The complaint with 29+ to date? The wheel size can feel unmanageable and the bikes that use them ride like monster trucks. Three years in development, the new Trek Stache—a nimble hardtail built around 29-inch wheels mounted with three-inch tires—has none of these issues.
Trek managed the feat by engineering the bike with a super short rear end—its 420mm chainstays are tighter than those on many standard 29- and 27.5-inch bikes. They went to great lengths to make it so, creating an elevated chainstay on the drive side of the bike so they could suck in the wheel. It makes for a snappy ride, though the design also means this frame can only be run with 1x drivetrains, which is worth considering if you need a bigger gear range.
We took possession of a Stache 9 ($3,879) about a month ago, and we’ve been surprised by how versatile it’s proven on the local trails around Santa Fe. We have a good variety of terrain out the front door, everything from fast, flat, quick-steering desert rippers to high-mountain trails with miles-long, grinding climbs and gravelly descents punctuated by bedded rock features and passages of loose baby heads. The Stache has eaten up every inch of trail we’ve shown it and, unlike many hardtails, never felt limited on the rocky stuff. The plus-size tires grip the trail like Velcro, especially on descents, though we have noticed that the rear end of the bike spins out a bit on loose climbs, a fact we attribute to the short chain stays.
Unlike Surly’s original 29+, the Krampus, which was great for open-mile cruising but had a long top tube and a big turning radius, the Stache is compact and chipper and feels like it wants to play. The top tube is quite short and the head angle fairly slack, at 68.4 degrees, which, combined with a dropper post, make for a bike that’s stable bombing fast descents and confident on techy bits. We found ourselves looking for every root and kicker to pop off of on the Stache, though once in the air, you do feel the extra weight and, more importantly, circumference of the wheels. Still, it’s a very different ride than the Krampus, and a lot more like the Niner ROS9+.
Other details that made an impression include the new Chupacabra tires, which at 890 grams aren’t much heavier than most good trail tires. This contributes to the bikes overall perky feeling, and the traction is quite good in spite of the very small tread, though we’re also looking forward to more brands bringing out some knobbier, plus-size rubber. The Manitou Magnum 34 Pro fork is confident and butter smooth without feeling like an anchor up front. Based on the solid performance, we hope more companies will start taking a look at Manitou’s offerings.
The only real critique we have is with the wheel set, and especially the 50mm-wide Sun Ringlé Mulefüt rims. These work fine and set up tubeless easily, but they're hardly lightweight. They are solid spec for the price, but we can’t help but feel that this bike will really come alive with a set of light wheels (for instance the Ibis 941s), which should add carving stiffness and confidence while cutting a few pounds off bike's overall 28.5-pound weight. That’s an easy upgrade, and Trek wisely leaned toward the budget-minded with the three models, including our model as well as the Stache 7 29+ ($2,519) and Stache 5 29+ ($1,760). In the same vein, however, we look forward to a carbon frame option down the line, which will also up the Stache 29+’s performance.
Specs aside, we’re left thinking that plus-size bikes are the future of hardtails. Sure, flat-out race bikes will always go smaller and lighter. But for the average rider, the additional grip and comfort of the oversize tires can’t be beat. Without going into the debate over 29+ versus 27.5+—after all, it’s early days in that competition, and it may just come down to rider size and preference—we can confidently say that we’re not likely to own a hardtail without plus-size wheels ever again.