After the OOB and the Midterm, the first ride I had on the Stache 8 was over a few miles of multi-user, technical single track that climbed and dropped through the course of three canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains of SoCal. It set the stage for me for the duration of the test of the Stache, for if this bike were only ridden on smooth fire roads and buff trails, it would be a shame. That first ride was a few hours of steep on-the-nose-of-the-saddle climbs, switchback turns, rocky creek beds, and swoopy blind turns on scrabbly dirt. From the very beginning to the very end of that ride the Stache was balanced, composed, and fun. And ‘fun’ was a word that I used a lot whenever I talked about this bike to others and within my own fevered little brain. This is a fun bike to ride. This is why, or at least, why I think it is so.
Bikes have become pretty well niche these days. There is something for everyone no matter what you like to do or aspire to be. From full on XC race to All Mountain work, the 29″er hard tail is a pretty versatile beast and those big wheels can do a lot to make you wonder if you really need full suspension. But at the extremes…say a stiff carbon, steep angled race bike book ended by a 140mm fork equipped, short stay-ed steel beast of an AM hard tail, lies a broad range of uses that just requires a bike. Nothing fancy or dramatic in intent…not niche. That middle section between the bookends is a fat cut of the trail riding pie and that is where the Stache sits, topped with a nice dollop of Cool Whip.
From the beginning I liked the way the Stache was on-trail. My weight was back off the front wheel and yet I was not feeling like I was balancing over the rear wheel either. It was cockpit rear-ward if that makes sense but it felt better to me than anything I had been on lately. Picking down techy sections was a notch above what the ‘normal’ 29″er hard tail would be in the same situation. In the past, I have not been particularly impressed with G2 ‘equipped/designed’ Fisher bikes. The Hi Fi left me cold and the Rumblefish was so so. But I suspect that the G2 approach with the 51mm fork offset is a good part of why this bike comes together for me. I am becoming a fan of slacker head tube angles if you can keep the bike from getting too long and keep it from flopping around when speeds are slower. The 68.6° HT angle on the Trek combined with the 120mm G2 fork, and, with the stock bars and 100mm stem, seldom gave me anything but good results and when speeds came up, it was calm and fun. There is that word again. A 72° seat tube angle helps pull the front center in a bit so even though the wheelbase on the 21″ is getting a bit long at 45.71″/116.1 cm, it was an easy bike to get around tight turns and felt good at slow speeds as well. The only time I felt the rearward weight position and the slacker front end working against me was on very steep uphill switchbacks where, if the soil was loose, the front tire would want to push. It took a more aggressive position on the nose of the saddle to combat that.
So while any skilled rider can ride a trail on a ‘typical’ 29″er hardtail (71°/73° head tube/sest tube angles, 100mm fork etc) just as fast as they can on the slacker Stache, the Stache gives you a bit of grace and feels just great when the ruts come along, the whoops get deeper, or the grade gets you off the back and past the dropper post. The 120mm fork pays off and sucks up a lot of trail nasties. So while both riders may be riding the same trail at the same speeds, the Stache ride is not working as hard to do it. I am willing to bet that means more fun.
Some bullet points:
- 120mms for fork travel and a slack HT angle on a hard tail 29″er means that you can go pretty darn fast until the amber warning lights start flashing in your brain. But be careful as the front fork can write checks the back end cannot cash and so you need to ride it like a hard tail or things can get a bit surprising really fast.
- The frame is very nice riding overall. It never felt harsh to me. That said, I think that after watching it under a rider of jeffj’s (250+#) weight and size, it may be a bit light for very aggressive riders and they might feel some twist in the chassis. I did not though and I am 195 with gear on.
- The Bontrager components treated us well (other than the wheels issues jeffj discussed in his review/comments in the midterm). Both jeffj and I liked the stock Expert 29-3 tires and the 2.3 size was nicely plump. Overall, in dry conditions, they were solid performers. The saddle was just so-so. No one that rode the bike really loved it but no one hated it either.
- Short chain stays are all the rage in the minds of some 29″er hard tail riders and in some cases that is what you need to make the bike work in certain kinds of stuff. But balance is more important than any one parameter and when you get in that 17″ and under range in the chain stay, you do begin to lose some overall balance in the bike. 17.52″/44.5 cm chain stays like the Stache has is a pretty good place to be in my opinion. It allows for a tall rider on a 72° seat tube angle to not get so far back over the rear axle of the bike as to feel like he is fighting to keep the front end planted on seated climbs yet they still allow for agile handling. It may not be what you need or want for gnarly BC-type trails, but for the majority of riders and as an all around trail bike, it is spot on.
- At 28 lbs with pedals the Stache 8 is no XC race fighter but I rode it on some big loops and fought off the boys on the after-work evening rides and never gave up much in the process to the lighter, faster feeling stuff like Stumpy carbons, etc. Of course it is not an XC race bike, but neither is it incapable of lining up for an endurance race or some weekend event just for fun. If Strava KOMs are important to you, then maybe not this bike, but then most likely if this describes you, you already knew that and Trek makes a Superfly just for you. As a trail bike I never noticed the weight, standing, sitting, moving it around under me…never was an issue unless I was in a fast pack of greyhounds and then, I missed my Ti Lynskey a bit. Or I just pedaled harder.
- This bike deserves a dropper post. Increased fun factor here. The stealth Reverb post from Rockshox was the best dropper post I have used yet as far as smooth and easy operation. I did have to get used to not having a ‘preset’ dropped position like the Specialized Command post has, but I figured that out and adapted. The stealth routing on the Stache is a plus and now there are at least two dropper posts that I know of that can use it. Of course, you can run an external hose/cable routing as well.
- The Shimano SLX suite with XT Shadow Plus rear derailleur was very, very good and while the shifting on the Race Face crank was not quite what I have come to expect in modern 2×10, it was still very good and I would not trade the cool green look for a 5% to 10% improvement in up-shifting. The SLX brakes are still an industry leader, even in this level of build.
- The Fox 32 fork was solid and the CTD worked well for this bike. I never bothered to run it in C, (Climb), mode but I also had it set with less sag then you might do if this was on a more typical full suspension application. That kept the fork a bit higher in its travel and worked well in T, (Trail), mode even if I stood to climb, something I do quite a bit. I did trade off some suppleness, but on a hard tail, that feels right to me anyway.
I bet that this approach to overall geometry will catch on and makes sense for a lot of riders. It is a bit laid back, but that is more plus than negative, at least for what I see and it keeps it from being another ‘me-too’ alu 29″er hard tail. Having sampled the 69.5° degree Spot bikes and this Trek, I have my interest piqued with this slacker approach. But, for whatever reason, this Stache 8 does it better and feels more balanced over all. Is that G2? Could be. I have noted at least two bikes that are being spec’d with 51mm offset forks this next year, the Turner Czar and the Ibis Ripley. I sampled the Ripley and it was an XC/Med Trail ripper. Now that this fork offset is no longer a Trek only option, we may see this trend continue as bike builders seek to fine tune ride/handling characteristics. The Stache 8 was the first hard tail that I can recall that had me looking for the rougher or techier ‘fun’ lines on any trail.
So the Stache is heading back to the mother ship but I was smitten. I played with the idea of outright copying the geometry of this bike, taking it to a custom builder and doing one in titanium. Just for fun. But that will have to wait till I have way more free shekels. And I seriously considered buying this bike from Trek as I would have changed barely anything over the way the bike was being ridden. Maybe the Team level tires in the same size/tread and a carbon handlebar and that would have been it for changes. Because even though the custom Ti would have satisfied my ego, the Stache as is would have been just as much fun. There is that word again. I even have my ‘fun face’ on in the next pic, can’t you tell?
Note: Trek Bikes sent over this Stache 8 at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches for test and review. We are not being paid, nor bribed for these reviews and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.