strictly speaking, the shand cycles website promotes this particular variant on its highly successful stoater range as the stoater ft, the latter referring to its fat tyre status. the frame, though built from reynolds 853 steel tubing in steven's livingston workshop, offers one or two variations over its siblings, not least of which is the fitting of mtb 29er wheels accepting a wide variety of chunky rubber. but i prefer to refer to it as a phat stoater. this particular bicycle won the best offroad bicycle award at the 2013 edition of bespoked bristol.
the steel frame displays steven shand's impeccable fillet brazing throughout, a quality method of joining a quality frame. the bright yellow paintwork with the shand hare logo at the rear of the seat tube is immaculate throughout, promising to wear every bit as well as the rest of the bike, and in most cases, better than its current rider. other than the head tube badge and a shand graphic on the down tube, there are no other distinguishing marks.
the straight fork pays attention to the peculiar demands of disc brakes, pointing the dropouts forward to resist the rearward forces exerted under braking. continuing the quality aspect of the whole bike, the external headset is by chris king. held firmly in those dropouts, both front and rear, are the very items that separate the phat stoater from its shand brethren; a pair of wheelsmith classic 23, 29er wheels fitted with ritchey wcs 2.1 inch chunky rubber. the minimalistic quick release levers look barely capable of hanging onto such chunky engineering.
ritchey componentry is highly evident on this particular build, comprising not only the tyres, but outswept drop bars, stem, seatpost and saddle. the gearing setup is predominantly shimano deore xt, the wider bottom bracket shell apparently dictating a triple chainset rather than (to my taste at any rate) a compact double, or 'cross specific option. brake levers were very retro looking shimano, devoid of a need for sti shifting due to those duties being handled with bar-end levers.
braking was taken care of by a pair of avid mechanical, cable operated discs, though the bike could just as easily be set up with hydraulics if that's what floats your boat. i did ask steven if the bike was available with cantilevers as an option, but the answer was a resounding "no". with both shimano and eventually sram offering road hydraulic systems, it ought to be simple enough to specify appropriate drop bar levers to suit.
overall, the phat stoater is the epitome of minimalism, partly the contribution of the disc brakes, but also the result of a framebuilder who knows how to avoid unnecessary faff. despite the relatively slim steel tubing, i defy anyone to doubt its contemporaneity.
in the early nineties, i owned a muddy fox mega, with its square steel tubing and flecked paintwork. by means of a few judicious component and wheel choices, i'd brought the weight down to manageable proportions, though still some way off that of my carbon c40. however, it was still a necessary part of the offroad life to often have need of pedalling some considerable distance on chunky knobblies to reach the winter of my discontent. the phat stoater brought all those memories flooding back.
however, before those memories had even a slim chance of invading my headspace, the sudden reminder that the stoater featured disc brakes was forcibly brought to my attention on leaving the croft. espying a vehicle travelling along the road which i was about to join, i pulled on the brake levers. on the basis of the immediate result, i do find myself wondering why anyone would need hydraulics.
despite the 2.1 inch knobbly rubber, which makes a glorious sound like a land rover on metalled roads, the stoater made reasonable progress, though there's no denying its frictional properties in comparison to a pair of clement or strada 25s. just to make sure i had my facts right, i contacted derek at wheelsmith to enquire whether mtb 29ers (in this case, his classic 23 wheels) were amenable to being fitted with cyclocross tyres. for those of you as uninitiated as i, this appears to be one of their redeeming features, and had i the bike for longer, that would have been a change under consideration.
however, i fear that would be to somewhat miss the point. the regular stoaters can be had with either a standard road/cross setup, or in the case of the plus edition, with a rohloff hub gear and a single chainring. the phat stoater strikes me as the very bike you'd own in addition, for the moments when timidity just won't do. though i put it down to age, i'm considerably less of a mudplugger than was once the case, and in truth, i'd likely opt for a different type of stoater altogether, but it is hard to describe the salient joy of being able to ride roughshod through and over just about anything you care to mention. and to do so with aplomb.
those enormous ritchey tyres would cause no shame to a bulldozer, providing both fabulous grip in the mud, and ideal suspension over rocky ground. where they struggled a bit was on wet grass; a sudden and unexpected input of raw power (a guy can dream can't he?) would often spin the back tyre slightly, while climbing out the saddle on wet grass wasn't the best idea i've ever had.
thankfully, those brakes were more than adequate compensation for my ineptitude. whenever i found i had bitten off more than i could chew, they stopped me going far beyond my meagre skill level. and as a notable plus, they never once exhibited that nagging skliffing sound as the rotor hits the pad every revolution.
however, the stoater's secret weapon is that frame. minimalistic and unfussy it may be, but it is so close to balanced perfection i query why folks would consider suspended farm gates in the first place. aside from its endearing tenacity in the face of adversity, there surely cannot be a more well-thought out double diamond in existence. considering my deficiencies in the offroad department, i had great need of shifting my weight in several directions, often all at the same time. the stoater is so easy to steer from the brink of disaster (do not for a moment think i am kidding) that i got the impression i could have managed the same without handlebars.
if there's a perceived downside in this build, it's the bar end shifters. this is not my frst experience with this form of gear shifting, for i once owned a tourer for several years that used this method. though the rear cassette had ten sprockets, i often had the feeling that the right-hand lever thought there were only nine. no amount of footering and fettling could get it to shift cleanly up and down the block. i'm not sure, however, that i'd lay the blame at the accuracy of the transmission, simply that i found it very hard to be precise with my changes via the bar end lever. this may, of course, be simply having grown use to the accuracy and ergonomics of today's brake lever mounted shifting.
it was never a major bother, and happily failed to detract from the joy of the frame or the ploughing through everything on those tyres.
the latter coupled with disc brakes contrived to make the bike probably too heavy for shouldering a la sven and jeremy, but i doubt that was ever a design consideration in the first place. it was comfortable enough to remain in the saddle for as long as possible, the ritchey wcs offering being one of the finest i've ridden for a while. my roadie sensibilities never let me sink as low as that third inner ring on the shimano chainset; i just tried to pretend it wasn't even there, but shifting between the two largest rings was quite easily and accurately achieved via the leftmost bar-end lever. this despite my contention that the front mech was set too high above the outer chainring.
as steven himself said "it was designed as a bike to go anywhere, but the reality is is that' it's designed as a bike to go anywhere you wouldn't take your 'other' bike." that's a sentiment with which i'd totally agree, but in the day and age of owning several bikes with specific purposes in mind, that simply offers it a niche in which to live. i'd certainly take one of these over a mountain bike any day of the week, and i cannot deny that each and every ride elicited a smile, even if several were the result of the bike having saved me from a week of hospital food. not a bike for everyone then, but exactly the right bike for the job when you need it. which might be just as good a reason to afford one in the first place.
the phat stoater reynolds 853 frame only retails at £1050. the shand built straight unicrown fork costs an additional £175...........................................................................................................................................................................................................