Cove Stiffee FR £579

Hardcore hardtail that's still exciting ten years on

BikeRadar score 4/5

It’s almost a decade since we rode our first Stiffee, hanging on in disbelief as it rewrote the hardtail rule book with every corner and drop we hit. This Canadian icon is still one of the best hardcore bikes available.

The Cove Stiffee’s proven Easton RAD strength underwrites the sickest moves, but despite its strength it’s not too brutal to rule out cross-country  use.

Nevertheless, its Easton tubing and Cove pedigree come at a cost and its slack angles need working hard to keep up through tight stuff.

Ride & handling: precise, relaxed & stable

Despite not having the tightest tracking fork, there’s a real precision edge and clarity to the handling on even the thickest, muddiest trails.

In fact, once we’d switched the wheels (see below), the Stiffee snapped into action with every bar command or body movement so quickly it occasionally caught us out coming off the softer bikes. Every bit of straining sinew you can provide on the bar/pedal side of the equation is translated straight through the bike and into the trail for blistering acceleration.

Cove are really pushing the limits of contemporary geometry too. With its relatively slack head and seat angles the Stiffee feels relaxed and totally stable, even if you don’t stick the longest travel (150mm) fork options in. This translates to easy nonchalance and lack of nerves on the fastest and most vertical descents. 

Naturally rearward weight displacement also gives it a real talent for lifting the front wheel and manualing through rockeries, off drops or up stepped climbs. As a result we soon found ourselves just leaning back and launching anything that looked too vicious to trust the front wheel with.

The trade off is delayed reactions and occasional wheel flop in tighter, slower situations and a tendency for the front end to wander slightly or lift off line on climbs.

While the medium frame of our sample was so compact it felt more like a BMX, size up and there’s genuine speed and distance potential too. 

The frame – particularly the front end – is definitely on the sharp side when it comes to trauma transmission from the trail. But hits come through more like sharp jabs than the real body blows the Chameleon dishes out, so it’s actually easier to live with over long distances.

Frame: proven tubes for maximum reliability

While most companies have taken the cheaper route of using own-brand tubing, Cove are still sticking with the RAD tubeset from alloy alchemists Easton. As the original tapered, square section hardcore tubeset it’s certainly incredibly well proven. While pedigree always adds cost it’s a great guarantee of maximum strength when you need it.

Mechanics back up myth with a forged head tube backing onto the big block formed by the blended top and down tube. The radically sloped top tube allows a spray-dodging, forward-facing seat slot too.

There’s masses of mud clearance for up to 2.5in balloon rubber out back and twin mainframe bottle mounts for thirsty riders too.

Five different colours from shocking to subtle make it easy to match your style and there’s a full range of sizes from 15.5 to 20.5in.

Stiffee frames definitely come up small if you’re used to more cross-country sizing though, so check measurements – or better still test ride a demo bike – before you buy.

Equipment: how light is too light?

Cove don’t offer a complete bike option but it’s still worth talking about the build UK importer Silverfish provided.

RaceFace’s Atlas low rise cockpit is pretty much perfect for any Stiffee-style bike, and the new softer SDG I-Beam saddle made a lot more immediate friends than the older ones.

Intense CC 2.25 tyres are a faithful, durable all weather choice too.

But we’d definitely recommend a couple of key changes to unleash the Cove’s true potential. Granted Hope’s lightest 24-spoke race wheels prove that Stiffees don’t have to be heavy but they’re way too flexy when you’re pushing hard.

The Mini brakes are seriously underpowered too, further undermining confidence.

Happily, a switch to the far stiffer and still pretty light Hope SP-AM wheels and sharper biting M4 brakes sorted things out, and the ride notes are written from that perspective. It’s a useful warning that you can go too light for really technical work though.

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