The Stooge Speedbomb Review: Maybe It’s Not a Compromise After All

In this Stooge Speedbomb review, Jason Fuller reflects on our collective obsession with ever-more-complicated bicycle technologies, and what led him to give up suspension for the simplicity of a rigid mountain bike. Beyond the retro-grouches and technophobes, can a rigid mountain bike be more fulfilling than one with suspension?

When I first fell in love with mountain biking it was the early 1990s and mountain bikes were metal, suspension was crude or non-existent, and standards were few and well established. Over the years I followed the trends and went through various phases: I rode XC and trials in the ‘90s, overbuilt hucking hardtails in the early to mid 2000’s, and became a bit of a late adopter of full suspension at the beginning of the 2010s once I realized how far they’d come. In 2021 I built an Esker Japhy – the beginning of a swing of the technological pendulum back toward simplicity in my mountain bikes.

Seeing Yourself Reflected

When I became familiar with Stooge Cycles, my attraction to their bikes was partly rooted in nostalgia for simpler bikes and far fewer industry standards, and partly fueled by my growing disdain for the complex and disposable nature of modern bikes. I really appreciated that Andy was stubbornly producing what he felt the world needed, rather than trying to capitalize on market trends like major brands. I also found Stooge frames very easy on the eyes, with elegant lines and beautiful, often subdued colors. I just don’t see myself reflected in the fighter-jet appearance and aggressive graphics of modern MTBs.

In 2022 I tried Morgan’s Scrambler on a section of trail and was immediately humbled by the rigid fork. I declared immediately that I would be keeping my suspension fork – but my resolve slowly eroded. Eventually I couldn’t ignore my desire to own one any longer and I told myself it was worth making such a drastic compromise as giving up suspension entirely to have a beautiful and timeless bike.

The Pendulum Swing

By this time it was early 2023 and Andy was expecting shipments of both the 29+ Speedbomb and the evolution of the original Stooge, now called the Mk6. The Speedbomb had the curved bi-plane fork while in this iteration the Mk6 received a less-enticing straight blade fork, which among other factors led me to choose the Speedbomb. The Speedbomb oozed style with the “gas tank” tube and twin top tubes. I was pushed over the edge by the timeless blue-green paint that you’d never see on a typical mountain bike these days: I was sold.

Even after I’d placed the order, I couldn’t shake the feeling this foray into rigid mountain biking was going to be a temporary venture. I’d hang on to the Japhy frame and fork, just in case. After all, suspension regularly saved my ass on the trail, even on the hardtail. I’m not a masochist, and I had no interest in riding rigid for tough-guy points. I just wanted the beauty and simplicity. Admittedly, I might have been chasing an aesthetic as much as I was the nostalgia.

Assumptions About Compromise

It wasn’t until I was a few rides in on the Speedbomb that I started to appreciate how my assumptions about compromise were all wrong. It took a little while for me to unlearn all the marketing and status quo that had me convinced I wouldn’t have as much fun without suspension. I was adjusting how I rode, riding rough sections more slowly and opting out of jumps or drops that I might previously have ridden.

I was sure that this all adds up to compromise – but yet, I was having more fun than ever and getting more satisfaction out of the same stretches of trail I’ve ridden countless times. I didn’t feel more beat up at the end of the ride; rather, I was feeling more elated than ever. I found the trope of riding rigid being about toughness was all wrong, as well – for me, it’s about humility. It’s about abandoning the chase of every advancement, saying no to the marketing promises, and just enjoying the ride.

What is Modern Mountain Biking?

None of this changes the fact that modern suspension is extremely good, and the range of modern mountain bikes unlocks new potential both for the advanced rider to push what can be ridden, as well as for the novice rider to gain confidence on the trail. But I do challenge the idea that suspension provides a better overall riding experience, and the common belief that rigid bikes don’t have a place in modern mountain biking.

What is modern mountain biking, anyway? As the bikes evolved, so did the way we ride, and the trails we ride on. Somewhat counter-intuitively, trails became smoother, shaped with berms and larger radius turns to accommodate the newfound speed that suspension unlocks. While natural features and the topography of the land continue to be incorporated into trails, a lot of detail is removed from the land to facilitate the higher trail speeds. Add to that the improvements of modern suspension, and I would say that the experience has really been muted.

Smiles Per Mile

Rigid bikes, on the other hand, are suited to the more old fashioned trails: rooty and rocky, often with less human intervention, or at least a more honest representation of the terrain. The trail speed is correspondingly slower, and this results in a few things. For one, you get more experience per mile of riding because it’s not flying past you. You also tend to notice your surroundings more. Now, don’t get me wrong, the rush of speed is a wonderful thing, and there will be sections of trail where even on a rigid bike you can let go of the brakes and fly through the forest – at the discretion of the land.

It would be a stretch to say that riding a rigid MTB will change your perspective entirely, but it does facilitate and encourage a more thoughtful approach to how you move through the lands you ride. It does change your priorities, and these new priorities tend to result in better interactions with other trail users and a deeper appreciation for the land as it presents itself. Sometimes in life, it does you good to be forced to slow down.

How Did We Get Here?

It’s worth looking closer at the evolution of bikes as previously mentioned, and how they adapted to higher speed in every technological respect. I enjoy the thrill of speed, as do most of us, and I had no doubts that by going rigid I’d be making a concession in this department. I was honestly surprised to find that I got the same thrill at lower speeds when I didn’t have suspension to pave the way. Lower speeds also offer safety and trail erosion benefits.

So why did bikes evolve the way they did? I suspect it has a lot to do with racing. At the elite competition level, enjoying the trail is not nearly as important as finishing as fast as possible. As spectators, we are inspired by the skill of these riders and the bikes we buy are direct descendants of the race bikes they compete on. No bicycle genre is immune to this trickle down effect, but does it serve the consumer or does it serve the industry?

Features for Features Sake?

Speaking of serving the industry, the mountain bike industry is not immune to capitalism and like any industry, is always looking for ways to increase sales and revenue. As bikes become more and more feature-rich, we can justify spending more and more. We buy the clever marketing and we buy the products. I’m not saying the technology doesn’t deliver on its promises, either – but do we really benefit from them beyond that initial dopamine hit of the new toy?

Maybe you’re thinking at this rate why don’t I give up gears, heck, why not disc brakes too? Well I have that bike also, a Crust Wombat, and it’s a joy even though I have to push or carry it more regularly and the brakes can be iffy. But shedding all creature comforts is not really the point, rather it’s that the quality of our experience doesn’t depend on these creature comforts and we also lose something in the process when our bikes get faster and more capable.

Shedding the Ego

I know that choosing to ride a rigid bike on difficult terrain seems like it’s about ego, but it can also be about shedding the ego: saying no to the endless advancements that promise to make us faster, better riders. Instead, just riding what we feel comfortable, walking what we don’t, and embracing that a simpler and slower version of mountain biking is not only just as valid, but honestly just as fun.

It takes a mental leap of faith to entertain the idea that choosing not to buy the thing that will make you faster might not actually make your ride better or more fun. We have always considered those to be inextricably tied together. Even further to suggest that being unwilling to ride a feature you would have ridden with a different bike as something worth embracing. This is where patience and humility come in, and recognizing the forest is not ours to conquer. It is ours to experience and to respect, and to experience it most fully is sometimes best achieved by slowing down, feeling the ground beneath you – and sometimes even walking your bike.

Build Spec

  • Stooge Speedbomb frame and fork
  • White Industries headset, BB, CLD hubset, and M30 cranks
  • Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain and XT 4-piston brakes
  • Mone fillet brazed steel stem, Stooge Junker bar, Oury v2 grips
  • OneUp dropper, Chromag Trailmaster LTD saddle
  • Velocity Blunt 35 rims wrapped in Teravail Kessel 29×2.6 tires and Cushcores
  • Custom upcycled frame bag by Loophole Bags

See more at Stooge Cycles.