For many years I have been coveting a fat bike. From my house at Kolb and Sunrise I can go out the back door and ride to my office at River and Campbell and only cross two residential roads. I will frequently ride down to the Tanque Verde Wash and have been known to ride a mile or two in the river bed, but it is slow going and requires a “solid” effort. I’ve had this idea that on a fat bike I could create a completely traffic free commute and the opportunity availed itself in a demo bike from Trek.
Trek makes the Farley, a true fat bike with 4 and 5 inch wide 26 inch tires. It even comes with a carbon option for all the weight weenies. For what I wanted to do this would be ideal. However, the bike Trek had available was the Stache 9, a type of bike I did not know existed. Trek’s website says The “ Stache is an all-new species of 29+ mountain bike performance. The wide 3″ tires grip relentlessly, amplifying all the benefits of 29ers, while remarkably short chainstays deliver a fun, lively ride.
Want the capability of a full suspension trail bike in a simple hardtail package, plus the extra benefits of 29+ tires? Then you were born to ride the Stache.”
I had requested the use of a Fat Bike not only for the commute, but also to participate in the Sandbox Showdown. This annual race/ride is in the washes around Tucson that includes numerous stops at local watering holes as well as some pop up bars that one routinely finds in the washes during the Sandbox Showdown. It is a rather spirited group, and I wanted to ride and document the event as a participatory journalist.
The Sandbox Showdown course was a good test for the Stache 9 and it’s ability in the washes, climbing and on single track.. After a few miles on the road we quickly dove into a small overgrown side wash. I’m not sure what wash, but if I was to name it, I’d call it Rabbit wash for the old half buried VW Rabbit frame. At times it was a thicket, scratching our legs and arms so we would have memories of the ride or weeks to come. After two hours and 6 miles we hit a dirt road that was about 48 degrees incline and looked much longer than I wanted it to be. Not only can the Stache float on sand, but being 28.5 pounds it is easy to spin up a hill and it climbs like a Billy goat. We were rewarded for the climb with the descent on the 50 year trail back to Catalina State Park. When we hit the downhill on the single track I fell in love with 29+. With 3 inches it absorbed everything the trail threw my way. If I over shot the trail by a little I could not feel it. I quickly found myself taking turns at speeds I would not feel comfortable doing on any other bike. Fun, fast, free flowing single track makes me happy.
I called the Sandbox Showdown a ride/race because it is both. Some of the riders started hard and finished early. Others, like those in the group I was with, were more content to stop every 10 minutes for a cold beverage. I’m still not sure how they produced so much ice cold beer in the middle of the desert and it never ran dry, but that is part of the magic one finds in this event. I do know the ranger’s store was open at Catalina State Park and that the ice cream was delicious. As we left the Park it was becoming clear to me that I still had 15 miles to go, it was 3 in the afternoon, we were averaging 3-4 miles an hour and I was supposed to be home at 5. As much as I did not want to leave the party, it was my daughter’s birthday and I needed to be home on time. The Canyon Del Oro Wash has sand, sand and deeper sand but when you drop the hammer on the Stache it just floated over the top of it all. At times, it felt like I was on a pavement. I managed not only to finish the last 15 miles in just over an hour, but had time for an ice cold beverage at Chuy’s with the “fast” riders and was home with 3 minutes to spare.
The Sandbox Showdown was nearly 30 miles. It was so much fun I wanted to go out and explore some of my other favorite trails to see how the Stache would handle different terrain. Fortunately, due to the holiday season, my not returning any calls from the guys at Trek and disconnecting my phone I was able to hang onto the bike for a few extra weeks.
The first test was the commute to the office. I live about 9 miles from Long Realty where I work. On the road bike I can get there in about 20-25 on the Loop. I commuted 4 times while I had the Stache and my best time was 55 minutes. However, I knew it was going to take longer, so that was fine. The clarity of mind that I was able to achieve on the commute was purifying. It was an physical effort, my legs and arms were covered with scratches, but it is the most stress free riding. No cars. Like 0. None. Nada. Zip. It was just wide open spaces and spinning. When I received the Stache it had rained hard the day before. The wash was like a road. I found myself pushing over 20 miles an hour on some sections. The bike just floated across the surface. As the weeks have passed since it rained and horses, walkers and dogs have pot marked the entire wash, it is not nearly as fast. I continually look for smooth and hard packed sand towards the edges of the wash, even if it means rubbing against brush as it makes the riding so much easier. Some of the time it is slow going, but if I put in the power I roll through it.
One evening I was stuck in the office late and was forced to hammer it home on the Loop and roads. I popped in Az Cyclist and pumped the tires to 20 PSI. My best time on my road bike for the commute is 24 minutes. I finished on the Stache at 33 minutes and averaged 15 MPH. What was interesting was that I was in the hardest gear, going up hill and it did not feel like I was killing myself.
In the washes there are many obstacles known as grass, plants, trees, shrubs, cactus and the like. It is possible to avoid these by riding in the middle of the wash. However, that is often a major physical effort. Surprisingly, on some of the slightly higher parts of the wash there is hard packed single track. Trail maintenance is a foreign concept on these trails and they often end abruptly with knee and waist high obstacles or low hanging branches. There are only a few areas I would not feel comfortable riding the Stache Over, through or under and that is because the trees have razor sharp thorns on the branches. As soon as you discover which ones to avoid, the bike will happily plow its own trail.
The November Business Builder Bike Ride was on the Arizona trail heading south from The Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead. I learned a very valuable lesson about the Stache on this ride. If a friend says “can I try the new 29+ bike out”, don’t let him. Phillip was gone in a flash and I did not see him for many miles. I’m glad it was an out and back ride so he was forced to meet up with me. The grin on his face from the “best ride he had been on” almost made me forgive him for robbing me of the opportunity to ride the most free flowing section of single track in Southern Arizona on the Stache. If the shoe was on the other foot, I’m not sure I would have returned the Stache for the ride back. Fortunately for me, he did and the journey back to the Gabe Z trailhead was most pleasant. Featuring open trails with a good line of sight and gentle curves the Stache was every bit as fast as my Santa Cruz tallboy. As it hit some of the tighter turns there was no need to slow as it hugged the trail.
The November SDMB social ride really excited me for putting the Stache through its paces. Reddinton Road offers a long steady climb, but we unfortunately drove up to the parking lot. I was able to hitch a ride and park at the bottom so I was able to blast down it at the end. I have ridden in this area a half dozen times. It is often over grown and the trail disappears in front of you. On one section it is a solid climb with water bars. Many are only 4-8 inches high and a few a foot or more, but they are on inclines, and somewhat technical to get over. I have never been able to ride this section on any other bike. However, the Stache rolled up everything. I did spin out on one water bars, but that was more of a me not shifting my weight than the bike not being able to mount it. On the descent it rolled over eroded areas and crevasses in the middle of the trail as if they were completely smooth. On the ride down Reddinton road I had a Personal Record and that time included putting my bike on the rack and driving the last section. I think if I had not stopped it would have easily contended for a top 10 finish. It’s likely on the straight away my time was slower than on other bikes and I would have liked a harder gear, but I have never been able to hit switchbacks with so much speed.
One huge advantage of the Stache over a 4 inch wide Fat bike is that it fit snugly into my Thule T2 platform Bike rack. The Secure-hook on the front just barely clears the front wheel and I need to angle the bike slightly forward to get it out, but it did not require special hard wear as many over sized bikes do. I’m not sure the brand, but it fit on the platform rack when I caught the shuttle up Reddington Rd for the SDMB ride.
Now for the issues with the Stache 9. First and foremost, this is a demo bike and I need to return it to the Trek demo fleet. At $3,800 retail it is a little more than I have in the bike kitty at this time. I offered Trek $1,700, but they did not bite. I even explained that I had pushed this bike to the extreme and it was now a very used bike and really not worth more than a grand. Seriously, I really needed to search for issues with the Stache 9. The first I discovered was if you grab it in the wrong place, when placing it on the bike rack, it has an ability to smash your finger. It only took two throbbing digits to become aware of that and it has not happened again. The other two are likely issues of any Fat bike. In order to accommodate the fatter tires the frame needs to be bumped out. I have grown a solid black and blue patch on the inside of my thigh where my leg hits the frame. I have been trying to pay attention to what type of riding is causing this, and I do feel my leg hitting it on occasion, but not hard enough to bruise. If I owned the bike I might look at add some custom padding. The other issue is the balance and weight distribution at high speeds when turning. The front wheel seems to displace the balance in an unusual location. I’m trying to figure this one out, and think it is a low tire pressure issue with the amount of rubber on the road(after writing this I jacked the PSI up and this issue disappeared)
After nearly one month and 150 miles on the Stache 9 I am a huge fan. Looking back, the moments that were the best were climbing the water bars, skimming over the surface of the Rilitto at 20 plus miles an hour, rolling through switchbacks at high speed, railing trail at Fantasy Island, AZ Trail, 50 Year and all the other single track I devoured. If I only had one Mountain Bike, I feel a Stache 9 is diverse enough to be that bike. I’m certain I would not win any races, but for the pure joy of riding a bicycle and the terrain in Southern Arizona, you can’t go wrong with this bike.
Do you want to take a Stache for a spin. Trek has two demo days this weekend, Saturday December 5th from 9AM – 1:00 PM at Fantasy Island in Tucson and At Brown Canyon Trailhead in Sierra Vista on Sunday the 6th from 11:00 – 3PM. They will have a great selection of road and mountain bikes to chose from. Be sure to bring your pedals , helmet and hydration. Personally, I recommend trying the Stache 9.