What is it about riding a new bike for the first time that makes me so nervous? Is it because I'm afraid I won't be able to handle it and will get thrown in to the bushes, or am I worried that, being an average female rider I'm simply not good enough to do the bike justice? Whatever the reason, I shouldn't have worried because the Stache 9 behaved impeccably and was completely different from anything I've ever ridden before.
This new breed of 29+ bikes are designed to cover the middle ground between a short travel full suspension bike and a standard 29 inch hard tail, supposedly giving a gentler ride than a 29 without the maintenance issues of a full 'suss. The Stache is gaining a reputation for being brilliant over loose and technical terrain, so my quest was to see how it would handle in typical British winter conditions, ie, mud!
Mark Chamberlain goes over the handlebars... nearly!
Lianne gets dirty
I saw the Stache at Cotswold Cycles and my first thought was that it would be good fun to ride once or twice in my local woods, but after that I would probably not have any use for it. After riding the demo bike round the trails at Cannock Chase, I realised I couldn't have been further from the truth and it turned out to be so much more than I had given it credit for. After my demo ride I thought it would be great to have a Stache for my winter training and put my order in!
So, if you don't know much about it, the Stache has 3" tyres which just eat up the ground when paired with its' 29" rims; any rocks, roots and mud are just rolled through while the bike holds a perfectly straight line. The short wheel base means it climbs exceptionally well, and because the rear wheel is tucked right in under the seat you don't find yourself fighting for traction. The short wheel base also gives this bike the ability to be manoeuvred around tight turns very quickly. Those 29" wheels also mean it's no slouch on the flat either.
After a few more rides, I have discovered just how versatile this bike can be. It's hard to pigeonhole it into a niche area as most bikes are now intended. The Stache goes up hill with attributes of a cross country hardtail and it comes back down feeling like you’re on a large travel full suspension. We have a notorious descent on our local routes that is always wet, rocky and very fast. First time down on the Stache, I truly believed someone had removed all the rocks and smoothed it out until I stopped, looked back and saw my mate being shaken senseless on his hardtail. Not only had it been smooth, I had gapped him by 30 seconds on a two minute descent!
Ok, it's not designed to be a XC whippet, but I am yet to think of anything else this bike can't do. You have such an arsenal at your disposal when aboard this bike. You will happily climb long hills on it, leaving the boys on the large travel machines behind, and come down the roughest, gnarliest descents, dropping your mates on their lightweight race steeds. You'll also sit in the group on the flat and cruise along revelling in fact that it's no slouch.
Oh and it's got fluoro green grips. Boom!
The three inch tyres certainly do the trick where comfort is concerned; throughout the ride I had the feeling I was sitting on suspension and, once I got the tyre pressures right, the extra grip was phenomenal in the Cotswold winter slime. The short chain stay gives the Stache a responsive feel – it's far more lively than you would think - and the compact geometry helped to keep it planted on steep climbs, eliminating the front wheel 'bob' I've become used to.
Before heading out on to my local trails there was plenty of discussion about tyre pressures and we came to the conclusion that 15psi would probably be as hard as I'd want to go although we weren't sure what the lower limit would be, so I played safe and went with 15. On the first section of single track I quickly realised this was a little high – there was too much bounce from the back end and I slew my way through the first mud bath, and after three days of rain, it was slippy stuff! Dropping the tyre pressure on the tubeless set-up down to around 12psi was a huge improvement and the next muddy single track section rode like a dream; no need to think about taking a line, the Stache took everything in its stride, making a mockery of mud, loose stones and tree roots.
I was worried that the extra weight, compared to my Superfly 9.8, would slow me down too much, but on tarmac and single track I couldn't tell them apart in terms of speed, only on the climbs was I marginally slower, but then again it wasn't enough of a drop to cause me any issues and the 30 -10/42 gearing enabled me to deal with some pretty tough, wet climbs. The last hill of the day was a consistent 6% average gradient on the slippiest single track, cat 4 climb I could find. About a quarter of the way up I started to lose traction so I dropped the rear tyre down to around 10psi – bingo! The grip was fantastic and, although I still put a foot down here and there, in those conditions I would have been doing the walk of shame with the Superfly.
The three inch tyres do handle differently to 'normal' 29-ers when it comes to tight turns; I got a disconcerting feeling which I can only describe as 'over-steer' going in to a 90 degree turn. Once I got used to the feeling this just added to the fun. Keeping my weight back, scrubbing off speed before the turn, counter-balancing and letting the Stache find its own balance was the way through.
Tyre pressure does seem to be the critical issue with the Stache, but once you've got that sorted the bike is a lot of fun. It would make a great winter bike here in the Cotswolds and I have no doubt it would be superb on the Lakeland fells where I first fell in love with off-roading. I'd like to take it to a trail park in dry conditions... I have a feeling it would be giggle inducing.