There’s nothing quite like New Bike Day. Opening the box to take a proper look at the bike I’ve ordered is always interesting and exciting. The anticipation of sitting on it and checking the size, tweaking the angles of the brake levers, sorting the bars… it’s always good fun. And then there’s riding it. I love taking a new bike onto the trails for the first time to see how it feels and handles in comparison to other bikes. This Stif Squatch is my first hardtail too.
I’ve done things ‘backwards’ in comparison to a lot of people. My first mountain bike since riding as a child was a full suspension cross-country bike. From there, I purchased my dream bike – a Santa Cruz Bronson – and that’s been a brilliant all rounder for the last few years. It’s still a wonderful bike but when it’s in for a service it means I can’t ride trails; it’s gravel or road only. I’ve missed having two mountain bikes to choose from. In truth though, the Specialized Camber and the Bronson didn’t really offer too much of a choice. It seemed to me that the Bronson was usually the best option of the two, almost regardless of the type of riding I’d be doing. So, I sold the Camber and just rode the Bronson everywhere. Eventually, I thought it was time to grab a hardtail.
Ideally, I’d like to work more on my line choices and I feel a hardtail will help me with that. Ploughing over stuff is a little bit less of an option than it is with the full bounce. Not only that but I’m tending to ride a lot of sharp climbs at the minute. A hardtail, without the pedal bob, will simply allow me to convert more of my energy into momentum uphill. Having an extra bike also means that I can bring along friends and family who don’t currently own a bike, or who are just visiting the area. If you’re here reading this blog, you probably don’t need a list of reasons to buy a bike though.
First impressions are very positive. I sized in on a large frame and the fit is spot on. The Eagle drivetrain means I’ve got more than enough climbing rings and the Pike Ultimate feels lovely. The Squatch is pegged to be a descending machine, rather than a climber. Coming off a full-suspension bike, it climbs beautifully though. Of course, there are some teething issues – my chain slipped off the top so I’ll need to index the gears properly, and I’m not sure it’s set up tubeless yet. That’s my least favourite job. Overall, I’m really happy straight out of the box though. Bonus points for the Burgtec finishing kit too.
I decided Dalby forest would be a sensible place for me to give the bike its baptism. Regular readers will know it’s my go-to around these parts. The off-piste stuff has enough to be interesting and challenging, especially so on a hardtail. As we headed up the road, the most noticeable change to usual was the comparative ease in pedalling. I’m putting it down to the lack of rear suspension but the 29″ wheels and ridiculous gear ratio might have something to do with it too. From the top, it was a usual descent with nothing to catch me out that I’d not already memorised. A few of the more sketchy features caused me to stop and assess, rolling more cautious in than usual. None of them were out of the bike’s capabilities though. In fact, I was surprised how easily it ate up the trail and how comfortable the bike felt. In places with roots, I’d expected to lose footing as the back bounced around. It simply didn’t happen though. The Burgtec pedals did a fantastic job of staying grippy – I’m really pleased it shipped with them – and the steel frame didn’t buzz or rattle like I’d been warned hardtail might. A couple of laps in and I’d found my usual pace through the trails. Sure, there’s some missing ease of popping or hopping because I can’t compress the rear of the bike but it certainly didn’t stop me getting airborne or floating over patches of roots.
Stif truly have done a wonderful job at making a beautiful bike that I’m really excited to ride some more. Through winter, I imagine it’ll become my go to and it’ll be perfectly suited to some of the Peaks riding I’ve been recently re-introduced to. Who knows, perhaps I’ll become one of those folks who swears by hardtails only. Time will tell.