Rumor has it that the role of Han Solo almost went to Tom Selleck. At the time, Selleck was probably a safer bet than a struggling actor who was better known for his carpentry than for his movies. I guess true masterpieces take risks, but before I call the Trek Stache 9.8 a masterpiece, let's cover its riskier bits.
Back in mid-2015, when we were barely starting to accept 27+ tires, the Stache showed up with monstrous 29 x 3.0s. Its adjustable dropouts made it possible to downsize, but out of the box, each model and size came with essentially 30.5-inch wheels. Its unorthodox rear triangle positioned the drive-side chainstay above the chainring, allowing the tire to sit against the bottom bracket. You could even go belt-driven singlespeed if you really wanted to let your freak flag fly. That all stayed the same, but Trek has doubled down for 2017.
In addition to stretching the toptube half an inch, this year's Stache lineup includes two carbon options. And now that the RockShox Pike and Bontrager Line Pro carbon wheelset have joined the 30-inch-and-over club, the flagship 9.8 model got a nice bump in spec. For something this unique and with this build, the $4,700 price fits just fine. Or if that's a stretch, the Stache 9.6 drops the carbon rims, bars and cranks, and it goes from a Pike to a Yari while keeping the frame carbon for $3,000.
But the 9.8 offers a ride that's worth going over budget for. Beyond the benefits of the overall better spec, the carbon rims help eliminate the sluggish acceleration and gyroscopic stubbornness you'd expect from 29+ wheels. The thin-skinned, 890-gram tires are partly to thank, so beware if you crave high-speed rock gardens. But I found its playful agility to be well worth the risk of punctures and the extra 2 PSI to keep them from squirming. Keep in mind I'm 6-foot-2. Your results may vary, but the Stache has an appetite for mischief like no hardtail I've ever ridden. At high speeds, the capability of the big, soft tires mixed well with the Stache's delightful flickability. It probably deserves a more aggressive head angle, but its 68.5 degrees never felt twitchy. When crawling down steep puzzles of rocks and ruts, the newly lengthened front end and unnaturally short 16.25-inch chainstays make it remarkably easy to stay behind the bike and devilishly fun to stab off slow-speed drops. The Stache delivers on the promises made by both big wheels and fat tires, and somehow it makes no compromises in the process.