Next came some cross simulation. I went to a part of the park that was a MSG course and went through a mock cross lap, complete with run-up. Sure the people there must have thought I was nuts but I have long since stopped caring what people think. The Fisti handles tight turns and quick accelerations typical of any cross course like a champ. As I pushed it a little harder, I realized I just felt more comfortable than I did on my other cross bike. The numbers for both frames were similar but the Fisti has a slightly longer wheelbase and a little slacker seat and head tube angle. Those combined with the steel had to be the deal. I struggled all season with the other bike (that I am purposely leaving nameless, it doesn't matter). The Fisti gave me the same feeling I get from my mountain bikes - control and comfort. There's no doubt these bikes are brothers. On the run-ups, getting off and back on was typical although I initially worried that the Fisti's longer seat tube might cause some funky remounts, it was a non-issue. My portage technique is to grab the down tube as soon as my foot hits the ground and hoist the bike directly to my shoulder. I did find that the front triangle was a bit tighter that what I am used to even though the top tube and down tube measurements are nearly the same. The Fisti does have a unusually short head tube and that may be the difference. It wasn't a problem after I realized it, I just started grabbing the down tube in a different place. No big dealio.
After a few hot laps on my mock cross course, I set off for singletrack. Singletrack on a cross bike has always made me nervous. The singletrack at Steele Creek is rocky and steep in places and really unforgiving. Starting on a climb with several switchbacks, the bike did fine. In fact, it felt to me like I put drop bars on my Jabberwocky. Where the difference came in was on the other side, the Fisti turns a lot quicker than the Jabber and judging from the numbers, it probably should. I bet this bike would be great for monster-cross. Slap some bigger tires and disc brakes on and Boo-yah.
Hitting some tighter stuff with rocks and roots made me slow down a bit, only because I was riding 32mm cross tires @ 40psi and I really didn't feel like flatting and walking back to my car. As my test ride time was running out, I hit the bike path again after the first section of singletrack, missing the HOD (Hill Of Death). Oh well, maybe next time. I rode a little harder on the bike path (gravel) this time because it was getting dark and there weren't any people around to run over. I learned something else about the Fisti and it is a trait shared by all Vassagos (that I have ridden so far). The harder you ride it, the better it feels. Fast corners inspired confidence (until I found out what too fast was and went into a two-wheeled drift) and the experience put a smile on my face which let's face it, is what it's all about.
This wouldn't be a completely unbiased impression if I didn't tell all and I am a tell all kind of guy. Some things to be aware of are: If you use cantilever brakes, you will need a full housing for the rear brake. The frame only has two disc tubing guides for the rear (there is a cable stop at the back though. You will need to add a third zip tie in the middle of the top tube otherwise the brake cable housing will ring against the top tube like a Salvation Army bell ringer on crack. Not a big deal, just something to know. Another thing is regarding the horizontal drops. The drops work fine with or without gears. With gears however, you will need to be mindful of putting the rear wheel in the frame. The tendency is to slide it all the way forward until it hits the front of the dropout but that causes cantilever brake alignment to be really funky and with 700x32 cross tires, the clearance between the tire and seat tube is only about 1/2 inch. I had best results with putting the wheel in the frame and putting two fingers between it and the seat tube before tightening it down. I didn't have any issues with wheel slippage using a quick release but I really tightened it down. You will need a good QR that allows you to get all Lou Ferrigno on it without complaining. Lightning fast Cross style wheel changes may be a problem however. Again, not a big deal, just something to be aware of.
If you are in the market for a do it all frame that has the ability to take pretty much anything you can throw at it then the Fisticuff may be something to think about. MSRP is $579 for frame and fork and that's not a bad deal for a nice riding steel frame with spirit and that Vassago attitude.
Next week, I will be going to the final (for me) two rounds of the Knoxiecross Cyclocross series in Knoxville, Tennessee and I will have a review of how the Fisti feels in race mode.
Until then, surf on over to Vassago Cycles and see about getting one for yourself.