April 11, 2013

Totally Unbiased Review: Stupidmobile

First off, just to make sure we’re clear – the manufacturer of this bicycle made me do something like 10 hours of work, for no pay, just so I could ride it. The company made me pay for all the parts as well as powdercoating the frame and didn’t even give me an employee discount. Apparently if I break it, I have to fix it myself.

Bastards.

Sorry about all the shadows. 

So I decided to name it “Stupidmobile”. Why? Well, mostly because this bike has the most ridiculously short chainstays you’ve ever heard of (40 cm, or 394cm if measured horizontally). A 2.1″ 29er tire only has 15mm of clearance to the BB shell itself. There’s not much way to go a whole lot shorter and for someone who has a 36″ inseam, the whole idea of chainstays this short is… well, stupid. Right?

Well, not so fast. My first ride (around the block, in the rain) had me pretty worried – so much so that I pulled out the angle finder to check things over, because it seemed MUCH too twitchy for a bike with a 69 degree head tube angle. After confirming things were right, a little cogitation solved the mystery: I had been riding exclusively on the cargo bike (7′ wheelbase!) all winter. Any “normal” single bike was going to feel weird.

Nevertheless, I was still nervous last week when the trails dried out enough to get some real rides in. I set out to find out just how stupid Stupidmobile actually was by riding a number of variations on our local (literally a 10 minute ride from the door) trail system. The Shoreline trail is mostly bench cut singletrack on steep, semi-rocky (limestone) soil. It occasionally wanders up a drainage (the Dry Creek section is a classic) or a mountain (Mt. Van Cott is a fun way to cough up a lung) and it features what might be the most fun section of singletrack in Utah – the Bobsled (yes, it’s really berms the whole way, yes, those guys are jerks for riding it when it’s muddy). Long story short, it’s got most of your types of XC terrain to test frame geometry.

I have to admit that at first, I wasn’t riding the bike very well. I was oversteering everything due to the super short wheelbase – the bike steers much quicker than you’d expect from something with a 69 degree head tube angle and coming from an FS bike (my main ride in 2012) with almost an extra 1.5″ of wheelbase, it was a bit of a shock. If you leave your butt in the saddle over any kind of rough terrain the tucked-under rear wheel will let you know in a hurry by attempting to eject you. I managed to not crash up the Dry Creek climb and figured I’d take it easy on the Bobsled. Unfortunately, I was with my buddy Paz Ortiz who is not only the only non-douche realtor I know in SLC but also a really badass descender and enduro/SuperD racer. He and I always duke it out on the descents so I ended up riding way faster than I should have.

Man, that rear tire is close to that bottom bracket. 

The results were stunningly awesome. Stupidmobile’s short wheelbase let me rip through the berms and the slack front end made things manageable on the rougher and straighter stuff (though to be fair I think a longer bike would be better on the rough/fast/straight sections). I’ve got experience with this type of geometry and in fact I’ve been riding similar bikes for years – but I figured there would be diminishing returns under 42cm or so of chainstay length and 42″ wheelbase (at least for me). I was wrong. The bike is probably not *faster* on most terrain but it’s not slower than a longer bike either and it’s super, duper fun for trails where jumping, flying, and general silliness are your goal. Would you be faster in a race? Probably not – the bike is pretty unforgiving of mistakes and a poorly executed bunnyhop that comes up short over a log or rock is going to result in an ass-over-teakettle disaster. I don’t even want to imagine how hard it would be to keep things under control after a few hard climbing efforts with your whole body exhausted and your brain on autopilot. It would be bad.

But for rides under 2 hours, or short races, or anything where the goal is fun and not playing chicken with your lactate threshold? Awesome. I love it, I don’t regret a thing. I’d recommend it to customers, even, with a few caveats (see the bullet points below).

Awesome stuff:


-Very “intuitive” and hip/lean steering action. If body english is your preferred steering method, this is the kind of bike for you. If you like to jump over/wheelie over/roll up the berm to the side of obstacles, this geometry will help you do it.

-Great climbing traction whether standing or sitting. Man, there’s a lot of weight on that rear wheel.

-It’s very easy to unweight the front wheel (shocking, I know) for getting up over obstacles whether you’re going uphill or down.

-Just plain fun. But then again, it’s a mountain bike. Pretty much all mountain bikes are fun unless you’re a seriously grouchy individual.

Not much creativity from the Waltworks photography div. on display here.

Not so awesome:


-Mistakes will be punished severely. If you come up short on that jump over the little rocky section your dentist will be getting another mistress and/or boat, probably. Kidding aside, this is a terrible geometry for riding where you’ll be trying to go fast when you’re not fresh and alert. You need to be on the gas and be paying attention to your lines because the bike won’t bail you out of a lot of mistakes that a longer one would.

-Unless your technique is very good or you run a very low bar position, it’s hard to keep the front wheel down on some steep climbs. The lack of weight on the front wheel and general high trail number mean that this bike does want to wander on slow technical climbing – those who really enjoy that type of stuff may want an adjustable travel fork or a bit different geometry. It’s not unmanageable but it’s also far from a perfect climbing bike.

-This frame requires a zero-dish (hub offset to the driveside by 5mm) rear wheel and you can *only* run an outboard position (~56mm chainline) ring. That means no crank mounted bashguard (ISCG can be done, though) and no front derailleur. XX1 cranks are a no-go. A Rohloff hub could work reasonably well as they use a 54mm chainline if you are a planetary gears kind of person.
EDIT: Actually, with a 28t MRP bling ring running at 51mm chainline, XX1 will work. In theory you could avoid the offset rear end here.

-Even with the whole rear end moved outboard to line up with the ring the chainline is not especially good in the highest or lowest gear. The stays are so short that the angle just gets extreme. I’ve had good luck running 9 out of 10 cogs on a 10 speed cassette, which is plenty for me, but those who want a full range will not be happy with the drivetrain performance. Singlespeeders will have no problems. EDIT: With a 28t Bling Ring, chainline is much better and I get full use of all 10/11 gears.

-Tire clearance is somewhat limited – a 2.3 will fit fine but anything bigger is a tight squeeze. Adding 5mm to the chainstays or using an 83mm BB shell (which brings another set of issues that I won’t go into now) would take care of this.

So bottom line: I love this bike. I like it even better than my previous short-stay setup from a few years ago and for the right rider (ie more interested in having fun on 2 hour rides than absolute speed or 24 hour solo sufferfests) I think this sort of geometry is a great fit.

I should also note that the new Paragon Polydrops (which Mark asked me to test prototypes of with this frame) are working great after probably 15 hours of riding and I’m happy to build with them (no extra charge) for anyone who is interested. They are probably not the ideal dropout for this bike due to their length (makes it hard to use the second bend on s-bend chainstays to get any heel clearance) but they offer some cool flexibility in terms of bike setup and I have had zero problems with them thus far. Most riders may prefer the low mount or classic DR2010 (or sliders for the singlespeed crowd) but that’s a decision that’s complex enough that I’m not going to go into it here.

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