Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti Review
Just announced, the new Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti is a titanium version of the revered steel drop-bar dirt-touring bike of the same name. We had the chance to put one to the test on our local trails and dirt roads before taking it on a 700-mile loaded bikepacking trip to see how it compares to its chromoly sibling. Find all the details in this full review…
The old idiom if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it sprung to mind when Tumbleweed Bicycle Co. founder Daniel Molloy told me they were rolling out a new Stargazer Ti. In my opinion, the steel Stargazer is perfect as is. And as its name suggests, the Stargazer Ti is simply a titanium version of the original. I bought the steel Stargazer I reviewed last year, not just for its excellent dirt-focused geometry and capabilities, but because Tumbleweed absolutely knocked it out of the park with the tubing design and tubeset construction.
To summarize my lengthy review, it has that special sauce: a relatively lightweight tubeset with a beautiful blend of compliance and responsiveness. This translates to an ultra-comfortable ride that’s still lively, quick, and fun to pedal. So, why did Tumbleweed need to make an “upgraded” titanium frame option? And how does it compare to the O.G. steel version? I’ll answer these questions and more in this review, written after putting more than 1,000 miles on the new [limited-edition] Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti.
I suppose it’s an old way of thinking to expect that if something is performing and functioning well enough, there’s no need to change it, tweak it, or try out different variations. Daniel admitted that one of the reasons they decided to make the Stargazer Ti was based on his own curiosity. Was the perfect version of the Stargazer yet to be made? Having multiple customers ask whether there would be a titanium version was the final impetus.
As an outsider, I get all the reasons to consider the Stargazer as a candidate for titanium. It’s a compelling material that’s lighter than steel and can still embody a similar (and arguably better) ride feel if properly executed. And there’s the fact that it’s kind of a “forever material,” meaning that it can be used to make a corrosion- and fatigue-resistant frame that lasts indefinitely. That being said, I’ve seen a lot more cracked titanium frames than I have steel frames, but I think a ATB style bike is better suited for the material than a trail hardtail, which would see more impacts and abuse. As Daniel added, “To be honest, a lot of people just appreciate titanium as an exotic material and want the best in a metal bike. The factory in Taiwan that we’ve been working with since the beginning specializes only in high-end chromoly and titanium fabrication and produces some of the very best bikes in the world, so if anybody could make an even better version of the Stargazer, it would be them.”
Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti Frame
- Highlights (Size L)
- Angles: 69° Headtube, 72.5° Seattube
- Reach/Stack: 389/653mm
- Bottom Bracket: 73mm Threaded / 63.5mm drop
- Hub specs: 148×12 (rear) / 110 x 15mm (front)
- Seatpost Diameter: 31.6mm
- Max Tire Size: 29 x 2.6” / 27.5 x 3.0″
- Price: $2,700 (frame + steel fork)
In 2021, Daniel decided to get a size run of sample frames made, and after nearly a year of riding and comparing them to the Stargazer steel, he decided to move ahead with a very small run of production Stargazer Ti frames. There will be just 25 frames total between all five sizes—S, M, XM, L, and XL. Note that the production frameset will be a little different than the one I tested. It will have Dark Midnight (black) decals with a painted-to-match Dark Midnight fork. I had the same chromoly fork—the one that comes with the regular Stargazer—but mine was green.
Making the Stargazer Ti was not as simple as just making a titanium version of the frame. The tubeset on the Stargazer Ti is actually similar to the one used in the steel frame in that it’s multi-butted and custom drawn and formed in-house. According to Tumbleweed, a lot of production titanium frames use a straight-gauge tubing that might have some bends or shaping applied to make it look unique. To keep a similar ride quality to the steel frame, the Stargazer Ti has larger diameter tubes. And since titanium has more flex than steel, the downtube is ovalized at the bottom bracket for added stiffness.
It also wasn’t cheap, as Daniel explained. “We were able to produce a really high-end frameset in titanium, which is a difficult and expensive material to work with. These titanium frames cost us more than double compared to our steel frames and will be cost-prohibitive for a lot of people, but I see this as an experiment, and I took the same design philosophy that I’ve applied to our other bikes, which is to make the very best frame possible for the application, and it will just cost what it costs. We may not make another batch of these frames, it just depends on the response they receive, but I always want to tinker and to make a better bike.”
Fork and Carbon Options
As mentioned, the Stargazer Ti is specced with the same steel unicrown fork that comes with the steel Stargazer. Tumbleweed opted not to spec a carbon fork for this frame since it’s positioned as a true mountain touring and bikepacking bike. “I didn’t want to take any utility away from the bike for the sake of using a lightweight fork,” Daniel explained. “I think it’s ridiculous to sell a bike designed (or at least marketed) for touring that can’t mount racks and fenders on dedicated threaded bosses.”
A lot of bikepackers might not have interest in front rack compatibility, however. And a carbon fork on the Stargazer Ti could be a very interesting proposition for someone looking to accomplish a Michelob-level ultralight build with this bike, say for an event like the Tour Divide. Considering the steel fork weighs 1,474 grams (3.25 pounds with an uncut 350mm steerer tube), you could save another two pounds by going with a carbon fork. Fortunately, there are two aftermarket options out there that will work with the Stargazer’s odd 440mm fork length. One is the Curve GMX+ fork (619 grams). It has a 430mm length. Second is the Corvus Passhunter carbon fork (700 grams), which has a 435mm length. Both have Boost spacing, for what it’s worth.
The first thing you probably want to know is what’s different on the Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti when compared to the steel version. Of course, all the tubing is larger, as mentioned. That’s typical on titanium frames and gives it the same stiffness and load-carrying ability as the steel frame. The only structural change that results from the larger tubing is that the Stargazer Ti gets a 31.6mm seat post instead of 27.2mm. There are a lot more 31.6mm dropper options, so that’s actually a big plus in my book. “I wasn’t worried about having too stiff of a post since titanium is more forgiving,” Daniel explained.
Otherwise, the differences are subtle. The cable routing is the same, and all the geometry angles and dimensions are identical between the two frames. There are a few small exceptions, such as the machining that went into the titanium chainstay yoke, the custom rack mounts, and the downtube water bottle bosses that stand above the cable housing. Oh, and I was happy to see that three-pack mounts were added throughout the triangle, which I’ll talk more about later. Daniel explained, “These things added some time and cost, but we were able to take a lot of the design elements from the steel frame and transfer them over without too much complication.”
Generally speaking, the Stargazer Ti is still the same mountain touring bike at heart. Aside from the aesthetics and seat post size, the only real difference is that the Ti frame is about 907 grams (2 pounds) lighter. That figure came from weighing extra-medium (XM) versions of the steel and ti frames. The titanium frame came to about 1.928 kilograms (4.25 pounds). That’s a pretty big achievement, in my opinion. I tried to find comparable frame weights, like the Fargo steel and ti frames or the Curve Kevin in both tubesets, but no such luck. Two pounds is quite impressive. The reason behind this is that the Stargazer is built to mountain bike standards, so the steel frame is pretty stout, which is hard to believe from its relatively plush ride feel. That and the machined chainstay yoke make the Stargazer steel frame a little on the heavy side, so there’s a lot of weight to lose with titanium.
Before I dig into how this bike rides, let’s look at the build kit that came on my test bike. Since the Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti is only going to be sold as a frameset, this build kit may seem irrelevant from a review standpoint. However, I think it’s important to list the parts spec as it plays a part in how this bike rides, performs, and weighs.
- Frame Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti, size Large
- Fork Tumblweed Stargazer steel
- Rims Race Face ARC 30
- Hubs DT350
- Tires Maxxis Rekon Race, 29 x 2.4″
- Crankset Race Face Aeffect, 34T
- Derailleur SRAM Eagle GX (with Ratio fin)
- Shifter SRAM Force (with Ratio 12-speed Conversion)
- Cassette SRAM Eagle GX 10-52T
- Bottom Bracket Race Face
- Handlebar Curve Walmer 550mm
- Grips CampAndGoSlow Rattler Bar Tape
- Headset Cane Creek Forty
- Brakes SRAM Force Hydraulic
- Saddle Ergon Ergon SMC Core (added)
- Seatpost PNW Rainier, 150mm travel
On the Trail
Here’s the kicker, which might anger those of you who are trying to justify buying one of these beauties: I honestly found it pretty difficult to distinguish much of a difference in ride feel between the steel Stargazer and the Stargazer Ti at first. There are a couple of environmental factors that are worth considering. First, my personal Stargazer has carbon wheels and a build that actually adds up to a lighter bike overall. Second, they have slightly different handlebars. Otherwise, the two have a fairly consistent build. I’ve taken them both on a lot of rides and initially had a hard time telling too much of a difference.
Daniel’s a pragmatic person, so I relayed my early findings to him, and he wasn’t surprised. He replied, “I’ve been riding my sample XL titanium Stargazer for almost a year now, and it rides at least as well as my steel bike, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a night and day difference. Since both bikes share the same geometry, the difference is subtle. With that being said, it’s become the bike that I reach for the vast majority of the time.” The weight difference was the deciding factor for Daniel. Built up with the same components, the two-pound difference would no doubt be noticeable. That being said, the weight savings is somewhat insignificant once the bike is loaded up with camping gear.
Ultimately, I did a couple of back-to-back rides on the steel Stargazer and the Ti version. I rode both on the same route with the same tire pressure, both with 2.35” Maxxis tires. I was really trying to feel a difference in the compliance/responsiveness of the frame on both occasions. The verdict was that the Stargazer Ti felt noticeably smoother and quicker, although it’s not a major discrepancy. Titanium simply has that more buttery feel to the frame. And the most impressive thing about that is that it still feels more solid and sturdy than the steel frame, too.
With that, you can pretty much read my lengthy review of the steel Tumbleweed Stargazer to get an idea of how this bike rides and performs—with one caveat. The pre-production steel Stargazer I reviewed and ultimately bought has chainstays that are about 1cm shorter than the production steel version and the new Ti version. They both have 450mm stays, and mine are 440mm. I noticed the subtle geometry shift between the two as the Ti version felt a little more stable, particularly when at speed and picking through slow stuff. It’s also a tad less playful, but they are generally consistent.
While Out Bikepacking
Like its steel sibling, the Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti has all the mounts and capability one might need for racks, cages, and everything in between. However, there are a few improvements over the steel frame. Namely, there are now three-pack mounts on the seat tube and both sides of the downtube. This is a nice, well-placed addition that addressed something I mentioned in the original review. EDIT: a reader let me know that Tumbleweed quietly updated the steel version with the same mount configuration no too long ago. The small and medium frames still have double mounts on the seat tube, all other sizes have triple mounts in that location.
I took the Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti on a relatively big trip, pedaling nearly 700 miles across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick during an Eastern Divide Trail scouting trip. I kept the set up pretty dialed and simple, using the Rockgeist 52hz waterproof frame bag that’s made for the Stargazer, a seat pack and a top-opening handlebar bag. Still, I had it loaded up with a full kit that included an iPad and keyboard for work, a full-frame camera with two large lenses, full rain gear, tools, spares, and everything else I needed for a fully supported ride. One of the magic things about the steel Stargazer is that its frame feels light and lively but not noodly or undergunned when loaded up with bikepacking gear. The same can be said for the Stargazer Ti. It feels solid and sure with a load, which isn’t always the case with a sub-five-pound frame. And while I can’t claim that I carried a full touring kit on my ride across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, it was a heavy bikepacking kit, and certainly one fit for a route like the Eastern Divide Trail. The massive frame triangle helped in that regard.
The Stargazer and Stargazer Ti are made for a lighter style of touring than the company’s expedition-ready Prospector, but both seem like the perfect bike to ride down Great Divide or any other extended mixed-terrain route with a medium-light load. The Stargazer Ti frame tips the scales and offers the potential to be an extremely ultralight bike. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in next year’s Rigs of the Tour Divide roundup, for that matter.
There are only 25 Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti frames being made between all five sizes—S, M, XM, L, and XL; frames will be landing and shipping some time in January, 2023.
- Model/Size Tested: Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti, size Large
- Actual Weight (complete): 12.48kg (27.51 pounds)
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $2,700 (frame and steel fork)
- Warranty: 3 year defects in labor or materials
- Manufacturer’s Details: Tumbleweed.cc
- All the pros that are in the steel Stargazer review
- An already great bike now with a rust- and scuff-proof “forever” frame
- Shaves a whopping 907 grams (2 pounds) off the steel version and still has a sturdy demeanor when loaded up with gear
- 31.6mm seat tube provides a lot more dropper post options
- Three-pack mounts throughout the triangle is a nice improvement over the steel Stargazer
- Relatively expensive; twice the price as the already great steel version
- Hard to find a matching length carbon fork, if that’s a concern
There are still two big questions left on the table: Who’s the Tumbleweed Stargazer Ti for? And is it worth plunking down twice the cash over the steel version? The answer to the first question depends on the second. They’re both excellent options at the top of their game in the off-road ATB category. And the steel Stargazer would probably be great for most folks looking for an n+1 type of bike that’s well-suited to all types of off-road drop-bar riding.
Others might see the Stargazer Ti as an investment that fits some idyllic long-term bike adventure vision. Of course, having a lustrous frame that’s two pounds lighter might also tip the scales for those hellbent on a superlight build destined for ultra-distance events. Furthermore, for those who carefully rust-proof the interior of their steel frames, grease every bolt, and apply frame protectant everywhere bag straps could buff off paint, having a Stargazer Ti might be the worry-free ticket they’ve been waiting for, free from corrosion, scratches, or paint rub. The three-pack mounts and 31.6 seat post are icing might also push folks’ buttons.
For me, the temptation to upgrade my steel Stargazer is strong. Having felt that buttery ti frame—that still magically seems quicker and more solid—made me want the superior version, of course. And knowing that there’s the possibility of a much lighter build is equally enticing. I guess I have to remind myself that the steel Stargazer was just fine a few months ago and didn’t need any improvements…
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