STIF SQUATCH REVIEW
– THE TROUBLEMAKER –
Words by Robert Johnston // @robert_johnston
Photography by Adam Lievesley // @adamlievesleybmx
Stif Bicycles are the spawn of Stif Mountain Bikes, a prolific UK bike shop in operation since 1984. 4 years ago, Stif put their heads together to create the first bike that sported the Stif name – their Morf hardcore hardtail. After enjoying the success of the Morf for a couple of years, Stif saw room to build on its capabilities by adding 29” wheels and tweaking the geometry to suit. The result is their second bike to the market: the Stif Squatch. They kindly lent me their Pro build for a thrashing in the depths of the UK Midland’s Winter.
The Squatch is constructed from a 4130 chromoly steel tube set that has been shaped and curved throughout to produce the desired ride characteristic that led their original Morf to being such a success. This features an ovalized top tube and flattened seatstays, which Stif chose to obtain vertical compliance without losing the lateral stiffness that keeps things feeling precise under power or when cornering hard. Connecting the drive side chainstay to the bottom bracket is their unique “12 bore” bridge which not only looks interesting, but also allows for impressive tire clearance for the fitment of chunky 2.6” rubber and a 34t chainring with the compact 430mm rear end. The seat tube is mostly straight to offer plentiful dropper insertion depth; with a slight offset forwards, and a curve down by the bottom bracket, that allows for the rear wheel to be squeezed in whilst maintaining adequate mud clearance. There is also some visible external butting on this seat tube, adding further proof that careful thought has been put into each and every tube on the Squatch.
The Squatch ticks all the boxes when it comes to the desirables for consumers and mechanics alike: ISCG-05 tabs sit around the bb for those looking to add some drivetrain security; there is a threaded bb and external cable routing all around to make maintenance a breeze; a 44mm headtube and 12x148mm rear axle for the most universal compatibility; and bolt-on dropouts to ensure it’s not the end of the frames life if the worst was to happen. Bottle bosses are in place on the downtube, and there is a 160mm post mount to accommodate any rotor size. To keep it as weatherproof as possible, Stif applies an Ed-black anti-rust treatment to the frames which should resist any rusting of the steel tubes in even the worst winter conditions.
Stif wanted the Squatch to be at the forefront of capabilities for an all-mountain hardtail; so it sports some fairly extreme geometry numbers that would have been considered obscene a few years ago, without tipping into the insane realm. Thankfully, geometry has come on leaps and bounds since the beefed-up road bike days, and we can now have no-compromise machines that climb and descend equally impressively.
The foundation of the Squatch is a relatively short travel 130mm fork. Stif selected this lower travel number to preserve the geometry as best as possible when pushing hard, with the premise that a more consistent and predictable geometry is better than extra travel across most situations. This is an important consideration on a hardtail since the compression of the fork makes for drastic steepening of the head angle in addition to the lowering of the BB. This fork features a short 42mm offset to increase the trail value and offer stable handling without having to add to the overall length of the bike.
Stif makes the Squatch in three sizes (M-XL) to suit riders from 5’5”- 6’6” (165cm -198cm). Common to these sizes is a 64-degree head angle; 78-degree seat angle (effective, at max extension); 430mm chainstays and 80mm bottom bracket drop. This bb drop is set to mimic a full suspension bike of similar intentions when sagged, so it should not ring alarm bells when compared to a static figure from a full suspension bike geometry chart. Reaches are a roomy 460-500mm, with relatively short 420-480mm seat tube lengths allowing most riders to comfortably run a 175 or even 200mm post. Stack reads high on paper at 653mm for M and L and 661mm on the XL frame (with the differences dictated by the 10mm extra length on the headtube of the XL), but again this number should not feel so extreme when compared to a full suspension machine.
Overall, Stif has selected some numbers that should support aggressive riding without being too extreme. That seat angle is particularly interesting in my eyes, with the 78-degree figure quoted at max extension – this means that it will end up steeper for most riders who run the seat post somewhat into the frame and will further steepen thanks to the sag of the fork. To put it simply, this is one very modern seat angle!
The Squatch frame alone can be purchased for £599.99 if you want to build your own custom dream machine; or Stif offers full builds in two spec levels. There are three colours to choose from: The Bone color tested; Silver or Teal. The more budget-minded “AM” build retails at £1899.99 (roughly $2650) with the “Pro” spec tested coming in at £2499.99 ($3450). The builds share the same general themes, with a 130mm RockShox Pike fork up front; SRAM brakes and Eagle 12spd drivetrain; WTB KOM trail i30 rims; Burgtec contact points, and a KS dropper. The difference between them lies in the product tiers and the finishing details of the spec, with generally “workhorse” entry to mid-level components on the AM being replaced with mid to high tier equivalents on the Pro.
The Pro model leads with the RockShox Pike ultimate fork, sporting its flashy silver paint. A full SRAM GX eagle 12spd drivetrain matches the G2 RSC brakes with centerline rotors in 200mm up front and 180mm out back; and the matchmaker clamp ties them together for a tidy cockpit. Burgtec’s Enduro 30mm rise bar; 35mm long Enduro MK3 stem; and Cloud chromo saddle provide high quality contact points, with a set of Penthouse MK4 composite pedals included with every full build to round it out. Hope supplies the headset, in addition to their Pro 4 hubs which are laced to WTB KOM Trail i30 rims with DT swiss spokes. Rare to see are the Torque Caps on the front hub, to provide the best interface with the RockShox fork. A KS Lev Integra handles dropper duty, with options of 175mm or 200mm available depending on rider preference. Rounding out the build are Maxxis tires: A Minion DHF 29×2.6” 3C EXO TR on the front pairs with a Rekon 29×2.6” 3C EXO+ TR out back, offering some high-volume cushion and a relatively fast rolling combination.
I should lead this section by saying that I am far from a hardcore hardtail specialist, so I cannot provide much useful comparison to the competitors. What I will do then, instead of speculating, is focus on how the Stif Squatch rides from the perspective of a rider used to full suspension machines. Although I cannot quite determine the precise level of compliance on offer, I was certainly able to figure out what the Squatch is capable of under the control of an average rider, and I had a great deal of fun in doing so.
Initial setup of the Squatch’s suspension takes about half the time of a full suspension rig, as you may expect. Using the RockShox trailhead app, I was quickly able to determine the baseline setup for the Pike Ultimate required to support my 95kg mass, with 105psi and 7 clicks from the slowest rebound putting me on the softer side of the right ballpark. Where a full suspension rig can somewhat isolate impact forces through your legs from effecting the fork, a hardtail has a greater reaction on the fork and so requires some extra support to prevent it from using its travel too frequently. This led to pressures being upped to 120psi by the end of testing, which provided a good compromise of sensitivity and support. Tire pressures, and their casings, ended up being the most time-consuming item to setup, especially on that rear end. The bike arrived sporting the stock 2.6” Minion DHF EXO front and 2.6” Rekon EXO+ rear, which looked monstrous on the i30 rims, with a huge, rounded profile. This volume makes a lot of sense on a bike with no rear suspension, since you need all the help you can get with taking the sting out of the landings. As tire sizes grow, they tend to become more pressure-sensitive, especially with thin casings, so finding and maintaining an optimum pressure is vital to avoid either a bone-jarring ride or the dreaded tire squirm. Unfortunately, the EXO+ casing was not quite up to scratch for the type of riding the Squatch encourages, leading to its early demise and a sad walk back to the van on the Squatch’s second outing (thanks to a seized axle preventing the fitment of a spare tube). Once some burlier rubber was fitted, in the form of a DH casing Minion DHR 2.4”, things began to fall into place, but the tire pressure conundrum was still an ongoing battle. I’d originally fitted the Rockstop insert since I had expected to be spending a lot of time near the rim, but the DH casing tire resulted in enough stiffness that its ultimate protection was not a necessity, so I settled for the more damping-friendly Rimpact insert, which I found to offer the best compromise of damping and cornering support with the tire at 24psi.
The steep seat tube angle really comes into its own when climbing seated on the Squatch in the steepest terrain. As you will undoubtedly be used to hearing by now, the resulting centered position on the bike leads to less attention and energy being required to keep the front wheel in check, letting you focus on your pedal strokes and line choice, and ultimately making climbing a more pleasant experience once the going gets steep. Longer, flatter sections of pedaling receive the butt end of the compromise, with your more upright seated position adding to your aerodynamic drag when the speeds are high enough, and potentially utilizing a less effective set of leg muscles. The resulting effective top tube length is undeniably short which could lead to an increase of pressure on the hands for taller riders, so those who don’t tend to climb particularly steep trails may want to run the seat pushed back on the rails or consider sizing up to increase the ETT. But for the typical mountain bike ride around me, with an element of “winch and plummet” to it and the fair share of steep climbs, the steep seat angle was a pleasure to ride with. Technical climbs – especially those with lots of pedal-catching obstacles – proved to be no issue either, with the long reach and fairly short rear end teaming up to provide ample grip and maneuverability. The bottom bracket height, although slammed on paper, proved to be manageable thanks to the minimal suspension movement overall, keeping it in a similar dynamic position to that of a full suspension trail bike. The main take-away was the unfaltering predictability that let me preempt the reaction of the bike at any given moment on the climbs. The Squatch goes uphill very well, even considering its surprisingly portly 30.1lbs with pedals.
How did the Squatch stack up on the descents? As it turns out, it is a flat-out troublemaker, with two distinct types of trouble being made depending on the style of track. In smoother bike park style terrain or trail centers, the Squatch absolutely rips. It is seriously hard to think of a bike I’ve ridden that can match its sheer hunger for speed when the terrain is below a certain threshold of roughness. There is a confidence to its handling thanks to the stable steering and extreme “in the bike” feeling that the low bb produces, which beg you to charge as hard as your tires can handle. Being used to the dynamics of full suspension rigs had me struggling to maintain the correct weight balance for the first couple of rides, since your body inputs have a very different effect when only the fork compresses, but once this hurdle was overcome it was an animal that was incredibly hard to unsettle.
Off jumps and drops, and when playing with manuals and wheelies, the Squatch is definitely on the less playful end of the spectrum, thanks to that slammed BB and reasonably long reach making front end lifting require a little more body English than some. Point it at a bigger lip though and it is quite happy flying high at speed, being stable in the air and allowing for more sketchy landings to be survived thanks to its inherent stability.
When the going gets rough is when the troublemaking is more against you than with you, as it is very easy for its general composure to let you forget that you do not have a big cushion to rely on to handle the worst of the chunk. The geometry is at no point the element holding you back, but the limited ability to iron out the square edges of the terrain leads to an incredibly physical ride where your arms and legs must work hard to absorb impacts that you do not even consider on a fully suspended rig. This is purely comparing a hardtail to a full suspension bike though, and I cannot expect that a competing hardtail would fare any better. The 200mm dropper in place on my test bike was a godsend in these situations, providing the all-important leg clearance to allow for a very dynamic ride on the bike and keep things rolling. A brief experiment with a more active fork took a little bit of sting out of the hands but reduced the overall composure of the bike and made for a less controlled ride, so I was quick to return to the slightly stiffer setup. On these chunky descents is where the tire pressure was oh-so crucial, with the difference of a couple of psi making such profound improvements to the terrain ironing. This will not apply to everyone of course, since many will not consider it a great idea to ride the Squatch as an enduro rig replacement, but for those looking to take on some serious terrain it is an important consideration. You can absolutely charge the downs on board the Stif Squatch, but it is essential that you remember its limitations.
The component spec on the Squatch pro build is generally solid and leaves little to be desired, with the brakes being the only thing that I would want to change. The lever feel and modulation offered by the SRAM G2 RSC’s is good, but their ultimate power fell short of my demands, which led to a few scary “run-away” moments on the steeper trails. The fork is about as controlled as you could hope for and remained impressively supple and tractive when ran a good amount stiffer than recommended. Exactly how much improvement the Torque Caps provide is hard to quantify, but front-end flex was certainly not a concern. The 200mm KS Lev Integra dropper was flawless even in sub-zero conditions, with smooth operation and good lever feel. The Burgtec Cloud saddle was not the best fit for my derrière, which was only made more apparent by the lack of rear suspension ensuring every impact on the rear tire was transmitted to my body when seated, but saddles are very person-specific, and it may well work for you. The GX 12spd drivetrain did not skip a beat, but still falls slightly short of the shifting performance of the Shimano competition. Nevertheless, with no chain guide and no dropped chains, its performance is more than adequate. £2500 is no small amount of money for a bike without a rear shock, but in terms of relative value it is about right.
The Wolf’s Last Word
“Well Bastard Fast” is the motto of Stif and proudly written on the Squatch chainstay, and the performance certainly lives up to it – in the correct terrain. The geometry and components spec encourages riders onboard the Squatch to charge hard, which can cause havoc on rough terrain when the limited cushion a hardtail offers leads to the rider becoming overwhelmed. Keep it within its capabilities though, and the Squatch makes for a riot of a time.
Price: – £2499 /€2950 /$3500
Frame: 4130 Chromoly
Fork: RockShox Pike Ultimate | 130mm travel – 42mm Offset
Brakes: SRAM G2 RSC | 200/180
Shifter: SRAM GX Eagle; 12s
Handlebar: Burgtec Enduro | 30mm Rise / 800mm Wide
Stem: Burgtec Enduro MK3 | 35mm
Headset: Hope ZS44/EC44
Saddle: Burgtec Cloud – Chromo Rail
Seatpost: KS Lev Integra | 200mm
Hubs: Hope Pro 4
Rims: WTB KOM trail i30
Front tire: Maxxis Minion DHF 29″x2.6″, 3C EXO TR
Rear tire: Maxxis Rekon 29″x2.6″, 3C EXO+ TR
Bottom Bracket: SRAM Dub GXP Threaded
Cassette: SRAM XG 1275; 10-52T
Cranks: SRAM GX Eagle 148 DUB, 34t 170mm
Derailleur: SRAM GX Eagle; 12s
Descent ripping geometry
Steep seat angle crushes steep climbs
Likelihood of getting out of hand
Long day seated discomfort
Likelihood of getting out of hand
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