Since I sold my last full suspension frame in 2011 my riding has become less and less aided by, and reliant on, technology. An advocate of the steel hardtail and a hardened singlespeeder, it was not a surprise to me at least when I started having thoughts of adding a fully rigid bike to my increasingly ‘analogue’ fleet.
Those thoughts started about a year ago when I stumbled upon a growing thread on the STW Forum about a new bike company – Stooge Cycles – and its one-size-fits-all ‘progressive 29er’. The bike ticked a lot of boxes. Beautiful, quirky, steel and cost effective (£450 for frame and fork) to name a few.
I was also in the market for my first 29er (such an early adopter me!) and as such I wanted something a little bit different but with similar charcateristics to my other bikes. I also wanted versatility – something able to cope with regular trail/singletrack riding, long XC jaunts and increasingly regular bikepacking trips. What really struck a chord with me though was a response from Andy Stevenson, the owner of Stooge Cycles to earlier posts on the forum.
“It’s not a mainstream bike, it’s designed to be an incredibly fun bike for riders who want to get back to basics. I think there’s a lot to be said for getting rid of all the modern technology and relying on geometry to make a bike exciting to ride. It won’t be for everyone, but for those that get it, I think you’ll love it.”
Andy Stevenson, owner of Stooge Cycles.
Described as ‘progressive’ in terms of geometry, the Stooge – unsurprisingly that’s what it’s universally known as – takes its design roots from Andy’s love of early BMX’s, and, consciously or not, it does bear a passing resemblance to the frames from Jeff Jones, with its kinked seat tube and arcing seat stays.
But this bike is more about innovation than immitation and, in getting back to Andy’s comments above, it’s about designing a bike that relies more on geometry than technology to improve the handling and ride. The progressive geometry sees a 55mm offset fork for super stable descending and a long (5 inches in old money) head tube which when allied with a decent stack of headset spacers and a short stem keeps the wrists high and the rider towards the rear end. The Stooge is also designed around a three inch wide front tyre and this gives you effectively some free suspension up front with the right combination of rim.
After a few months of virtual admiration and watching the numbers of happy Stooge customers grow across social networks, I couldn’t stand the increasing noise anymore. So earlier this year I contacted Andy with a few specific questions and not long after I was doing my best to explain a rather large box that my wife had signed for!
The build and spec
Given that the cost of the frame and fork combo is relatively cheap, I get the distinct impression from photos and blog posts that the Stooge has become the perfect platform for many people to experiment with plus-sized mountain biking. My own build approach was to use a mix of parts from the garage drawers along with new, size specific components.
The Stooge (or the front of it at least) sits in the 29+ niche – is it a niche anymore? Given the lack of UK tyre availability I’d still say yes! As such it requires – if to be used as Andy designed it – big rubber up front. Designed around the three inch Surly Knard there is thankfully a couple more options now in the UK and I opted for a Maxxis Chronicle which what it lacks in subtle side wall graphics (bloody brash Yanks!) it makes up for in the grip department and is slightly more UK trail firendly over the Knard. It’s also the only tyre I’ve ever ordered that came in its own drawstring holdall!
Addressing other important areas of the Stooge’s handling, I’ve gone with a 50mm Thomson stem and a Salsa Bend 2 bar over 25mm of headset spacers. At the rear end I’ve opted for an inline Thomson seatpost, which gives me a nice comfortable reach. At 5’9″ I sit reasonably in the middle of the acceptable height range.
The full build spec can be seen in the table below, but I opted for a tried and tested Shimano drivechain and brakes and some incredibly good value Superstar wheels, with the rear carrying a 2.3 inch Specialized Purgatory Grid tyre.
The build process was largely straightforward. I’d made it slightly harder on myself by buying most of the components from Germany which meant I had to swap the hoses on the brakes, but in fairness I would have had to have shortened them anyway so I effectively killed two birds with one stone. The only real niggle I had was with the rear brake set-up. A combination of the caliper being mounted ‘inboard’ on the chainstay and the steeply curving seat-stays made it frustratingly difficult to access the rear-most allen bolt and get things aligned as I’d have liked.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not the easiest frame to tape either IF you want to go beyond the ‘usual’ areas for taping. Part of my Stooge’s duties include bikepacking trips so I wanted to make sure it was taped in the areas where my framebag straps onto the tubes. The dual top tube and cable guides made it a pretty fiddly exercise. But as I say, it was a problem of my own choosing!
I would be lying if I said the first ride didn’t leave me wondering if I’d made the right decision to go fully rigid. You know the feeling? You’ve invested in something that on paper and in your head is going to be awesome but initially leaves you slightly underwhelmed. I should say quickly that it was a feeling that didn’t last long. I hadn’t ridden fully rigid for a number of years which was a big factor and the initial ride gave me a chance to experiment with the set-up.
From an initial starting point of 15mm of headset spacers and around 20psi in the monster front end, I’ve settled on 25mm and 15psi as I’ve found this gives the perfect balance for all-round use. Note I’m running standard rims (for now) and so you’d be looking at slightly lower pressures with the likes of a Dually or Rabbit Hole. The higher front end now provides sufficient damping on the rootiest of trails and naturally gets my weight back on the bike, whilst for the bikepacking days it’s a comfortable cockpit with the 23mm backsweep bars, kinder on my back and gives a bit more clearance for bar-mounted bags.
Over the last few months I’ve really dialled into this bike. You quickly learn (or remember?) things about riding rigid. The Stooge’s design and set-up gives me a naturally more rearwards posture when I’m up off the saddle and the approach to bar grip is important too. Having light hands on this bike, with your weight back actually allows you to attack trails with a certain amount of float over obstacles.
It’s a consummate descender; the large contact area of the front tyre combined with the 55mm offset fork gives a very planted and stable feel to things. I should also say it ascends very well too with no lifting of the front wheel when things ramp upwards – probably helped in a large way by the weight of the damn tyre! – and the short chainstays give you a bike that’s incredibly quick to get going from a standing start.
On this bike I’d say attack is the best form of defence. The bike pays sizeable dividends when you attack trails and get that ‘float’ I mentioned. A big part of my initial feeling of doubt came as much from my circuspect approach to the trails – over-cautious of a rigid bike’s capabilities – as it did from an out-of-sync set-up.
Just as the steel frame comes as a one-sze-fits-all option (though a raft of new options are in the offing in both steel and titanium so I understand) the first few months of riding this bike have left me thinking this could easily be a ‘one-bike-fits-all’ option too!
Plans for the Stooge
Over the next few weeks and months I have some plans for the Stooge. I will be replacing the Superstar rims with wider offerings from Velocity. This will increase the volume in both tyres and also allow me to run the front at a lower PSI to help provide better damping qualities. I also plan to run it singlespeed come the winter (so about October!) and I’ve already bought a Surly Dirt Wizard 3″ tyre from the ever excellent Charlie the Bikemonger before they become the next ‘hen’s teeth’ just like the Chronicles previously.
With its mix of retro looks, traditional design elements and progressive geometry the Stooge represents the past, present and what could well be the future of bike design in one package. It’s an incredibly capable and versatile machine. It is at home as much on the twisty, technical sections of singletrack of the Surrey Hills as it is whilst being used on a bikepacking trip carrying a good few extra kilograms of luggage strapped to it.
Riding the Stooge I’m taken back to the days of my first ‘all terrain bike’ on which it’s easy to forget quite what I rode – modest drops, bombholes, pretty much anything I came across. Innovation will mean different things to different people and whilst what’s being created by Andy and Stooge Cycles might be different from the R&D labs of Specialized or SRAM it’s no less important for moving forward an industry and sport we all love and more importantly adds choice along the way. As Andy said, it won’t be for everyone, but for those that ‘get it’, will love it and over the last few months I’ve increasingly ‘got it’.
|Wheels||Superstar DS25 on Switch Evo hubs w/ Deore skewers|
|Tyres||Maxxis Chronicle 3.0; Specialized Purgatory 2.3 (both tubeless)|
|Bar||Salsa Bend 2 (23mm sweep; 710mm)|
|Headset||Chris King 1 1/8|
|Seat post||Thomson 27.2|
|Saddle||SDG Bel Air|
|Seat post clamp||Salsa Flip lock|
|Chainring||Superstar N/W 30T|
|Cassette||Shimano XT 11-36|
|Rear Mech||Shimano SLX Shadow Plus|