Payroll is a hidden downhill-only trail just off Deer Valley Ski Resort. It’s rated as a black diamond and drops about 450 vertical feet in less than a mile. The access point is easy to miss, as you’re bombing down T&G trail, so it’s one of the best-kept secrets in town. If you can find it, Payroll delivers one of the premier singletrack descents among Park City’s 500-mile network. This is where I went to test a custom-built Trek Stache 29+ hardtail ($1,730 frameset only).
I’d never ridden a “plus bike” prior to the Stache, which makes me a late adopter of this mountain biking trend. More commonly, these extra-fat-tire bikes have 27.5-inch wheels. So they end up riding like a 29er due to the extra girth of a 3.0-inch tire. However, when you mount one of these beefy treads on a 29-inch rim, the total circumference is comically large. There’s just so much rubber. And that’s really the point.
Payroll is designed as a narrow flow trail with two sets of double jumps, a couple drop-offs and a series of tight berms. But it’s not rocky or rooted. The Stache is designed with a dramatically sloping top tube and a high head tube. So when you drop the saddle all the way down, it rides like a BMX bike with monster-truck tires. Which makes the Stache and Payroll trail an ideal combination.
The added tire volume lets you run pressure below 20 psi. As such, the tires offer a bit of cushion-like suspension and a metric ton of grip. My biggest challenge was getting off the brakes because this bike can carry so much more speed into and through turns; it’s just a matter of leaning it past the point where little 2.5-inch tires would break free. When it comes to rocks, roots, sand or mud, the Stache floats on top of everything. It’s like a powder ski with a 120mm waist: too fat to sink in and get bogged down.
The Stache initially caught my attention because the trails in Park City tend to be pretty smooth and flowy. It’s perfectly designed for trail bikes with 130mm of travel, but you can get away with less. The trails are also very fast. Whether climbing, descending or riding the flats, you carry a lot of momentum. As with the Specialized Epic HT, riding a hardtail offers a unique trail experience. And I figured the Stache would offer that same feel on steroids.
Rather than ride the stock build, which is largely assembled with Trek’s in-house components, I wanted to push the performance envelope by going higher end. The key decision, of course, was the wheelset and tires. But first I had to pick a drivetrain. Coming off the success of reviewing Shimano’s new XTR group, it was an easy choice. The key difference is that the Stache is better suited to the wide range cassette (11-51t) and the long cage rear derailleur for easier climbing. From there, I opted for Shimano’s new XTR hubs, which are the source of the new Micro Spline freehub standard. The next question: how to lace them up?
One of the themes of this Stache build is that everything needs to be burly. This isn’t an XC hardtail, nor is it a bike for Strava PRs. It’s a hardtail that you punish like a full-suspension bike for the pure fun of it (with the added benefit of efficient climbing out of the saddle). It has to hold up to serious abuse. Still, I didn’t want to weigh it down. The wheel choice, then, was pretty clear. I sent the XTR hubs to ENVE to be built with its M640 hoops. The M6 series is designed for trail use, and with an internal width of 40mm, the 640s support tires ranging from 2.8 to 3.2 inches. Altogether, the set weighs about 1,700 grams, and each tire weighs about 900 grams.
It should be noted that I bottommed the rear tire on the rim on pretty much every ride — often making a loud ping! noise — but never flatted or compromised the rim in any way. Apparently, this is something you have to get used to with a plus bike in order to get the most out of it.
In keeping with the burly theme, the crankset, bottom bracket and cockpit are all from RaceFace. In fact, this same set of Next SL cranks and Cinch power meter spindle were ridden on my Breck Epic race bike; so they can certainly withstand abuse. The only difference is that these have a 32t, Shimano-12-speed-compatible chainring.
The cockpit features a RaceFace Next 35 10mm rise carbon handlebar with a Turbine R 35 aluminum stem. This is the new bar-stem standard (35mm) that increases strength with a wider diameter clamp area but reduces weight by shaving material. And since the Stache already has a high head tube, I didn’t need much rise from the bar itself. The Turbine R dropper post features the same construction and internals as the Fox Transfer minus the Kashima Coat. While the Kashima is smoother and faster, the actual performance difference from a dropper post is small compared to that of a shock that is constantly cycling. And the Turbine R’s black finish goes better with this build. That said, I prefer the lower profile Fox Transfer lever to the larger RaceFace version.
Front suspension options for the Stache are pretty limited. This is the new 2020 RockShox Pike Ultimate with 120mm of travel. Although the posted specs limit the 29-inch tire width to 2.8 inches, the 3.0 WTB Rangers clear the fork with plenty of room to spare. RockShox reduced stiction on this updated model with new wiper seals and damping fluid, allowing the fork to cycle faster through stutter bumps. The Charger 2.1 RC2 damper is simple to setup with psi, rebound control and high/low speed compression offering four tuning variables. With a 3.0-inch tire, its 120mm feels more like 140mm.
SRAM’s new 2020 G2 Ultimate disc brakes slot in just below its top-of-the-line Code models. Like all SRAM brakes, they are easy to setup and adjust. Given the aggressive setup of this Stache, though, I didn’t feel they had enough bite. When coming off of other bikes with higher-performing brakes, I found that I needed to adapt to the G2s by braking harder and earlier. It could also be that these huge (heavy) wheels are just harder to slow down. I may try a different set of pads, but my sense is that these are better suited to recreational trail riding as opposed to bombing Payroll with more tire grip than I can fully utilize.
Other component choices include the Selle SMP 209 saddle and Chris King NoThreadset headset. When all was assembled, it tipped the scale at 26.5 pounds, which is right in line with a high-end trail bike.
There’s no question: the Trek Stache is a blast to ride. It’s fun because it harks back to why we started riding in the first place…namely, for fun. It’s reminiscent of those early ‘90s front-suspension hardtails — like my trusty Yeti ARC with a RockShox Mag 21 — but the exaggerated tires and modern technology make it feel right at home on today’s black-diamond flow trails. Plus, it doesn’t fit into any of today’s bike category boxes; it’s a one-of-a-kind design and riding experience.
The only challenge for me, personally, is that I tended to ding my right ankle on the raised chainstay when giving it too much English or getting bounced around on rocky sections. This is because it’s right at the level of my back foot in descending position. I spaced out the bottom bracket and pedal a bit, which helped, but it didn’t fully solve the problem. I suppose an ankle pad would be an option for a long-term fix.