Vassago is an Arizona-based company that specializes in 29er hardtail frames. I have owned their singlespeed Jabberwocky frame for a while now, which is one of two of their less expensive Taiwanese models. It’s a great frame; I highly recommend it to anyone interested in an affordable steel SS 29er.
They also have a line of higher-end frames in what they call the “Black Label” series. All of the Black Label frames are made in the USA from premium materials. This spring, I was fortunate enough to ride and review one of those, the titanium OptimusTi. Once the OptimusTi was returned to Vassago, they sent me another Black Label frame to review, this time the more-affordable steel VerHauen XC frame. Read on to find out how it stacks up compared to their other offerings.
The VerHauen is welded in the USA from US-made True Temper OX Platinum steel tubing. Each frame size gets size-specific tubing, meaning the diameter and wall thicknesses are tuned for each frame size. Some bikes use the same tubing throughout the size range, which can result in overbuilt small sizes or not-quite-stiff-enough large sizes.
The VerHauen is very similar to the OptimusTi. They both use identical FastCat geometry designed around a 100mm fork, have 44mm headtubes which allow the use of any fork you want, and have sliding dropouts from Paragon Machineworks so you can run them either geared or singlespeed. The dropouts are available in several different axle styles and brake mounts. The VerHauen also has a stainless steel seat tube insert, which should reduce the chance of your seat post corroding in place in the frame.
My frame, size medium, weighed in at 4.98lbs (2,258g) with the sliders and hardware in place, as well as the seatpost clamp and headset cups. For reference, my Jabberwocky is about 5.5lbs, and the OptimusTi was 4.34lbs. While the OptimusTi retails for about $2,000 for the frame, the VerHauen is about half that cost at $1,050.
I put a few different builds on the VerHauen, mixing two different forks and two sets of wheels. The lightest combination was only 22.16lbs with the Whisky No.7 fork and some custom wheels built with the NOX Composites rims I’m also reviewing. That’s with an all-metal, all-Thomson cockpit, and includes pedals and a pair of steel bottle cages. Swapping the titanium bar and alloy seatpost for carbon parts would easily get the bike down below 22lbs.
The finish is unique, and pretty cool in my opinion. Several colors are available, and all are a translucent candy powder coat. Since they’re translucent, you can see the steel below, including all the brazing and welding discoloration. From a distance the frame looks kind of dirty, but up close you can geek out on the metal work. I like it.
Back in the day, I had some BMX bars that were clear coated, but no paint or primer, and they rusted because the clear coat is somewhat porous. It didn’t take long for that rust to appear, either. That doesn’t seem to be a problem with the VerHauen, however: I’ve had it for a few months during the wettest summer Augusta has seen in several decades, and there’s not a spot of rust anywhere.
When I rode the OptimusTi, which has the same all-day XC-oriented geometry as the VerHauen, I used my own rigid fork which is suspension-corrected for an 80mm travel fork. The VerHauen was sent to me with a rigid Whisky No.7 carbon fork, which is suspension-corrected for a 100mm fork like the bike is designed around. I prefer the handling with the longer fork. The shorter fork was quicker-steering and felt great when attacking the trail at 100% effort, but the geometry is better for all around riding with the longer fork. It still hustles through the corners with ease, but it’s not as nervous and is more forgiving of mistakes, especially at high speed.
One trait I’ve always liked about my Jabberwocky was the high-speed stability, and that same stability is present in the VerHauen with the correct fork. Vassago’s long and low geometry makes it feel like you’re “in” the bike, not “on” the bike, and for me it just plain works. If you want to check out the actual numbers, you can find them on the Vassago site right here.
Anyone who’s ridden a decent steel frame knows how nicely they ride. What I didn’t expect, however, was that I liked the ride of the VerHauen better than the OptimusTi! At my weight it’s actually a smoother and more comfortable-riding bike. It’s not as stiff, though: I could feel the bottom bracket move more under really hard pedaling efforts than on the OptimusTi. Still, it doesn’t flex enough to feel vague or unsettling in the corners–I could only feel it when really cranking the pedals up a steep incline. Larger, heavier, stronger riders will probably appreciate the extra stiffness of the OptimusTi, but for me the VerHauen was great.
Anyone in the market for a steel 29er frame should have the VerHauen on their short list. The sliding dropouts and 44mm headtube give you a ton of options for building it any way you want. The ride is smooth, the weight is good, and the handling is a great blend of high-speed stability and quick cornering confidence.
The bike is made in the USA, from US-made materials, and is still competitive in price with similar bikes–as an example, at $1,050 MSRP, it’s only $50 more than the Niner Sir9 ,which is made overseas! The VerHauen is more versatile with the sliding dropouts, and doesn’t use an eccentric bottom bracket, either. That’s an easy choice in my book.
Vassago is working on a few new frames, and later this year or early next year there will be a review on one or two of them here on the Singletracks blog. Both of these new bikes break away from the XC nature of the OptimusTi and VerHauen, and one in particular is unlike anything else we’ve ever reviewed. Stay tuned!
I’d like to thank Vassago for providing the frame to review. For more information, head over to the Vassago website.