Specialized FSR XC Comp £999.99

Thoroughbred trail workhorse

BikeRadar score 4/5

Specialized’s Stumpjumper FSR was one of the very first full-suss trail bikes, with a design heritage that dates back to the early '90s. Brought bang up-to-date with an elegant frame design, 120mm of rear wheel travel and a good-looking spec list, it’s a strong contender in its class.

Ride & handling: All-round excellence is within grasp with a bit of shock tweaking

Specialized know how important the FSR range is to their reputation. The design has matured and evolved over so many generations, it’s a tribute to the engineering team that the current incarnation remains so true to its roots of all-round excellence.

Surprisingly relaxed angles hint at handling that’s biased towards higher speeds, but this isn’t the case. The Specialized feels equally at home plodding up a steep, rooty climb at walking pace or carving turns on a high speed singletrack descent, with weight distribution that’s perfectly ‘planted’ and benign steering that does what you ask of it.

You can’t always have everything at this price, though. With no compression damping on the X-Fusion rear shock, it’s important to take the time to fine-tune the FSR XC Comp’s rear shock pressure to suit your weight and riding style.

The FSR system is naturally active, so a shock set up with too much sag can easily provoke a soggy, wallowy ride feel. The best bet is to pump it up fairly firmly and keep power delivery smooth, allowing the rear end to remain supple and active over everything in its path without getting bogged down.

RockShox’s budget Tora SL coil fork will keep pace with the rear end bump-for-bump until the point where the hits are square-edged and rapid-fire, at which point a hint of bushing looseness betrays its budget build. Not ideal, but not a deal-breaker.

A better fork would improve the FSR XC Comp – it’s a shame Specialized couldn’t find room in the budget for a decent air unit. Still, it’s a worthy classic, and well worth considering.

Frame: Sublime looks combined with fastidious attention to detail

The fact that the FSR chassis is so easy on the eye is no accident. Specialized take the aesthetics of their bikes extremely seriously, with an entire department devoted to everything from decal design and paint finishes to finessing tube curvature.

It’s not unknown for design tweaks to go backwards and forwards between design and engineering teams until everyone’s happy with both form and function. In the case of the FSR XC Comp, this fastidious attention to detail has resulted in effortlessly elegant lines that flow uninterrupted from the head tube to the rear dropouts.

The bike’s attention to detail is thorough, from secure bolt-on cable guides under the down tube to a custom rubber chainstay protector. Standover height has been reduced for '09, while a longer seat tube also makes it easier to drop the saddle out of the way on steep chutes. Even the shock rocker linkage is new, with an impressively minimalist design that belies the almost 5in of rear wheel travel on offer.

About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the heavily patented Horst link, just ahead of the rear dropouts. It’s as effective at isolating pedalling and brake forces as it was a decade-and-a-half ago.

Equipment: All good stuff, but we'd prefer an air-sprung fork

A custom-tuned X-Fusion air shock makes the bouncy bits at the rear work, while RockShox’s Tora SL fork keeps the front wheel planted and pointed in the right direction.

Coil forks at this price don’t always live up to expectations, but our test sample had very good low to medium speed performance and just a trace of bushing looseness on square-edged hits.

The rear shock’s rebound adjustment lever is a neater solution than the more common dial setup, and also serves as an on-the-fly lockout.

Specialized’s vast buying power gives them huge clout with their suppliers. It shows in the way that almost every single one of the FSR XC Comp’s components has been tweaked by Specialized’s designers, from the wheelset to the excellent seatpost and saddle.

It’s all good stuff, though we’re less keen on the easily rounded and corrosion-prone red anodised aluminium spoke nipples.

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