Part of my job riding on the Vassago Cycling Team is to bash the living crap out of some really sweet bikes just to see how they will hold up. Of course I am kidding about bashing the crap out of them but having put several thousand miles on them, I consider myself knowledgeable about the bikes, how they ride and how they hold up to a fair amount of abuse.
I got my Optimus Ti frame in April of this year and built it up just in time for the first race of the year, the Cohutta 100. This is the first generation frame that was built overseas to Vassago specs (newer ones are built in the good old US of A, not that there's a problem with overseas stuff) and features the now famous "Wet Cat" geometry and some really nice sliding dropouts courtesy of Paragon Machine Works. Although I ride singlespeeds exclusively, the Optimus is "gearable" with an accessory kit that includes a new right side dropout and bottom bracket cable guides. Building mine up with a fairly middle of the road component spec, I was able to get a bike that weighed in at 19.5 lbs (with pedals!) and before you could say "She's a beaut Clark", I was putting the first miles on it. Compared with the stalwart Jabberwocky, the handling is identical, as it probably should be since the numbers are the same. The only differences between the Optimus and my Jabbers is the frame material obviously and the White Bros Rock Solid fork on the Optimus vs. the ODIS steel fork on the Jabberwocky.
From the first pedal stroke, I could tell this was a way different bike than what I was used to. The ride quality of the Optimus is amazing (and that's saying quite a bit since the Jabberwocky already set a pretty high standard for ride). Combined with the WB fork and the inherent quality of 29er wheels, small high frequency bumps virtually disappeared. It feels alot like a short travel XC bike in that regard. You know the bumps are there, you just don't feel them. Handling and stability is inspiring. The mythical 29er's can't handle tight turns, twisties and are slow handling gets busted right from the start. That's probably due mostly to the proprietary Wet Cat geometry that in a nutshell puts your center of gravity more between the wheels than above them like some other manufacturers that just took basic 26 inch geometry and stuffed bigger wheels in there but the frame material definitely contributes to the magical ride quality the Optimus possesses. 40+mph fireroad descents (I have seen a few) on this bike are a blast. It just sticks to corners and when or if it does break loose, it does so in a fairly controlled manner.
Climbing is another strong point for this bike. Light, stiff where it needs to be, it climbs like a dream. I have heard some complaints or concerns that Vassagos loose traction to easily on loose climbs due to their long chainstays. I have never experienced that. Being a singlespeed, you need to lay down some serious power to climb steep stuff and if the soil is loose, it will slip but it is no more prone to doing that than any other bike I have ridden.
To date, I have put about 3,300 miles on my Optimus Ti in terrain ranging from pavement to dirt and gravel roads, doubletrack and singletrack ranging from mild to damn scary. It has been ridden hard and put up wet more than I'd like to say but I have given it a good bit of TLC as well. One thing I haven't done is a whole lot of maintenance other than lubing the chain when needed. This has been one of the most dependable bikes I have ridden. In the 3k miles I didn't have so much as a flat tire. (To be fair, I did have 3 broken spoke nipples and one bashed rear rim that was my fault). The Paragon dropouts are set and forget. No slipping, no creaks, they just do their job clean and efficient like.
After the endurance stuff was over, I slapped on some cyclocross tires and went cross racing just for fun. The bike took it all in stride. I have purposely not said much about components because I plan to do a separate review of those coming up. This is about the total package and how it performs over the long haul.
Ok, what about the bad stuff?
Uh, ok. If I nitpick, I can come up one thing that did bug me but only slightly (and has been changed on later versions of the bike) and that's the straight chainstays. The right one rubs my ankle in certain technical riding type situations. My ankle is a bit messed up from racing motocross in another lifetime and it kinda sticks out in the way so this is probably as much me as it is the frame. Not a big deal at all but you knew something had to be wrong. I mean no bike is perfect right? Yeah, that's right but one bike is pretty close.
And I own it.