Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vassago Fisticuff First Impression

My 2009 Vassago Fisticuff arrived this week and I was anxious to get it built and ride it ever since I saw the prototype last year. Billed as a Cyclocross inspired multi-purpose bicycle, it can be built as a singlespeed, geared or fixed gear with horizontal drops and derailleur hanger. With 130mm or 135mm spacing on the rear, you can use either mountain bike or road wheels and disc or cantilever brakes. In short, this bike has options: road, trails, paths, urban assault, commuting, trekking, cyclocross and whatever else you can dream up.
For me, I will be using it primarily for cyclocross.
The first thing I noticed when I pulled the frame out of the box was the paint and welds are some of the best yet that I have seen from Vassago. I looked it over well and couldn't find any flaws in either. After the customary face and chase prepwork, I commenced the build. The components are all transferred from the cross bike I have been using all season and are fairly ordinary. Shimano 105 drivetrain (1x9, yes Virginia, I am using gears on this one) Easton bars, Thomson seatpost and stem, WTB tires and saddle, Crank bros Candy SL pedals, King Headset and SRAM cassette and chain. The wheels are either Shimano/Mavic Open Pro basic road wheels that I built a few years ago and are still going strong or on race day, a set of Easton EA 70X tubulars. I switched the Cane Creek brakes I was using for TRP Eurox brakes for their added mud clearance and plus they look cool (you gotta have priorities). Since disc brakes are illegal for UCI and USAC competition, I didn't bother with them.
The complete bike weighs almost exactly 20 lbs which is heavy compared to today's uber-light carbon, ti and bone-shaker aluminum frames. Don't like it, hey maybe this isn't the bike for you but consider this, that extra weight isn't felt once you are riding and that extra weight is this bike's mojo. You can't mess with that. After a one beer build (hey, either I am getting faster or drinking less) I ended up with this:

I had to wait a couple of days to ride it (which was torture) but at the first chance, I headed to Steele Creek Park for a test ride. Steele Creek is a MSG Cross series venue plus there's a bike path and singletrack. I would be able to put it through pretty much everything. After double checking my adjustments and all the bolts, I headed out on the bike path first. From the beginning, I felt the unmistakable quality of a good steel frame. It just felt solid and a lot of the small to mid size bumps and rocks were transmitted through the frame to me as dull knocks as opposed to sharp jolts that you'd feel on an aluminum frame. The Reynolds 520 tubing is used throughout and it's a great choice. While not the high-end 853 or 953, it also doesn't have the high-end price either.

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.


Unknown said...

Awesome review DD, I'm keeping my wallet open for this frame this summer. On another note, how do I get my hands on a Vassago jersey :)?

Riding with dogs said...

You should bring that thing out to a CRAWL and see how she handles downtown JC. Nice bike!

Unknown said...

man I have some huge lust going on...

That thing is hot B!

Nice review! think it well fit a 44c for sure?

shockstar said...

have fun beating the hell out of it!

Joshua Stamper said...

Disc brakes are legal in USAC CX racing, its only UCI where they are outlawed.
That being said you will not get any love from the embrocation/roadie crowd if you roll up with disc brakes.
I am with Dave on this one how wide of a tire can it run? Looks like it could be monstercross-tastic.
(in borat voice) very very nice!

Duckman said...

Thanks for the clarification JD, I thought it was USAC and UCI. Vassago says this bike will fit tires up to 45. Looks like it to me. I have 32's on there and there's a lot of room left.

Julius, check the Vassago site. I don't think 2009 jerseys are available yet but that would be the place to start.

Ben, you know I will ;)

Greg, I will make one someday, I promise.

Clark Schaffer said...

Is this the frame on ebay?

Duckman said...


tomcproctor said...

looking at one, why did you get rid of it after this positive review?