Every year we set off to the big manufacturer's press launches wondering what they can possibly do to improve their current range. They rarely fail to surprise an impress. First feelings are that the new Specialized MTB range hasn't put a foot wrong.
Specialized’s 2008 mountain bike line is headed by substantial changes to the flagship Stumpjumper. The first mass-produced mountain bike on the planet, the Stumpjumper has evolved to a point where it has to be considered as a completely new bike.
Changes to the 2008 Stumpjumper models – just launched in the Navacerrada Mountains near Madrid – include a rocker link to actuate the shock, and reduced weight. The top-line S-Works carbon bike gets a flared head tube and steerer that tapers from 1.125in at the top to 1.5in at the bottom.
The Stumpy’s new form and function cater to the needs of both cross-country racers and the demanding new breed of aggressive trail rider looking for both high-speed climbing and hard-hitting trail and descending prowess. The new Stumpy’s no-obvious-compromise performance and low weight is enough to make us question the relevance a bike like the Epic, which only weighs about half a pound less, but there are bound to be riders (like recent hardtail convertees or thoroughbred race heads) who’ll still question the potential for outright cross-country speed of a longer travel bike like the Stumpy.
Even before you throw a leg over it and hit the trails, there is no denying that the new 23.5lb, 120mm-travel S Works FSR Carbon is a work of art. The frame styling is superficially a little like the 2007 Enduro, but leaner. The low slung design creates loads of standover room, puts the rocker link shock set-up low and allows for a bottle cage and plenty seat post adjustment. There’s all sorts of interesting profiling going on to keep things strong, light, stiff and thoroughly practical on the trail. Only the chain stays are made from aluminium, everything else is carbon.
A better Brain
The new FutureShock S120 fork has all of the expected damping tuning plus a very effective dial to adjust the ‘FlowControl Brain Fade’. You can fine-tune ride feel in the same way as the back end, and Brain tuning on the Stumpy appears to be at its stiffest at about the same point as the more race-tuned Epic appears to be at its softest. To be honest, this is the first time we’ve been totally won over by Specialized’s Brain set-up on a hard-riding trail bike. It has finally come of age: the transition between stable and plush is hardly noticably. We were flying up the hills as fast on the Stumpy as on the Epic. In fact, new Ned Overend inspired ‘The Captain’ tyres made for much better climbing ad cornering traction than the Fast Traks on the Epic.
The new steerer and head tube on the Stumpy is designed for maximum steering stiffness and minimum braking flutter using a 1.5in lower headset bearing and a 1.125in upper combined with a one piece carbon steerer and crown. Claimed fork weight is 1450g.
All we’re saying now about Stumpjumper performance is that a couple of big mountain rides left us feeling that it’s probably the lightest, fastest climbing, most precisely controlled 120mm travel hard riding trail bike we’ve ever tested, but we’ll reserve absolute commitment until we get one on longer term test and see what all the other manufacturers do.
Pitching in with new freeriders
Other highlights from the Specialized launch included some lower weights on the new 150mm travel Enduros and a new two bike range called ‘Pitch’, which essentially comprises cheaper versions of the Enduros with single crown Rockshox fork choices. The new women’s bikes shift away from simply being feminine versions of the men’s bikes, although the colours are still very feminine, to offer a brave new take on gender specific spec and design. The Safire is a particular highlight. Watch this space for some more intimate detail and feedback on what Specialized have been up to.