The Morf frame from Stif bikes misses out on the latest Boost-axle stiffness and tyre-clearance benefits, but that doesn’t stop this Yorkshire-designed frame being a fantastically lively and tenacious trail terrier that I couldn’t get enough of riding.
Stif hasn’t used brand-name tubing, which gives it a clear price advantage, but that doesn’t mean the frame is dumbed down. The flared-end 44mm head tube gets a metal head badge and there’s a long throat gusset where it backs onto the down tube, plus a medium-length top tube gusset to fully toughen the front end.
It’s the back end where Stif and its consultant designer Brant Richards (On-One, Ragley, Sonder) have really gone to town though. Most obvious is the ‘12 Bore’ design of the driveside chainstay, which uses two short vertical tube sections joined by a plate to give a staggered offset that allows clearance for 2.4in tyres.
The dropouts bolt into long cowled sections, making them easy to replace if they get damaged, but are sized for an old-school 142mm axle. A long, flat centre section adds spring to the seatstays, while little ramp gussets at the seat/chainstay heads reinforce the back end/front end joint without compromising tyre space.
Sizing is slightly limited, with only three options, and the Morf only comes in yellow, but that helps keep the price thoroughly reasonable.
The XT-based spec of the complete bike works really well but you could build a bike 99 percent as thrilling for a lot less cash Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
Stif Morf kit
There’s only one complete bike option too – the £2,199 XT build tested here.
While the Shimano XT stop and go gear performed flawlessly on my bike, that’s not always the case with the brakes. RockShox’s Pike RC isn’t as plush as the best forks on test either, though it matches the Morf well.
The Burgtec bar and stem take some of the sting out of the front end, but the saddle doesn’t do your rump any favours. While the WTB i25 rims are fairly narrow, the top-quality Maxxis tyres — even in this slim 2.3in width — make a significant difference to both traction and ride feel.
I reckon you could get similar performance for less cash by building up the good-value frame yourself though.
It may not be a ‘named’ tubeset, but the Morf’s back end is loaded with sweet ride-enhancing tube manipulation Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
Stif Morf ride impressions
It may not be the lightest bike, but as soon as you press on the pedals the Morf charges forwards so eagerly that accelerating hard out of every situation becomes addictive.
It’s equally keen to develop drive off every trail feature, encouraging you to pump, push and surge onwards as the frame tubes load and unload with a taut spring.
The handling is an equally compelling incitement to riot. It’s faster to change direction than ultra-long bikes such as Cotic’s Soul and Sick’s Headbanger Pinion, but the 65-degree head angle gives the front end a scything surety that helps the Morf carve through corners with serious swagger.
Pin-sharp wheel placement and feedback is tempered with enough compliance for extra traction. The Maxxis tyres are in a class of their own too, and while they’re only sat on mid-width rims, the ground connection is a great match to the frame.
While the Morf works miracles with 2.3in tyres and can stretch to 2.4in, the ride would be off the hook if you could get it rolling on the latest 2.6in rubber Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
That’s not to say it carries speed smoothly like the 29er Stanton Switch9er, which was also on test, or melts rocks and roots away like the spongy rear end of the Sick. In fact, there’s more chatter and patter under the Morf, and in some ways it’s a more tiring ride in comparison. That’s mostly because it makes you want to dump the throttle and attack every trail flat out though, and the stand-up sprinting and sending it encourages takes more effort than lazy cruising.
The lack of length in the frame means it takes more work to keep it on track on really steep, fast or rocky descents and it’s more likely to bite off more than it can chew in heavy-duty situations than the bikes mentioned above, but it feeds off that excitement rather than choking on it.
In short, if you want a bike that turns that snatched singletrack hour after work into the best bit of the week, then the Stif Morf may well be one of the best hardtail options I’ve ever ridden, and at a decent price too.