This article first appeared in Dirt Rag magazine, issue #135. The version printed here has a postscript to follow up on information only available after the Dirt Rag version went to print.
Vassago Jabberwocky Frame and Fork Review
by Joe Whitehair
Vital Stats Country of Origin: Taiwan
Price: $529 frame and fork, $429 frame only, $129 fork only
Weight: Frame (18") = 5.02 lbs., Fork = 2.71 lbs. uncut
Sizes Available: 16" 18" (tested) 20"
I guess the 29er "fad" is here to stay since I keep seeing more frames, forks, rims and tires hitting the market. That means more options and options are good for riders. The single speed segment seems to have embraced the big wheel world with open arms and Vassago hits this target with their 4130 chromoly steel Jabberwocky frame and fork which uses custom drawn, rust inhibitor treated tubes.
Starting in California and now operating on the East coast, Vassago is a relatively young company who's quickly found a following with their "Wet Cat" geometry, the name they have given to their long and low approach to fitting the rider on their mountain bike frames.
Vassago outfitted me with their 18" Jabberwocky frame and the segmented rigid Pitchfork (now renamed to the ODIS due to the Pitchfork name already being used in the BMX world). Out of the box a quick inspection revealed clean, even welds and a nice powder coat finish with clear-coated decals. The parts build was a solid selection that I wouldn't be afraid to beat on: Thomson stem and seat post, Jones H-bars (heavy-duty model), Salsa Delgado hoops and Kenda Nevegal 2.2" tires to hit some of the highlights. The kind of parts that shouldn't leave me stranded if I've out in the backcountry.
Assembly was smooth; no frame prepping was necessary for the bottom bracket or headset. The rear dropouts (track fork ends) with disc brake mount are worth noting. Vassago collaborated with manufacturer Maxway to design the mount such that the rear caliper does not need to be moved when performing wheel changes. A feature much appreciated when it comes time to changing a flat. Built-in tensioner screws keep the rear wheel from pulling forward and make remounting the wheel a breeze. The set screws themselves are a bit awkward to dial in with their tiny 2mm allen head but this will be changed to stainless steel thumb screws in the near future according to Vassago.
For the initial test ride I took it out to the local fast track where the trails are buff, twisty and rolling with plenty of log piles; the perfect place to get acquainted with the new ride. The first thing I noticed was I felt right at home. I was quickly comfortable getting the speed up and railing corners and proceeded to start looking for that edge where things break away but not finding it. After a short bit I proceeded as if I was on a familiar steed, comfortable enough to cross it up and kick it out on dirt piles I was coming across and launching off of. After 90 minutes or so of settling in with the bike I was impressed. I came away from the first ride feeling like I could put my finger on one big thing: balance and weight distribution of the rider felt really good.
I took the bike out on one more ride on similar terrain to confirm the handling with the added bonus of some big technical log rides. Humping up on a series of logs that were strung together end-to-end forming a giant horseshoe allowed me to test the ability to get up on two foot obstacles and then negotiate riding the skinnies around the horn for some real balance practice followed by a wheelie drop exit. After successfully pulling the section off several times I gave the Jabberwocky a passing grade.
From there it was time to really put the bike through its paces on my not-so-smooth home trails that sometimes seem like they are made of more rock than dirt. The steel frame and fork lets you point and shoot and pick your way through the rocks but takes a little edge off of the terrain. Power transfer was solid but I'm no Clydesdale so I wouldn't expect less. The fork was fairly stiff with a hint of give that steel offers providing you with a nice balance.
I tend to run stiff gearing on my single speeds and as a result I'm an out of the seat masher on the climbs. With the longer 44" wheelbase I was worried this was going to lead to me spinning out on steep, loose climbs. I was surprised and happy when it didn't happen. Seated climbing felt good as well.
Fully intending to give the bike a thorough test I repeatedly launched off of jumps throughout the 5-month test period, dropped off 4-foot rocks and took high-speed rocky descents at speeds my mother would not approve of. The bike descended stable but I didn't feel handicapped in tight corners and I trusted it in hairy situations. I covered some of the more technical trails in the Mid-Atlantic, traversing the eastern portion of the Appalachian Mountains in VA, MD and PA making sure to give the bike a thorough beat down in a wide range of conditions. I pushed my limits in the pouring rain and mud at the Dirt Rag Punk Bike Enduro. Despite my many attempts to inflict damage to the bike the only thing it came away with were some scratches in the powder coat, which proved to be pretty durable.
When it was all said and done I kept coming back to one thing: my position on the bike felt very balanced between the wheels. Balanced when climbing, balanced when descending and balanced leaning into the corners. The 24.2" effective top tube and 18" seat tube creates a low-slung frame that gives you plenty of stand-over.
So, as you can see, I came away with a lot of positive impressions, but what is the flip side? The long wheelbase made the bike slightly harder to bunny hop and loft. Not much and not enough for me to concern myself with, but I did notice it. I'd love to see canti brake mounts for a bit more versatility, but that's personal preference and I'm probably in the minority on this one. The head tube was a bit short for my tastes and required about 60mm of spacers to hit my target bar and stem set up. With some people needing to run a negative rise stem to put them where they want to be, I'm guessing this may have been part of that design decision. Again, personal preference.
In my opinion Vassago put together a solid 29er single speed offering for the price point. There are a few other steel frame and forks in this price range, so if this is where you are looking make sure to include the Jabberwocky on your short list. The Short Bus yellow color I tested is no longer available but you can get the frame and fork in black, yellow or orange.
Postscript: Shortly after this review went to press (and after about 7 months of hard riding) while traveling on a 9 day trip in southern Utah, I noticed a crack developing on both sides of the downtube box gusset. This did not bode well for my trip but options were limited. The crack was on the weld that attached the gusset to the downtube and did not appear to be fatal so I marked it with a Sharpie and monitored it for growth during the trip. When I returned I contacted Vassago and they quickly got another frame in my hands. This frame saw considerably less time before developing the same problem. Vassago evaluated the problem, went back to the drawing board and redesigned the gusset. After a bit of a wait another frame was in my hands, this one with a redesigned gusset that is a flat plate under the downtube rather than a box gusset. This should resolve the issue and as of this writing there are no further issues to report.