Let’s just say I didn’t expect any less than greatness from Moots when it came to the Womble, the latest creation from their shop in Steamboat Springs. From previous experiences, I knew how well Moots’ titanium bikes rode and was looking forward to trying out their take on a modern 29er.
A few years back, I put the Baxter 29er through the wringer on the Steamboat to Fort Collins Ramble Ride, and during my project with SRAM in the Inyo Mountains, I pedaled it high up in the Mojave Desert and through Death Valley, across miles of washboard roads.
If I learned anything from those experiences it’s that titanium is the greatest frame material, especially when it’s wielded by the Masters of Metal. I’ve had the Womble 29er for a few months now, throughout the dusty ‘n’ dry end of summer, well into the snow-filled fall, and am finally ready to make my thoughts official, so read on below.
First Of All: It Ain’t an XC Bike, ATMO
What’s up with that name? Well, Moots named this bike after the iconic Womble trail in Mt. Ida, Arkansas, and has categorized it on their website as an XC bike. Before we go any further, I’m going to throw that nomenclature out the window. These days, mountain bike marketing is all over the place, and with good reason, as there are so many schools of riding. How do you delineate a lightweight XC racing bike from a nimble and capable hardtail? Numbers? Spec? Travel? Marketing?
Maybe I’m a bit wary of such designations but my idea of what an XC bike is has very little overlap with the Womble, and I’m afraid such a label really undersells this bike. Or perhaps it’s intentional, to sell the hordes of Leadville-hopeful XC racers a new made in the USA hardtail? While the Womble can hold its own on XC trails, I didn’t feel its capabilities until we went up into the mountains above Santa Fe, which is traditionally the territory for my Starling Murmur, a 150mm travel 29er full suspension.
The Womble didn’t just get by the skin of its teeth on these trails, it came to life as much on the descent as it did on the leg-burning climbs, and there’s a reason for that…
Ya gotta love that little seat tube kink…
You can usually look at a geometry chart and gain an understanding of how a bike will ride: it’s a numbers game. Unfortunately, there’s been a big push in recent years to design bikes with an emphasis on descending prowess so they can “keep up” with their full-suspension siblings.
Hardtails are versatile machines. When specced and designed correctly, they could be a gravel race machine, a vehicle for bikepacking, and yes, an all-mountain ally. The Womble has been such a joy to ride because it dabbles in a few schools of thought. Primarily, hardtail mountain bikes should be capable on the entire mountain! Not just on the descents. The reason for this is part geometry, part spec, and part materiality.
Let’s check out the geometry first.
Like many of you, I looked at these numbers and had an idea of what kind of bike the Womble would be. On the XL I reviewed, the 67.2º head angle, paired with the 74.8º seat angle (with the 140mm fork sagged at 25%) meant Moots took the middle-lane here in terms of what is considered a progressive geometry these days, or at least what many consider to be: 65º HTA and 77º STA respectively.
These two numbers, seat and head angle, when pushed to the end of the limit can drastically affect a bike’s ability to be a true all-rounder. For instance, while a steeper seat tube angle will climb steep singletrack quite well, in my experience, it tends to turn the bike into an ass-hatchet on anything else since you’re closer to being vertical over the bottom bracket shell.
A super slack head angle has its pitfalls as well. Too slack of a front end and suddenly you have to fight wheel flop on tight turns and slow-speed maneuvers. Moots’ decision to avoid the temptation of pushing the Womble to the far extents of hardtail geometry resulted in a bike that climbs as well as it descends and still rides everything in between with grace. Other numbers play into the bike’s liveliness, like the 57mm bottom bracket drop and 434mm chainstays, meaning the rear end errs on stability, rather than snappy, without compromising high-speed handling.
In short, the Womble is a bike designed for a total, all-mountain experience.
I chose the XL based on the reach and stack numbers, yet I will say I could have also ridden the size large, depending on how I wanted the bike to feel. For me, I tend to prefer a longer reach number and after swapping out the supplied ENVE 50mm long stem for a 35mm long Industry Nine stem, it made the XL frame fit perfectly.
No Cable Guides: A True Balleur Build Kit
Moots offers up the Womble entree with two trimming options on the chassis: AXS or cables. With AXS, there are no derailleur cable guides, no dropper routing ports. It’s as clean and minimal as a mountain bike can be, with a derailleur and dropper anyway. The cabled version has routing for a stealth dropper and cable guides. I reviewed the AXS version, rolling on ENVE/Chris King wheels, and a meaty RockShox Pike Ultimate.
Believe it or not, this was my first experience riding the AXS MTB kit. Before I’d only ridden it in the “mullet” configuration on drop bar bikes and while I could go on and on about the AXS experience on its own, I’ll just say it was much better over a long-term review period than I thought it would be. People’s number one gripe seems to be the act of charging the batteries, yet in the two months I had the bike, I only charged the AXS batteries twice.
Other build specs in this pricing tier is a full ENVE package; bar, stem, and wheels. Moots sent the Womble with Schwalbe tires, which lasted one ride, and I later replaced them with some meaty 2.6″ Teravail Kessels in gumwall. I also swapped out the bars for a wider M7 bar in lieu of the M6 riser, as well as the Oury grips for Ergon.
Side note: This is a dream bike, specced to the walls, and what you would expect from a true balleur Moots review build. I am well aware it is tone-deaf to post a review of a $10,000 bike during a pandemic, in the throes of an economic recession, but please know I am by no means justifying this build kit, or bike for that matter, nor am I forcing it on anyone. I’m sure you’re here, reading this review because you love bikes, and I can assure you I agreed to review this bike because I do too. The fact that this build kit is even an option from a US manufacturer with a 40-year pedigree is telling of the technological advancements the MTB industry has undergone in recent years. Yet, this bike would ride just as well with a GX kit because the components can only float the experience so much, when it comes down to it, the frame has the bike’s soul…
Titanium: the Magic Metal
The more I ride titanium bikes, the more titanium bikes I want. The material surpasses its typical trope of “lateral stiffness and vertical compliance” or being “lightweight” and supersedes all other materials in the riding experience. There are so many reviews of titanium bikes out there, looking deep into the science of the material, the butting, the profiles, and they all say the same basic thing; titanium smooths out the riding experience, no matter what the terrain. A properly engineered and fabricated bike will do just that, without riding like a wet noodle.
On a hardtail, this means it will snap through tight singletrack, soften those brake-bump riddled turns, eat chunderous fall-line for dinner, and at the end of a long ride, won’t leave your back and wrists wrecked. For these reasons, a mountain bike gets my vote for the best application for the material. It’s a big reason why my rigid 29+ desert touring bike is titanium. That bike soaks up rugged jeep roads like a piece of cornbread atop a bowl of chili. Mmmmm mmmm.
Another point I’d make is due to the size of XL frames, the oversized titanium tubing really brings the proportions closer to center. If gestalt were to be applied to bike design, this is a good example. The bike looks balanced with these proportions. So balanced, in fact, that it can stand up on its own. Ohhhhhhhhh!
If this bike were void of all ornamentation, you could still tell it was a Moots just based on the welds and finish alone. Yet those welds aren’t all the Womble has going for it. Moots’ in-house finishing team bead blasted this frame (and the titanium King Cages!) in house. It also has an all-over anodized geometric array in a rainbow of colors, just subtle enough to draw interest without overpowering the profile of the bike. A cast head badge acts as the keystone.
All of the hardware used in building this bike is machined in house, which is how Moots is able to add that nifty little ‘gator detail to the threaded dropout and seat collar.
Here’s where I segue into my only critique of the Womble. In recent years, a number of builders have developed 3D-printed titanium yokes for their bikes where the chainring, chainstay, and tire clearance are in tight spatial competition. The holy trinity of bike clearance if you will. Yokes do a number of things, including adding a tiny smidge of weight, but more importantly, they offer a solution to ensuring this clearance trinity is in balance. They often allow for you to run a slightly bigger tire and chainring, resulting in a slightly shorter chainstay if that’s your thing too. It also keeps the builder from having to crimp or dimple the stay to ensure proper clearances. Yet, a yoke does add another weld in an already tight spot at the bottom bracket shell.
A bike like the Womble would have been the perfect springboard for when and if Moots decides to incorporate yokes in their off-road-equipped bicycles.
I get it, a 3D-printed yoke design is time-intensive and costly but let’s not beat around the bush here, Moots makes some of the most precision titanium bikes out there with an impeccable eye for detailing, finishing, construction, and a properly implemented yoke would just up that ante even more.
The Womble Experience
Throughout the duration of this review, I don’t think I’ve ever been bombarded with more questions on my personal Instagram account, where I tend to offer a more intimate look at my day-to-day life. I rode this bike all over our local trails, posting quick snippets of it leaning against a Ponderosa pine, or laid down on a glistening stretch of quartz-laden singletrack while the sky is enveloped in a proper full nüke sunset. It’s a good lookin’ bike. Moots is a damn fine brand. People really wanted to know how I felt about it. Most of my replies were along the lines of “I fucking love it” and it’s true.
It’s daunting to live at the terminus of the Rocky Mountains, at 7,000′ knowing all your trails are technical, steep, and even go up to 12,500′. The weight of this Womble build (26.5lbs on the nose as pictured here) gave me confidence and no excuses not to pedal this bike all over. The 140mm fork, 2.6″ tires, long-travel dropper, and refined geometry allowed me to put my faith in the brakes and just let go.
I’m 6’2″, 190lbs
Jumps, rock jibs, chicanes, and off-camber, bench cut trails were just part of the overall experience, not a “feature” or a moment of pause. With the Womble, I just pointed it and let it rip. It cornered like a caffeinated Javelina, gripped the trail like a Horned Lizard fleeing a predator, and moved through rock gardens like a spooked Western Coachwhip. I cannot overstate this enough; the Womble offered an unparalleled hardtail experience and was a great escape from the day-to-day experiences of this shitty year.
The Moots Womble is not an XC bike, rather it belongs high in the mountains. Its lightweight chassis is all the more reason to pedal a big day straight from town; the geometry is tuned for enjoying the full spectrum of mountain biking. It fits big, meaty tires, in a package you’d expect from Moots, the Masters of Metal. While the price always stings for made in the USA frame like a Moots, I can say this with confidence: you get what you pay for.
The closest pricepoint to this build spec is $9,703 (with ENVE Foundation AM wheels), yet that’s without the Chris King hubs and ENVE M9 rims. There is also an XT mechanical build for $7,372 and an XTR option for $8,312, or you can buy the frame for $3,749 and swap your existing 29er kit over to a brand new titanium chassis, which is a much less painful price point. You can see the full kit breakdown at Moots.
A huge thanks to Moots for setting this review up and to photographer Kyle Klain for the action photos.