The Chumba Sendero is a USA made, high quality steel-framed, downcountry mountain bike that is versatile, predictable, stable, and fast. While it’s not quite as much of a cross country oriented, distance machine as its sister, the Chumba Stella which we reviewed last year, it is remarkably more fun in the steep, fast, loose, and technical sections of trail. Inspiring confidence at speed, it is a joy to throw around on the rowdy parts of untamed trails full of rock gardens, ledges, and steep lines. The question was: Did the Sendero inherit the XC heritage and race winning DNA of the Stella, or is it lacking that remarkable agility and ability to climb with power?
After testing the Chumba Stella Titanium in 2019 for nearly half a year, I was convinced that it would be the next bike I purchased. It was very capable for bikepacking and long distance endurance rides. The Stella felt fast on the climbs and the flats, while also confidently cornering on the descent. It felt even better when loaded up with bikepacking gear. While I was testing the Stella in the Spring of 2019, Chumba released the Sendero and I figured it would probably be a fun bike, but not what I was needing for most of my riding.
Fast forward to the end of 2019. My wife and I bought a house on the north end of Prescott, AZ. It is located farther away than the prior rental house was from the forest loam, but closer to the iconic Granite Dells rocks surrounding the two lakes on the north end of town. While I already knew the amazingly scenic and challenging trails in the Dells from taking hikes with my wife, sons, and our dogs, I had largely written them off as places for me to ride bikes since they were ultra-technical. I had made excuses for not exploring these black and double black diamond trails just because they “weren’t really my thing”. After weeks and months of riding past them to hit my weekly mile goal on my drop bar mountain bike, my curiosity was piqued enough to see just how much of these trails I could ride versus hike.
Calling upon the Trek Stache, a 29-plus hardtail I was riding at the time, (read farther down for comparison with the Sendero) to explore these technical trails was more fun than I anticipated. After a few more rides left me more familiar with the lines in this network of trails that crisscross upon the granite slabs, I finally knew what to expect and was having to hike a bike only occasionally.
The Chumba Sendero had been dancing around in my head since its inception and left me wondering what other steel hardtails might be on the market that would allow me to ride technical trail a little more confidently. Could they be more adept for riding steep and technical trails like these, yet still allow for singlespeed setup, all day riding, and even some bikepacking here and there? I looked at all of the steel hardtails on the market and then came back to the Sendero.
On paper, the Sendero checked all the boxes for me. More so than any other production frame out there. It is made from high-quality, oversized, double-butred steel tubing, it is singlespeedable, fits 29×2.8 tires, has 3 water bottle mounts, a threaded bottom bracket, internal dropper post port, and can fit a 34 tooth oval chainring. All of that, AND the geometry is still close enough for the cross country, fast climbing feel that I love so much while having just enough of a slackened and lengthened front end to make it more stable and capable for the steep, fast, and technical areas I was now riding more often.
If you search high and low like I did, you’ll find that there are many bikes on the market today that are very exaggerated in the long, low, and slack geometry trend that has hit the mountain bike world by storm. A hardtail with “modern geometry” like this could have a head tube angle that’s slacker than a downhill bike, as well as 500+mm of reach, and is designed for 150-170mm of travel. The BTR Belter with its 61 degree head tube is one that immediately comes to mind. That doesn’t seem very versatile. What would be more versatile, but still fun in my book? High quality tubing steel hardtails built for efficient climbing up steep technical sections along extended climbs when set up as a singlespeed that can also be pointed back downhill to drop off ledges, fly through corners, tackle technical sections with confidence, and bomb down the fast singletrack with lots of stability. Could such a bike actually exist, or does this idea of a versatile bike just mean that it’s not really good at anything?
Where does the Sendero sit amongst the others in regard to geometry?
The large test bike has a 67.6 degree head tube, 73.6 degree seat tube angle, reach of 454mm, stack of 637mm, chainstay length of 420-440mm, and wheelbase of 1163-1183mm.
These numbers were similar to the Trek Stache I had been riding over the last 3 years in some ways, but the Sendero was a little longer in the front end and ever so slightly slacker.
Although a 29×2.8 can fit on the Sendero, it can only fit in the most rearward position, as opposed to the Stache that can fit a 29×3.0 tire all the way forward at 420mm chainstay length. Short chain stays make for a fun, playful, quick hardtail and I love that the Sendero has such short chainstays. Would I like more clearance for bigger tires and less rub on muddy trail days? Sure, who wouldn’t?! But at what cost? The Trek Stache could only run a 32 tooth chainring and needed an elevated chainstay design to do so. The Stache also had a shorter front end which made for a shorter wheelbase. Although that short wheelbase design is great for slow speed technical climbing, like tight switchbacks, it isn’t as great when up at speed. The Stache felt twitchy and needed more babysitting at the handlebars compared to the Sendero, although it did manual and wheelie super easy.
The Sendero is much more balanced and composed when at speed, allowing me to use the “light hands, heavy feet ” style when descending rough trails. The Sendero truly inspires confidence and allowed me to push past the previous speeds I was comfortable with on other hardtails. On the climbs, I didn’t feel held back. Even with longer and slacker geometry and a 40mm stem, I was able to ride up all the climbs I wanted with ease. Was it as great of a climber as the Chumba Stella? No, but that’s to be expected with the Stellas 70 degree head tube angle. The Stella allowed me to confidently rail some corners pretty well, but didn’t have anything on the Sendero when it comes to the playfulness, stability on descents, and ability to take on technical terrain without hesitation.
The seat tube angle of the Sendero is just right. Even with the saddle all the way forward on the rails, I don’t have to lower the dropper to have the saddle out of the way while standing and climbing. This is an absolute necessity on a singlespeed.
So many other hardtails have to have a steep seat tube angle in order to combat the wandering-front-end-syndrome that plagues today’s mountain bikes with their long and slack front ends. That works for seated climbing, but is horrible for singlespeed and for any type of out of the saddle climbing. The saddle is constantly in your way on those types of bikes if you climb out of the saddle at all and most riders, especially singlespeeders, tend to drop the post down prior to standing and climbing on these steep seat tube angle/slack head tube angle bikes.
Positioning your weight forward helps when cornering by adding weight to the front tire and getting the fork dialed in for this was crucial (see below for details on dialing in the Cane Creek Helm fork). Although front wheel weighting needs to be intentional on the decomposed granite of most Prescott area trails, it was much less so than other bikes we have ridden such as the RSD Sergeant with its 66.5 degree headtube angle, 469mm reach, and 74 degree seat tube angle. The Chumba’s 67.6 degree headtube angle with a 130mm fork (120mm fork usage puts it at 68 degrees), 450mm reach, and 73.6 degree seat tube angle feel much better for both weighting the front end through turns as well as for unseated climbing.
The combination of this longer and slacker front end than XC bikes like the Stella, with a slightly steeper seat tube angle makes for the best of both worlds. The seat isn’t too steeply angled that it’s hitting your back at full extension. This allows the rider to immediately stand and climb over an unexpected steep or technical feature that requires a power move and body English to balance or maneuver your center of gravity to get through the section of trail without dabbing. Likewise, you don’t have to lean so far forward that you can’t sneak in a front wheel lift when an obstacle comes up quickly in front of you. Its great to drop the seatpost down to get it out of the way, but often on a climb, you just don’t can’t drop it fast enough.
The super tech in the Granite Dells is where I really intended to test the Sendero’s mettle. I love riding slow and using trials-like balance to get through sections, but now that I knew these super technical trails more, I wanted to go faster and see how well I could actually keep the flow going through them. The Sendero was called upon for this task.
As I rode the chunky steep sections, I caught myself wondering if a full suspension rig would be better in some places out here. Absolutely it would. I also wondered about a shorter wheelbase, trials-style bike. Sure, that would be better in some spots too. For the best overall flow through all the sections, I prefer the type of handling the Sendero offers. Especially when set up as a singlespeed.
There are power moves needed to get up and over some of the boulders, tight turns, chunky transitions, and steep rock rolls that I was hoping to flow through. A huge challenge that I really hoped the Sendero would excel at. As you can see in the video below, there were moments of speed and moments of nearly trackstanding where this bike just disappeared beneath me. It is a perfect balance of nimble and stable, it’s ready to keep climbing at speed and ready to point the other direction to get rowdy at a moment’s notice.
Build Specs & Dealing with Chumba USA
This bike came built up with Industry Nine Trail 270 wheels and a 12 speed XX1 Eagle drivetrain. It was easy to get up to speed and very capable. With the Maxxis Rekon 2.4 tires, the bike felt light and racey.
Vince was interested in learning what my initial thoughts were about the fit and feel of this test bike. We had a great phone conversation about the bikes I have ridden previously that felt good to me, my riding style, and my preferences.
I was used to bigger 2.6-3.0 tires with lots of meaty knobs for getting up the steep and rocky climbs in the Dells however and really wanted to also try this bike as a singlespeed. After chatting with Vince at Chumba, he sent over parts to get it set up as an aggressive tire trodden singlespeed.
The 2.5 Aggressor out back with a 2.6 Minion DHF up front, and 32×21 gearing was what I asked for in order to attack the steep and technical sections of the Granite Dells as well as trails 50 miles away in Sedona. Below is a first look at this bike set up as an aggressive single speed.
Frame: Chumba Sendero – size Large, Level 1 Avocado Green paint
Fork: Cane Creek Helm Works 130mm
Wheels: Velocity Blunt 35 rims on Hope hubs
Front Tire: Maxxis Minion DHF 29×2.6
Rear Tire: Maxxis Aggressor 29×2.5 WT
Brakes: Hope Tech 3 levers with X2 calipers
Rotors: Hope 180mm
Saddle: WTB Volt
Grips: ESI Silicone Plush Grips
Bars: RaceFace Aeffect 35
Stem: Thomson X4 40mm
Headset: White Industries
Crankset: Shimano XT FC-M8100-1 170mm
Bottom Bracket: White Industries
Chainring: Wolf Tooth 32 tooth oval
Cog: Endless Bikes 21 tooth
Chain: KMC K1SL
Seat post: OneUp 170mm dropper
Dropper Lever: Paul Components Dropper Trigger in polished finish
Weight as configured is 27.3 lbs without pedals.
All complete builds are custom for your anatomy, riding style, and price point.
Building a complete bike is a very collaborative process and the guys at Chumba are really easy to talk to.
The polished Paul Components Dropper Trigger is made in the USA, user serviceable, and has a perfect, wide, concave paddle that is super comfortable.
The Aggressor rolled pretty fast and had traction out back for days.
The DHF was, as expected, a great choice for high traction needs up front.
The 32×21 gearing was lighter than any singlespeed ratio I had run in the past, but was perfect for the short, steep punches I was faced with in the Dells. It took longer to get to the trailheads across town with the lack of gears and increased rolling resistance, but I rarely had to walk up any steep sections of trail.
This was the first time I had used Hope brakes and they were really nice. Although I am a fan of Shimano brakes and would usually look at those first, these were lightweight, powerful, and highly adjustable brakes that felt good, stopped fast, and looked great.
The Velocity Blunt 35 rims are aluminum, made in the USA, and at 35mm wide, are perfect for the slightly wider and more aggressive tires I wanted to run. Aluminum rims feel a little better than carbon to me since they give a little more and they dent instead of crack if low tire pressure and a sharp edged rock ever meet up. Hope hubs are great and have proven themselves as serviceable, durable, value packed, and decent engagement.
The I9 hydra hubs that I first rode on the Sendero were amazing with their engagement. After ratcheting the pedals with such a high amount of engagement, it made the Hope hubs feel like they had big voids in between the pawls engaging. The I9 Trail 270 wheels would be perfect for most people looking at the Sendero, but I really wanted more traction and volume that the 2.6 and 2.5 tires would provide, so the Velocity Blunt 35 rims really were a better choice here.
The 130mm travel Cane Creek Helm Works fork is a great match for the Sendero. Chumba designed this frame to work with 120mm and 130mm forks. 130mm has been perfect for the places I have ridden this bike and the way I have wanted to ride it. With easily adjustable positive and negative air spring chambers, tokenless volume adjustment, as well as high speed and low speed compression adjustments, this fork was a dream to get dialed. I found myself struggling a little during the first few rides to dial in the air pressure and compression settings.
It felt too soft and dove too much in turns and slow speed technical sections in the Dells. I added air and added more low speed compression, but it killed the awesome feel of the fork being stuck to the ground and soaking everything up. I dialed back the low speed compression and left the air pressure higher than Cane Creek recommends for my body weight, with approximately 15% sag. The aggressive way I like to take corners did not work for that setup as the fork was still diving and it still felt harsh. After talking to a few people who have the Helm fork and a few others with more suspension tuning experience, I realized the air pressure needed to be back at Cane Creek’s recommended setting for my body weight and I needed quite a few clicks of low speed compression whenever I was anticipating hard cornering or slow speed technical sections that required trials-like maneuvering and power moves to get up and over bigger rocks. A click or two on the low speed compression actually does quite a bit on the Helm and that is what threw me off. Other forks don’t seem to be so sensitive along the spectrum of their compression adjustments. Additionally, the Helm has amazing mid-stroke support, so it feels like you have plenty of compression even when its wide open. I love the “Climb Switch” which fully locks out the fork as well. This is a singlespeeders dream. It has high and low speed compression PLUS lockout at the flick of a switch. The only thing I would improve on the Helm is to add high speed rebound and maybe a little more tire clearance. On a 35mm rim, the 2.6 DHF would catch larger chunks of gravel and I could hear them ping off the Helm’s arch from time to time. With a 2.6 Specialized Butcher on a 46mm rim, it has more clearance, as shown below. I doubt most riders will be running such wide rims that flatten out the 2.6 like this, but with 29×2.6 tires gaining popularity in recent years, having enough clearance for them on narrower rims would be great.
The 170mm OneUp dropper post was an excellent match with the Sendero frame . As a rider with a 790mm (31.25”) inseam, the Sendero’s 460mm seat tube provided a tremendous amount of seat post drop. With the seatpost nearly bottomed out on the Wolf Tooth seat collar, the saddle was so far out of the way, it never hindered my center of gravity placement whenever steep sections were approached. Many bikes like this will omit water bottle mounts on the seat tube to ensure even a 150mm dropper will slam all the way in. Other bike designers figure that the rider will be fine with compromising dropper length (many only allow for 125mm posts), but they keep the seat tube bottle mount because its a hard tail, not a full suspension rig, so most riders expect to have two bottle mounts inside the frame triangle. This ability to get the seat so low on a large size frame that isn’t super slacked out is absolutely fantastic. It is one of the big reasons it has felt so capable to me.
The PMW sliding dropouts are not just a great singlespeed tensioning system, but awesome for dialing in your wheel position, providing additional tire clearance (both in diameter and width). This makes the frame compatible with so many tires out there, but also allows for different ride qualities.
The Sendero feels remarkably stable with the chainstays set at 428mm for 32×21 single speed tension with 29×2.5. I tried a Specialized Eliminator 29×2.6 on the Velocity Blunt 35 rim in this 428mm position and it also fit just fine.
The Sendero would undoubtedly would only be more stable, and comfortably compliant at the full 440mm chainstay length.
Many of the hardtails available which I had considered have narrow tire clearance. Most top out at a maximum rear tire width of 2.4 or 2.5. I really like 29×2.6 for a rear tire, but would like to run 2.8 at times when on long distance bikepacking trips or planning to ride on lots of sandy trails. At the same time, a 2.4 at 420mm chainstays would also be fun for some applications where I want the feel of a super tucked rear wheel that can manual/wheelie better, turn on a dime, and transfers power most efficiently for pumping through undulating flow trails.
When the Sendero arrived, it was set up slammed at 420mm with a 2.4 inch wide Maxxis Rekon tire on the I9 wheels with 12 speed SRAM drivetrain. At 420mm, leaning back while leaning the handlebars left or right through tight turns felt like I had a knife blade on the back when I pushed hard on the side knobs of the rear tire throughout the turn. The Sendero is optimized for a 2.4 – 2.6 rear tire. Using a 2.8 would limit your choice for chainstay length and possibly prevent singlespeed combinations.
The third water bottle mount was very much appreciated in the beginning of July, right after Chloe Woodruff (Olympic XC racer) put up the Prescott Circle Trail Challenge out there. The Prescott Circle Trail is a 56 mile, rugged route around the City of Prescott. Her challenge was to complete it in under 48 hours. The three water bottle mounts were absolutely wonderful for carrying the 1L Zefal Magnum bottles that I brought to battle the dehydration in the July heat.
Along with the bottle capacity, this large frame has a ton of space for a framebag for bikepacking, and the water bottle mount below the downtube would still be available. Often if you have such a large framebag space, the seat can’t get low enough to tackle steep descents because the frame is so big. If I took this bike on a bikepacking trip, I would purchase a custom framebag to utilize every square centimeter of the frame space and forego a seat bag so I could drop the post all the way down. It really makes getting on and off of a loaded rig super easy too when the seat is that low. While we are talking about the water bottle mount below the down tube, its worth mentioning how incredibly thoughtful the cable management has been designed on this bike. Although Chumba offers internal cable routing as an option, the downtube routing and cable management via the Paragon Machine Works bolt on cable guides.
The dropper cable has internal covert routing into the non-drive side of the frame at the bottom of the seat tube. The other hoses/cables route along the bottom of the chainstays. With the cables routed beneath the downtube, the bike looks clean, the cables are easily accessed/replaced, and they take some of the impacts from rocks and trail debris that would otherwise mar the paint.
Speaking of marring the paint, I have had quite a few crashes while riding the Sendero. All have been at very slow speed, usually when attempting to connect tough technical sections in the Granite Dells. Only one time did the Sendero frame actually take some minor damage. A fall to my left while up on a big granite slab caused the left seat stay to get rock rash as well as a tiny dimple in the tubing.
Taking the Sendero to the Fort Tuthill Bike Park in Flagstaff, I was amazed at how much speed I could generate on the pump track. It is very efficient, fast,and corners so well when leaned hard. I took it off jumps and drops while we were there and couldn’t imagine any other bike I would prefer to ride there.
During the time when I first set up the Sendero as a singlespeed, I had a bad case of sciatica and mentioned how it kept me off the bike more than I had hoped when I next spoke with Vince. He suggested to ensure the saddle height was high up, in the correct position while pedaling seated. He also mentioned that slightly shorter crank arms could help. Shorter, 170mm cranks came the next week and were installed.
This crank change really helped my sciatica and I can’t thank Vince enough. These are the types of problems Vince helps customers solve on a regular basis and I was amazed at how this type of service and expertise is largely undervalued in the bicycle industry. Buying a Chumba Sendero means you would be getting this invaluable care along with an exceptional bike that is intended to last a lifetime.
They aren’t joking when on the Chumba USA site they say, “Our staff’s extensive knowledge in component selection can guide you through an exciting & collaborative experience to find your way onto the bike of your dreams. We take care recommending only reliable and quality components.” They really do take care when recommending how to get you on the bike of your dreams.
The Sendero is a fantastic rig for someone looking to have more confidence when riding technical trails or a singlespeeder looking to push their limits when it comes time to go downhill.
It is not a super aggressive hardtail that feels “gravity oriented”. It’s steel frame has comfortable compliance, but feels efficient when pedaling, predictable in turns, and stable at speed. Vince helped get this rig dialed for riding it to my absolute limits in technical terrain. Then I was able to use it to push past limits I thought I had, whether for singlespeed technical climbing, for fast and steep descending, or for connecting technical lines on black diamond trails that I shied away from only a year ago.
Its the rig I would reach for if I want to ride a singlespeed. Its the rig I would reach for if I want a trail bike to ride on the hardest trails around. It feels great on every trail I have taken it on, and feels like it’s even ready for the steep, fast, and technical terrain that I don’t yet have the skills for. What about that big question I asked in the beginning: does it have the Stella’s agility and ability to climb with power? Well, I can certainly say that it allows me to lay the power down, no problem. Is it as agile and racey as the Stella? No, but if you run it as a singlespeed, you’ll feel something that I was amazed by, its a fast climber and descender that has stability and agility to go up, over, and down technical challenges while easily being thrown around and you may find yourself breaking your personal records on climbs. It checks all the boxes I have for a trail-oriented hardtail and that’s precisely why I didn’t send it back to Chumba. Normally test rigs are a catch-and-release affair, but I purchased this one. This is a bike that is designed to last a lifetime. I can see myself riding it everywhere for a long time and smile while doing so.