First impressions / proper fit
On of the first things you have to get over when you throw a leg over this bike is how much higher you feel than on a normal bike. I have always been fanatical about ensuring I have proper leg extension and probably overdo it. When I first started riding this bike I had the seat jacked up and felt like I was on a big wheel. This made me feel very uneasy and consequently I couldn't really get comfortable with the bike. Lowering the seat a little bit made a huge difference. Now, you're still up there, but after two to three hours you forget about it and it starts feeling normal. I do think that having the ultra high rise Hothead bars is really the key here. Anything other than a high rise stem would not work. I can't really think of any advantage in this high ride posture, at least not from an analytical perspective. However, it doesn't seem to have any immediately obvious drawbacks either.
My main point here is : if you're gonna ride an HC, make sure that the frame a good size for you and don't go for the racy, zero degree bar/stem, drop the seat a bit lower than you'd normally do and then try it out.
Ride characteristics / handling
I've said it before, others have said it, everyone knows it... this bike is really damn stiff. In some ways it's stiffer and less compliant than a Klein. The only difference is that while a Klein gets tossed around going over rocks and obstacles, the Grove makes them its bitch. Here is how I see it; a Klein is high end needle on a turntable and the trail is Beethoven's 5th. On the other hand, Grove is a pair of brass knuckles and the trail is the chin of the guy who insulted your girlfriend at the bar. Both have their merits.
One other thing that everyone says is that this bike is meant to go slow and only over highly technical terrain. Well, yeah ok... the high ground clearance means it's easy to clear logs, boulders, etc... but this not a one trick pony. Open up the taps and you'll find this bike has a lot of stability and imbues you with sense of confidence, especially if the surface is harsher than a fire road. While on the subject of speed, the higher ride position and high-rise bars means you can really lean on the front end, and moving your weight around has more leverage. This means you can press the front wheel and lean and you'll hold a much sharper line, and get much better turn-in than on many other bikes. I find that I can attack much harder on twisty and narrow serpentine sections and keep my hands out of the brakes much more so than on my ARC, Adroit or Merlin. This could also be partly due to the aggressive 72.5 degree head tube angle.
Out of saddle sprints on smoother terrain are fine, but when you get back into the gnarly stuff sitting is nearly always the right call. Perhaps its the 20+ Fattrax giving up the ghost, but I felt an immediate, and more pronounced loss of traction whenever I stood to climb out of a creek bed or to get a little extra oomph up a slightly technical section. Time to bulk up those quads, this bike wants you to remain seated at all times and and obey all caution signs.
Last but definitely not least is the weight. This is one heavy beast, and you will feel it. This bike as built here tips the scales at 27.6 lbs. That's with Kevlar bead tires and fairly light weight wheels. You tend to notice that a bit. Moving the bike around is a bit more difficult, you have to work it to induce sudden change of direction or lean to keep a line through some tight sections. It could be worse, but it's not great.
Overall : This is in many ways a large trials bike with an extra gear. You can throw it at the harshest terrain and if you've got the cojones to hang on, it'll get you through with most of your cartilage still in tact.
Any bike that has a paint swath as a head badge better have good paint, good things Groves didn't disappoint
The one thing for me that sticks out like a sore thumb is the delicate nature of these dropouts. I swear that if it could the front triangle would break them off and replace them with something made of rocks and sticks and be happier. They are just too dainty... somehow it works.
Verdict - Keeper!
Even if I didn't grow up in PA, even if I didn't spend my after school hours with my palms and face glued to the window of the Bicycle Shop ogling the latest, brightest Grove in the window I'd own and ride this bike. Will it be my main go-to rider? Probably not. Will it get more use than 50% of my bikes? Definitely!