+ bike make its way to the masses, we reviewed the Surly Krampus a few years ago, while we loved its endless traction it was hard work to manoeuvre through any form of a tight corner and was a boat to try and rip through singletrack.
With the elevated chain stay design and a boost spacing hub, Trek can tuck the chainstays to a length adjustable between 405-420mm (the bike ships with the length at 420mm) in the world of 29ers that is incredibly short!
An increased contact patch is beneficial in two main ways. Firstly, with a bigger contact patch you’ve got more grip on the ground in virtually any condition than a goanna scaling a tree. The second advantage of 29+ tyres is the small bump sensitivity that can be achieved by running the voluminous tyres at lower pressures. While the Stache is never going to feel like a dual suspension bike in choppy terrain, setting up the monstrous Chupacabra tyres tubeless and with the pressures low the bike has excellent small bump compliance.
We were lucky to chat with Trek’s Travis Brown where we discussed the Stache, and he summed up the decision to go with 29+ wheels by saying ‘if you’re the type of rider willing to take a small weight penalty for a lot of extra control and traction, and the ability to run low pressures, we came out with the 29+ to be superior.’
29+ wheels with 3” tyres must be heavy right?
At first glance, you would presume that the Bontrager Chupacabra tyres would weigh significantly more than regular tyres, however, one of the key aims of the Stache project (which was entitled ‘project weird’) was to create a lightweight 29×3.00 tyre.
The result of the project was the Bontrager Chupacabra, a 3” tyre that weighs just 860 grams! Despite the light weight, the Chupacabra is tubeless ready, and the sidewall protection was high. We know this because with a 3” tyre you’ll be scraping the sidewalls of the tyre against lots of stuff on the trail, but despite this, the Chupacabra remained intact throughout the review.
The tread pattern of the Chupacabra sits somewhere between a Bontrager XR2 and XR3 which we found struck an excellent balance between rolling efficiency, sidewall stability and traction.
The only negatives we have with Chupacabra tyre is that once you really get to know how the Stache handles, a beefier front tyre to allow the rear to break traction into a slide or drift before the front tyre does might let us ride more aggressively, as we found that when the bike is tipped over and losing traction (far later than any other bike we’ve ever ridden), both the tyres slid together, a sensation that unnerved us somewhat.
Another point to mention is that there is no alternative to the Chupacabra than from Bontrager, and a replacement is going to set you back a mega $169 each!
You can run 27.5+ or 29” wheels instead of the 29+ due to the Stranglehold dropouts, should you be considering changing wheels?
No! At least not to begin with. Throughout testing, what we continually discussed was just how well the 29+ wheels worked with the short rear end, as well as the bike’s stubby cockpit. Being able to throw the bike around easily in combination with the insane traction and rollover of the 29+ wheels was a great match.
As we’ve discussed, the contact patch and subsequent traction afforded by the 29+ tyres is crazy. What we found with the bike’s tight geometry was that despite the massive wheels, if you tip the Stache over enough it’ll negotiate pretty much any corner- as long as the pilot holds their nerve!
Is it easy to jump the big hoops?
It’s different. Getting the Stache off the ground to manoeuvre between lines isn’t really the Stache’s forte, it prefers to barge through trails rather than creep delicately. Whilst subtle line changes of the aerial variety are off the menu, when you need to get airborne, other than having to work the bike initially to get in the air, once it’s up there the short rear end is easy to work into a landing, and the big rubber feels very cushy if you go further than intended.
Many of the trails near Flow HQ feature jumps and drops that often result in the bike landing pretty much pancake flat, and the with low tyre pressures (we settled on as low as 13psi in the front and 15psi in the rear for a 78kg rider), the Stache doesn’t feel like a conventional hardtail when it’s time to come down.
When do you get reminded that you’re still riding a hardtail?
While the Stache happily ploughs through most terrain, when the going gets really rough, or you’re coming into a square edge hit, the ability to plough through or jump the obstacle as you might on a dual suspension bike is not really an option. We found ourselves coming into sections like these too fast at times considering the low pressures you run on the Stache, which make a square edge or very rocky terrain the perfect place for a puncture – and a potential $169 visit to the bike shop!
What’s the spec like?
Despite having truly enjoyed riding the Stache, the spec is somewhat underwhelming considering the $3299 price tag.
Firstly, it’s understandable in a way that this bike is dearer than it should be because this is a one of a kind bike and the frame is quite involved. If you read our interview with Travis Brown, you’ll see the time and resources not only Trek and Bontrager, but companies such as SUN Ringle and Manitou invested to make this bike a possibility.
That being said, the battleground of mountain bike sales is a vicious one, and there are many bikes around the $3000 price point with very nice specs indeed; dropper posts, quality suspension front and rear and high-end drivetrains.
For $3299 with the Stache, you get a Sram GX groupset (with X1 cranks), Sram’s Level Trail brakes and relatively unheard of SUNringle Duroc rims, which create an excellent profile for the Chupacabra, but are on the soft side for a bike with hard-riding intentions like the Stache.
None of these products are bad- in fact, it’s unbelievable how good 11-speed drivetrains of all levels are these days – our SRAM GX/X1 bundle was flawless, and the Level brakes were excellent for general trail riding, although they were untested this time around on particularly long descents.
Bontrager products have always been a favourite at Flow for their efficiency, robustness and understated graphics, and the Bontrager products on the Stache such as the stem, handlebar and saddle were no different.
Two parts we weren’t fussed on however were the push-on grips, which we would change to a set of lock-ons immediately, and the non-dropper seatpost.
The Stache is pleading like a child at a candy store for a dropper. If there were ever a bike that would truly benefit from a dropper, it would be the Stache. Further to this, the rigid seatpost doesn’t actually move that far within the frame, as the seat tube is flattened and curved to accommodate the 29+ wheels, so dropping the seat at the top of a descent still doesn’t get the seat as low as you would with a dropper.
Okay, so what about the model above, or below in the range?
We believe this is a situation where the model below, or above are worthy of consideration for potential buyers.
The Stache 5 retails for $2399, and features the same frame, wheels and tyres as the 7. Regarding the drivetrain, it’s a 1×10 system, however, the 11-36 spread isn’t too bad regarding range. The another significant downgrade is going from the Manitou Magnum with 34mm stanchions to the Manitou Machete with thinner 32mm stanchions.
While these are downgrades, in the fork department plus bikes tend to mask inefficiencies in dampening, as the small bump sensitivity from the tyres allows the rider to run more pressure if the fork is very linear. This was the case with the Manitou Magnum. Despite feeling linear in comparison to a comparable Fox or RockShox product, the Magnum performed well on the Stache, as we ran it slightly firmer and faster than we would on a regular bike, allowing the tyres to give small bump sensitivity, and saving the travel for bigger hits.
For the $900 saving the Stache 5 offers, and the fact that the $2399 price point is somewhere where the Stache competes with entry level dual suspension bikes that perhaps come with entry-level suspension components, the 3” tyres would potentially work more efficiently at dampening the terrain, as well as giving the rider more traction and control.
Another option we would consider is spending $1200 more and purchasing the Stache 9.6. The Stache 9.6 comes with all the upgrades we wanted! A dropper post for starters, as well as a RockShox Yari fork, and a gorgeous carbon frame. We featured the Stache 9.6 in our Trek World wrap up from earlier this year, so go and have a look!
Is the Stache an alternative to a $3000 duallie?
The concept around this bike and the way it behaves on the trail is remarkable. Consider this: you’re coming hot into a corner, tagging the inside a bit more than you should be. Where you would normally be about to lose the rear (and possibly the front too) and you get pretty ragged, with the Stache you keep those feet up, pull as tight as you want, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to stay glued to the ground.
Here’s another one: it’s been a long day out on the bike, and you’re coming up the final loose, rock-strewn climb. You want to get out of the saddle and power those last few pedal strokes, but you’re losing traction. You end up admitting defeat, hopping off and walking the rest of the hill. Aboard the Stache, unless you’re putting out the horsepower of Nino Schurter, those tyres are staying right where you want them, in or out of the saddle.
So is this bike better than a $3000 duallie? It’s hard to say because it’s just so god damn different!
Alright, let’s cut to the chase, who is this bike for?
The Stache is for a rider who appreciates traction, braking control and simplicity. You’re unlikely to get record times on your local XC loop, but the Stache can tackle much, much more than the humble hardtail of yesteryear, and you’ll amaze your mates with the new line options it opens up.
The Stache reminded us that sometimes riding isn’t about who has the most dialled, out and out speed machine, that sometimes popping a manual or a wheelie, or taking a silly line through a corner is what brings the biggest grins.
As Travis Brown told us when we were asking him how the bike rode, until you ride a Stache, you just simply won’t understand what these quirky little things are all about!