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2014 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Evo 29 Carbon: Reviewed

What would Ferris Do?

Words by Omar Bhimji. Photos by Morgan Taylor.
June 18th, 2014

As the industry continues to bring ever lighter and more capable mountain bikes and components to market, the hard-hitting trail bike has become the apotheosis of the breed, expected to excel at all aspects of riding without conspicuous compromise. To reach such lofty heights, bikes are climbing to pre-owned import price-points and beyond, bringing components that ten years ago would have satisfied world class XC or DH riders together in packages designed to provide no-holds-barred thrills. A few months ago Specialized sent us a bike in this category, the Stumpjumper FSR 29 Evo Expert, for consideration.

Specialized’s Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon EVO 29 in all its murdered out glory.

Specialized’s Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon EVO 29 in all its murdered out glory.

Context


Launched in 1981, the Specialized Stumpjumper is famously the world’s first mass-production mountain bike. It saw its first carbon iteration in 1990, gained rear suspension in 1994, and made the jump to twenty-nine inch wheels in 2008. In 2011, Specialized decided that their versatile trail bike needed a more aggressive treatment, and the Stumpjumper FSR Evo was born. Evo versions of Specialized’s mountain bikes receive “ride-style-specific” tweaks that push them further down their evolutionary path; in the case of the Stumpjumper FSR, this meant an even more shred-tastic, gravity-oriented version of what was already a pretty ripping trail bike.

Hunting for gnar on the west side of Cypress.

Hunting for gnar on the west side of Cypress.

The heart of the Stumpjumper FSR Evo is the magical, eponymous link that connects its seat-stays to its main triangle and drives the shock. The Evo link adds 5mm of rear suspension to the stock Stumpjumper chassis, bringing the total to 135mm, while knocking around the same amount off the bottom bracket height. Some of this height is regained by virtue of a longer travel fork spec’d up front, which slackens both the head- and seat-tube angles by one degree. The result is a lower, slacker, longer version of the Stumpjumper, with a definite bias towards gravity and high-speed riding.

Back in 2011, a consistent theme emerged in reviews of the original Stumpjumper FSR Evo: while testers applauded the concept and direction, more than a few noted that the original Evo, with its mix of aggressive geometry and cross-country components, often lured them into conditions and speeds that overwhelmed the bike. In retrospect, the original Stumpjumper FSR Evo was ahead of its time, pushing the trail bike genre in a welcome direction. As the market and support for pedal-and-shred-able bike has grown, Specialized has been able to refine the spec on the Evo version of the Stumpjumper with parts that better complement the ideal – check out our first look at the bike for a detailed rundown.

For 2014, the EVO seems like a fully realized concept.

For 2014, the EVO seems like a fully realized concept.

Set up


At 6’2” I found the large Expert Evo 29 to be an almost perfect fit, both seated and out of the saddle. I ended up swapping in a slightly shorter stem to fine tune the handling, but would have been comfortable riding the bike bone stock.

In principle I have no problem with reviewing a previously ridden bike, as long as it arrives in my grubby little hands ready to ride. Unfortunately, the Expert Evo 29 in for review had previously seen time as a demo bike, and had a few issues that wouldn’t have been found on a shiny new machine.

The stock Specialized Command Post IR wouldn’t function properly from the get-go, repeatedly dropping from full height to the 30mm lower cruiser Position without input or warning. A quick inspection showed that the end of the cable housing inside the frame had shifted and started to shred,  impeding the free movement of the cable and, thus, the post. I’m all for the tidy profile internal routing provides, but I hope that the new stealth iteration of the Command Post hasn’t sacrificed durability in the name of improved aesthetics.

While its AUTOSAG feature worked as advertised and helped with initial setup, it quickly became apparent that something was amiss with the rear shock: flipping the CTD switch had no discernable effect, and the back end seemed overly active under power.. I’m fairly certain the culprit was a faulty CTD switch, which left the shock stuck in Descend mode. I ended up running the shock on full open for the review.

The heart of the beast only wanted to bomb descents. Ah well.

The heart of the beast only wanted to bomb descents. Ah well.

Ride


Little niggles like those outlined above can spoil a ride, but once I got the Expert Evo 29 out on the trails, I have to admit it didn’t take much effort for me to move beyond them. Up, down or across, this bike flat out crushes technical trail.

The Expert Evo 29 may not be a “fun” bike in the traditional sense: it’s not “poppy” or “flicky” and it doesn’t “dance”.  Rather, it is a bike that makes challenging terrain fun to ride. Specialized has mixed aggressive angles, highly capable componentry, a light and stiff frame and 29” wheels and produced an alchemical mixture that seems to flatten terrain, smooth out corners and slow down time. Behind the bars of the Expert Evo 29, trail features start to look less daunting, allowing the rider (well, this rider) to push the limits of what they’re willing to try with the confidence that, somehow, it will all work out okay.

The trail gets loose and things go sideways, but the Expert Evo 29 abides.

The trail gets loose and things go sideways, but the Expert Evo 29 abides.

Part of the secret sauce here is the bike’s geometry, which, while not without compromise, admirably serves its intended purpose. Though the 68º HTA may give wagon-wheel skeptics pause, its pretty standard for an aggressive 29er, working in tandem with big wheels and refined fork offsets to provide optimal position and poise at tear-inducing speeds and on butt-puckering grades. The 13.2” high bottom bracket contributes to an very planted sensation in corners and at speed, though it contributed to a few pedal strikes in technical terrain over the course of the review. The 455mm chainstays, a full inch longer than those found on Specialized’s 29” wheeled Enduro, may indeed rob the bike of a bit of playfulness. On the flip side, they provide the Expert Evo 29 uncanny composure at warp speeds, lending the rider what I like to call hammer goggles: every feature of the trail starts looking like something you want to hit – hard, fast, and with absolute certainty.

Hammer goggles are included.

Hammer goggles are included.

Those long-ish chainstays also seem to contribute to the bike’s impressive climbing chops. The slack-ish front end requires a bit of extra attention and effort to guide through turns, and the bike’s slack effective seat tube angle isn’t optimal for in-saddle efforts. But when you get to the crux of a climb and give it gas, the Expert Evo 29 mobs up technical pitches like Godzilla rising out of Tokyo Bay. And having spent time on bikes with very similar suspension designs, I can confidently say that with a fully functioning shock, the Expert Evo 29 would be a pretty efficient climber.

Where those long-ish chainstays, and the overall slack, low and long demeanor of the bike don’t shine, however, is slow, tight, technical trails. Think old-school, pre-dumbed down, twisting-fall-line-full-of-roots-and-holes North Shore goodness. But really, does any bike do particularly well in these conditions? Riding the Expert Evo 29 exclusively in such terrain would be like buying a Porsche for your stop and go commute.

Tight and awkward? Not where this bike shines - but who wants to ride that shit anyways?

Tight and awkward? Not where this bike shines – but who wants to ride that shit anyways?

Noteworthy Spec


The same adjectives I would reach for to describe the Expert Evo 29 can be applied to its stock fork: the new Rockshox Pike is black, light, stiff and incredibly capable; the two are a perfect match in both form and function. I set the spring rate and rebound right away, slowly dialed up the low speed compression over the course of a few rides, and never touched the adjustments after that.

Likewise, the stock Roval Traverse wheels were easy to bring up to speed, required no maintenance, and never gave me pause when slamming into corners or sending the bike. Though on the quiet side, the Roval rear hub’s DT swiss internals make a rich purring sound at speed that is a lovely counterpoint to an otherwise silent ride.

The parts on the 2014 Expert Evo 29 are capable of cashing any cheque the bike writes.

The parts on the 2014 Expert Evo 29 are capable of cashing any cheque the bike writes.

True to form, the Avid Elixir 7 Trail brakes were consistently inconsistent. For the most part they provided plentiful, if a bit wooden-feeling, braking power and modulation. But occasionally, especially on wet days, I would apply the brakes only to find myself rewarded with a lot of noise and very little deceleration. Again, for the most part, they worked fine – but a lack of predictability is possibly the worst trait a brake can exhibit when it’s strapped to a bike that lures you out of your comfort zone.

The 1×11 SRAM drivetrain worked as advertised: no dropped chains, no missed shifts, and no running out of gears. The lack of a bailout option meant I had to stay on the gas even on sustained climbs, which combined with an overactive rear shock left me drained at the end of longer days. The 32 tooth ring Specialized spec’d out front is probably larger than I would go with on my own bike, but suited the Expert Evo 29′s capability, weight and spirit just fine.

I never ran out of gears on the climb or the descent, in spite of only having eleven of them.

I never ran out of gears on the climb or the descent, in spite of only having eleven of them.

While I’ve already mentioned the Fox Float CTD rear shock’s issues, the lack of adjustability didn’t impact the shock’s ability to deal with, well, impacts. When called to duty, the Float and the bike’s Horst-link suspension proved up to the task of handling trail input with alacrity, staying supple and controlled in the face of small repeated bumps and ramping up predictably on bigger hits. I wouldn’t describe the back end of the Expert Evo 29 as poppy or playful – rather, like the rest of the bike, it handles on-trail features with unflappable poise and efficiency.

No complaints about the Specialized finishing kit. As mentioned in the preview, I swapped out the stem for something shorter and ended up having to replace the stock saddle because I broke it. But on the whole, everything worked satisfactorily and seemed well thought out.

Nothing wrong with the finishing kit on the Expert Evo 29, though I did make a few adjustments based on fit and, er, necessity.

Nothing wrong with the finishing kit on the Expert Evo 29, though I did make a few adjustments based on fit and, er, necessity.

One last nit to pick and then I’ll stop: there’s no denying the cable routing hardware is more elegant than nylon cables from Canadian Tire. But despite being prepped with loctite, the bolts on the 3-cable clamps under the downtube kept working their way loose over the course of a couple of rides, and required extra vigilance.

The Concept of Value


While I looked forward to every ride aboard the Expert Evo 29, the $6300 question begged to be considered every time I pulled it from the rack. Sure it ticks all the right boxes and has all the new shine-ies – but is it really worth more than the motorized vehicle that ferried it to the trailhead? Six grand is a lot of money, but while I’ve ridden a few bikes retailing for 2k less that didn’t ride to justify their MSRPs, in this case, my feeling is that the Expert Evo 29 actually earns its sticker price. If you’re happy with SRAM stoppers Expert Evo 29 can literally make you climb stronger, go bigger and charge harder, right off the showroom floor

Stumpy, what is best in life? To charge the trail, see it unfurl before you, and hear the lamentation of roots and rocks as you come through.

Stumpy, what is best in life? To charge the trail, see it unfurl before you, and hear the lamentation of roots and rocks as you come through.

So who’s it for? Obviously this is not a dedicated DH or park bike, and it’s not a cross country race machine. But for gravity-oriented riders who earn their turns and push their limits, this bike is something special. If you work hard for your money and feel that your downtime should taste like French vanilla ice cream, or if you live to ride and believe that life is short, then the words of Mr. Ferris Bueller should sum up my time and thoughts on Specialized’s 2014 Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon EVO 29 for you:

I’m 6’2” tall and weigh 160 lbs. I don’t have the stones to shuttle DH runs or the lungs to race XC, but I love riding trail. Most of my riding is on the North Shore, but I range as far north as Pemberton and as far south as the Fraser Valley whenever the opportunity arises. I’ve been spending too much time riding, fixing, and thinking about bikes since my first off-road ride in German 20 years ago.

About the tester: I’m 6’2” tall and weigh 160 lbs. I don’t have the stones to shuttle DH runs or the lungs to race XC, but I love riding trail. Most of my riding is on the North Shore, but I range as far north as Pemberton and as far south as the Fraser Valley whenever the opportunity arises. I’ve been spending too much time riding, fixing, and thinking about bikes since my first off-road ride in Germany 20 years ago.


Does this sound like your kind of machine? Omar clearly decided it was right for him.

  • tim

    “Tight and awkward? Not where this bike shines – but who wants to ride that shit anyways?”
    lol

    • Cr4w

      I have an Enduro 29 and I find it handles old school tight and awkward just fine. I’m not sure if that’s the short chainstays talking or if I’ve just not been riding enough other bikes to really know anymore.

      • Morgan Taylor

        With 20mm less chainstay, the Enduro 29 is noticeably more playful than the stable and planted Stumpy.

  • JR

    Nice review! Now I’m even more undecided between an Enduro 29 or the SJ Evo 29…I’m becoming more inclined to head to the trails where I have to earn my turns rather than waiting for shuttles or lift lines, and contemplating selling the DH bike and XC/Trail bike for one of the afore mentioned bikes. Just not sure how the Enduro would be on a long ride with lots of climbing vs. the benefits on the way down. Anyone ridden both enough to form an opinion?

    • Cr4w

      I’ve been riding an E29 for two seasons. I often think maybe I should switch to a SJEVO29 but this article didn’t really convince me. I’d like to hear more comparison.
      As I understand it, the E29 is like 60/40 with a descending bias. The SJEVO29 is 60/40 climbing and trail riding. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s ridden both extensively and could comment on the chainstay length and effective seat tube differences.

      • JR

        Thanks for the input. I’m currently on a Trance X 29, and while it’s a decent climbing bike, I wish for a bit more on the descents. Sounds like the SJEVO29 may be too close to what I’ve got, and the E29 is closer to what I want. I’ll just have to man-up for the climbs. I demo’d an E29 at crankworx last year and it climbed very well, but it was a full blown S-Works with carbon wheels. Not really fair, as my pocketbook can’t afford that. Also demo’d a trance 27.5, but at 6’4″ the 29 just feels so much better.

      • Cr4w

        I have the alloy one with Flows and it’s still a pretty good climber.

      • JR

        I was wondering about the stock Roval wheels on the Comp… Maybe I will keep my Havens if I end up pulling the trigger.

      • Cr4w

        They’re pretty light duty. Good wheels for XC.

    • mbl77

      I haven’t ridden the Enduro, but I have a regular alloy stumpjumper that I’ve slightly evo-fied by adding a 140mm Pike. Whilst it isn’t the best bike for every situation, it is a fantastic all-rounder. Mainly it rails around my local rooty, twisty, technical trails, but it works well on all-day epics too, and i’ve also taken it down a few DH tracks and a few days at the bike park. It handles it all.

      • mbl77

        PS. Some LB carbon wheels transform the handling of the bike. Those big wheels are an effort to accelerate with heavy alloy rims.

      • M_Irwin

        True, but if you find alloy hoops are too heavy for a 29er, that just means you need to ride more. Lighter treads & going tubeless helps. Pain is temporary. :)

      • mbl77

        Tubeless is a given, I don’t know how people ride anything else. And lighter treads? Nah. I like my tyres to grip :) Magic Mary up front and Hans Dampf at the back.

      • M_Irwin

        On a Stumpjumper? Why the boat anchors? Those are not light tires for a bike that was built to climb. Goes against your lighter wheel thoughts, no?

      • mbl77

        I’m fit and strong, so no problems climbing :P

      • JR

        I did the same with my Trance 29, but with a 140mm Revelation with 20mm axle. It definitely made the bike much better overall than the 120mm fork, but I still feel its not as capable as an overall bike as I’d like. Great for trail riding, but it gets overpowered when it gets a bit rough.

    • Jack

      I own the 2014 sj expert evo and have spent time on the 14′ enduro as well. The sj is the best bike I have ever owned by far. I have owned it for about 8 months now and have decided that it is capable of handling anything that I can dish out. The review above sums up almost everything worth mentioning with the exception of the wheels. I rode carbon wheels on my previous sj and have decided that the alloy wheels on the 14′ sj are not even worth changing. They are soooooo stiff. I have spent a lot of time thinking about going bigger and getting an enduro, but at this point, I think the sj is probably the ultimate trail bike. The ultimate quiver killer, if you will. I’ve ridden it in xc races with 2400 feet of climbing in 20 miles and enduro races with 5-6 foot drops and I could never find a single fault. One of my friends has the 13′ iteration of the sj evo and he spent a few weeks in New Zealand this past winter. Evidently, everyone is selling their downhill bikes and buying enduros. Which says something. New zealand is definitely an “earn your turns” kind of place. But much of their riding is very demanding on bikes. I would definitely question where you live and what style of riding you do before choosing between the enduro or the stumpy.

      • boomforeal

        re. the wheels: to be clear, i loved the roval traverse wheels on the expert evo 29: they rode light, felt plenty stiff, and never required me to hold back or do any maintenance. i tried to communicate this – but i’m a fair bit lighter than a lot of riders, which i thik makes me less sensitive to frame/wheel stiffness than some, so its not something i feel terribly qualified to assess. but fwiw, they’re the same wheels spec’d on the enduro 29 comp, so specialized evidently feels they’re pretty damn capable

      • Cr4w

        I had those wheels on my E29 Comp. I thought they were surprisingly capable for how light they were, until they weren’t. I didn’t break them; they became unrideable over time. But I’m 6’6″ 220 so that undoubtedly played a factor. I think for most people in most places the Traverse alloy wheels are a totally acceptable balance of light weight and durability.

      • boomforeal

        “I didn’t break them; they became unrideable over time.”

        can you expand on this?

      • Cr4w

        I put a few dents in them, and banged them up a lot. They continued to ride well as long as I could keep them tensioned (they’d go from ok to crazily detensioned over two rides sometimes). This process sped up once I got EXO casing tires and learned to push the big wheels harder. Eventually the tension was completely out of whack to keep them true and eventually I gave up and replaced them.

      • JR

        “I would definitely question where you live and what style of riding you do before choosing between the enduro or the stumpy.”

        I guess that is the deciding factor isn’t it? My inner boy-racer says Enduro, but my sensible 51 year old self says stumpy Evo. I not into standing in lift lines or shuttling anymore. I’d rather spend a few hours out exploring trails, with a good descent afterward. Maybe try an Enduro race for fun. I find my Trance X 29 a bit too XC a lot of the time, and feel it’s overwhelmed, but not sure if the stumpy evo will be enough. From what you say, it is.

        Are the Roval wheels on the SJ expert the same as the comp?

      • boomforeal

        good question, i had to go check. the answer is no: expert level bikes come with roval traverse wheels; comp bikes come with roval rims laced to specialized hi lo hubs. what the difference? unclear, but i managed to put a few dings in the comp rims in short order where the expert rims showed no wear or damage after months of riding, which suggests the traverse rims are made of harder material

      • JR

        Thanks Omar. Seeing that we are about the same height and build, and seems we like riding similar territory…have you spent much time on 27.5″ bikes to compare to 29″? I don’t want to open that dreaded wheel size debate, and I haven’t had any time on a 27.5, but really love the way my 29er feels. Just wondering if I should explore that option before jumping at another 29″ bike.

      • boomforeal

        oh man, which wheel size to buy, no one can answer that question for you. i’m fortunate and get to ride a variety of styles and (wheel) sizes of bikes, and there’s definitely pluses and downsides to both. but at my height and ability, and for what i ride, my personal bike is a wagon wheeler eerily similar to the stumpy 29 evo – and if i had to be true to one bike year ’round, i’d likely stick with it. that said, it’s definitely worth demo’ing a mid-sized wheel bike to see what the fuss is about. it can be a very refreshing change

    • Fruit Grower

      Rode both Enduro 29 Comp and Stumpy 29 non-evo expert. Ended up buying the enduro because of the playfulness. Who would have thought that a big travel bike would be more playful. It’s in the numbers. E29 has shorter chain stays due to the taco derailer mount and lower bottom bracket. Definitely gives a planted in-the-bike feel which inspires confidence in any situation. The beauty of this bike is in climbing. I didn’t give up anything climbing on the E29 versus the Stumpy 29 which had a brain shock. Out of saddle sprints were better on Stumpy but I am not in shape to do that long term anyway. My riding is mostly grind up the hill for a fast fun downhill run in the sierras or long all day epic rides. One option for the future would be a Stumpy EVO 29 when they incorporate the taco mount in the future to shorten the chain stays. Until then I’d go Endruo 29 for the playfulness. It whips around like a 26 wheeled bike but rolls over anything.

  • savdog

    Its not “fun , poppy or flicky” cos its a 29er !! .. my stump evo 26 has all of those attributes