Review: Steel is Real with the Vassago Verhauen 29er

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To this day, my fleet of bikes has been conspicuously absent of any big wheelers. It’s not that I can’t appreciate the benefits of big wheels, just that more often than not, 29ers just haven’t meshed with my size or my riding style. That’s not to say that many of the 29ers I’ve ridden aren’t good bikes, just that they’re not for me. Then, the Vassago Verhauen showed up. It was steel, it was 29, and it was a hard tail. It might as well have been an alien compared to some of the bikes in for testing recently. I spent most of my formative years riding a steel hard tail, but then one day I picked up a Blur LT and never looked back. Having ridden quite a few hard tails since my old Kona Lava Dome, very few seemed to capture that feeling of my first bike.

The Vassago Verhauen had promise. See if it delivered, next.

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Realistically, this review is about the frame more than anything due to the fact that Vassago only sells the Verhauen as a frame only. Before we get into specifics, let’s talk about fit.  Specifically, how well the Verhauen fit me and my 5’7″ frame. Equipped with a 100mm Rock Shox Reba fork, the frame’s short head tube was just low enough to get the handlebars in the right position with a standard bar and stem. As I’ve mentioned before, handlebar height is a big concern of mine when it comes to the fit of 29ers and I’m not too keen on using super drop stems or bars to compensate for a headtube that sits too high. Other than shortening the stock 100mm -7° stem to a 90mm -7° stem, the handlebar positioning was nearly perfrect and slam-that-stem compliant.

When considering sizing, the Verhauen does have a slightly longer top tube than a lot of 29 hard tails (the ETT of the small is 23.6″), but the lack of a extra large may leave the exceptionally tall wanting more. The frame is offered in three sizes, small (16″), Medium (18″), and Large (20″) with a claimed fit range of 5’4″ to 6’4″. On many 29ers I’ve always felt like I should be in between a small and a medium so it was nice to find a frame that I fit so comfortably.

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The 44mm head tube, while short at 90mm, does a good job of keeping the front end in check especially when combined with a thru axle fork with a tapered steerer. Steering precision is more than adequate and adds to the Speeder Bike like ability to slash through the forest. Built with a 71° head tube and 74° seat tube in size Small, the Vassago FastCat geometry certainly lives up to its name. Fast without being overly racy, the ability to fine tune the chainstay and wheelbase length with the slider dropouts creates a bike that is XC fast with trail friendly tendencies.

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Slammed almost the full way forward for most of the testing, I had to back out the sliding dropouts just a bit for the rear tire to clear the front derailleur. If you were running single speed, or 1x you could run them all the way forward and still have plenty of mud clearance. Over the testing duration, the sliders never made a peep and stayed firmly in place. Of course the sliders mean the Verhauen can be equipped with a standard threaded bottom bracket and still run single speed without the use of an EBB – one of the big reasons I dig this frame so much. The ability to run single speed with built in chain tensioners on a system that won’t slip or creak is pretty appealing, and single speeds have been calling my name recently as a way to spice up trails that have become old hat. Frames are offered with either 135 or 142mm dropouts in quick release, thru axle, geared, or single speed options so take your pick.

Vassago Verhauen 29er (10)

Have I mentioned the paint job yet? Well, powder coat to be specific, but the translucent finish on these bikes is stunning. I’ve always loved to see the heat marks from welding on raw frames, and this allows that to shine through the None More Satin Black, Feuerspucker Red, IPA Copper, Ectoplasm Green, or Sparkleninja black finish.

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Signs of life. As the drink mix stained on the down tube suggests, I rode the Vassago quite a bit – more than I was expecting honestly. I would have ridden it more if I hadn’t brokenmy arm near the end of testing, though my decision had already been made. Of all of the bikes I’ve ridden recently, the Verhauen has come the closest to reminding me of my early days mountain biking, but in a more modern, refined way. Here is a steel bike that actually rides in a way that will make you think steel is real.

As much as I love the latest carbon fiber wonder bike with advanced suspension, it’s nice to get back to your roots once in a while on a well made, simple steel bike that has been built to take a beating. Very few test bikes inspire me to want to go out and immediately buy one for myself, but this is one of those bikes. When you consider the fact that you can pick one of these USA Made OX Platinum steel with translucent powder coat beauties up for a grand, you’ll probably be seeing more of them soon on a trail near you.

Comments

Steve M - 12/11/13 - 2:23pm

Cue the commenters on the steerer tube length…….

wheelguy - 12/11/13 - 2:42pm

Beautiful and great review. The OptimusTi 29er Frame also looks pretty nice.

Truckin right - 12/11/13 - 4:11pm

uhmm…check out Chromag Frames

Nick - 12/11/13 - 5:37pm

slam-that=stem compliance…like the term, it should test criteria for every bike for review

Jon - 12/11/13 - 7:50pm

The only thing better than a US made steel hard tail is a US made Ti hard tail.

Rouxtjie - 12/12/13 - 1:33am

Gots me one of these about 4 months ago…been smiling ever since.

ADawg - 12/12/13 - 11:30am

Steve M If it was a personal bike, sure, that steerer is beggin for a cuttin. But, when it’s a demo-fleet member that you have folks of all shapes and sizes riding, the occasional need to swap around parts, its nice to have a little extra steerer for insurance and assurance, yes?

Ant'ney - 12/12/13 - 11:33am

Different strokes for different folks. I find the “Wet Cat” geometry to feel like the standard 29er geometry from 10 years ago. Clumsy handling, not great in the twisty stuff. I greatly prefer a slacker head angle and a shorter chain stay on a 29er. This bike vs a Nimble? Nimble all day long.

brbnluvr - 12/12/13 - 11:42am

I broke my fancy custom steel SS, bought this as a quick replacement, and just kept on racing. This is an awesome bike, fast, and full of options. In the first six months of ownership, I used it a SS race bike with suspension, rigid SS, and 1×9 geared.

Liberty555 - 12/16/13 - 1:42am

I wonder how the bikes rides… without pedals…

The photos show the bike looking nice and dirty but the pedals have been removed. Why?

fastcat - 12/16/13 - 10:31am

This has a diff. geo, than the wet cat of old.

Where's The Review - 12/18/13 - 8:54am

So where is the actual riding performance review? You talked about the geo, but how did it perform on the trail?

Slap - 12/18/13 - 8:56am

Ant’ney, with regards to this bike your comment is not only useless, it’s wrong. If you can’t check out an actual bike before posting comments at least get your facts straight. This bike has different geometry than the Vassagos from a couple years back.

smithcreek - 12/18/13 - 3:11pm

I bought one a couple weeks ago along with the Whisky No.9 fork and set it up single speed. It’s my first single speed and first rigid fork since my ’87 Trek 830, so at this point trying to figure out what the frame, fork and ss each contribute to the handling is difficult. All I can say is as an overall package it’s great and no doubt the geometry has a lot to do with it.
Since the HTA is not “slack” by today’s standards, and the chainstays are not “short”, as in “we had to make a seat tube with a 29″ radius bend so the tire could come within 1/4″ of the bottom bracket”, I’m glad Tom at Vassago decided to design a great handling bike rather than chase the latest fad just for the sake of the geo chart.

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