Vassago Jabberwocky: One Year Review: by Grannygear

It has been a year since I took delivery of a bright orange 20” Vassago Jabberwocky frame to replace the Karate Monkey as my SS ride. The Monkey had been a solid companion, but I was looking for a bit better fit in the top tube length and a different geometry. The Karate Monkey is set up with a pretty short effective TT length at 24.25” in the LG size, the stand over is lacking, and I had found the ride to be so-so (pretty harsh) and the handling a bit odd.

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The Jabber had caught my eye as a budget replacement that was perhaps one rung up on the ladder of refinement over the KM. The KM costs around $465.00 retail and the Jabber sits at $490.00 suggested retail. Owners of the Jabber seemed to be very happy with the ride and geometry of the frame. Vassago is pretty proud of their vaunted “Wet Cat” geometry approach: a lower BB height, a longer chain stay, a slacker head tube angle, and a longish top tube. That is a bit of a twist from the KMs set-up.

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The Jabber was built up with the parts from the KM: the RST M29 fork at 80mm, the DT Swiss wheels (7.1TK/Onyx), a 180mm Shimano HTII crank and Octalink BB, etc. I had rim brakes on the KM, but went to Avid BB7s on the Jabber.

I dropped a tiny bit of weight compared to the KM as the Jabber frame was 5oz lighter, but I picked that back up in the porky Avid BB7s compared to the rim brakes. I gained a great deal of stand over, about a 1/2” of cockpit length, and better geometry over the KM. It ran with these parts until recently until I upgraded the wheels and changed the brakes to some used Juicy 5s that dropped a 1/4 pound compared to the BB7s.

The current weight on the Jabber is right at 25lbs 14oz.

So, how has the Jabber been to live with over the last year? Is the Wet Cat geometry all that and a box of cookies? What about the ride? The value VS. cost?

Right…off we go.

As I had mentioned, what I was looking for in the replacement for the KM was a different handling bike and a smoother ride. I got that in the Jabber. I immediately preferred the way the Jabber rode and turned. It felt smoother and was way better at speed in ruts and looser conditions compared to the KM. I think some of that comes from the slacker HT angle, 71* compared to the 72* KM. The longer chain stays, longer top tube, and the way the steel tubing is spec’d added up to a nicer ride on trail. I also noticed the 18” chain stays, the low bottom bracket, and the steeper seat tube angle in a bad way. Getting the front end up on trail took a lot of effort compared to the KM, which typically was set at a 17.5” (or slightly shorter) chain stay length in SS mode. How a bike responds on the trail is one part science and one part black magic, but a long front center, a low bottom bracket, and 18” chain stays may bring a ton of stability and a nice ride to the day but not a ‘flickable’ feeling bike.

P6230198After a lot of miles and hours on the Jabber, I have some strong thoughts and impressions. The Wet Cat geo lends an easy-to-ride-all-day feel to the bike. I would not look to this as a pure XC race SS bike (although it has won its share of races under more talented riders than I), but if I was shopping for an single speed to ride something like an off road 100 miler or endurance based stuff, trail ride, or bike-pack SS style, the Jabber would be great. The steering is not quick, and compared to some bikes I have ridden lately, the long-ish chain stays and slower response may not be the best thing for tighter trails with lots of blind turns. In the more open trails of So Cal, it is good enough, but it takes some deliberate effort to turn it. Still, once you dial into the timing, it will get ‘er done. There are quite a few fully suspended riders that have felt the breath of the Jabber on the back of their necks on the local single tracks. It pedals quite well and the bottom bracket does not sway and twist up at all. The track-ends approach to the way of tensioning the chain may not be as cache’ as sliders, but it has never slipped with either a Shimano XT QR or the bolt-on White Industries ENO hub I use now. I can remove the wheel easily enough without any brake rotor interference although I have to release and re-set the tensioners each time, something that I would rather not do in a race situation, but no biggie as a trail rider.

If I could change anything, I would like to be able to run a shorter chain stay than the Jabber allows. With a 1/2 link, running either a 32/20 or a 34/21 combo, I was able to get to a 17.8” CS length. I have ridden several bikes now that are in that 17.3” range and it brings with it a bit of playfulness that the 18” length does not allow for. I would add that bit of length we cut out of the chain stays and pop it into the top tube to make an XL version. I find that, with a 90mm stem, something I really prefer on this bike, that I am juuuuust a bit cramped when standing and climbing. Would that be a Wet Cat geometry still? Not sure. Which brings up a question: What do you do when your copyrighted geometry may not be all that current anymore with the latest trends? I suggest that Vassago adds a “Hot Cat” option and tightens up the bike just a bit. That may be too much for a small company with limited resources, but it is a thought. Still and for now, it is what it is and that does make for a very fine all day trail bike in single speed mode. If I were riding trails that required a lot of wheelie drops, etc, it would be a chore with the Jabber’s geometry, but I will take that over the 72* head tube angle, high bottom bracket settings, AND longer chain stays of some of its competition.

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Vassago was already ahead of the curve in slacker head tube angles and longer top tubes as well as lower bottom bracket heights, something you are seeing in more and more 29ers these days. But, as I mentioned before, if what you are making is not what folks are buying because things do refine and change over time…whaddya’ gonna’ do? Is it a bad thing to center your marketing plan/design ethos/whatever around a particular geometry? Gary Fisher did it with G2 but that has been tweaked over time too. What I suggest really is a small refinement. Give me the ability to go shorter on the chain stay if I want to with a solid 17.5” setting. I will buy that. This is not a bike that is targeted at the AM/Trail bike, rock-hopping, log-dropping crowd. Maybe the upcoming Vassago Chupacabra will be that bike. There are good reasons to NOT have really short back ends on a 29er and in this case, one size does not ‘fit all’. Still, give me a wider range of adjustment. Give me a true XL top tube length with about a 1/4” stretch over the current version. In my opinion, a 25” effective length is about right for an XL. Not too many folks like a greater than 100mm stem on a 29er these days (at least from what I have seen).

On another note, Vassago is introducing the Black Label line of frame sets featuring a nicer tube set and hand made in the States construction. Due in late 2010, prices are up in the custom frame range but the weights should be down a bit to compensate! Will the geometry change as well?

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The Jabberwocky has weathered well and the powder coat has been pretty tough. I have a feeling that it would continue to provide a reliable ride experience for years to come, something that steel is very good at doing. It is really hard to beat a decent steel frame for an SS bike. It is not the lightest or the snappiest or the blingiest or the whatever-est, but it just quietly gets the job done ride after ride for relatively little money. I am moving over to a new SS bike for a bit as the SS ‘Hopper gets going but I will keep the Jabber around. Maybe I will try rigid on it! Or maybe I will do some more SS bikepacking. If nothing else, the Jabber will always be ready for a few more hours of trail time. I even still like the orange color!

I think that, at least in this case, steel is a real value in the Vassago Jabberwocky.