Over a quarter of a century, a series of nigh-on perfect mountain bikes have worn the Stumpjumper badge, which is Specialized’s design shorthand for a ‘go-anywhere, do anything’ ride.
How do you make a single bike that can cope with a rapid cross-country blast on a Saturday and a back-country epic on Sunday, and leave the rider grinning from ear to ear after both sessions? Specialized think they've nailed it – and after beasting it around the pick of Welsh singletrack, we’re inclined to agree.
The FSR Elite may not take the ‘king of the trail bikes’ crown, but it is a prince regent. It should be a bike of compromises, but somehow Specialized have come through with a bike that can do everything with a real sense of completeness. We think it should take its place in the pantheon of modern classic trail bikes.
Ride & handling: Light and nimble; as versatile and ride-ready as they come
The FSR Elite has a ride position that’s ever so slightly on the side of upright. Classic cross-country riders might want a 0° rise stem and lower rise bar, but for most trail riders, the standard position will be good enough.
It’s perfect for seeing the trail as it arrives at 140mm-travel bike speeds and, with your bodyweight well centred behind the shortish 90mm stem and well proportioned 660mm riser bar, you can make snap decisions to go for the glory lines if you so choose.
We admit that we left the fork in the 140mm mode for almost the entire test – the bike feels so well balanced at full travel, and even on long climbs the shape of the bike works well. If you want to drop to 100mm or 120mm, it’s just the ﬂick of a switch away.
As soon as the trail got at all swoopy, the temptation to haul back on the bar and hop, pump and manual everything in sight was hard to resist – so we didn’t. It’s not a full hooligan ride in the Commencal Meta 5 sense of the word, but it is bloody good fun.
With this bike tucked away in your garage, you can conﬁdently wait for an invitation to the next epic ride safe in the knowledge that you’ve got the bike to handle whatever style of ride and terrain they choose.
This built-in versatility can also be tuned out to a degree. We’ve seen this bike given a lightweight cross-country race makeover for pinning hot laps of 24-hour races and mountain bike marathon stages, but we’ve also seen them at downhill races and enduro style events such as the Kona Mash-Up, where gravity riders have opted for shorter stem/wider bar and bigger rubber to up the G-shred factor.
Such component swap-outs can be easily and relatively cheaply achieved, and this already versatile machine can be further honed to match the ride de jour. However, most riders will love it just as it is, gliding through singletrack and eating bumpy downhills for tea.
Frame: 'Floaty' suspension and only 100g heavier than the carbon version
Specialized rely their old but still highly relevant FSR rear suspension platform. The FSR four-bar linkage design places a pivot just in front of the rear dropout to isolate the rear wheel from (most) pedalling forces. Over the past 15 years, the FSR geometry has been gently tweaked for more performance in light of evolving tastes in riding, not that a casual glance would reveal any of the millimetric changes.
For 2010, the design is better than ever with a properly ‘ﬂoaty’ feeling to the ride. On our test rides we always have a sense that the rear wheel is truly suspended, always moving about in the sweet spot of the Fox Triad rear shock (itself activated by a short kicker link). The system lets you get on with the business of being a lone Jedi piloting your speeder bike through the forest.
The M5 alloy FSR Elite frame is only 100g heavier than the carbon version and shares its geometry. The numbers – a 68.5° head angle and an effective 74.5° seat angle – are bang on for a 140mm trail bike. Numbers can be notoriously misleading, but in this case they’re the reason this bike feels like a favourite pair of jeans from the very ﬁrst ride.
They’re totally spot on, enabling an immediate ability to launch headlong into anything the trail throws at you. Not every bike can do this, or do it this well for that matter. To look at, the elegant yet purposeful silver grey Stumpy FSR Elite is sat on the fence, perfectly balanced between ‘show’ and ‘go’ – just where we like it to be.
Equipment: Faultless Fox suspension and Shimano kit, but our wheels weren't up to par
The parts list from Specialized is also spot on. The Big S use their considerable buying power to get you the very best parts on your bike – where you might’ve expected, or even been happy, with less. The careful blend of Shimano XTR and SLX transmission, with custom Avid Elixir R SL brakes, is more than satisfactory.
The Fox suspension offers faultless performance from the 100/120/140mm Talas RL up front, with external rebound adjustment and manual leg-top lockout matching the Triad rear shock performance and feel perfectly.
Did we feel any weak links with the FSR Elite? We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the slack spokes in the wheels; Specialized factory wheels are normally ﬁrst rate, but our pair of DT Swiss X420SL rims (particularly the rear one) was in need of emergency wrenching after only a couple of miles. We hope this is a one-off.