Bike Test: Trek Stache 9

It’s safe to say the Trek Stache was the most talked-about bike at the 2015 Sea Otter Classic. With some of our staff being strong believers in the 29+ size, we initially feared the plethora of 27.5+ offerings among 2016 model lines would steal the limelight from the largest of plus-size tires. Luckily, it only took Trek unveiling its new plus-size Stache in a giant snow globe for the 29+ size to once again have heads turning, but this time as a snappy trailbike with limitless traction and playful geometry.

 

WHO IS IT MADE FOR?

We know we’ve been using this phrase a lot lately, but the Trek Stache really is a “fun bike” for the rider who’s looking to get out and experience the trails in a totally different way. Although the unique experience of the plus-sized fun bike has typically come with toned-down speed and a much more planted style of riding (and a little extra goofiness), the Trek Stache now offers an extremely playful geometry for riders looking to send just as many obstacles as they would on other hardtails, only with a little more traction along the way. Riders will enjoy the Stache most if they understand that it provides a unique and fun experience, but one where they can still find themselves holding on for dear life if they choose to push it hard enough.

Grazing on rocks: Our test rider’s spirit animal would certainly be a mountain goat, but we also believe any rider would see trail obstacles in a totally different light from the saddle of a Trek Stache. It inspires fun, whether you like it or not!

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

Aluminum through and through, the Stache is designed to offer stiffness at an affordable price. It’s not the bike we’d choose to grab on race day, so we appreciate that they didn’t use carbon for this top-of-the-line build, which kept the price down a bit. The asymmetrical design of the rear stays is the most notable of the frame’s features. It’s designed to provide snappy geometry atop 29+ tires. Utilizing a “mid-stay” rather than a typical chainstay, the drive-side stay attaches to the seat tube above the chainline without needing to provide the additional space needed by a chainstay between the tire and chainring. This enabled Trek to bring the tire incredibly close to the seat tube and offer a 29+ bike with a mere 16.5-inch chainstay length. Of all the cool features on the new Stache, it’s safe to say the mid-stay is the defining one.

Meeting in the middle: Trek utilized a mid-stay design that attaches higher on the seat tube in order to allow for shorter chainstays.

WHAT CAUGHT OUR EYE?

The Stache 9 looks inviting and capable from tire to tire. It makes a statement with its massive tires and blacked-out frame accented by minimal, yet loud, decals. Keeping up with the industry-wide push first introduced by Trek last year, both the front and rear hubs sport Boost sizing, with 110-millimeter front spacing and 148-millimeter rear spacing. The Manitou Magnum Pro fork has a stout appearance with its wide crown, and begs to be put through its paces like the new kid on the block it is. It’s essentially the poster child for all the plus-size models out there and has left many wondering what Manitou is now offering after years of being on the back burner. The internal routing of the dropper post and rear derailleur is a nice touch, but left us wishing the remaining cables were also internally routed through the downtube.

Winning combination: Sun Ringle Mulefut 50SL wheels and Bontrager Chupacabra tires keep the ride forgiving, yet fast-rolling and lightweight.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Moving out: Plus-size tires require riders to be precise with their pressures, considering that a single psi can alter the total tire pressure by 10 percent or more. While some riders may find a little less pressure to be ideal for their style of riding, we found 10 psi in the front and 11 psi in the rear to provide optimal traction while minimizing tire roll through G-out corners. The star ratchet in our rear hub began slipping during the first ride, but it was simply a spring-engagement issue. Don’t sweat it if you encounter the same problem; your local Trek dealer will quickly get it sorted out.

Avoiding commitment: Not sure about a dedicated 29+ bike? Stranglehold dropouts allow for the use of 29+, 27.5+ or standard 29-inch tires. They also provide proper tensioning for individuals looking to run a single-speed setup.

Climbing: It’s easy to get a glimpse of the massive tires (with an overall diameter of 30.2 inches) and expect them to slowly crawl up the climbs, but that wasn’t the case. Sure, they’re slow to get rolling, but the momentum of such massive tires keeps them rolling fast without the rolling resistance of larger full-fat tires. Will it beat a hardtail with standard 29-inch tires up the hill? Probably not, but it’ll certainly be chomping at the back tire of such a bike. Remember, this isn’t a bike designed to arrive at the destination first; it’s designed to get the rider there wearing a wider smile than the rest of the crew. Furthermore, we vouch for its ability to pull us up loose punches that left us scouring the trail for more traction on our standard trailbikes. We’re all familiar with the small amount of travel in the Climb mode of full-suspension bikes that allows the rear tire to conform to terrain rather than bounce; plus-size tires provide the same function for hardtails.

Switchback swivel: Tight switchbacks were no match for the playful Stache. It was also light and nimble enough to pull off the ground if a corner was so tight it required a hop or two.

Cornering: Simply put, the Stache finds traction in ways we didn’t know were possible. We started our rides in the back of the pack, thinking we’d hold up anybody behind us. To our surprise, we found ourselves nearly tagging the rider in front of us in each corner and wondering, “Why did they hit the brakes there? Oh, wait, they’re not running a 3-inch-wide tire up front with only 10 psi in it.” As we mentioned earlier, tire pressure is crucial and can lead to noticeable oversteering if not monitored, but once you find the sweet spot, it leaves the trail sticky as honey.

Return to sender: This goes out to all the naysayers out there who are under the impression 3-inch tires will keep them glued to the ground. The Stache certainly hugged the trail in corners, but was also ready for lift-off at a moment’s notice.

Descending: The incredibly short chainstays deliver a playful experience. The front end of the bike pulls up with ease, but also comes down with proper support, as the custom valving of the Manitou Magnum Pro fork provides a supple top end that limits the use of the undamped travel provided by the big ol’ tires. There’s something to be said for a bike that begs to be thrown around, yet provides properly damped support whenever it’s time to make contact with the trail. The 29+ tires aren’t utilized simply for novelty, either, as their massive diameters eat up obstacles with an insatiable hunger. It’s a unique experience to be riding something so different from the norm yet still be riding as fast as we would on a standard trailbike—or even faster in some conditions.

The mid-fat solution: The Manitou Magnum Pro may be the first production plus-size fork, accepting tires up to 3.4 inches wide, but there’s more to it than just size. Such as its incremental volume adjustment, which allows riders to change the fork’s progression of damping in a short and simple process.

Always boostin’ it: The 110-millimeter axle spacing of the Manitou Magnum fork provides room for a stiff Boost 110 front hub. This enables offset spoke holes in the rim to still deliver a similar spoke angle to that of a 100-millimeter hub laced to a wheel with spoke holes that aren’t offset.

TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?

Our favorite feature of the Stache is also our sole criticism. The short chainstays may have allowed us to feel comfortable boosting off some hefty obstacles, but the landings were often accompanied by a harrowing noise that left us wondering if we had just snapped a frame. With the mid-stay being so close to the chainline, the two smacked against each other whenever we were riding in the lowest half of the gear range. We suggest wrapping the stay in a hefty coating of 3M 2228 tape to help silence the racket. While the Bontrager Chupacabra tires provide impressive traction in nearly all conditions and are very fast rolling, we did rip through a set of sidewalls during our testing period.

BUYING ADVICE

Not sure about the whole 29+ concept and find it difficult committing to such a purchase? The Stranglehold dropout provides riders with the option to run 29+, 27.5+ or standard 29-inch tires in the frame. The Stache is also available at two lower price points, including a $1760 fully rigid model with a 10-speed drivetrain. It may be difficult to take our “You’ll love this bike!” advice, so let the Stache do the talking. Whether you’re a believer in the whole plus-size movement or not, we highly recommend stopping by your local Trek dealer and taking one out for a spin. You may just find yourself returning home with a fresh bike in tow.