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Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b Reviewed

Taming the Midsized Beast

Words by Omar Bhimji. Photos by Kaz Yamamura.
July 9th, 2014

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.

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Specialized’s first foray into the heavily contested mid-sized wheel arena: the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b.

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.

Spec

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.

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What looks like a Pike but doesn’t quite quack like a Pike? A 150mm Rockshox Revelation RC3, no slouch in its own right, handles bump eating duties up front.

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.

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Smart 2×10 gearing along with a chainguide and integrated chainstay guard provides all the gears you need, and none of the hassle you don’t.

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.

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A 750mm wide bar, lock on grips and Shimano brake levers are part of the no frills, all thrills spec.

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.

Design

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.

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Given its EVO pedigree, the mid-size wheeled Stumpjumper had a high standard of shrediblity to live up to.

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:hta-and-bb-chart-for-650b-trail-bikes-web-(1)

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.

The Ride

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.

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The Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b and I got off to a rocky start. Thankfully our relationship got smoother – because the trails didn’t.

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.

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I got spanked the first few times the 650b Stumpy and I ventured into technical terrain – but eventually started spanking back.

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.

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With a sub 13” bottom bracket height the bike feels planted, and the dog feels like he’s earning his kibble.

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.

If you want to Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b to help you climb to new heights, try riding like you’re fighting George Foreman.

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.

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An apt description of the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b would be Nimble: it will go pretty much anywhere you want it to, but it rewards a firm hand on the tiller.

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.

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The base level Fox Float never gave me anything to complain about, and even base level Shimano brakes are a welcome sight on any bike.

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.

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The internal frame routing had me a bit worried about replacing the stock Command Blacklite dropper post, but it ended up being pretty straightforward.

In Sum

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.

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$3400 USD for a solidly spec’d bike with a lifetime frame warranty and FSR goodness? That’s an offer you can’t refuse.

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.

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If people aren’t jumping at the chance to take the Stumpjumper FSR Comp EVO 650b out for a rip, they should be.


The Big Red S has officially jumped on board with the ‘tweener wheel size. Are you tempted to take one out for a spin?

  • Strangelove

    I normally like NSMB reviews, but to be honest this feels like a review where you’ve said, ‘hey, this bike was basically a rushjob, whose performance is sub par’ and then tried to polish a turd (and keep the big s happy) by adding in some ‘oh but you get used to it’.

    • Brandon Sloan

      Complete rush job. They didn’t do any sort of custom geometry for the 650 wheel they just slapped it on there because they were getting their ass handed to them by other manufacturers. Spec even said they weren’t going to enter the 650b market and that it was unnecessary then that blew up in their face so they threw this half baked POS into the marketplace.

      • http://nsmb.com Pete Roggeman

        Your comment/opinion is welcome here, but using Brandon’s name like that is not a cool move. Smacks of an industry competitor hiding behind a fake name, actually.

      • boomforeal

        fortunately (esp. for me) the fact that it wasn’t the product of a rigorous, from-the-ground-up design process doesn’t change the fact that it’s a blast to ride.

    • Morgan Taylor

      I was in the loop on this review from start to end and can say that Omar genuinely enjoyed (and is still enjoying) this bike. I wouldn’t say that he polished a turd.

    • boomforeal

      the bike was a rush job, that’s pretty obvious. i was ready to dislike it (esp. after the first few rides) and damn the bike with faint praise, but more than getting used to it i really grew to enjoy it. the fact that it wasn’t the product of a rigorous, from-the-ground-up design process doesn’t change the fact that it’s a blast to ride. sorry you didn’t buy my change of heart – i can only assure you it was sincere

  • Travis Nichols

    Sticking with 29er version for now.

  • Drinky Crow

    Way to go Spec, just add a freaking spacer to the bottom of the H/T and presto! A 650b bike!

    • boomforeal

      i think you probably meant that sarcastically. but think of it this way: buy the frame, 2 wheelsets, shocks and a second back end, and you suddenly have two bikes: a roll-over-everything 29er monster and a nimble 650b trail bike.

      dave tolnai’s excellent editorial posted yesterday about obsolence in mountain biking bemoaned the push towards one-off standards and incompatibility. here, specialized is getting hammered to showing just how versatile their frame can be

      i understand the urge to bash specialized for taking a shortcut in producing this bike. but if you haven’t ridden it, you’re kinda just bitching for the sake of bitching, no?

      • http://www.jerrywillows.ca Jerry Willows

        but it’s the internet! Armchair engineers everywhere.

      • The Doctor

        Well I own the the new stumpy comp evo 650b, and I will say that yes, it may have been released fairly quickly, but that stumpy rips up and down the hill. I threw a 34 float on the front, E13 cranks/wheels, enve AM bars and 40mm stem… I’m never dissapointed (after changing outand always make it down with a smile. I’ve had many brands both dh and trail and this thing is just “good to get the yang up”. You won’t be dissapointed, and just so you haters out there that may think that I’m partial to specialized… my dh bike is a 951, not a demo. I took my stumpy to north star recently because my dh bike was out of commission and it did really well, of course within reason. :-)

      • Reggie

        I too own the 650b comp evo. After a few rides finding it a very enjoyable bike. Climbs well and descends well. My main gripe is the pedal strikes but these have improved each ride. On a sub note my HT angle measures 66. And I’ve measured and re measured. !?!?

      • boomforeal

        id’ get your angle-finder measured reg, no way the stock 650b stumpy is that slack! in fact, i have suspicions the hta on the comp is actually steeper than advertised…

      • boomforeal

        i’m not generally a fan of up-forking, but in this case i could see it having a net positive impact on the overall performance of the bike

  • BIKE4YOURLIFE

    No experience with the Comp Evo, but I did spend the better part of an afternoon on an Expert. I was ready to write this bike off, as even the Spec. rep told me I might, before I demo’d it in hilly Kingdom Trails (VT). It hooked-up in downhill sections and climbed up unrelenting sandbox walls with ease, hanging with even the shortest-travel, steepest headtube 29ers in the crew that evening. Ditto on having to choose your uphill lines/ pedal technique, but I’m used to that with my Giant Trance 27.5 1.

    BTW, it’s TOM Hagan… ;-)

    • boomforeal

      oh, snap

  • Sandman

    Omar have you ridden the evo 26 & if so which do you prefer? The role of the 650b is to be the smaller wheeled alternative to the evo 29 for those who prefer a more nimble evo so there doesn’t appear to be a point for this bike if the evo 26 is better at that role.

    • boomforeal

      i haven’t. and sadly, since it has been discontinued, i don’t think i’ll get a chance to. by all accounts it was an outstanding bike. i’ve ridden the 29er version, and the 650b is a much different animal – the more nimble evo as you say: it is a touch steeper in the hta than the 29er i rode, and with the smaller wheels you definitely notice it

  • Guest

    arm chair bashing wastes everyone’s time really…get out and ride one. i

  • Lynn DeLima

    armchair bashing a waste of time, get out and ride one, then let’s talk. was happy with my fisher hifi 29er for last 3 years but looking for something more nimble. test rode a remedy 7 650b at the kingdom trails and loved everything about it but the front fork. since then tried a trek fuel 8 650, geometry was def over the front bars, santa cruz 5010 rode like a pig (does this bike make me look fat?), jumped on the spesh 650 stumpy and with a few adjustments loved it. aggressive, fast, wants to climb, nimble, and the front fork proved silky. slightly twitchy when bombing downhill, but getting used to that after a fairly slack 9er. is it a perfect bike? not imo. routing under the bottom bracket is messy, dropper seat control crammed into handlebar set-up. was it fun? ya effin fun! so who has actually ridden this sweet ride?

  • Angiehart100

    I didn’t read this review until after 3 months of riding the 2015 bike, there’d have been no point as I wouldn’t have understood what you was talking about, as this was my first bike ever (I’m a 52 yo laydee). I bought the bike as it fitted the spec that was recommended to me, and because it is so nicely engineered (and roll your eyes, because it’s so pretty). I’ve done a lot of falling off, but only because I’m crap, lately falling less, having done the Red and Green runs at Aston Hill, and Red and Blue at the FoD, with no falls. So I’d say it’s a good bike for a newbie, can’t speak for seasoned riders. The pedals hitting stuff is a pain, is there anything I can’t do (mechanically) about that?

    • boomforeal

      hi angie. the stumpy 650 seems like a both a good and bad bike for a novice rider. i imagine you are greatly appreciating how stable yet maneuverable the bike feels, but i’m not surprised pedal strikes have been an issue. technique wise you can work on your timing, and learn to ratchet/put in short strokes for power rather than trying to pedal through rough terrain. mechanically, depending on your height and the length of your legs, i would look into shorter crank arms/and or thinner pedals than what you are currently running, and make liberal use of the shock’s CTD-lever, which will keep the bike riding higher in its travel

      • Angiehart100

        Thanks Omar, I’ll take a look at some shorter cranks and pedals. Think I get your drift about racheting, like half strokes? I’ve been keeping the rear damper stiff as possible, so that’s helped. I took a lot of stick from friends about buying an expensive first bike, but I love it and have progressed really quick, due to it being so forgiving, it’s definitely chuck-about-able!