I purchased my Jabberwocky this winter from George at Five Hills Bikes (aka Bike29). I actually purchased two frames this winter; the second frame I got at a really good price from HuckNRoll during their black Friday sale. This review will be about my green race bike, not the black frame I built up. The frames are identical, but I’ve ridden the green bike more extensively and raced it a few times already; so it seems more appropriate that I review that configuration.
I bought the Jabberwocky because of its geometry. The 18 inch frame has an effective top-tube length just over 24 inches. Since I have relatively short legs and a long torso for my height, getting a frame that fits properly is always a challenge. If I get a frame with a short top-tube, I end up with too much weight over the front wheel because of needing a long stem to compensate. If the top tube is long enough, then the stand-over height is almost guaranteed to be too tall – and that can be painful in ways that I try to avoid at all costs. Getting the best of both of these fit qualities was my main motivator for the purchase. The fact that the frame is a good quality steel at a very reasonable price was icing on the cake.
I built this frame up over the winter. I have some earlier posts about that in my archives. Most of the build is relatively mundane with a few exceptions: Chris King headset, hand built wheels that I laced up with some White Industries hubs, and an old Litespeed titanium seatpost. The seatpost has an almost scary amount of flex which provides quite a bit of comfort to the ride. I used the G2 Fox fork from my Trek/Fisher Rig.
The White Ind. hubs with their freewheel are very distinct. They seem to last forever based on the previous one I had. On top of that, they can be completely serviced and rebuilt; I hate disposable parts. The freewheel engages with no preceptible delay. What may be the best part is that the pawls are loud and create a higher pitched sound than most freehubs. It is great for the times when I catch up with another rider on the trail. The high buzz immediately lets them know that I’m there and coasting. That might not be so great in a race when I want a little stealth, but I’ll live with it.
The best way to describe this bike is “long, low and lean.” The 18 inch size with the long top tube length is just about perfect fit for my slightly weird proportions. I could still use a little bit lower top tube for standover reasons, but I would need a 16 inch bike with a 24 inch top-tube to get that. Vassago’s web site mentions that you will feel like you’re sitting between the wheels instead of over them. This does seem to bear out to a small degree. Because of the geometry, the bottom bracket is slightly lower than the Trek Rig I had before. I still will occasionally strike the inside pedal when cranking through corners where I didn’t on my previous bike. Mostly, that is just a matter of recalibrating my brain to the difference. It’s not so low that it would be a problem but more that I was familiar with the other bike. I like to power through corners, and I strike the sides of my shoes or pedals fairly often, even when riding on the pavement.
In general, the bike handles quickly – almost like it was made for single-track. With the Fox suspension fork running with 100mm of travel, it was quick handling although not quite as quick as the Rig when paired with the same suspension fork. The frame specifications recommend an 80mm fork, so I blamed the minor sluggishness on that. I recently had the fork dropped down to 80mm which made a huge improvement in the handling. It is now very close to how the bike handles with a rigid fork. Huge improvement. With a rigid fork, the bike really feels more natural and has perfectly neutral steering. If I weren’t racing the bike, I would just stick with a rigid fork because of the improved steering.
The geometry of this bike does have one significant negative quality: the combination of the long top tube with its long chainstays make floating the front end a little more difficult. In technical terrain, it is nice to be able to just lean back and pull the front end off the ground to get it over a log or up a small ledge. With this bike, it takes a little more effort to get the front end up in this manner. I have mostly adjusted to this by now and haven’t found it to be detrimental to my riding or racing.
Surprisingly, this bike climbs like crazy. The conventional wisdom has always been that shorter chainstays make a better climbing bike. For whatever reason, this thing just stayes glued to the ground on steep climbs even though the stays are on the long end of the spectrum. Perhaps this is only because this is a single-speed bike and I run out of power before I run out of traction.
The bike is also super stable descending. Their “Wet Cat” geometry performs as advertised. This is one of the benefits attributed to the longer chain stays.
I would love to rave about how plush the steel frame makes the bike feel. Without a doubt, this should be credited to the magical qualities of steel tubing. The long steel stays provide a spring-like, lively feel to the bike. I find I’m less fatigued after a long ride and wake up the next morning feeling cool and refreshed like the dew on a beautiful summer morning. Yes, it is vertically compliant while retaining those critical qualities of lateral stiffness. In reality, tire pressure makes more difference but that’s not as much fun to write about.
Speaking of tires, I’m running Maxxis Ardents 29×2.2″. These tires are pretty good. Not as great in bottomless or slimy mud as the Bontrager 29-4 rear tire I have on the black Jabber, but still very good. On the positive side, the Ardents seem to have much less rolling resistance than that tire.
One of the things I love about this bike is the the horizontal “drop outs,” or track ends as they are more correctly called. With a bolt on hub, it is extremely solid. I’m tired of other mechanisms. The Trek Rig had sliding dropouts which slid all over the place. My Giant has EBB which holds well enough but still slips over time. I wouldn’t trust that on an MTB. I prefer to keep it simple. I did find that skewers don’t hold quite well enough with the horizontal dropouts. The frame has built in tensioners so creeping forward isn’t much of an issue. The real problem I experienced was that the disc brake could force the non-drive side of the axle right out of the dropout. The Bontrager skewers I used are pretty junky in my opinion so it may work fine with another type. None of these problems exist with the White Ind. hub.
Unfortunately, the company, Vassago, is dead right now. The owner had some personal problems which led to it changing hands and, in my opinion, not being handled properly. Any issues they had as a company cannot be not due to having a bad product. According to their website they will be back in business sometime next year. We’ll see. If they do, it’s definitely a bike worth looking into.
Edit: I’ve posted a followup to this review.