A gambler might need to know when to hold ‘em, but the same can’t be said of mountain bike companies in today’s market: the lesson of 15mm front axles, and now 650b wheels, seems to be “no matter how ambivalently a new standard is received, get on the bandwagon ASAP!” Specialized may not have been the loudest holdout on the mid-sized wheel, though they were perhaps the most conspicuous – and given how well their 29ers had been received, who could blame them? But when the big red S quietly released a lineup of 650b tires earlier this year, it became only a matter of time before they brought a mid-size wheeled bike to market.
When that bike came, however, it did so not with a bang but a bit of a thud. Specialized’s low key press release for the Stumpjumper EVO 650b, which amended the company’s recent “bigger is better” mantra with the caveat “except when it’s not” generated more bemusement than excitement in the blogosphere. But despite the absence of hype, when offered the opportunity to review a mid-size wheel Stumpjumper EVO I didn’t hesitate: betting against the collective wisdom of the internet, and on Specialized Bike Co. developing a great bike, seemed like a sure thing. After an interesting few months with the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b, I’m ready to offer my review.
Shortly after its birth was announced to the world, Morgan Taylor took a look at the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b, documenting the bike and its spec in some detail. The model Specialized sent us for review came with a blue and white frame, but was otherwise identical to the one Morgan overviewed; here’s a rundown of the noteworthy elements of the spec:
Don’t be fooled by all the black – that’s a 150mm Rockshox Revelation RC3 out front, though the carbon-framed Expert model gets a Pike. The rear shock is an Evolution model Fox float CTD with AUTOSAG.
For 2015 Specialized seems to be spec’ing Shimano brakes, a very welcome change. Despite being the entry-level model, the Deore units here have the same design and many of the features of their pricier brethren.
The 2×10 drivetrain includes a 11-36 cassette, a Specialized Dangler lower guide and a 3x crank with a 22 tooth granny, a 36 tooth “big” ring and a bashguard.
The housing for the Blacklite dropper post’s cable runs through the top tube of the frame, but it is the basic, externally-routed version with the actuating cable attaching to the head of the post.
The rims are Roval and the hubs are branded Specialized: the front tire is a Butcher and the rear a Purgatory. Getting all of their own 650b parts manufactured was always going to make Specialized’s task in bringing a mid-size wheeled bike to market more involved than for most companies.
The finishing kit (cockpit, etc.) is likewise Specialized housebrand stuff, and typically stellar.
As for the frame, the keen-eared and eyed among you have likely already heard or noticed, so lets get this out of the way: Specialized used a 29” Stumpjumper front triangle with a new rear end and a 10mm head tube spacer to create their first 650b platform. While Specialized’s Jason Chamberlain acknowledged that in a perfect world they would have started from scratch, this approach allowed the company to bring the bike to market quickly to satisfy consumer demand while also letting the designers get the geometry just where they liked.
That geometry is worth a closer look. With all of the technological advances mountain bikes have seen in recent years, geometry is increasingly what separates functional but forgettable designs from genre busters and classics. Specialized developed their EVO treatment to make ride-style-specific tweaks to popular models, pushing bikes further along their evolutionary path. While some of this is achieved through modified spec and longer travel, the beating heart of the Stumpjumper FSR EVO is arguably its more aggressive and progressive geometry: lower, longer and slacker.
But if that’s the case, a quick look at the numbers suggests that 650b Stumpjumper would seem the odd man out of the EVO brotherhood. The bike’s 68º headtube not only marks it as the steepest bike in the lineup – as steep as the 29er EVO without the roll-over-shit benefit of larger wheels – but as one of, if not the steepest 650b trail bikes on the market today:
But hold on, what’s that other number down there on the bottom right? Sitting at 327mm (that’s 12.9”), the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b’s bottom bracket is lower than any other 5” travel bike out there, regardless of wheelsize. As I was putting my preliminary notes together for the review, the bike’s geometry numbers seemed to be bit haphazard. Nothing for it but to get out on the trail and see how they added up.
With some bikes, you can throw your leg over the top tube and instantly feel like you’ve come home: the fit is comfortable, the geometry seems dialed. This was not the case however with me and the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b.
For my first ride, I hit the trail and immediately started pedal-clipping everything in sight. Bang-clack-crunch – I couldn’t seem to climb 10 feet of singletrack without bashing into obstacles. I gritted my teeth and persevered, gradually working my way up the trail and looking forward to the descent.
But when I started downhill, my experience kept heading that way too. Halfway down I tried to air a degraded section of trail and stacked hard, tumbling down the hill entangled with the brand new test bike. I managed to finish the ride without further mishaps, but was quickly becoming wary of the bike, and determined to figure out why we’d gotten off to such a rocky start.
Over the next few rides I ended up having more nasty crashes. Yet even as I was careening over the bars and losing the front wheel, I could feel things starting to come together. I found myself flying through rock gardens and ripping off camber sections of trail like I was on the proverbial rail; the bike felt planted! Once I got over how nervous the front end felt, I started sending the bike down some pretty steep lines – and coming out laughing. Tight switchbacks that would have required a lot of body english on a raked out bike suddenly felt wider. And in the air the bike seemed to be begging to be thrown around – but always came back around by the time we touched down.
In stark contrast with the pain and awkwardness of our first few dates, after a few weeks of riding the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b and I were getting on famously. I had stopped worrying about its limitations and was instead pushing them, our collective comfort zone growing fast. At first I found I really had to be on my game to keep from getting bucked. Maybe I’d become lazy from too much time spent riding 29ers? But, soon that necessary focus came naturally, and so did shredding the bike.
The Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b is never going to mob its way up the hill. But once I started treating climbs like boxing (stick and move, stick and move) I found myself dancing up some pretty steep grunters. Likewise, with its steep head tube angle, the bike is never going to bomb steep pitches with authority. But I found that by committing to my line and keeping my weight balanced, I could flash stuff I’d never ridden before – let alone on a bike I’d considered sketchy only weeks earlier. When it came time to decide on a steed for my first trip into the Chilcotins – a bike that would comfortably let me push my boundaries of endurance and skill in the backcountry – I didn’t hesitate when reaching for the Stumpy, and we had a grand old time.
So what the hell happened? I’m not quite sure. What I am quite sure of is that Specialized has an interesting bike on their hands here.
Before I rode the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b I would have sworn a sub 13” bottom bracket on a 150mm travel bike was too low. Now? I’m thinking if you have the pedalling chops, it will make you feel like you found a secret stash of Maxxis slow reezay tires, without the drag. Similarly, I never thought I’d be comfortable in technical terrain on a small wheeled bike with a 68º head tube angle. This bike has me questioning the whole slack = shred proposition – though honestly I would love to try it with an angle set.
Maybe Specialized set out to build a bike designed to make us question what we think we know about bike geometry. If it was just a happy accidental by-product of rushing the midsize wheeled Stumpjumper to market, the results are no less interesting.
The Spec Redux
A quick follow up note about the spec: given the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b’s price point, it’s brilliant:
The Shimano Deore brakes delivered strong and predictable braking throughout the duration of the review.
Though the all-black Rockshox Revelation fork didn’t quite quack like a Pike, it performed admirably despite being pushed out of its paygrade on a regular basis – though it did develop a conspicuous creak towards the end of my time with the bike that I was never able to isolate.
I found the range of adjustment on the Fox Float shock to be pretty narrow. Though there was a noticeable difference between the Climb and Descend settings, the former was still quite active. The Trail setting went all but unused because my water bottle would push the CTD switch to one side or the other when the rear end compressed.
The wheels effectively balanced rotational weight and lateral stiffness; I put a nasty ding in the rear Roval rim on my first ride, but added a bit of air subsequently and never had a problem with them after that.
The front Sram X7 shifter died on my second ride (could have been all the crashing) but other than that the drive train worked great – thank goodness for that bashguard, though!
The only change I made (besides replacing that shifter) to the stock spec during my time with the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b was to sub in a zero setback dropper post. The bike’s claimed 74º effective seat tube angle didn’t feel quite that steep at full seatpost extension, but without the long setback of the stock Command Blacklite seatpost it was perfectly manageable.
Think of Specialized’s Stumpjumper EVO lineup like the first American-born generation of the Corleone family from the Godfather. Sonny Corleone was the OG, a popular and flashy brawler with twenty-six inch cojones who met an untimely end. On the other end of the spectrum, Michael is the 29er, a ruthless boss who rolls over everything in his path. That could have left the 650b Stumpy as Fredo, the black sheep of the family and the odd man out. But I think the better analog is Todd Haggen, the adopted son turned Corleone family consigliere, whose unassuming demeanor marks him as different from his brothers, but no less effective.
So who’s this bike for? I’m not entirely sure. If you’re a loyal Specialized fan dying for a taste of the 650b Kool-aid, I doubt anything I could say would dissuade you from jumping on a Stumpjumper EVO 650b – and you wouldn’t be poorly served. Beyond this, I will say that if my review of the bike piqued your curiosity, or if the glut of “Enduro” specific bikes currently flooding the market is starting to grate, take one out for a spin. Listen to the bike, get a feel for how it likes to be handled, then ride it hard and fast. I think you’ll be surprised.
The Big Red S has officially jumped on board with the ‘tweener wheel size. Are you tempted to take one out for a spin?