For some time I have been blathering, some would say incoherently, about getting to the core of my riding. About stripping back the bling to uncover the boom. I’ve meandered around wheel sizes, levels of suspension and the relative ‘emotion’ of the sport. Following some deeply unscientific reasoning I made the not remotely spontaneous purchase of a new bike putting my money where my waffle was and laying down the bucks without the usual trail testing. This, dear readers is a report of the result, my review of the Trek Stache 8 29’er hardtail……
|Puts the MOO in Moustache…. The Trek Stache 8, but whats it actually for?|
On the whole I don’t like reviews of bikes. I’ve read lots and they generally depend on too many variables that are specific to the tester and perspective buyer. I’ve even ridden bikes that received shameful reviews and found them to be great fun. With this in mind I think it’s critical to consider the variables I had to consider when evaluating the bike, so a brief summary:
I am looking for a bike to inject fun into what are generally short riding sessions with a high use of man made trail centres. My fitness and injury levels mean that I have a reduced power capacity and climbing etc is a weakness. I’m also a bit of a geek on the skills front so was looking for something that enabled me to ride steep and fast when the opportunity arrived but to also maximise the fun on smaller terrain. What ever I bought had to run on a family friendly budget both in terms of cost and time. Oh and it had to be cool and relatively unusual.
So the bike? I purchased a 2013 Stache 8 in the end of season sale. The spec for the 2014 model was unchanged apart from the colour and I prefer the colour of the 2013 bike anyway. The saving was considerable with a solid £500 off of list and at least £100 less than I could get a discounted 2014 bike anywhere, so all good on the finance front. The Stache is made by Trek, a score down on the unusual stakes but in a small reprieve its part of the Gary fisher collection with lots of small tweaks that give it a few individual touches, and it’s clear from the touches that this is a bike designed and built for entertainment as much as speed.
What makes the Stache interesting is its ‘Long travel 29’er hard tail’ title. With a 120mm suspension fork (Fox Float 29, with climb, trail, descend. Really very good indeed) the bike is unusual enough in general 29’er hard tail territory but the Stache has been given the Fisher G2 treatment. With an extended offset in the fork crown hanging from a slacked out head angle. The front end is as slack as my old trail bike with the front end racked out. Add to this the bolt through front and rear axles and things start to feel decidedly non hard tail like.
|Slacker than my 140mm trail bike, even with the old pikes racked right out and the extended G2 fork crown pushing the wheel base even more towards toe clearing stability.|
The frame is the usual catalogue of swooping, bendy fluid formed cleverness that the big factories seem to be able to spit out but it is very well executed. An examination of the bottom bracket/seat tube contact demonstrates a masterpiece in frame design with the seat tube squished near flat and offset away from the drive side. Adding to the ‘what the hell is this thing built for’ question is the addition of a Stealth seat post routing that utilises the clever offset and tube shaping to maximise smooth hose routing. In addition at no charge the dealer (Mud Dock Cycles, Bristol. Cheers Will!) switched the Bontrager bars and stem for alternate lengths/sizes at no cost as well as upgrading the tyres to tubeless units of my choosing for only the difference in cost over the standard offering. Thus the bike is sat on huge (and I mean HUGE, they almost look fat-bike-esque) 2.35 high volume tyres that look bigger than the dimensions suggest with a super short 50mm stem and wide 750mm bars.
So what do we have? A 29’er hard tail with a slack head angle and long forks. Fairly short rear end, bolt through axles, a 31.6 seat post with dropper post routing, huge tyres and seriously short and wide turning gear? What the hell is it for? I now know the answer. Entertainment. I was fortunate enough to ride the bike for the first time in proper anger with a group of friends fielding all manner of bikes from stripped out race 26” 1 x 10 hard tails through to full carbon 29’er full suss rock gobblers so was able to really ‘feel’ what the Stache was bringing to the table. I also rode the same trail as I last rode my 140mm trail bike on so could look at our friend the GPS to see what the comparisons were in terms of pace.
The first thing to hit you is the almost DH bike feel of the front end. The big wheel, short stem and wide bar give it massive presence in front of you but as soon as you ride away you notice that that short stem and slack head angle lighten all this rubber real-estate right up and add a huge helping of stable to the pot. Soon after you notice the quality of the ride. The combination of the huge tubeless tyres running squishy low pressures on clown sized 29’er wheels all but remove the trail buzz in a way a short travel suspension 26” bike can’t do.
|Super short, super wide bar/stem giving the Stache an almost DH feel and helping tame that huge rubber foot print.|
Then you begin to throw the bike into some hills and inclines and the ridged back end comes alive. Whilst not racey with its slack front geometry the power transfer is impressive. For me of late the ‘tax’ paid for hauling damper laden bikes up inclines has out weighed the advantages offered on the way down. The Stache goes a really long way to balancing this with the simply mad levels of grip that the bike magics on to the trail whilst doing an almost confusingly good job of smoothing the chatter.
When the trail goes bendy and downward the combination of clever elements really brings this bike to life. The massive tapered head tube and bolt through front end give the bike a real point and shoot accuracy and the super laterally stiff back end makes drifting the bike both easy and fun, something hard to do on all but the best full suss trail bikes. And lets not forget that finding a suspended trail bike with this spec that weighs in at sub 26lbs will require a significant withdrawal from the money tree in comparison to the Stache.
The slow speed control of the bike is remarkable due to the short stem working over the G2 extended forks, the bars are literally over the front axle. Widening up the bars to compensate for the lack of stem length has the additional benefit of widening those arms to naturally soften the ride feel and smooth out the carving motions needed to get a 29’er to turn in the tight stuff. I wouldn’t normally include the altered parts of the bike as a part of the review but as I understand it the bars and stem can be changed by all trek dealers for free and you even have a 30 day tryout period to be sure they fit you properly there is no reason not to tailor the fit to you.
With regard to the spec, the Shimano SLX and XT group is brilliant and the addition of a clutch mech makes for silent running, aside from the grit and dirt noises of the nasty trail conditions. The real surprise being the SLX brake set. The modulation is very good and very progressive for a cast caliper. I also suspect a bit of testing of different pads would make them more progressive still and they would certainly have scope for bigger rotors to really use all that tyre bite.
So about real world comparisons? I last rode the Cwm Carn Twrch trail on a 140mm trail bike. The trail is well known as a simple long up, long down affair. The trail bike left me tired enough at the top to discourage the use of the ‘another go’ short cuts back to the top of the descents and the dampers did nothing to assist in climbing over the numerous rocky/rooty steps and kickers on the trail. In comparison even with the added bumps of a hard tail I went back three or four times for more of one of the open descents and laughed all the way down every time.
|Same trail, different world. Despite a much wetter, more challenging ascent I still reached the top of the last section feeling good thanks to evasion of full suss tax!|
Hard tail or not the Stache kept me in touch with a rider who I swear isn’t affected by the laws of physics on the downs (You know who you are Mr. Whippet), and even firmly ahead of some full sussers in the hands of some pretty handy pilots. But the real magic was that at the bottom of the hills I was openly laughing. I found the bike wanted me to pick not the fastest lines but the most fun lines. I could push into wall rides, dip the brake and slide off of small berms, carve across the small single track transitions using the tyres to scrub the speed. Simply put it was great fun and I had the energy left to enjoy it.
I’ve written and said lots recently about riders taking out kit they can’t use or don’t need. The Stache uses Fishers experience and great geometry to prove the point. This is a simple bike, at a great price point capable of riding almost everything. OK try and do the Rampage on it and you’ll die, but everything else and it’ll be right there with you. You may not be king of the podium cross country, nor will you smash the records on downhill trails, but you’ll have one easy to keep bike that can have a darned good go at all of the above. Oh, and it’ll really make you smile.
So the conclusion? This all leaves me a couple of serious problems, a couple of reasons for serious complaint. So problematic in fact I feel motivated to pursue my problems with Mr. Fisher directly:
F.A.O. Mr. Gary Fisher, Trek Bicycle Corporation.
Dear Mr. Fisher,
I am writing to you as a matter of urgent complaint. I had occasion to pilot one of your ‘Stache’ All Terrain Bicycles last weekend, and whilst the conditions nor my personal fitness allowed for dramatic physical effort, said vehicle delivered an experience so entertaining I found myself laughing out loud and actively searching for further predicaments of peril.
Thus my complaint is two fold. For one thing my gathered acquaintances will question my sanity as I whizz (in relative terms) around wooded trails in the wet laughing loudly. Secondly I find myself now with a collection of ‘never to be used again’ bicycles simply because said Stache (fondly now known as Eleanor) will be the only example I wish to ride. You sir have rendered a considerable previous investment useless and risked my sanity based liberty. I hope you are pleased with yourself.
D M Pothecary, Esq,
Ginger bloke and Velocipede Enthusiast.