“Best in Class” is not something I would throw around casually. I often find it polarizing to establish such hierarchies when referring to subjective statements. Yet at times, a bike rolls into my temporary possession that deserves the highest of praises. I’ve been riding the Tumbleweed Stargazer for a while now and having reviewed a number of similar bikes in this space, I feel like that title is fitting, yet no bike is perfect…
Let’s check out my full review below!
There’s no need to reinvent nomenclature at every blip in the cycling universe timeline. While terms like “drop bar mountain bike,” “ATB,” “bikepacking bike,” “monster cross,” and “adventure bike” all speak to a similar cycling archetype, it’s easiest for me to denote these sorts of bikes as “touring bikes.”
These beefy machines are cut from the same cloth as the bikes guys like Tim Neenan and Jim Merz designed back in the 1980s for brands such as Specialized. Even the great Charlie Cunningham was putting out fat tire, drop bar bikes with touring accouterment in that era. Many of his bikes had boost spacing and custom, hand-ramped 12-38t count cassettes, mated with TA touring cranks, offering up monster gear ranges for hauling all your camping stuff deep into the mountains.
The “touring bike” classification covers a wide swath of models ranging from narrow tire, pavement-oriented bikes to bikes like the Stargazer. It’s not the tires that denote the nomenclature; it’s the activity.
We’ve extensively discussed bikes in this realm over the years: the Specialized AWOL (and later, the Sequoia), the Kona Sutra ULTD, Otso Fenrir, and the Bombtrack Beyond 2. These bikes have a similar phenotype: tall head tubes, wide bars, a geometry tuned for fully-loaded riding, and large front triangles for carrying your stuff in a cavernous framebag. While touring implies a casual pace, they are just as comfortable smashing around on fire roads, double track, and singletrack when unloaded. Because as I’ve stated before, touring bikes make for excellent vehicles for exploration.
Yet, it’s not the presence of accouterment that makes them unique. The absence of other, modern cycling tech sets them apart from your average carbon gravel bike, which is great for riding or racing on dirt roads, but such gravel bike geometries are not tuned to carry fifty pounds worth of gear.
Many brands have planted a flag in the touring or bikepacking world and this offers up a variety of vehicles for such adventure-minded activities. Still, in my opinion, few do as good of a job at product, research, and development as Tumbleweed.
Their initial offering, the Prospector, is a Rohloff-equipped, rigid mountain bike, specifically designed for touring in remote, mountainous regions. Ryan Wilson has put one through the wringer and they’re the bike of choice for many cyclotourists. Tumbleweed also develops auxiliary goods such as handlebars and racks. Overall, the company hasn’t flooded the market with useless crap; they’ve pushed the envelope in what constitutes a modern touring bike.
The Stargazer is equally as capable as the Prospector, relying on big clearances, many cargo bosses, a refined geometry, a MTB drivetrain, and drop bars.
We’re five hundred words into this review and are finally getting into the meat and potatoes (or nettles and berries if that’s more your vibe). Tumbleweed describes the Stargazer as:
“The Stargazer is a nimble and balanced drop bar mountain touring bike designed for loaded trail riding. It’s at home on trails, singletrack and gravel roads whether unladen or with racks and bags on an adventure. The Stargazer a direct descendant of Tumbleweed’s first bike model, the Prospector, and shares much of the same tubing and mountain bike geometry, with a shorter reach to accommodate drop handlebars, and a lighter weight overall package.”
The takeaway is the Stargazer is cut from the same lineage as the Prospector, yet is tweaked to accept drop bars, and is lighter overall.
Since the Stargazer is a rigid bike, the geometry is static, meaning no adjustments for sag were made…
As a touring bike designed to take a full load, the Stargazer’s geometry reflects front loading with panniers while maintaining a comfortable riding position both on the tops of the hoods and in the drops. With a 69º head angle and 55mm of fork offset, the Stargazer has a trail number of 85mm, putting it in the high end of the trail spectrum.
Trail is best thought of as the tire patch “trailing” behind the steering axis of the head angle. On paper, a high trail number like this usually implies a lot of wheel flop, which is caused by the lowering of the front end as the handlebars are rotated. The Stargazer in this configuration has 28mm of wheel flop, which again is on the higher end of the spectrum. Bike Insights has a great rundown on trail if you’re keen to know more.
Many people believe you can tell a lot about a bike by looking at its trail number and, for touring bikes, a high trail number of 85mm is pretty ideal, especially when the wheelbase works in conjunction with the trail to create a very secure ride. For the XL Stargazer I reviewed, its wheelbase is 1141mm. If the rear end were shorter, or “tukt”, the result would be a less than ideal for riding while loaded down. A shorter rear end will be snappier, more nimble, and easier to whip the bike around, which isn’t what you want on a touring bike. Also, the longer rear end reduces heel rub if you were to mount panniers back there too. Rather, when the rear end is a bit longer and the front end a bit slacker, the bike will be more predictable while descending.
What I should also note is that the Stargazer’s seat tube angle is 72.5º in the XL I reviewed, which is nice for a tourer. Steep seat angles are very common on modern mountain bikes, yet they often result in shorter reach dimensions as the steeper seat tube puts you closer to the stem. Obviously, companies compensate for this but it can get out of hand quickly. My point is, with a slacker seat tube angle, the Stargazer is more akin to a modern tourer than it is to a modern mountain bike.
It also helps the bike feel like a proper XL in terms of reach numbers, which is very difficult to find these days. While this creates an overall more steady and comfortable riding position on roads, it does make the Stargazer less of a capable singletrack bike when loaded down. We’ll get into that in a few.
I believe that looking at geometry numbers alone can be detrimental to the ride experience when reviewing a bike and I usually save this geometric analysis for after I’ve spent a considerable time riding it.
Frame Details and Build Kit
Big tires, wide bars, lots of stack, and a big front triangle. The Stargazer is a big, burly bike that at first glance looks like a number of other bikes on the market, yet the details on this frame are second to none in its class. For starters, even with these Ikon 2.2″ tires, there is plenty of mud clearance thanks to a healthy chainstay yoke.
On one of the first rides I took the Stargazer on, I rode through some caliché, or very sticky mud/clay. It’s this material the locals – the Pueblo People – built their homes with for thousands of years. Once it gets on your bike, it’s slow-moving, yet I was able to muscle through the muck due to the mud clearance, to a dry section of road, and began stripping the clay from the tires.
This yoke allows for either 29×2.6″ or 27.5×3.0″ wheels. Personally, I felt like the 2.2″ Ikons that Tumbleweed specced my build with were more than enough rubber for the rides I was taking it on. My general feeling is a 50mm tire is plenty for dirt road and double track touring, so 2.2″ provided an abundance of rubber for this terrain. Tumbleweed also recommends a 27.5″ wheelset for the size small and medium frames.
The Stargazer is available in this beautiful sparkle paint job dubbed “Starry Night” or a tan color called “Bone.”
If you like touring accouterment like racks, or even fenders, the Stargazer has plenty of provisions for such outfitting. On bikes like this, I prefer racks over bikepacking bags. If a bike has rack mounts, I’ll err on racks, typically. For my overnighter setup, I used a Tumbleweed T-Rack for the rear, which allowed for the use of the PNW dropper post (which comes from Tumbleweed with the left shifter actuating it!), even with my Thermarest pad and Helinox chair mounted to it with Austere Engineering straps. For the front, I ran a Tubus Tara lowrider rack with Buckhorn Panniers, and a Fab’s Chest with a Pec Deck support mounted to those wonderfully wide Curve Cycling Walmer bars.
While it’s tempting to put a framebag on everything, this offered up more than enough space for all my creature comforts.
When a bike has all sorts of rack, bag, and cage provisions, it implies it’s designed for touring, yet for some dumb reason other bikes in this realm are still using 1x gravel drivetrains. There is no way I would have been able to climb the route I rode with a 1x gravel drivetrain. In my opinion, you need MTB gearing for a bike like this. Even with the Eagle setup here – made possible by the Ratio conversation kit – I still walked a good number of steep pitches. This is another reason I don’t think the Stargazer is a proper singletrack tourer. At least here in the Rockies.
Think about it this way: when we climb singletrack here, we’re already in the max gear (32x52t) and barely holding on in terms of traction. Add 20-30 pounds of gear to those same gear inches and you’re walking just about anything over a 15º grade. While the gearing this bike was delivered to me is a perfect middle ground, moving to a 26 or 28t front ring would give you a bit more gearing for climbing but then you’d be spinning out on downward trending gravel roads. As it stands, the Stargazer is perfect for the sorts of terrain I tested it on (gravel roads/double track) but would need some swapping of components to make it a better singletrack bike in my locale.
It’s why I don’t think bikes like this are for tackling truly rugged singletrack in the American West like the Arizona Trail or Colorado Trail. Rigid bikes are fun for bikepacking and touring but suspension is ultimately a better ally than relying on fat tires for such terrain. Yet for the Tour Divide, the Stargazer would be an exceptional ally since that route is primarily dirt roads.
However, when you descend this beaut, it transforms into a buckin’ bronco of a beast! Let’s look at the ride quality now…
Having ridden many bikes in the same realm as the Stargazer, I was immediately impressed at how well the bike rides loaded and unloaded. It was an almost paradoxical experience. Usually, bikes ride better unloaded but I found the Stargazer rides incredibly controlled while loaded down, yet when unloaded, it doesn’t feel tank-ish. Rather, it’s an incredibly springy and lively ride. While it weighs 30lbs “naked” with bottle cages and pedals, the Stargazer rides like it’s 5 pounds lighter. I’ve had conversations with Stargazer owners and this is a common feeling, so it made me feel confident in my initial analysis.
So, we’ve got a big, burly touring bike, that rides predictably when loaded – even with a majority of the cargo weight low and on the front of the bike – yet still is incredibly responsive and not sluggish at all while zipping around on a naked frame. This paradox is one of the reasons I love the Stargazer and was a major deciding factor in dubbing it “Best in Class.”
Yet, while the Stargazer’s behavior on dirt roads is predictable, comfortable, and pleasant, it is not the best at climbing steep singletrack.
Remember the seat tube angle discussion above? Well, bikes with slacker seat angles are not the best at climbing steep singletrack, particularly switchbacks. On one overnighter, I climbed it up a section of trail that intersects the dirt road on my route. I’ve climbed this stretch of trail many times, both loaded and unloaded, on drop bar and flat bar bikes, so I have a litmus for how a bike should handle this trail.
While meandering and flowy sections of trail climbed well, as soon as you got to a steep switchback, the bike’s slack seat angle became evident immediately. Slack seat angles put you further over the back hub of the bike and as the front end of the bike goes up in grade, you suddenly have to fight the sensation of falling over backward. One way to overcome these feelings is by moving forward on the saddle and “digging in,” by keeping seated, pushing on the pedals, and fighting gravity.
By front-loading the bike, the sensation of the front wheel lifting off the ground was not an issue, rather it was on unloaded rides that this was the bike’s Achilles. Yet, I don’t think every bike is able to handle “all” terrain. The Stargazer is a fully-loaded touring bike first and a gravel bike second. While it holds its own on some singletrack, it is not going to climb steep and technical trails as well as a bike designed to do just that and you know what? That’s quite ok!
In the above-mentioned scenario, I simply got off and walked the bike. Since my panniers are low and on the front, I had no issue pushing the bike up the trail. Had I loaded the panniers on the rear, this would not have been so easy on our bench-cut trail sections since they would be in direct competition with my body for that space. These trails are very narrow, mind you.
Once you point the Stargazer downhill, it becomes an unstoppable force. This is where those high trail numbers enter the conversation. If you were on a much lower trail number bike, say a road or gravel bike in the 55mm trail number zone, the added weight up front would make the front end squirrely and unpredictable. On a bike like this, however, it careens around corners and stays firmly planted when you hit ruts, washboard, or rocks.
You really have to point this fucker into the turns and just trust it. Once you push past any hesitation, the Stargazer comes alive.
I really feel like this planted feeling while descending is one of the most iconic sensations one can experience on a proper touring bike and why gravel bikes, which might be a good jack-of-all-trades, are a less than ideal platform for fully loaded touring.
Aspen Ranch Overnighter Route
We have some great riding, accessible right from town here in Santa Fe. If you’d like to try this route out, find it embedded below. It’s very straight forward but be warned if it’s been raining, there is lots of sticky clay in the area marked on the map. Also, water here is plentiful this year but if we’re having a dry monsoon season, some of these springs will be dry. (Although I’ve yet to see them dry, so don’t be too concerned with this.) As with all routes shared here, please observe the Leave No Trace principles and be nice to the locals. ;-)
Nit Picks? and the Take-Away
No bike is perfect yet the Stargazer is as close as it gets to perfection. Specifically when it comes to fully loaded touring. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I couldn’t find a single thing I didn’t like about the bike. What’s really great about the Stargazer is it’s available as a frameset, so you could build it however you like, but I highly recommend working with Tumbleweed on a custom build of your own. As pictured here, the bike would hover around $4,400 while the $3875 advertised price point doesn’t include the Walmer bars or the hydraulic brakes. So, expect to pay a tad bit more for this exact setup.
My ideal version of this bike would nix the dropper post and include a SON hub with a Sinewave Beacon lamp. Personally, I find droppers kind of pointless on a drop bar touring bike.
Overall, the Tumbleweed Stargazer is the most capable and proper touring bike I’ve ridden to date. Its MTB gearing, stout frame construction, build spec, and geometry allows for comfortable, all-day rides and fully-loaded tours or overnighters without compromise. If you’re looking to cull your bike collection down or build up a bike for next year’s Tour Divide, this is the bike you should be considering. You can build it up yourself, or work with Tumbleweed to prune the perfect build kit for your adventures.
- Stable, comfortable, even shreddy when it’s loaded.
- Lots of fun riding the frame “naked” with no racks or bags.
- Great stock build kit but can be customized individually.
- Proper touring geometry.
- Clearance for big tires.
- Ratio conversion allows for MTB gearing with drop bars and levers.
- Sometimes they’re sold out, so get on it now if you’re wanting one.
- Sending it back after the review…
This review was quite the mouthful and I’m sure I missed some points, so drop your questions in the comments and I’ll expand on anything your heart desires! Thanks to Tumbleweed for sending me this bike to review! It’s gonna be hard to send it back!