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Review: Dropbar mountain bike (Cutthroat) vs. dedicated gravel bike (Stigmata)

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Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like :The Dirty Kanza". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Review: Dropbar mountain bike (Cutthroat) vs. dedicated gravel bike (Stigmata)

Old 09-26-19, 11:18 PM
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jan nikolajsen 
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Review: Dropbar mountain bike (Cutthroat) vs. dedicated gravel bike (Stigmata)

I have both bikes and ridden the same handful of local routes again and again for comparison. The following observations are personal and specific to my riding style and the surfaces around here. YMMV.

In short the Salsa Cutthroat is a drop bar mountain bike with huge tire clearance; the Stigmata is more towards the all-road end of the spectrum, although Santa Cruz is deeply rooted in mountain bike design and this could make the Stig more capable than some other examples of the genre.

The Cutty I put together from frame up with the best parts I could source. It’s pretty dialed. The weight is around 22lbs out the door. There’s a build thread on here somewhere.

The Stigmata is the stock Ultegra version (if you buy it now it will come with GRX), except for tires, bar tape and stem. See Santa Cruz site for details. It’s close to twenty pounds ride ready.

Both are size XL, with tubeless tires (2.3” and 44mm respectively) and SPD pedals. I share them with my son, hence the frivolous N+1 of some very high end rigs. I'm 6'1", he's 6'4".

I do most rides from my house, meaning paved approaches vary from 3 to 15 miles one way. True ‘gravel’ can be found on maybe two rides for up to 5 miles. The rest is sandy, rocky, bumpy and/or single track. I have limited opportunity to ride and appreciate fitness so I go mostly solo without wasting too much time.

First the obvious. The Stigmata is funner on the pavement and that little portion of packed dirt road that does exist here. The performance here does not feel too far removed from a good road bike. The Cutty is more efficient and enjoyable on the difficult surfaces. No surprises here. But my times are not that far apart on the smooth stuff, while the Cutty achieves a significant edge on the harder segments.

On rolling Moab style single track the Cutty is just so much faster. All the little lifts, drops and rock studded/loose dirt corners takes great care to negotiate with 44mm tires, while 2.3’s are made for this stuff.

Climbing continuous 15-20 minute hills is a tie, even if technical. Both do really well here and are equally enjoyable to be on, but decidedly different. The Cutty is point and shoot; while the Stig needs to be steered precisely. But on 45-90 minute jeep road climbs the added strain of keeping the Stigmata’s skinny tires rolling in sand and out of cracks between rocks sets in and I fade earlier than I do on the Cutty.

Descending for 10 minutes or more with an unsuspended drop bar bike on our mixed surfaces sucks no matter the tires or geo. I have loop rides where the climbs are dirt and the return paved; an ideal scenario imo.

Recently I did a 100% paved century on the Stig. Lazily I left it in dirt mode as pictured below. It was a route I've done many times on fairly high end much lighter road bikes, but I rode it in about the same mode/effort, finishing close to my usual times. It felt awesome. While the big climbs were not as fast, the higher bars and overall cush paid off late in the ride. I was sitting so comfy I didn't need my first stop until mile 80.

So much for the ride experience.

Both are 2x Shimano drivetrains. The Cutty is 38/28 front with 11-40 rear. I’ve done rides where it’s so steep and I’m so tired that 28-40 is barely deep enough. This makes me wary of the Stigmata’s more road centric gearing of 50/34 - 11-34 for unknown backcountry routes, although for pavement the close spacing is something I feel right at home with.

On the other hand the Cutty struggles to stay at speed on long paved gradual downhills, spinning out at 28mph or so. A long time ago we all rode triple cranks, possibly for good reason, lol.

The 1x drivetrains that are so perfect on all my mountain bikes would be lost on these two if ridden as intended, and that is with any combination of their limited gearing.

On the Stig are ever so slightly flared Easton AX bars, on the Cutty extremely flared Woodchipper bars - in carbon, no less. Flare is the way to go! It gives me a much better ride in the drops, which is where I want to be on rolling tech terrain. I do not have GRX levers with their supposedly improved braking leverage (Ultegra on both) and find the precise, abrupt braking needed on single track pretty much only achievable in the drops. So that’s where I ride and the big flare is great for control in the gnar. Long climbs happens on the hoods, and I probably like the more traditional lever position of the AX bars a little more for this.

The 44mm Snoqualmie’s on the Stig have converted me to the virtues of Heine’s pixie dust ‘planing’ and minimal, if any, thread. These tires are so awesome with no loss in performance on the dry, dusty, slickrocky terrain we have here. And pavement of course is a dream on those. Tubeless on DT alloy rims, no problems, no flats yet despite some very rocky riding.

On the Cutty are quality 2.3 XC tires. Good enough stuff but they will surely be replaced at first opportunity with the biggest, lightest slicks that are guaranteed to plane. The stiff carbon rims with their minimal spoke count, and some radial ones even, does not contribute to a smooth ride.

Both bikes are equipped with Redshift ‘suspension’ stems. Not going back on this!

Were I to have just one of these two it would be the Cutty. Were I to have just one bike period it would be the Stig.


Untitled by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr


Untitled by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr

Last edited by jan nikolajsen; 09-26-19 at 11:52 PM.
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Old 09-27-19, 12:09 AM
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Nice writeup and sweet bikes.

I suppose its Antelope Hill's on the Cutty then?
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Old 09-27-19, 05:25 AM
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Useful report, thanks!
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Old 09-27-19, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by jan nikolajsen View Post
The 44mm Snoqualmie’s on the Stig have converted me to the virtues of Heine’s pixie dust ‘planing’ and minimal, if any, thread. These tires are so awesome with no loss in performance on the dry, dusty, slickrocky terrain we have here. And pavement of course is a dream on those. Tubeless on DT alloy rims, no problems, no flats yet despite some very rocky riding.

noted, thank you
for all of your post too. I just didn't quote all of it.
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Old 09-27-19, 03:00 PM
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Your Stig came with those XR361's stock? I love those rims and imo they are the absolute best gravel rims you can buy.

Have you tried the Stig with 650x2.1s like a set of Thunder Burt/Racing Ralph? You might find that adding that combo to it could replace the Cuttie.

Last edited by gus6464; 09-27-19 at 03:03 PM.
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Old 09-27-19, 03:55 PM
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Originally Posted by gus6464 View Post
Your Stig came with those XR361's stock? I love those rims and imo they are the absolute best gravel rims you can buy.

Have you tried the Stig with 650x2.1s like a set of Thunder Burt/Racing Ralph? You might find that adding that combo to it could replace the Cuttie.
why 361s over 391s? Running the 391s on a 650b setup and love them
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Old 09-27-19, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by gus6464 View Post
Your Stig came with those XR361's stock? I love those rims and imo they are the absolute best gravel rims you can buy.

Have you tried the Stig with 650x2.1s like a set of Thunder Burt/Racing Ralph? You might find that adding that combo to it could replace the Cuttie.
Those are the stock rims, with 350 hubs.

No, I have not gone the 650B route. The stupid reason is that I'm tall and ride XL bikes, and already find 700C wheels too small looking. I know...
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Old 10-02-19, 11:40 AM
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You have given me reason to look for a suspension corrected fork for my 29er. I picked up a second set of wheels for gravel riding, the 700x54s on the current wheels are just too "squirmy" on pavement and hard pack. I don't ride hardcore, so looking for this bike to do some double duty.
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Old 10-02-19, 03:38 PM
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Originally Posted by jan nikolajsen View Post
I have both bikes and ridden the same handful of local routes again and again for comparison. The following observations are personal and specific to my riding style and the surfaces around here. YMMV.

In short the Salsa Cutthroat is a drop bar mountain bike with huge tire clearance; the Stigmata is more towards the all-road end of the spectrum, although Santa Cruz is deeply rooted in mountain bike design and this could make the Stig more capable than some other examples of the genre.

The Cutty I put together from frame up with the best parts I could source. It’s pretty dialed. The weight is around 22lbs out the door. There’s a build thread on here somewhere.

The Stigmata is the stock Ultegra version (if you buy it now it will come with GRX), except for tires, bar tape and stem. See Santa Cruz site for details. It’s close to twenty pounds ride ready.

Both are size XL, with tubeless tires (2.3” and 44mm respectively) and SPD pedals. I share them with my son, hence the frivolous N+1 of some very high end rigs. I'm 6'1", he's 6'4".

I do most rides from my house, meaning paved approaches vary from 3 to 15 miles one way. True ‘gravel’ can be found on maybe two rides for up to 5 miles. The rest is sandy, rocky, bumpy and/or single track. I have limited opportunity to ride and appreciate fitness so I go mostly solo without wasting too much time.

First the obvious. The Stigmata is funner on the pavement and that little portion of packed dirt road that does exist here. The performance here does not feel too far removed from a good road bike. The Cutty is more efficient and enjoyable on the difficult surfaces. No surprises here. But my times are not that far apart on the smooth stuff, while the Cutty achieves a significant edge on the harder segments.

On rolling Moab style single track the Cutty is just so much faster. All the little lifts, drops and rock studded/loose dirt corners takes great care to negotiate with 44mm tires, while 2.3’s are made for this stuff.

Climbing continuous 15-20 minute hills is a tie, even if technical. Both do really well here and are equally enjoyable to be on, but decidedly different. The Cutty is point and shoot; while the Stig needs to be steered precisely. But on 45-90 minute jeep road climbs the added strain of keeping the Stigmata’s skinny tires rolling in sand and out of cracks between rocks sets in and I fade earlier than I do on the Cutty.

Descending for 10 minutes or more with an unsuspended drop bar bike on our mixed surfaces sucks no matter the tires or geo. I have loop rides where the climbs are dirt and the return paved; an ideal scenario imo.

Recently I did a 100% paved century on the Stig. Lazily I left it in dirt mode as pictured below. It was a route I've done many times on fairly high end much lighter road bikes, but I rode it in about the same mode/effort, finishing close to my usual times. It felt awesome. While the big climbs were not as fast, the higher bars and overall cush paid off late in the ride. I was sitting so comfy I didn't need my first stop until mile 80.

So much for the ride experience.

Both are 2x Shimano drivetrains. The Cutty is 38/28 front with 11-40 rear. I’ve done rides where it’s so steep and I’m so tired that 28-40 is barely deep enough. This makes me wary of the Stigmata’s more road centric gearing of 50/34 - 11-34 for unknown backcountry routes, although for pavement the close spacing is something I feel right at home with.

On the other hand the Cutty struggles to stay at speed on long paved gradual downhills, spinning out at 28mph or so. A long time ago we all rode triple cranks, possibly for good reason, lol.

The 1x drivetrains that are so perfect on all my mountain bikes would be lost on these two if ridden as intended, and that is with any combination of their limited gearing.

On the Stig are ever so slightly flared Easton AX bars, on the Cutty extremely flared Woodchipper bars - in carbon, no less. Flare is the way to go! It gives me a much better ride in the drops, which is where I want to be on rolling tech terrain. I do not have GRX levers with their supposedly improved braking leverage (Ultegra on both) and find the precise, abrupt braking needed on single track pretty much only achievable in the drops. So that’s where I ride and the big flare is great for control in the gnar. Long climbs happens on the hoods, and I probably like the more traditional lever position of the AX bars a little more for this.

The 44mm Snoqualmie’s on the Stig have converted me to the virtues of Heine’s pixie dust ‘planing’ and minimal, if any, thread. These tires are so awesome with no loss in performance on the dry, dusty, slickrocky terrain we have here. And pavement of course is a dream on those. Tubeless on DT alloy rims, no problems, no flats yet despite some very rocky riding.

On the Cutty are quality 2.3 XC tires. Good enough stuff but they will surely be replaced at first opportunity with the biggest, lightest slicks that are guaranteed to plane. The stiff carbon rims with their minimal spoke count, and some radial ones even, does not contribute to a smooth ride.

Both bikes are equipped with Redshift ‘suspension’ stems. Not going back on this!

Were I to have just one of these two it would be the Cutty. Were I to have just one bike period it would be the Stig.


Untitled by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr


Untitled by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
What small front fender is that you're running on the Salsa? I've been looking for something like that for my Niner RDO. Thanks.
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Old 10-02-19, 10:43 PM
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Originally Posted by csrpenfab View Post
What small front fender is that you're running on the Salsa? I've been looking for something like that for my Niner RDO. Thanks.
The fork is an ENVE and the fender is made by them for this fork only.

It doesn’t do much.
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Old 10-03-19, 11:36 AM
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Originally Posted by redlude97 View Post
why 361s over 391s? Running the 391s on a 650b setup and love them
With some tires the wider stance of the 391s can be an issue. 22.5mm wide seems to be a good middle ground in width where most tires won't have an issue. For example Maxxis ramblers on 25mm rims makes the tires kinda squarish which screws with the knob contact patch.
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Old 10-03-19, 12:16 PM
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Originally Posted by gus6464 View Post
With some tires the wider stance of the 391s can be an issue. 22.5mm wide seems to be a good middle ground in width where most tires won't have an issue. For example Maxxis ramblers on 25mm rims makes the tires kinda squarish which screws with the knob contact patch.
Hmm interesting point, if you're on the more narrow side of tires for gravel yea. DT Swiss lists the XR 391 as a xc/cyclocross/gravel rim, and I'm running 650bx48c which is definitely a rounded profile
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Old 11-08-19, 03:40 PM
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Hi Jan! How would you rate frame compliance between Stigmata and Cutthroat? Did you had the chance to ride booth with similar width tires?

I have the new Stigmata frame on order, and waiting for it since summer It was always sold out here in Europe, so now LBS is waiting for the frame that is on a ship coming from the factory. Should be here end of November.

Since i was tired of waiting for the Stigmata and was without the bike, i purchased the V2 Stigmata. Damn this thing is comfortable. Newer liked the super low stack on road bikes, just didn't feel that relaxed on longer rides. ps i am coming from years riding MTB.


Now i don't know what to do, keep the Cutthroat and sell the Stigmata when i get it, or build the Stigmata and then decide. Just by the looks i like the Stigmata, think it has more classic lines of a road bike.

Also did you get new faster rolling tires for the Cutthroat?
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Old 11-10-19, 05:54 AM
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Originally Posted by jan nikolajsen View Post
I have both bikes and ridden the same handful of local routes again and again for comparison. The following observations are personal and specific to my riding style and the surfaces around here. YMMV.

In short the Salsa Cutthroat is a drop bar mountain bike with huge tire clearance; the Stigmata is more towards the all-road end of the spectrum, although Santa Cruz is deeply rooted in mountain bike design and this could make the Stig more capable than some other examples of the genre.

The Cutty I put together from frame up with the best parts I could source. It’s pretty dialed. The weight is around 22lbs out the door. There’s a build thread on here somewhere.

The Stigmata is the stock Ultegra version (if you buy it now it will come with GRX), except for tires, bar tape and stem. See Santa Cruz site for details. It’s close to twenty pounds ride ready.

Both are size XL, with tubeless tires (2.3” and 44mm respectively) and SPD pedals. I share them with my son, hence the frivolous N+1 of some very high end rigs. I'm 6'1", he's 6'4".

I do most rides from my house, meaning paved approaches vary from 3 to 15 miles one way. True ‘gravel’ can be found on maybe two rides for up to 5 miles. The rest is sandy, rocky, bumpy and/or single track. I have limited opportunity to ride and appreciate fitness so I go mostly solo without wasting too much time.

First the obvious. The Stigmata is funner on the pavement and that little portion of packed dirt road that does exist here. The performance here does not feel too far removed from a good road bike. The Cutty is more efficient and enjoyable on the difficult surfaces. No surprises here. But my times are not that far apart on the smooth stuff, while the Cutty achieves a significant edge on the harder segments.

On rolling Moab style single track the Cutty is just so much faster. All the little lifts, drops and rock studded/loose dirt corners takes great care to negotiate with 44mm tires, while 2.3’s are made for this stuff.

Climbing continuous 15-20 minute hills is a tie, even if technical. Both do really well here and are equally enjoyable to be on, but decidedly different. The Cutty is point and shoot; while the Stig needs to be steered precisely. But on 45-90 minute jeep road climbs the added strain of keeping the Stigmata’s skinny tires rolling in sand and out of cracks between rocks sets in and I fade earlier than I do on the Cutty.

Descending for 10 minutes or more with an unsuspended drop bar bike on our mixed surfaces sucks no matter the tires or geo. I have loop rides where the climbs are dirt and the return paved; an ideal scenario imo.

Recently I did a 100% paved century on the Stig. Lazily I left it in dirt mode as pictured below. It was a route I've done many times on fairly high end much lighter road bikes, but I rode it in about the same mode/effort, finishing close to my usual times. It felt awesome. While the big climbs were not as fast, the higher bars and overall cush paid off late in the ride. I was sitting so comfy I didn't need my first stop until mile 80.

So much for the ride experience.

Both are 2x Shimano drivetrains. The Cutty is 38/28 front with 11-40 rear. I’ve done rides where it’s so steep and I’m so tired that 28-40 is barely deep enough. This makes me wary of the Stigmata’s more road centric gearing of 50/34 - 11-34 for unknown backcountry routes, although for pavement the close spacing is something I feel right at home with.

On the other hand the Cutty struggles to stay at speed on long paved gradual downhills, spinning out at 28mph or so. A long time ago we all rode triple cranks, possibly for good reason, lol.

The 1x drivetrains that are so perfect on all my mountain bikes would be lost on these two if ridden as intended, and that is with any combination of their limited gearing.

On the Stig are ever so slightly flared Easton AX bars, on the Cutty extremely flared Woodchipper bars - in carbon, no less. Flare is the way to go! It gives me a much better ride in the drops, which is where I want to be on rolling tech terrain. I do not have GRX levers with their supposedly improved braking leverage (Ultegra on both) and find the precise, abrupt braking needed on single track pretty much only achievable in the drops. So that’s where I ride and the big flare is great for control in the gnar. Long climbs happens on the hoods, and I probably like the more traditional lever position of the AX bars a little more for this.

The 44mm Snoqualmie’s on the Stig have converted me to the virtues of Heine’s pixie dust ‘planing’ and minimal, if any, thread. These tires are so awesome with no loss in performance on the dry, dusty, slickrocky terrain we have here. And pavement of course is a dream on those. Tubeless on DT alloy rims, no problems, no flats yet despite some very rocky riding.

On the Cutty are quality 2.3 XC tires. Good enough stuff but they will surely be replaced at first opportunity with the biggest, lightest slicks that are guaranteed to plane. The stiff carbon rims with their minimal spoke count, and some radial ones even, does not contribute to a smooth ride.

Both bikes are equipped with Redshift ‘suspension’ stems. Not going back on this!

Were I to have just one of these two it would be the Cutty. Were I to have just one bike period it would be the Stig.


Untitled by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr


Untitled by jan nikolajsen, on Flickr
How do you like the Cutthroat on the road other than the spinning out issue? Does it feel fast on the road with the 2.3" tires? Got a dedicated road bike so the Cutthroat would be a n+. Just wondering because my mixed surface rides are maybe 50% pavement. Also I like to throw in some singletrack too.

Dave
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Old 11-10-19, 07:34 AM
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Originally Posted by DavidfGR View Post
Hi Jan! How would you rate frame compliance between Stigmata and Cutthroat? Did you had the chance to ride booth with similar width tires?

I have the new Stigmata frame on order, and waiting for it since summer It was always sold out here in Europe, so now LBS is waiting for the frame that is on a ship coming from the factory. Should be here end of November.

Since i was tired of waiting for the Stigmata and was without the bike, i purchased the V2 Stigmata. Damn this thing is comfortable. Newer liked the super low stack on road bikes, just didn't feel that relaxed on longer rides. ps i am coming from years riding MTB.


Now i don't know what to do, keep the Cutthroat and sell the Stigmata when i get it, or build the Stigmata and then decide. Just by the looks i like the Stigmata, think it has more classic lines of a road bike.

Also did you get new faster rolling tires for the Cutthroat?
I am not super sensitive to frame geometries and so-called carbon compliance. Both feel pretty rough when charging along on rocky surfaces! To me the greatest differences between the old Cutthroat and the current Stigmata are 1) max tire size, and 2) one can use a road crank; the other not.

Currently I use Schwalbe G-One Speed in measured 48mm width on the Cutty. Eliminating the knobs was a huge leap towards road comfort and efficiency, while trail riding hardly suffered. I'm totally over knobs on dropbar bikes for my type of riding and dry, dusty, loose and rocky terrain.
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Old 11-10-19, 07:40 AM
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Originally Posted by bonsai171 View Post
How do you like the Cutthroat on the road other than the spinning out issue? Does it feel fast on the road with the 2.3" tires? Got a dedicated road bike so the Cutthroat would be a n+. Just wondering because my mixed surface rides are maybe 50% pavement. Also I like to throw in some singletrack too.

Dave
I switched to 48mm Schwalbe G-One Speed tires o the Cutty. This is my measurement; Schwalbe calls then 2.0 (51mm). As I mentioned in another reply eliminating the knobs was a huge leap towards road comfort, silence and pedaling efficiency, while trail riding hardly suffered. I'm totally over knobs on dropbar bikes for my type of 50/50 riding and dry, dusty, loose and rocky terrain.
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