We begin where we ended last time…on trail with the Stache 9.  Simi Valley, Cal.

I cannot remember a bike I more anticipated hitting my doorstep than the Trek Stache 9, a uniquely designed 29+ aluminum hardtail that also happens to run 27+ set-ups (all need to be Boost standard hubs).  We got it out of the box here, and hit the trails without delay.

I have ridden it now under typical So Cal summer trail conditions, both on open fireroad and singletrack and taken it up and down rock stepped trails to see what even bigger diameter wheels do for you in decently techy sections.  And now that the bike is in the large hands of JeffJ to ride for a bit, I have some thoughts to share on the Stache 9 and on 29+ et al.  It is also good timing in that I was able to, within the same time period, get on two 27+ bikes, one a very similar hardtail in a Scott Bikes Scale 27+ model, so I have that to compare the 29+ to.  And as well, I have been on a steel hardtail in a very traditional 29er to fit in between the two plus sized bookends.  Here we go then.

First off, kudos to Trek for doing an amazing job of packaging that 29+ tire and wheel combo into as small/short a ‘box’ as could be.  Looking at the frame and the engineering that went into that, the shapes, the dimensions, and how it all was pulled together on the trail is very impressive.  I predict no one else will do that as well as they did with the Stache 9, although some may try.  If you think it took some work to make a 29er feel nimble on trail, you better buckle up with 29+ because it is even more…well more ‘MORE’, than a normal 29er.  So how did it work for me on trail?

SPY vs. SPY, perhaps?  3.0  29+ Chupacabra and a 2.3" 29er tire.

SPY vs. SPY, perhaps? 3.0 29+ Chupacabra and a 2.3″ 29er tire.

Rolling out on some pavement to get to the trail head, you look down at the front wheel and go “wow…that is a big wheel!”.  With 13psi in there and the fork set up on the first try…it took a bit of tweaking to get that sweet spot with that very tunable Manitou Magnum…it actually moved along pretty well, but you can tell you are accelerating a big hoop.  However, compared to a 3.8″ or bigger Fat Bike tire, it is pretty fast feeling for sure.  Once in the dirt, in this case a slightly uphill gravel road, it was surprising how little pedaling energy it took to keep your speed up and bits of sand and gravel just went pretty much unnoticed.  That’s cool.  One would expect a nearly 31″ tall tire to roll out like crazy and it does.  It’s a new momentum king in that regard and if my rides were full of crumbly, loose soils, this tire size would be way high on my list.  However a quick foray into some pretty deep sand showed me I was not on a full Fat Bike and although I made it through the sand trap, it was dicey and took a lot of energy where the full fatty would have been pretty casual about it.  Fair enough.  Better than a 2.3 29er on a wide rim…not as better as a 3.8 (or bigger) on a truly wider rim, etc.

You really know that the rear wheel is tucked underneath you.  Wheelies are so easy it is silly, so getting the front end up over something is dead simple.  The Stache 9 also feels smaller than you would expect, and hustling it down tight technical trails is not bad at all, but I never forgot I was riding biggy wheels either, for good and for bad.  More on that in a bit.  Standing out of the saddle and grinding up a steep climb was very good really…snappy even, in a slightly plump way, but I also noticed some tire based self steer when I shifted my weight more forward.  Not self steer like a full on Fat Bike has, but enough to where it just would catch me off guard and sometimes I would miss my intended line by a couple of inches due to it.  I note that not because it is significant really, but that I never felt this at all with the 27+ hardtail I rode and that had a pretty big 2.8″ knobby on it.  Is a 3.0″ tire over the line a bit and beginning to have its own idea on what path to take?  Not sure.

It is a bit balloon-ey, if you will, but after fiddling with the Manitou fork, which has a custom tune to work with that bigger, low PSI tire, I came to a good place with it and never found it to moon bounce me very much.  The ride overall is a bit, well harsh is not quite the word really, not with 3.0 tires at 13psi, but those very short stays and alu frame do conspire to an abrupt ride once you hit something hard enough to go beyond the flex of the tire sidewall.  It would surprise me sometimes and at speed you do have to keep things in check as the big wheels really get rolling and you feel a bit bulletproof. Then you hit a sharp impact or deeper roller to be reminded you are on a pretty short hardtail with a 110mm travel fork.  It tends to ‘buck you’ if you are not weighting the bike right.  But aside from that, handling is pretty dialed and it is great fun to ride.  Cornering traction is so high that you really have to re-calibrate your on-board sensors as I continually found I was using too much brakes going into turns.  Even on kitty litter/gravel over hardpack, those small knobbied tires never felt like they would slip or slide.  It almost feels boring.

Rock sections like this were easily assailable uphill and even better downhill.

Rock sections like this were easily assailable uphill and even better downhill.

Climbing too has loads of hookup although you have to manage your body position to keep that front wheel down.  Still, I never found anything that stopped me if I was able to keep pedaling.  One would think that the stock tires are a bit mild for good traction, and I am sure they are in mud or greasy conditions, but that footprint is huge and loooong so it’s laying down a lot of rubber on the dirt.

Some bullet points as they come to me:

The Good

  • As I said before…kudos to Trek for overcoming obstacles in the path to making what likely will be the benchmark 29+ playbike hard tail. The details in the frame are quite impressive.
  • It’s pretty light too, enough so to not be a pig on the hills and even to ride all day if you were so inclined.
  • 29+ has to be the king of rollability.  Big mo.
  • It’s a fun bike, it really is, as long as you know what to expect.  Little boosts off of lips and bumps are easy…slide the real wheel out a bit…manuals, etc  Playful for certain.
  • It feels decently normal, so if you thought a Fat Bike was for you but it ended up being too much, this might be the trick.

The Not So Good (you know there has to be some)

  • When was the last time you saw a bike with super short chainstays live a long time in the marketplace?  Thinking back in time, I remember that Gary Fisher 26″ bike with what I recall were 15.5″ chainstays.  Sure, you could climb almost anything when standing up and turn on a dime, but that bike was not a commercial success.  There were others too, all of them long gone. And with the exception of some AM hardtail that needs to have that short rear/long pushed out front geometry (and this bike is even shorter than those typically are), you do not see super short chainstays in the general population of MTBs, 29er or otherwise.  Why?  For one thing it is not a well balanced set up.  What you gain in agility you lose in stability, although those 31″ tall tires are some big gyroscopes of stableness.  You also lose a lot of ride quality and that rear wheel on a supershort stay will hop around and jackhammer you a bit.  I was surprised how, on some sections of trail that were almost Moab-ish rock, how impacts were coming right through the bike and up in to me.  In comparison, the steel 29er I am on with normal 2.2″ tires is smoother.  Driveline is compromised.  On the Stache 9, with the SRAM 1×11, if I was in the 42T cog and I backpedaled more than a quick 1/4 ratchet move, the chain would walk off the cog.  Annoying.  You need to be way up on the nose of the saddle to climb steep pitches.  Those 420mm stays are perhaps what is required to make the bike do what it does, but there is a cost.
  • It might be a bit overgeared.  I found the stock 30T front chainring to be barely adequate when combined with an even taller tire, giving me an effectively taller gear.  But that depends on where you live and who you are I suppose.
  • Sometimes those big 29+ tires would feel like a 12 year old with size 13 feet…despite the best intentions, they would just feel awkward.  If I kept my speed up over rock ledges and sections, it would roll through.  Drop offs were casual.  But slow down too much and it felt a bit like clown feet at times…stalled out and hard to get going again.
  • I hit my calves on the seat stays, not always, but quite often.  I have pretty big calves so maybe it is me, but another journalist I was talking to had the same experience and on a larger scale.


So here I am in a different place than I expected to find myself.  I thought that I would love 29+ and this bike even more so.  I find that I am questioning 29+ and where it fits in.  I also found that while the bike is very good at what it is, I am not smitten.  And I think it comes down to a couple of things.

  • Just because you can do something does not mean you should.  If what it takes to make 29+ be a nimble play bike are chainstays so short that they compromise the bike then maybe the bike should be 27+?  Is 29+ the killer app for bikepacking on a rigid, steel 29er?  Quite likely, but that type of bike will not be boosting off of every bump in the trail either.  So if it turns out to be a bit stable and long, so what?  Quite possibly 29+ is a bridge too far for this trailbike format.
  • Where I live is not really Plus bike country.  Long climbs on scrabbly fireroads and over hardbaked trails are not really suited for Plus.  So a lot of the bennies of 29+ get lost out here IMO.  Now if I lived in Moab?  That would be different.  All those ledges and sand traps?  Oh man.  Horses for courses.  Here a standard 29er wheel and tire, especially on a 30mm internal rim and tubeless…pretty darn good.  I grabbed a wheel off of a bike (30mm wide internal rim, alloy, nothing too fancy and a 2.2 real knobby run tubeless) and compared it to the front wheel of the Stache 9…it was 11 oz heavier on the Stache.  Now that is with a tube in the 29+, but I bet it takes a good deal of sealant to make that plus tire happy and sealant weighs something too.  I am paying a lot here for something that is not paying me back a good deal of the time.
  • I have ridden 27+.  And I cannot imagine any trail bike situation I am likely to see where I would prefer a 29+ tire over that.  Now I am talking about a real 27+ tire like the Nobby Nic 2.8″, not some wimpy semi-slick Plus tire.  So while you can run 27+ in the Stache 9, it would be an extra cost to do so.

And so here is where I stand, and you may say,”Grannygear, you are full of it.”  Perhaps I am, but it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than where I ended up.  In the end, as well done as this Stache 9 is, and it is very well done, hitting all the targets they set out to hit…light, playful, fun…it is not my 29+ tall cup of tea.  In fact, in the last image shown below, we have JeffJ and the Stache 9 posed head to head with his personal Stache 8 build.  To me, that Stache 8 is a better So Cal bike than the 9.  Now I bet there are folks in the woods of some eastern state that will run to the Stache 9 and pass on the longer, yet capable Stache 8.  And there I leave it, hopefully with some perspective to see where I am coming from.  Although flawed, the Stache 9 is hardly a ‘bad’ bike and for some, the “flaws” I see as such might be to their favor…super short stays, biggy tall wheel/tire combo, etc.

Now JeffJ is next up. He might have a completely different take on things than I, so stay tuned.



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Note: The Trek bicycle shown here was sent for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being paid nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.