Words and photos by Jeff Parker
Hi, Jeff here: Urban cyclist, bikepacker, gravel and singletrack rider. After an engineering career in industrial automation, I shifted gears. I made a mid-life switch to outdoor recreation – designing, building, maintaining, and grooming cross country ski, mountain bike, and multi-use trails in Michigan’s rural Upper Peninsula. Since moving to urban Colorado, I’ve been building and maintaining trails in the Front Range and volunteering at several community-supported bicycle shops.
Eight years ago, some friends invited me on my first bike tour – around Lake Huron (pavement and grave), including my first extended hike-a-bike (ask me about the Voyageur Trail sometime). I rode a Salsa Vaya with full panniers. I haven’t traveled with panniers since, but boy was I hooked on bicycle touring. The route planning, the navigation, the unexpected adventure (which my father calls “adversity in retrospect”), the movement through time and space under my own power, at my own pace, carrying what I need. The people and stories revealed along the way, the history and culture I can be immersed in. Addictive, I still mountain bike some, but my passion has shifted decidedly to the gravel and off-road touring world, and extended forays into the urban environment (which provides many of the same enticements).
Enter my Stooge MK4. While casting about for an off-road touring bike more capable on rowdy descents than my drop bar Velo Orange Piolet, while being more touring capable than my full-suspension Turner 5 Spot, I saw mention of the Stooges on BIKEPACKING.com’s list of rigid steel off-road touring plus bikes. From a small UK designer with a taste for the 70s punk band, BMX, and early MTBs, my eye was first caught by the fetching triple top tube Speedball. But its geometry was too similar to my beloved Piolet (my one bike so versatile, so comfortable, I may never part with it). Then my eye fell on the MK4, and I was smitten. While its double ladder top tube was almost as cool as the Speedball’s triple and it shared a similar retrogrouch-satisfying biplane fork, it was its geometry that really caught my eye. With a 66-degree head angle and 80 mm offset, it gives reasonable trail numbers for a dirt tourer, but with an out-there front center that promised to invite steeper descents. Though designed for up to 29 x 3.25″ front tires (here’s looking at you Duro Crux) and 29 x 2.6″ rear, I found I prefer 27.5 x 3.0″ front and rear for a more nimble feel. And the threaded eccentric bottom bracket allows me to adjust bottom bracket height for different wheel sizes or front/rear center and reach/seat setback (though not independently). Or even run single speed if I ever decide I hate my knees.
For my build, I chose a few favorites, like the Soma Osprey bar that I’ve been using for years across several mountain bikes, and the Soma Kamisori saddle. And Hope front hubs, which I have standardized on and have all the axle adapters for (yes, even 20 mm. I’m that old). Shimano HollowTech external BB cranks because they are durable, easy to service with simple tools, in my parts bin, and you can always, always get chainrings for 104 BCD. Schwalbe Rocket Ron and Nibby Nic tires because they have a great reputation (backed by testing) for easy rolling and reasonable, if not industry-leading, grip. Stans rims because I’ve been using them for years, they are pretty light for alloy, work great, and having a consistent rim ERD and hub diameter across my wheelsets means I can generally reuse hubs and rims without always having to buy different spokes when I want to try something new.
Oh, and Gripshift. I know, I know. Before we get to hating on Gripshift, just know that I use almost all the shifting standards on my current bikes (well, not downtube at the moment, and not thumbies recently), and Gripshift still retains a place in my heart. Not talking the cheap stuff everybody rightly disses on the entry-level bikes that ruined grip shifting’s reputation. The good stuff: GX, X0, and above. You can drop a lot of gears in an instant, they work well with heavy gloves in cold weather, they are simple and light, and they allow shifting from more hand positions than triggers. The latter is key to my preferring them on flat bar touring bikes. Combined with a hooked, swept bar like the Osprey and long lever brakes like the European trekking XTs on this build, I can choose from four hand positions.
- Frame/Fork Stooge MK4
- Rims Stans Baron 584-35
- Hubs Hope 4 Pro (front) / SRAM X0 (rear)
- Tires Schwalbe Nobby Nic (front) / Schwalbe Rocket Ron (rear)
- Handlebars Soma Osprey
- Headset Cane Creek 40
- Crankset Shimano XT w/ Race Face 30T narrow-wide chainring
- Pedals Race Face Chester
- Cassette Sun Race 11-50, 11-speed
- Derailleur SRAM GX1
- Brakes Shimano XT 2.5 finger (European trekking model)
- Shifter(s) SRAM GX1 (right) / GX set up as dropper control (left)
- Saddle Soma Kamisori
- Seatpost Crank Brothers Highline 30.8 dropper
- Stem Ritchey Trail Comp 90 mm
- Front bags Ortlieb Sport Roller, modified Mountainsmith belt pack as handlebar bag
- Frame bags 2x self-made bags with screw mount and internal aluminum frame
- Rear bags 1x self-made bag + harness (copied from Wayward Riders Louise)
- Accessory bags Self-made roll bags, tool roll, and stem bag
- Other accessories 2x Modified Zefal Wiiz bottle cages, 3x Salsa Anything HD cages
- Rack Modified Racktime Topit EVO front rack w/ self-made light mount
Some custom features: Since I’m sold on 1x, but need the symmetry of two grip shifters for my preferred hand positions, I rigged the left grip shifter to operate my dropper post. When winter is upon me and I’m commuting in snow and slush, for the sake of the dropper I replace it with a carbon flex post. I also have drilled and placed rivnuts into the underside of the top tube ladder rungs so I could sew and mount a strapless frame bag that really lets the double top tube show. A light aluminum strap frame supports the bag between mounting points. I sewed a narrower 1.5-inch bag for daily use (tools, chain, pump…) and a 3-inch wide frame bag for touring that can hold a bunch of food. I mounted rivnuts on the sides of the down tube for a pair of Anything Cages too. This is a close fit and will depend on each individual’s leg and foot geometry to work, but with the long, low down tube, I can carry my Enlightened quilt, clothes, and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir pad there while clearing both my toes and shins, seated or standing, while I pedal. This keeps the weight low and centered and off the steering. I can also strap my Jetboil stove into the notch formed between the two Anything Cages, forming in effect, a third cage. A large water bottle occupies the lowest cage.
I modified a belt pack to hang from the handle bars, then quickly unclipped and strapped to my waist if I’m not wearing my backpack. If I need additional water capacity, I modified two Zefal water bottle cages with inner tube straps and hooks to hold liter bottles on the top two fork mounts, while a Racktime front rack allows me to strap a large dry bag on top, or even two medium panniers to the sides, though I’ve yet to need or want that much gear touring. I fabricated a simple light mount for the front of the rack using a short piece of aluminum tubing with a small aluminum bar slotted and riveted into the tube, wrapped in stair tread traction tape to hold a strap-on light. To attach the top of the rack more cleanly to the fork, I trimmed a star nut and drove it into the bottom of the steerer where I can screw directly and discretely through the flat mounting bar to it.
I had the MK4 all fitted and packed to meet some friends to bikepack the Huracan 300 route in central Florida last March, but the pandemic intervened. The Stooge, in the meantime, has been a great tool for exploring rugged jeep roads and national forest gravel across the Front Range over the last year, but though I’ve been on several bikepacking tours a year for the last eight years on a range of gravel and mountain bikes using the gear above, the Stooge itself hasn’t yet made it out of the packing and shakedown ride stage. So, all my pictures of the MK in the wild are of unloaded day-ride adventures. Now I check and recheck the loading on our snowy patio and wait for winter and the pandemic to end. This year, I hope to finally go long on my Stooge.
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