When someone says “that is a great bikepacking bike,” I think about my first experience bikepacking. It was on a 26” Trek Fuel EX. It was easily the best bikepacking bike for me at the time, mainly because it was the only bike I had. In the end, it turned out to be great for it’s application. The trip was on the Colorado Trail, where ‘rough’ was typically the word of the day. My point is, a bike should not be chosen for it’s bikepacking ability, but rather the terrain. While the Tour Divide and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route season is a distant memory, it is hard not to think about how popular this route is, and how long the planning and preparations take to get to Antelope Wells, let alone up to Banff. Two years ago in April, Jefe Branham and I were driving down to 12 Hours of Mesa Verde, typically one of the first mountain bike races of the year in Colorado. Jefe was about to take on the divide and I was in the beginning stages of planning for the race a year later. We spoke a lot about the Tour Divide on the 4 hour drive. I asked him if he could choose one bike to ride on the Tour Divide, what would it be? He said “it would be made of titanium.” I tend to listen to a lot of what Jefe has to say, and I took that piece of advice and started to research. A year later I had landed on the Chumba Stella Ti, a new bike Chumba had been developing over the winter. Chumba is an adventure-forward, race-ready boutique bike brand. Based out of Austin Texas, Chumba Cycles builds innovative mountain bikes that transcend geographical boundaries; they are built to last and built in the United States. Call me a sucker for American made products, especially bike products.
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Chumba offers 6 decal colors for your downtube.

The Frame

As I continued my research, I found that titanium would be the perfect application for the Tour Divide. Titanium has a memory quality to it, making it very difficult to machine and work with. In the same breath, this quality gives the bike a smooth, responsive and stable feel. Bikepacking is bound to beat you up over time, so why excelerate that if you don’t have to. At 5′ 10″ I rocked a large frame, I would be considered right on the edge of a medium an large.  The Stella Ti frame may look like a normal titanium from afar, but the beauty and ability lies in the small details. For starters, the frame is not all that light, at least if you compare it to a carbon cross-country rig. This is in part because of a few features that many 29er bikes are left without. The frame comes with a beefy 2” down tube (L/XL), 1.5” top tube, along with some stout chainstays. When you look at the bike up close, you certainly notice how big the downtube is. Chumba says that their race driven tubeset provides the best blend of power transfer, trail compliance, and ride quality. The team at Chumba also wanted to develop the bike with the ability to run 2.4” tires, have ample mud clearance, and keep the Q factor down to 156mm. They accomplished this task, but not before a number of prototypes. Unlike their older steel Stella, the bike does come with an oversized head tube to accommodate all types of forks. A feature that was overdue in my opinion and makes the rider experience so much better. As for the bottom bracket, Chumba went with a press fit cup. While we could dwell on the proper bottom brackets for bikepacking, I would rather state that I had no issues with mine for roughly 3,000 miles, other than a small amount of creeking. I did need to replace the drive side of the bottom bracket, a typical flaw with the PF30 design. I would prefer to see a GXP bottom bracket any day of the week. DSC08615What makes this frame so versatile is the Paragon droppers. Not only are they versatile in the drivetrain you select; be it SS,1x, 2x, 3x or Rohloff, but also in the way the bike performs with the sliders placed in different positions to shorten or lengthen the wheelbase. I messed around with this a lot, and at times I felt like I was on a completely different bike. The Stella Ti frame is rounded out with 3 bottle cage mounts(M/L/XL), two eyelets on the seatstays for racks (if you use those) some sleek cable guides, and a slick mill finish, one that showcases the natural beauty that titanium offers.

Parts

Before we jump into my ride thoughts, let’s talk briefly about components so that you can get a better understand of how the bike rode for me. Chumba does sell their titanium frame alone, as a frame set, or a full build. Many of the parts I used can be found on their full builds. The parts you use on your bike can make for an extremely different ride. One part that can completely transform your bike is the wheelset, mainly the rims. I purchased some Enve M60 Forty rims, not only for the Tour Divide, but for a solid trail rim. While they were not the lightest or the widest rims, they proved to be a perfect complement to a titanium frame. The 23mm internal width rim gave me more confidence on the corners, and helped me accelerate the Ti frame with ease. While these were great on day rides, it is certainly not a bikepacking friendly rim. But I did say I am a sucker for American made products.  Another major part that can transform your ride is the fork. I started to ride the bike with the stiff Whisky No. 9 Carbon fork before moving onto a Fox Float Factory 100mm travel fork after the Tour Divide. It was incredible what the bike turned into when I took one of the most stiff carbon forks on the market off for a suspension fork. The rest of the bike has a Shimano driver with Race Face Next cranks and chainring, XT brakes and Thompson post, stem and Ti Bar. DSC08637

The Ride

Before I tried the Ti version of the Stella, I got to test out the steel version for a few months. While there are some comparisons, the new design got a solid upgrade in a number of areas, enough so that it makes it difficult to compare the two. It’s worth noting that all of the features developed on the Ti version will be available in the steel version soon, and at a much more economical price. When I first received the bike, I pushed the Paragon sliders all the way back. I’m a stronger climber than I am descender, so I figured that this theory would play in my favor when cruising down some fast roads on the divide. It was not until after the divide when I first rode with the dropouts in the middle and eventually pushed all the way forward. The difference was extreme. I went from an extremely stable, slow acceleration bike, to a pretty stable cross country feeling bike. While it may not compare to the snappy feel of a carbon hard tail, it was close. I have not moved the droppers since, and I have no plans on doing so, unless I switch the bike to single speed. IMG_0077While I rode this bike along many of forest service roads, the stability tests really came on rugged singletrack. The bike cruised over technical features without rattling my body, even with the carbon rims stiffening up the bike. I think there is something to be said about the perfect partnership of carbon and titanium. While the Whisky Carbon Fork paired with the Enve hoops may have been harsh at times, the Fox Factory fork gave the bike an overall pleasant riding experience, one that exudes superior tracking and comfort. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a hardtail, and I still got bucked on some technical descents, but it tracked much better than I had anticipated. While I did not endure too many wet days on the divide or my summer bikepacking trips as a whole this year, I did get stuck in a number of messy New Mexico rain events. If you haven’t experienced them, New Mexico clay/dirt turns into a sticky pudding after rain, so much so that riding your bike can be impossible. I was pleasantly surprised how well the the bike handled the mud, keeping me on my bike longer than others that I was riding with. June overnighter-05248So how does the Stella Ti handle a bikepacking load? Like any rig – it all depends on how you pack the bike. I find myself always packing a tight saddle bag, and same with handlebar bag. This gives less weight fluctuation, and a better overall feel under the bike especially on corners, and climbs. The Stella frame design does allow copious amounts of room for a full frame bag. However, it would be difficult to run a half frame bag and still fit two bottles in the lower part of the frame. While there are bottle mounts on the down tube, and I did use them for a water bottle on the divide, I told myself I would never do that again because of cow shit and other contaminates. Now I find myself using an Everything Bag on the down tube mounts to keep my bottle clean. IMG_9193The Stella Ti proved to be capable of rugged forest roads, technical singletrack and everything in between. After riding a full suspension all of last year, I think it’s safe to say that Stella Ti made me a better rider. Chumba designed the bike for cross country endurance riding and it proved to work, especially for my intended application. I put 4000 miles on the bike, many of them loaded down, some of them not. I would consider that to only be the beginning of the bikes life, a life of adventure, exploration, racing and fun.

The Chumba Stella Ti is available in small, medium, large, and extra large. For the frame alone you are looking at $1,999, and frame sets start at $2,349. Chumbausa.com

 

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