A couple of years ago we began to say that many 5in travel 'have a go at anything' bikes offered a great compromise between XC speed, hard hitting shock absorption and reasonable weight.
From the typical cross country rider's point of view, most 6in travel bikes felt a little isolated from ground feel and most 4in bikes felt stunted when confronted by big hit terrain. But most of the 5in 'happy medium' bikes were still fairly hefty. A sub-25lb 5in bike that could happily take the big hits seemed impossible, however much money you threw at it.
Well, 2008 looks set to become the year when 5in bikes come of age, with the new Specialized S Works Stumpy. It's dripping with the sort of innovation that's becoming a rarity in a market full of very adequate 'me too' bikes and it uses its carbon chassis to both lose weight and gain performance.
The 23.2lb claimed weight, while missing pedals, is not just an optimistic
figment of a marketeer's imagination - the 'large' test bike we rode was only a pound heavier, including pedals.
A few days hard riding left us convinced that the new Stumpy can climb as well as the shorter travel, race-tuned Epic and descend almost as well as the longer travel Enduro. We'll stick with 'almost as well', as the Enduro has enough heft to allow more carefree or clumsy moves, while the Stumpy rewards riders exhibiting a bit more finesse. And that's where the new Stumpy really scores.
It involves you with its ride feel. It's plush and nicely controlled rather than just
floaty. It never feels isolated from the ground but it gives you enough
confidence to tackle stuff hard and fast. It's lighter, livelier and altogether faster than any bike we've ridden bearing the 'All Mountain' tag that's often given to 5in bikes.
So, what's new innovation-wise? Well, it's hard to know where to start. Almost everything on the chassis is new, from a super-efficient and easy-to-fettle FlowControl Brain back end to a brave new Future Shock fork.
The fork (claimed weight 1450g) has been designed from the ground up. A slide-in 'Buddy System' internal cartridge combines the air spring and damper workings in one leg (the other leg is empty) and, as with the rear shock, all functions are external-dial-adjustable to suit high performance suspension needs. To be honest, this is the first time we've been totally won over by the Brain system. The transition between firm for climbing and sprinting, and fully active over bumpy terrain is barely noticeable - again, the best of both worlds.
The base level 08 Stumpy FSR will cost you £1500. That's £1000 less than an S Works frame module, complete with a Future Shock fork, Brain-equipped shock, headset, front mech and Thomson seat post. But it's the S Works complete package that hogs the limelight, and rightly so. £4000 is a lot of cash, but this is where Specialized's R&D guys have been lavishing attention. As well as the amazingly detailed work that's gone into the frame module, the Specialized-owned Roval Controle wheels are up there with the best and the
finishing kit is all wish list stuff. We've only had a few days on the Stumpy, but so far we can't fault it.