this is, to all intents and purposes, the pinnacle of the stoater range from steven shand's workshop in livingston, near edinburgh. though the frame shares its all steel construction with the others in the series (standard and phat), the componentry applied makes it the standout model as well as the most expensive. there is, however, good reason for that.
the frame is tig-welded reynolds 853 in this particular case, a rather fetching pearly white and oddly, in my experience, not square. by this i'm referring to the more common practice of pairing a 54cm seat tube with a similarly measured top tube. the reasoning here is, as steven shand describes "It's just really to achieve more standover height. On a bike that's going to be possibly used more off-road as well as loaded touring, the additional standover height is useful." steven has elongated the theoretical horizontal top tube (the stoater actually has a sloping top tube) to an impressive (to me, at least) 56cm. couple that with the 120mm shand badged stem and i'd masses of liebensraum to play with when on a sporting foray into the hinterlands.
eschewing the whole derailleur system entirely, including the chain, the stoater rohloff rather obviously features a 14-speed rohloff hub gear paired with a gates carbon belt drive. though i figure this may not be the sole reason, doing so has allowed steven to omit any cable braze-ons whatsoever. attached to the underside of the downtube are a couple of bolted cable guides, taking care of both the rear hydraulic brake cable and the two cables required by the rohloff. it's a very neat and effective solution, with pertinent and logical routing.
i have rarely advertised myself as favouring the disc brake revolution, occasionally with good reason (i believe), but i made my life even harder in this case by trying to figure out how the inner-wires were clamped near the rotor. however, my mistake was principally due to the build spec listed on shand cycles' new shiny website, where trp spyre cable operated discs are shown. that, however, demonstrated a) my feeble powers of observation and b) my ignorance of the effectiveness of hydraulic brakes. a close look at the disc calipers revealed the word hylex; hydraulic after all.
though i've made mention of this before, the straight leg, unicrown forks have forward facing dropouts (mercifully free of those lawyer's tabs) in order to counteract the forces applied to the wheel by the discs. the left fork leg bears a less than attractive mounting bracket for the front caliper, though i'd contend it looks better than some of the carbon solutions i've seen. the front wheel has its spokes laced to a hope pro2 evo hub in the middle and onto a velocity a23 rim at the other. both are anodised black, as is the chris king 1.125" headset, sandwiching a particularly excellent cast pewter badge on the front of the headtube.
as mentioned above, the gearing is catered to by a rather large, black rohloff hub gear, also built onto the same a23 rim. that rear hub gear may offer almost the same spread of gears provided by the finest of modern derailleur systems, but there's no doubting the increase in weight. granted, the stoater rohloff is still relatively lightweight overall, but not as featherweight as the standard version. hub gears offer not only the advantage of being able to shift gear when stopped at the lights or a road junction, but of not requiring a chain that has need for scurrying up and down a ten or eleven speed cassette. this inline system allows use of a toothed gates carbon drive, a seriously strong device that vaguely resembles a car engine fan belt.
thus, the rear sprocket and front chainwheel are not spikily toothed as on a regular bicycle but wider and bumped to match the inner surface of the gates belt. the middleburn rs8 chainset spins on an eccentric pf30 bottom bracket. this is a particularly effective solution to placing tension on that belt without switching from vertical dropouts to the considerably less popular horizontal road-type dropouts. the gates belt, however, arrives in a single piece, requiring some method of splitting the left chainstay to fit. rather than fit an incongruous decoupler, shand's polydrop dropouts cater not only to the gates drive, but singlespeed, 142x12, direct mount and standard derailleur systems. though some may require additional inserts, it's a highly versatile operation.
the handlebars are salsa cowbell, with the seatpost clamp also from salsa. brake levers are naturally enough supplied by trp, angled outwards and containing the hydraulic pots inside the hoods. the bars also offer room to the co-motion knurled alloy twist grip on the inner right side closest to the stem. seatpost was a shand badged single bolt alloy micro-adjustable supporting a ritchey logic saddle. tyres were, in this case, supplied by continental in the shape and tread pattern of the cyclocross speed 700x35c. review bicycles rarely, if ever, arrive with pedals, so in this case i fitted a pair of lime green crank bros. candys.
the stoater is shand's biggest selling model, though probably the standard model fills the order book to a greater extent than this particular variation. with a sudden interest in gravel riding as witnessed by the emergence of gt's enduroad and specialized's awol, the stoater is particularly well poised to fill this particular gap in the british market. arguably, shand were always ahead of the curve in this respect, having produced this bike long before the current fad.
add to this, their particularly clever slogan grey sky thinking, and this stoater could seriously be considered as the only bike that need hog space in the bikeshed. the frame features bottle cage mounts on both down tube and seat tube, low-rider mounts on the front forks, rack mounts on the rear stays and two mounts on the back of the seat tube which i presume are to cater for variations of mudguard. so aside from scuttering about on gravel or dirt roads wearing the 'cross tyres, it would be a simple job to change to a pair of 25mm or 28mm tyres for endless road riding. or fit a full set of racks if you fancy a bout of loaded touring.
but was the stoater rohloff as much of a boon to ride as it promised?
let's face it, in similar manner to those coffee table books that we mostly buy for the pictures and ignore the words, what we all want to know about the stoater rohloff is what it's like to ride with a sturmey archer on steroids. and what about that carbon belt drive? initially, the biggest difference to get used to was the lack of brake lever actuated gearchanging. as mentioned above, the co-motion twist-grip shifter was mounted on the inner right side of the salsa handlebar, meaning, rather obviously, removing the right hand from the lever hood or drop to effect a gear change.
the shifter is particularly smooth in operation, though i found the notch indicating which particular gear i happened to be in somewhat too low in my sightline. this could, i'm sure, be easily altered to suit. however, there's no doubt that attempting to change gear when bouncing about offroad or when straining uphill wasn't always as accurate as desired; it's easily possible to shift fewer or more gears than intended. but the accuracy of change improved as time rolled by.
a couple of years ago i reviewed another make of bicycle with the rohloff hub gear; both i and a colleague found it almost impossible to get on with, for occasionally when shifting from large to smaller gears, it would slide into a really big gear which my knees found most disgruntling. we both put it down to a badly adjusted hub unit, happy that we didn't have to persevere any further. unfortunately it seems this may be an inherent trait in the rohloff unit, for the gears on the stoater did precisely the same, specifically when changing between gears seven and six. granted, if the gear shift was quickly and smoothly made, it was possible to minimise the effect or even obviate it altogether, but every now and again, particularly on those offroad moments, it would catch me unawares.
it might be better to think of this as a feature, not a bug; in this case it proved to be hardly the most onerous of happenings during a bike ride, but i did rather wonder why it happened in the first place. knowledge and practice had the effect suitably minimised by the end of the review period.
the belt drive was something of a revelation, though more because it initially didn't appear all that different from riding a bike with a chain. however, there's no doubting the relative stiffness compared to your average flexible chain, something that was eventually felt in those finely chiselled calf muscles after a few days hard pedalling. this, however, was definitely a feature rather than a bug, as my legs were hurting slightly, but in a good way, if you see what i mean.
overall, the combination of the rohloff and the gates belt drive is close to a marraige made in heaven (or livingston). neither gave even a hint of a slip, even if changing while trying valiantly to climb over a small grassy mound that hadn't been noticed in the first place. though the whole enchilada weighs more than the derailleurs and chain it replaces, that's hardly a major concern on this particular stoater. record setting ascents of alpe d'huez are hardly likely to be a major concern.
the trp hylex hydraulic discs were, if anything, a tad too powerful for my liking. the modulation was greatly appreciated, as was the single digit braking at times, but grasping two full hands-worth of disc power threatened on occasion to give me a closer look at that front tyre tread. they did inspire incredible confidence when barrelling along rock-infested tracks, both uphill and downhill. those extra couple of centimetres in the cockpit made it so easy to ride really hard (by my standards) through corners, bends and other stuff ready to slap me in the face, safely knowing that it would stop on a sixpence (or five pence piece). but i think the cable operated alternative would have suited me a tad better.
the continental tyres coped with everything, and i mean everything. though not designed for mud, the little to which i exposed them was shrugged off easily. over tarmac, dirt, gravel and grass, it's hard to imagine there could be rubber of this ilk that would acquit itself any better. salsa's cowbell bars are swept slightly outwards, a feature i wasn't overly keen on, but it would likely be a simple matter to specify a more regular set of bars. similarly, if the stoater were mine (oh, how i wish), i'd have swapped the saddle. my usually saddle agnostic posterior didn't get on with the ritchey logic on any ride longer than half an hour to forty-five minutes. however, saddle choice has always been a highly personal affair, and therefore nothing that ought to be considered a reflection on either the frame or its build kit.
35c tyres were never going to allow speeds commensurate with a colnago riding a set of 25s, but i can't say i ever felt like i was going to be left behind. well, not often. though the rohloff is capable of offering large ratios in the graeme obree sphere of influence, at the opposite end, you could probably ride up the side of a house. there are sections where the gearing seems to take a larger jump than hoped, often accompanied by more noise. basically, between seven and fourteen (assuming you have the leg strength to push the latter), the hub is practically silent. below that there is noise of varying intensity, matched by a rather loud freewheel, however, it never reaches earplug intensity.
i still figure this is the bicycle that will make everything else in the bikeshed redundant, other than the race-only carbon in the back. however, i think perhaps rohloff could likely spend a few concentrated moments refining the hub gear to the level we take for granted with modern day derailleurs. few of us inhabit the rarefied atmospheres demanded by high grade carbon, while those of us north of the border live in the world of grey sky thinking whether we realise it or not. having brought to your attention the fact that steven and russell (responsible for the word stoater appearing in the admirable blackoak typeface on the top tube and that fabulous shand script on the down tube) have a new website, the only feature i think they have overlooked is the availability of a wishlist.
i'd be the first to use it.
the shand stoater rohloff as listed on the website with trp cable operated spyre disks retails at £3595. with trp hylex hydraulics, expect to pay a few pounds more...........................................................................................................................................................................................................