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Cove Stiffee FR Reviews

Reviews of Cove's classic hardcore hardtail

Cove Stiffee FR

Impressing magazine editors from the US to the UK the Stiffee has gained a reputation as one of the best aluminium hard tail bikes in the world. Melding a balance of strength and performance (not to mention longevity), this Stiffee doesn't need any blue pills, just a rider who appreciates the simplicity of a bike designed to finesse the world's abundance of natural gap jumps, bermed corners and trails to the honeypatch. Designed to accommodate oversized tyres and international standard disc mounts, the Stiffee uses Easton RAD tubing and can handle long travel front forks.

Media Reviews:

Shred Magazine: issue 48

Since 2003 we've been riding and racing Cove Stiffees here at Shred. They are the kind of bike that embodies versatility and an essence of riding that isn't about killing yourself for a top 20 position or measuring the weight of your bottom bracket before you install it. This bike is about building a bike that you like the look of and then finding somewhere to ride it that will get the most out of this bike. The truth is even though I've had a string of Cove Stiffees over the last half a decade it is only recently that I have started to get to the point where I have found this bike's limit. In truth that limit is really only when you are doing exactly what the Stiffee wasn't designed for, riding XC races flat out. In fact, when we told Gabe at Cove Bikes in Canada that we were racing Cove Stiffees back in 2003 he laughed his ass off.

So why riding a Stiffee? Well, for most of us the only statement we were worried about was the bank statement. The Cove Stiffee is the most bombproof XC bike in the world, it is a respectable weight and the Easton RAD tubing is stiff and strong. It is impossible, to build a Stiffee into a bike that feels like an XC bike as most racers would know it. The geometry encourages a laid back ride that you may as well embrace with rider bars and a short stem. As far as forks goes there really isn't any point in running a 100mm fork, a 130mm fork is perfect and a RLC with lock out makes the perfect partner. A few years back the guys at Silverfish released 69 Cove Stiffee full bikes that were set up with the perfect UK specific build kit. This included Hope minis, RaceFace finishing kit, SDG saddle and Shimano XT parts. You couldn't go far wrong today with that choice of parts which makes a light and responsive trail bike that is tough enough for anything the UK could dish out and an occasional racer.

So whilst the Stiffee doesn't do XC in a shaved leg, embrocation wearing kind of way it does do it in a 'fun race with a stop off to ride some trails in Wales on the way home' kind of way. It also does ok in local DH races, hitting up some dirt jumps, tackling a bit of wooden north shore and it totally excels on gnarly tough climbs and descents.

For me it is going to be goodbye to racing a Stiffee in 08, after a mass of training and racing on the road it is time for me to switch to something a little lighter and more flexible for a body that just can't take the kind of riding the Stiffee needs to keep it happy, it won't be goodbye completely - don't get me wrong you can't live without a Stiffee in the quiver.

What better way to pay respect to the iconic bike that has been my loyal friend for over 5 years than to take it to the best mtb race in Europe? Stiffee plus Roc D'azur equals the ultimate ride... read on to find out how we got on. Thanks Stiffee, nice work.

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Dirt (UK) Magazine March 2008

What a bike! It measures up similarly to many others yet there's something about the way this bike is put together that makes it different. Pinning down the X-Factor is difficult, so let's say it's very, very good. Nice touches include the 'out and then in' chain stay and seat stays and substantial shaping to the frame in important places. The top tube drop on the medium is great for clearance and has a good overall look and finish about it. Comes in a range of colours and sizes so a bike for everyone. This bike does nothing better than climb and descend over and over again.

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MBUK Magazine June 2007

Conceived on the steep, ultra-technical trails of Vancouver's North Shore, Cove's Stiffee was one of the first hardtails to combine hard-riding potential with a frame light enough to ride all day. Available as a frame only from UK importers Silverfish, we built ours with a selection of trail-ready kit to find out whether the original hardnut is still one of the best.

The chassis:

Squint at the Stiffee from a distance and you'd be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. With an understated profile, an absence of strengthening gussets and no 'look at me' features vying for attention, it's the very essence of minimalist engineering. But make no mistake - the devil is in the detail. Take a closer look and you'll spot the Stiffee's secret weapon: top and down tubes that morph gradually along their length from square section up front to round section at the seat tube and bottom bracket. Sure, plenty of other bikes have copied this design, but still visable under the Cove's paint job at the head tube end are the tubing stamps that give the game away - this is Easton's RAD tubing. The original square-to-round section tubeset was revolutionary when it first appeared, and it's still one of the best set-ups for combining surprisingly low weight with incredible strength and stiffness. The Stiffee isn't heavy by any means - thin-wall tubes see to that - but even with no gussets, it'll still hold up to hard use. the careful engineering continues at the rear, with snaked stays and elegant, curved dropouts. There's plenty of mud clearance, and a full-length gear cable housing running the length of the seatstay helps keep crud and grit out for smooth shifting. Keeping the front end planted and tracking in a straight line is the same RockShox Revelation U-Turn fork. Despite its relatively low weight, it's plenty stiff enough for a frame this rigid, steering accurately and providing enough rock-swallowing travel to help keep you out of trouble.

The detail:

The beauty of buying a frame is that you can build it any way you want. And the trouble with buying a frame... is that you can build it any way you want. Our spec choices - blending a Shimano XT transmission with Hope brakes and hubs and RaceFace finishing kit - were a deliberate attempt to blend all-day practicality with enough big-hit potential to keep hard riders happy. Of course, your mileage may vary, and the frame would certainly warranty burlier kit if that's what you fancy.

The ride:

With its spacious cockpit and trail-friendly build, our test Stiffee provided a comfy perch for an all-day epic. But getting comfortable as you spin out of the car park is the easy part - it's staying comfortable for the long haul that's harder. The Stiffee achieves this delicate balancing act extremely well, blending the Santa Cruz's stiff responses and a hint of the Whyte's eager character, but without the Orange's blunt rigidity [Santa Cruz Chameleon R, Whyte 19 Trail, Orange Sub Zero S]. In a way, it's the best of all worlds, and it's largely thanks to the balance of stiffness and resilience offered by those Easton RAD tubes. It's all down to those thin walls and big profiles, you see - a winning combination. Point the Stiffee uphill and the lightish build and eager frame make for a willing companion. It's not as whippety quick as the Whyte, but neither is it as ploddy as the Orange. Our choice of tyres [Intense System 4 2.25] proved to be grippy in the dry, although we'd be tempted to opt for something chunkier in wet conditions. Turn up the volume and it's more of the same, as you get snappy acceleration courtesy of a light wheelset and that stiff chassis combined with taut, intuitive handling. The Revelation fork is a good match for trail-specific components, but the frame could definitely handle something beefier. Swap the triple chainset for a double and plug in a fork with a bolt-through axle, and you'd have a perfect set-up for messing about in the woods. And that's the Stiffee's appeal. Despite its modest looks, it's still one of the most versatile hardtail frames on the market. Whatever riding you're into, chances are you could build a Stiffee to match it.

MBUK Verdict: One of the few bikes to have lasted the course over many years of evolution, the Stiffee is a versatile all-rounder that should appeal to a broad section of riders - 8/10

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This has become a bit of a favourite of ours over recent years, and like the Chameleon it is a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades. The sensible weight means that although after a couple of hours you might get pretty beat up by it living up to its name, you can at least comfortably ride it up as well as down. There has been a major change at the rear end with the introduction of some new forged dropouts, they're still vertical, but this time they're much better looking. With its gussett-less design and Easton Rad front end this frame has always looked good, but now it just looks even better. It's also good to see that the previously slightly fragile mech hanger has now been replaced with something much more substantial. The mud clearance remains the most impressive here, [in the grouptest] and that combined with some well thought out gear cable routing means that this frame is ideally suited to our shores despite its cross-Atlantic design. I think the best thing about the Stiffee, apart from its perfect geometry, is the ridiculously light rear end. It just seems to float over stuff as you rely on the 5"" or so of travel at the front to keep things under control. It's definitely not one for the faint hearted, but for an experienced rider it's capable of scaring the socks off you... in the right kind of way of course. As good as ever.

Dirt (UK) Magazine Nov/Dec 2006

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Ever since I rode a Stiffee 69'er a few years back I've been eager to ride one for a season. I've never been so impressed by a hardtail that just feels so damn right whatever terrain you're hammering and, naturally , this '06 Stiffee FR is no different. I've built up this Canadian Cove with some suitably light yet generally tough riding kit. Long travel Manitou Minutes are up front. I could've gone lighter or heavier (or even triple clamp) on forks, but I wanted to ride the Stiffee everywhere, and with 130mm of adjustable travel, the Minutes totally shape the feel of the bike. And oh what a feeling: it really is a total Do-It-All MTB that's light enough at around 27lb to climb like a cat, is comfortable to cruise like a panther on the flat, but has relaxed geometry (67.5 degree head angle, 70 degree seat angle) that lets you tear down everything from super steep rocky trails to step drops. Then it still just looks at you afterwards and says 'is that all you got, dude?'. I've lavished the Stiffee with reliable XT kit from front/rear mechs to chainset and shifters, and stayed on the XT tip with the brakes that have continued to provide stacks of feel and precision in most conditions. The XT wheels haven't flexed too much either, although they are protected by some hefty 2.3in Conti Gravity tubeless rubber. Finally, I opted for a short 70mm Race Face stem and wide (720mm) Syncros riser bar to keep the handling fun and lively, just how the Stiffee likes it. Overall, this an uber tough Canadian hardtail that encourages you to be a bad boy whatever your riding style. Who wants to be a good boy anyway...

What Mountain Bike Magazine February

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Agile. Swift. Strong. Just some words that find their way out of the keyboard when describing the key qualities of the Stiffee. It's a roller coaster of ride, taking you quickly to the top of hills and even quicker back down. The ride is a fine example of how numbers rarely tell the whole story - you'd expect it to be a bit of a wobbly handful up hills but it's perfectly fine. It's stiff in a good way - it puts the power down without hesitation and is totally predictable in all conditions. We occasionally found the back end skipping around a bit, but a lot of that will be down to the shape of the bike encouraging us to ""ride the fork"". It's a fantastically pingy ride, and thanks to lots of seatpost and big, soft tyres it's even reasonably comfortable.

Our first ride on a Stiffee was at last year's Cheddar Challenge. The course (one of our favourites) has a long, hard climb with swathes of fast, technical descents, and is a good testing ground for the frame - it was perfect for the course. It'll slide round corners spewing gravel and leaves from the rear tyre, rip along skinny singletrack, balance along North Shore see-saws and generally reward you with the biggest smile you'll get from riding a bike. It even climbs like a race bike too, well, nearly. We love it.

Verdict: Looks great, awesome ride, cool colour choices, a modern classic.

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We can still remember our ride on the first Cove Stiffee into the country. Bred on the Canadian North Shore, it treated our local 'radical' trails with total contempt, laughing at our braking points and taunting us to double our speed through everything. All the mayhem raising magic is still there too, with the latest Stiffee FR frame featuring a forged headtube to handle even triple clamp forks. Square headed Easton RAD and chunky broad stance A-frame stays make it something of a bruising experience on longer outings, but you couldn't ask for much more feedback and precision when every millimetre matters. The angles are the slackest here, which gives the Stiffee a nonchalance and cocksure confidence that will have you pushing way beyond your normal riding limits on steep or skinny stuff by default. You'll have to push your weight forward to get it biting hard through flick-flack singletrack, but it'll pull off massive cornering slides and tear chunks off tyres without even feigning alarm once you get used to it. There's masses of space under its belly for heaving over logs, or clean pedalling through rock gaps or ruts too. Cove offers half a dozen colours from 'sasy pink' to 'matt black' and, considering the bike is still handbuilt in Canada from the finest materials, it's really well priced too.

WMB Verdict; The original North Shore hardtail hellraiser and still the best.

Performance 9, Value 9 - WMB GOLD Award Winner What Mountain Bike October 2005

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First Impressions Clean lines, functional, neat welds.... The Cove certainly looks the part, especially with the distinctive Easton RAD tubing that has been custom tweaked for this frame. Both the profile and thickness of this tubing means that a strong frame can be made without the need for untidy gussets everywhere. When you first pick up the bike you can't help but notice how light it is, particularly at the rear, but don't let that make you think it isn't up to much, as it has been put through its paces on some of the toughest North Shore trails.

Build Up Although the Stiffee is available as a frame only, the distributor Silverfish is also responsible for Race Face products, and so these featured heavily on our test bike. The good news is that all of this kit is quality stuff, and Silverfish offer this as a 'finishing kit' when you buy a frame through any of their dealers. You can choose between a few different types, but the Evolve kit that was fitted to this bike would cost you an extra £250, a considerable saving on what you would normally have to pay. As for the rest of the build, it was definitely on the lightweight side, but it was nonetheless all reliable stuff. I would imagine that many of these frames will be built up similarly, you can't really go too far wrong with Hope, Fox and XT.

Climbing I never thought I would say it, but this bike almost makes climbs a joy. Agreed, a considerable amount of that comes down to the fact that it weighs less than 27lbs (frame alone is 4.5lbs), but there is much more to it than just that. The bike just handles beautifully, it just encourages you to find something technical rather than just following a boring fire road where all of this would be wasted. With the majority of the bikes weight being at the front end, wheel lift when climbing is not a problem even with the relatively short rear end. The adjustable travel Fox forks also help in this case, as if you wind them down you end up with a bike that handles well at low speed, which enables you to pick your way upwards with ease. The incredible acceleration just make you want to power through anything, and it definitely flatters the not so fit rider.

Bombing Around This bike just encourages you to have fund whatever you are doing, it makes you constantly look out for the more interesting line. That low weight again proves to be valuable, as it will take off at the faintest sign of a lip, and once in the air you can easily throw it about. It also makes you pump everything, it just flows so well whether it be through a berm or a compression. This is definitely a bike that also helps you to improve your skills, as you will just want to ride a trail over and over again, each time trying something new. The adjustable travel fork again comes into its own as you can adjust the head angle to suit both your style and the terrain you are riding. I just wish all bikes were this much fun.

Descending This is definitely not one for the beginner, as the combination of the quick handling and low weight make for an interesting time. Even with the forks at full travel the handling is pin sharp, which may scare a few, but for those with skills like a fighter pilot it will bring immense pleasure. You can simply change your line in the blink of an eye, and float over any obstacles that lie in your path. Rather than trying to pick your way around obstacles like you would do on many other hardtails, the Stiffee invites you to try and clear them, only touching the ground when you need to turn or brake. Even when you do have to stick to the ground, you can ride through some seriously gnarly terrain by putting your weight over the forks and allowing them to do all the work while the rear flies about picking its own way through. You just have to get used to letting the rear end do its own thing a lot of the time, which may seem a bit disconcerting if you are used to a full-suss, but you soon realize it doesn't matter.

Final Impressions The bike is a genuine all-rounder if ever there was one, it goes up just as happily as it goes down, and no matter what direction you are heading it is guaranteed to be fun. You can ride it fast on virtually any trail if you have got the skills, and even if you haven't it will help you learn them faster than almost any other bike. The fact that you can use a relatively long travel fork and yet still have quick handling means that if you ever do bite off a bit more than you can chew, you will probably still make it out the other side in one piece. The only possible grumble is that it definitely lives up to its name in the comfort stakes, as the rear end doesn't even have an ounce of give. This was not helped by the use of one of the stiffest seatposts on the market, but when we rode it with an Easton carbon post there was a welcome reduction in that harsh feeling.

Conclusions First and foremost, all of these bikes were great fun to ride, and there was only one occasion when I was left thinking that I could've really done with a bit of suspension in the rear. In general most hardtails are genuine do-it-all bikes, but as the Santa Cruz in particular demonstrated, you can still go down the seriously specialist route if you want to. If anyone tried to make a full-suss as indestructible as the Jackal, you simply wouldn't be able to move it. If you have previously destroyed every other bike that is out there, then the Jackal is probably the last and only bike you will ever need. Be honest with yourself though, because if you are not going to push it to anywhere near its limits (if that's humanly possible), then you will only be cheating yourself out of an enjoyable ride. What is a brilliant bike in the hands on one rider, can so easily be a sack of shit in someone else's. The only other bike, apart from the Santa Cruz, that was not so good at everything was the Norco. That definitely doesn't mean though that it won't be perfect for many riders, as it offers superb strength and reliability at a more than reasonable price. If you wanted a full-suss that would survive as well as the Sasquatch, you would have to spend three times as much at least, and even then I'm sure you would have more problems. It's not ever going to be the best bike for a beginner, as not only are they unlikely to get anywhere near its limits, but also its weight will probably hamper any progression of skills. Who is it perfect for then? Well, that's simply anyone who genuinely needs a very strong bike, but who at the same time doesn't want to go quite as specialized as the Jackal. This leaves us with three brilliant all-rounders that each have their own individual characteristics. The fact that they can all perform well at almost any type of riding not only lends them towards being perfect if you can only own one bike, but it also means that you can enjoy every part of a varied ride. Even if you own several bikes, the relative simplicity of these hardtails makes them an ideal addition, as they will always be ready for a ride when your others are being fixed. The Orange sticks out as being a little different from both the Cove and the Whyte, as it is designed to take a longer travel fork. Whether or not this is a good thing is a personal matter, but if you have always wanted to have a hardtail that sill still ride OK even with 6"" up front then you'll no doubt want to thank the guys at Orange for answering your prayers. The Sub Zero will also appeal to anyone who tends to worry about the strength of his or her bike, as although it is probably no stronger than the Cove, visually it looks far more substantial. If you think the Whyte or Cove would give you nightmares, go for the Orange. Now we are only left with two, but what a pair they are. Both the Cove and the Whyte surprised all those that were lucky enough to ride them, they simply made you want to go out and ride. Surely that is all you can ask of a bike, but it didn't stop there, as we asked many questions of both, and every time they came up with the right answers. It was great to be able to just go out for a ride knowing that whatever you came across you would have fun, so much so that you ended up deliberately exploring for now challenges. Of the two, the Whyte definitely required a little more finesse and seemed slightly more compromised in some areas, but if you want to make the ups as easy as they can be whilst still having fun elsewhere, this is probably the one. As for the Cove, this was simply brilliant everywhere, managing somehow to never feel compromised whatever the situation. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that it was supplied with an adjustable travel fork that allowed you to fine tune the geometry depending on what you were about to do, but you can't take away the fact that this is a superb frame. The best bit is that if you built one of these up with a decent fork and set of wheel, but save a whole load of money by using some cheaper finishing kit and a Deore groupset, you would still have an amazing bike, and if you don't, I really think you're missing out on something great.

DIRT Sept/Oct 2005 - BEST IN TEST

Silverfish UK Ltd. Units 3a-3c Woodacre Court, Saltash Parkway Industrial Estate, Burraton Road, Saltash, Cornwall, United Kingdom, PL12 6LY
Silverfish UK Ltd. (Registration No. 4075057).

Technical specifications are for guidance only and cannot be guaranteed accurate. All offers are subject to availability and while stocks last. Errors and omissions excepted. Silverfish UK Limited acts as a credit intermediary and only offers credit products for Close Brothers Retail Finance. Its registered office is: Close Brothers Group plc, 10 Crown Place, London EC2A 4FT. Credit is subject to application and status.

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