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Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp

  • Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp
  • £1,599.99
  • Specialized UK
  • 0208 391 3500

XC-oriented riders were disappointed in 2003 that Specialized’s well-regarded FSRxc didn’t make it to the UK, being replaced by the new Epic – an innovative bike that turned out not to be to everyone’s taste and was a bit portly for many.

For 2004 the Epic has been on a diet, shedding half a pound from the frame – the S-Works variant is, says Specialized, the lightest full-sus frame it’s ever produced. With the Epic now more tightly focussed on fast XC there was an obvious gap in the line-up between it and the sturdy 5.5in travel Enduro, a gap that’s now been filled by the all-new Stumpjumper FSR…

Frame

Clever forged seat tube section accomodates shock

All-new it may be, but the influence of other Specialized bikes is clear. The frame is made of Specialized’s proprietary M4 aluminium with lots of the company’s trademark tubing manipulation in evidence. The front end features the cranked downtube that you’ll recognise from the hardtail Stumpjumper range, while the top tube is a monococque-style piece, longitudinally welded and with a swoop to get the shock mounted in the right place and give a bit of extra standover height.

So it’s made essentially from tubes, thus having more in common with the Epic than the Enduro. The actual suspension configuration is more Enduro-like, though, with Specialized’s classic four-bar linkage delivering 100mm of travel. As we’ve come to expect from Specialized the linkage is a very neat forged piece and the dropout pivots are sturdy clevis-style units. All of the pivots feature sealed bearings. Rather than the Enduro’s interrupted seat tube, the Stumpjumper has a remarkable forged split tube that the shock passes through. This means that the job of holding the seat tube up is split between top and seat tubes and both can be made lighter. You’ll still encounter seat-dropping limitations, though, and it’s a bit of a mud-trap.

The shock itself is another in a long line of proprietary Specialized/Fox developments. Fox’s ProPedal damping set-up has got a lot of spec in 2004 from manufacturers keen to prop up bobby suspension designs without going the full platform damping hog, a move that for many of them would mean switching shock supplier, not to mention having to run costlier shocks. But the jury’s still out on ProPedal. Some riders love the solid pedalling feel that comes from increased low-speed compression damping, while others are put off by the resulting loss in small-bump sensitivity.

The FSR’s Triad shock, though, has its cake and eats it. What looks like a conventional lock-out lever actually has three positions. “Lockout” is obvious, while “Pedal” switches in the ProPedal damping for taut power delivery. And then there’s “Open” – no ProPedal, just good old-fashioned squoosh. The Triad also employs an oversized air sleeve to increase the volume of the air spring for a more linear feel.

Slightly wayward hose guide

The frame’s disc-only, with no V-brake bosses. We had a bit of bother with the rear brake hose, which routes under the top tube through ferrules that secure it into hose guides at the front and under the shock mount. The ferrules kept drifing out under suspension action, leaving bits of flappy hose. It wasn’t really much of a deal – nothing stuck out enough to rub or snag – but mildly annoying, and the one above the shock’s a real pain to get back in.

Other than that there’s little to dislike about the frame. Tyre clearances are adequate, all the bits are in the right place, there’re lots of neat engineering touches and it’s distinctive without being ostentatious. Oh, and it comes with a splendid chainstay protector.

Components

The FSR Comp’s grandpointfive price point is a fiercely competitive one and there are bikes out there with pretty amazing spec for the money. Looking at the work that’s gone into the Specialized’s all-new frame and unique shock, it’s perhaps no surprise that the component package is decent but not stunning.

Manitou Black Elite fork

Starting at the front, the fork is a 100mm Manitou Black Elite. There’s no travel reduction (not that we missed having it) but you get a full set of adjusters for spring preload, rebound and compression damping. Turn the compression lever all the way and you get a lockout. The test fork appeared to be sprung for a heavier-than-average rider, which makes a lot of sense on the Large size but watch out if you’re tall and skinny.

The fork spins in an alloy sealed bearing headset, with snazzy carbon fibre spacers propping up a rather neat Specialized stem and bar. We were pleased to see the torque settings for the stem clamps engraved on to the stem itself – nice touch. Holding up the other end of the rider is a Body Geometry saddle atop a fairly generic one-bolt seatpost. As with other Specialized bikes it’s an oddball 30.9mm size. The split seat tube gives about three inches of height adjustment before you’d have to start cutting bits off the post. In an uncharacteristic failure of attention to detail, our test bike had a sticker on the seat tube saying that you must be able to see the seat post through “this hole” – it’s the same sticker as on the Enduro, and doesn’t make much sense because there’s no hole on the Stumpjumper…

Wheels feature a Deore rear hub and Specialized Stout front, laced to Mavic 223 disc rims with black DT 1.8m spokes and shod with Roll-X Pro tyres. Transmission is Countdown-style “one from the top row, one from the next row and two from the next” with an XTR rear mech, an LX-ish (it’s not actually an LX but it appears to be to all intents and purposes the same) splined Hollowtech chainset and Deore shifters. The cassette is an 11-34 LX, and we were pleased to find that you can actually use bottom gear without the top jockey wheel rattling on the sprockets, not something that you can always rely on.

XTR rear mech possibly not strictly necessary

The mix’n’match approach extends to the brakes, with Shimano 525 calipers clamping six-bolt XT rotors. On the face of it it’s not a bad way to save a bit of weight – the XT rotors are significantly lighter than the Deore ones. We’re not all that happy with it, though. The main reason that the XT rotors are lighter is that they’ve got a shallower braking surface to go with the shallower pads on XT calipers. The 525 units have very deep pads that overhang the braking surface. While we didn’t experience any problems during the test, with the Deore stoppers providing confident but not awe-inspiring oomph, we’re not that comfortable with having extra bits of pad overlapping the rotor.

It’s a slightly odd spec in some ways. Compared with obvious rivals like Marin’s equally-priced Rift Zone, the XTR rear mech looks like a bit of a frippery – Marin’s offering has a more conventional Deore/LX mix, saves a bit of cash with a Truvativ crank and puts it back into Hope Mini brakes which are definitely a cut above the 525s on the FSR. That said, it’s all solid stuff that, reservations about the caliper/rotor setup aside, works just fine.

Specialized always have a big range and for any given bike there’s usually a slightly cheaper and slightly pricier model either side. In the case of the Comp, a hundred quid less will get you the very similarly-specced Elite. You lose the Triad shock in favour of a regular Float R, the fork doesn’t have a lockout lever and the rims are slightly portlier. Other than that there’s not much in it. Moving in the other direction, the FSR Expert is two hundred pounds more than the Comp but features a Fox Float RL fork and Shimano 555 brakes.

Ride

In open mode, suspension performance is classic FSR – supple, capable, bags of traction but a tad mushy if you don’t pay attention to your power delivery. Switching the ProPedal in pretty much eliminates the mush but you definitely pay a price in small-bump sensitivity and reduced traction. But the great thing is that you’ve got the choice. If your chosen trails don’t have a problem with grip and you want to feel fast, ProPedal is it. If you find yourself struggling to keep the back wheel hooked up then open the shock up and turn the pedals…

Chances are that if you’re a suspension bike fan you’ll leave the shock fully open most of the time, and if you’re moving over from a hardtail then ProPedal will prevent the whole thing being terribly unfamiliar. But whichever camp you come from it’s worth investing the time to experiment with the other option – you might surprise yourself.

In either setting this is a true mountain bike, by which we mean that, like a good set of tyres, it just doesn’t feel right on the road but suddenly makes perfect sense once you’re in the dirt. We’re not going to say that it comes alive, though, because to be honest, it doesn’t really. The FSR isn’t a frisky, hyperactive, attention-seeking kind of bike. It just gets on with things. A lot of the time you wouldn’t think that the back end’s actually doing anything, and then you realise that, despite the respectable 13in bottom bracket height, you’re clonking the pedals off rocks because you can just pedal everywhere and the suspension keeps the wheel stuck to the trail. FSRs of times gone by have suffered from an excessively low BB but we’re happy with the height of the Stumpy – sure, we had pedal strikes but only places where frankly we’d expect to.

The layout is on the rangy side of conservative, with the Large bike running a 24in top tube and 110mm stem. The head angle’s knocked back half a degree from the (shorter forked) hardtail Stumpy at 70.5. Having got used to riding long-forked hardtails with steeper heads than this the FSR needed a degree of encouragement in tighter corners. It’s not slow steering, it’s just not fast – haul yourself forwards and use the wide bars to push the front into the corner and it does the job just fine.

The flipside is, of course, impressive stability on faster, swoopier trails and you can rely on the suspension to keep things under control. The Comp is definitely more at home on more open trails than in the real nadgery stuff, but that’s not to say it can’t hack it. You can have a bike that loves ridiculously tight trails but gets fidgety at speed, you can have one that’s pretty good at both or you can have one like the FSR. Like most things, a compromise has to be made and which end of the spectrum you choose is entirely down to you…

Positives: Evergreen FSR suspension action, clever shock, impressive frame construction

Negatives: Bit of a mud trap around the shock, needs lots of input in corners, spec niggles

Verdict

We can’t help thinking that Specialized has got all its bike names a bit mixed up. Now that the short-travel Epic is all lightweight, it’s the clear choice for XC racing. If we were going to ride an epic (small ‘e’) – by which we mean a big old ride in proper hills, winching up them and attacking down them – we’d probably choose an Enduro. But if an enduro (again, small ‘e’ – fastish paced but long) came along then the middling Stumpjumper FSR looks like the bike of choice. In fact, “middling” pretty much sums up the FSR Comp. It’s not a flyweight or a big hitter, just a regular all-rounder in the classic mould. For our tastes we’d like something a bit sharper and in Comp spec it somehow lacks spark (we’d be tempted to try and find another 200 notes for the Expert), but the frame is a sound platform and the three-way shock is a definite winner. If you’re looking for a do-it-all bike then the FSR should be on the shortlist.

Performance: 4/5
Value: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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