Vassago Bandersnatch – long term review

Back in August I wrote a “first impressions” review of the Bandersnatch frame that I bought to replace my Stumpjumper HT 29er.  I now have around 6 months of ride time on it (though not as many miles as I typically would ride during that span) and can offer some more insight on how this frame compares to my previous frame, and how it rides in general.

First things first, this is a steel frame.  Therefore, it rides somewhat differently than most hardtail 29ers on the market since the vast majority of the mass-produced frames are aluminum (though steel is making a strong comeback with a lot of boutique frame builders).  The manufacturer estimates the frame weight at around 5.4 pounds, which is around 1.7 to 1.8 pounds more than my Stumpjumper.  This is a fairly significant difference on the scale, but proved to be not quite as noticeable when riding as I anticipated.  While I haven’t yet weighed it, I estimate my Bandersnatch to weigh around 25.5 pounds as a singlespeed with my Rock Shox Reba SL fork.  I have since switched to a used Bontrager Switchblade rigid fork and probably have the weight somewhere near 24 pounds.  Not bad for an XL steel frame with what I would consider a somewhat budget-friendly build kit (Stan’s Arch wheels, XT cranks with bash guard, DMR chain tensioner, and inexpensive Syncros cockpit).

In terms of ride quality, I really didn’t keep the Reba fork on long enough to get a true comparison of how it would feel on rocky or excessively bumpy terrain.  Having the rigid fork on it of course forces me to absorb most of the larger bumps with my arms, but the smaller bumps for the most part get washed away by the frame.  The steel has a relatively supple feel to it and therefore is compliant enough to soak up the smaller hits.

Climbing on this frame is not quite as snappy as climbing on an aluminum or carbon hardtail frame, but that is to be expected.  However, since it is still a hardtail it does a good job of transferring pedal energy to the wheels….just not quite as precise and instant as it was on my Stumpjumper.  But definitely not enough to complain about.

The geometry is where I noticed most of the difference between the Bandersnatch and my similarly-sized Stumpjumper.  Vassago’s “wet cat” geometry feels a little slacker and more comfortable (i.e. slightly less “racy”) and has a little bit longer chainstay.  When I transferred components from my Stumpjumper to the Bandersnatch, I had to add 1.5 chain links (I bought a half-link online, which was hard to find locally) to get a similar tension on the chain.  But once set up, the drivetrain performs rather well, especially when paired with the DMR Tension Seeker.  When I swapped out the front fork to the Bontrager Switchblade it dropped the front end more than an inch, which I was worried would adversely affect the geometry and head angle.  But instead what I got was more of a racy/aggressive geometry that still feels rather comfy.

Overall, I really like this bike.  Even with the added weight I have been able to climb arguably as well as I did on my previous bikes.  I’ve been running this frame as a singlespeed, though I will likely eventually set it up as a 1×9 or 3×9 using my old components from the Stumpjumper.  I ran 32×18 gearing for a few weeks, but the vast majority of the time it has been set up with 32×16 gearing.  This has worked well for my nearby riding spots, which generally include a mix of pavement, jeep roads, and singletrack, and it has also served me well on the trails at Oak Mtn State Park.  I have even set some personal best times on Cat 3 and Cat 4 climbs, in addition to personal bests on several trails.  I think the supple steel frame is at its best when descending somewhat-smooth terrain (I have hit 50+ mph several times on pavement descents that I normally would take at 45 mph) and when on flowy singletrack where it can flex and spring with the small dips and rises in terrain while at top speed.  This is not a short track sprint bike, nor is it a rugged all-mountain trail bike, but for the most part it works well for how I typically ride.  I can honestly say that I would recommend this frame for someone wanting to switch to steel while not breaking the bank (I got my frame for $250 on closeout, though those deals are hard to find).

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