Specialized Stumpjumper Carbon SS: Mid-Term- by Grannygear
I have more than a few miles and hours on this new Specialized Stumpjumper Carbon SS build and I think I have enough feel for it to update things a bit. Some of the things I have found might be surprising, or not, depending on what your assumptions are. So remember that we had the first impressions here and the bike had built out to 22.5lbs with XT SPDs, a pretty good place to be all things considered. The weight of the frame alone was mocked a bit as not being a feather, at least when you compare it to some of the other carbon hard tails out there (including the S Works geared only version from Specialized) but we need to keep some perspective in that this frame has the sliders on there that bring in some weight but are tidy and smart looking. However, they are a decent chunk of aluminum bonded into the carbon stays and that has to add up to more grams.
I have been running it at the initial set up until very recently where I swapped the fork and changed the cockpit ever so slightly. More on that later. But first I wanted to keep it as close to the way the Carve SS Pro was built as it made sense to do so I could compare the two frames back to back, so to speak. And remember that my initial impressions were that the Stumpy SS was very smooth feeling and a bit sportier as well. Those impressions have carried through the rest of the time I have been riding it. It is, without a doubt, one of the smoothest riding hard tail frames I have been on. In fact, and this is bit subjective due to different wheels, tires, forks, etc, but I think it would give that Spot Rocker Ti a run for its money in pure ride quality. Really. Now I am mostly referring to what it does at speed and out of the saddle, but that carries into seated comfort as well. There the very compliant FSA carbon seat post and the surprisingly good WTB Volt saddle help keep things very muted as far as back abuse. Kudos to Specialized for giving us 27.2mm seat post specs and that FSA post maximizes this nicely and looks good too. And, contrary to some of the newer single bolt type seat post clamps that are so popular, the FSA post with the classic two bolt system, like a Thomson, has been rock solid and held its position. The Volt has surprised me in that I like it so much, not that WTB lacks in quality, etc, but it is the best thing I have sat on besides my fave WTB Pure V. Now on an single speed, obviously you sit less than other bikes, but so far I have been very satisfied with the Volt and have come to appreciate that there is ‘less’ of it there compared to the Pure V.
Moving to the front end of things, and now this transitions into the cockpit feel of the bike, the 100mm FSA stem with that carbon faceplate and the wide FSA 740mm carbon bars have been super solid. I get barely any flex out of the system and the stem especially is very resistant to twisting up, something that Thomson Elite sure did not give me on that last test bike. However, the combo of the 29″ wide bars, the 100mm stem, and the non-offset seat post gave me a forward weighted cockpit for this bike that I have questioned as I went along. However, it has worked out to where I have come to terms with it. First of all, the Stumpjumper line is designed to be a more aggressive handling bike for experienced riders who know what they want a bike to do…go fast in an XC, racing type way. This is not focused on being a laid back all-rounder. So a longer stem and lower bar make sense and are in character. And I really like the weight-forward aspect of that as it rewards a good rider with pinpoint handling. But the wide bar, typically run with a stem below 90mms in length, was spreading me out a bit more, forcing me forward as a result and requiring a bit of reach when turning slow circles. So I could shorten the stem, cut the bar, or raise the bar. Well, I liked the stem too much to swap it and the bars…well it seemed a shame to cut them as they were giving me tons of leverage for climbing. So when I swapped forks I raised the bars less than a 1/2″ but more than a 1/4″ and that was good compromise. It allowed me to bring my weight back ever so slightly in relation to the front axle without giving up that aggressive steering position entirely. However, I have to say that likely the best option would have been to go with a narrower bar and save this beauty of a carbon stick for a more trail bike application.
OK. So, on the trail I was a bit surprised to find that I did not get that immediate snap when standing and pedaling that I expected. In fact, I am not sure that I gained much in that sense compared to the Carve SS and it certainly did not do what the Niner AIR9 did when pedaled briskly. But I noticed that I was moving up the trail very quickly and there were places that I was remaining seated where I normally might be standing. Something was gained here. Was it the 1 pound weight savings? Maybe, but the Stumpy SS goes up the hills well enough to make you feel pretty darn heroic. And, over time I have come to think that this frame is a definite reduction in overall harshness compared to the previous 2010 version of the carbon Stumpjumper we had for review. Is that a bad thing? Well that depends, but by and large I would say not at all and this is why. Somewhere along the path to bicycle enlightenment we consumers decided that we wanted stiff frames and that stiffness was a holy grail of sorts to aspire to. So we demanded bikes that were “stiff at the bottom bracket” even though most of the time we cannot really quantify that with any practical numbers. But it is not all that simple….that if we make it super stiff we will go faster as a result. It is much, much more nuanced than that. Stiffer where? Less stiff where? Pedaling a bike introduces all kinds of forces into the frame and components and when you add in trail impacts, steering changes, etc, that fine line of how stiff should it be and what does that mean gets fuzzy.
For instance, the recent review of the Niner AIR9. While I came to appreciate the resolute steering and pedaling prowess of that frame, and it just shot forward with every pedal stroke, I also struggled with keeping the wheels in contact with the ground due to the lack of compliance. Now JeffJ, a truly large man, loved it above ANY hard tail he had ridden. To his 260lbs, it felt just right. I would NOT ride that AIR9 for 100 miles. The Stumpy SS would be a killer ride for 100 miles, 12/24 hour solo events, etc. So even though it may not be the king of stiff carbon frames, that compliance keeps my wheels down on the dirt and keeps me from feeling beat on. The BB area on the Stumpy SS does not deflect away when I pedal and stand so I expect that a lot of the compliance in this frame is coming from the rear section…seat tube and seat and chain stays. And, because of this, I may, just may be going faster than I would be a on a *GASP* stiffer bike. Now would JeffJ feel that way on the Stumpy? Likely not. So if you are a really powerful or big guy, there may be carbon frames out there that would be a better choice. I can see the rear section of the frame wrap up a bit if I am seated and pedaling hard.
Ok…all that said, the Stumpjumper Carbon SS has been a real stunner and just got better with the addition of a 2012 version of the Rockshox SID World Cup fork with 15mm Maxle Lite and a full carbon crown and tapered steerer. The Motion Control RCT3 damper and, on this 2012 model, Dual Air, gives me all kinds of set-up options. Rock Shox dropped Dual Air for 2013 and now you get only the positive air chamber instead of + and -. Big deal? Not for me, but it is what it is and you have no options. I set up the fork at 100mm and ran my standard 10psi less in the ‘-’ chamber. I set it for a 20% sag based on the nicely imprinted stanchion tubes and that is what I would typically do for an XC hard tail. The killer app on this fork is the low speed compression (LSC for my shorthand) control adjustment. I can take or leave three position compression dampers like this RCT3 or the Fox CTD. Give me 8 clicks and I can decide for myself what I want it to feel like. But this has won me over in function. I run the fork in the middle ‘platform’ mode 90% of the time now with the LSC 2 clicks in from fully open. That gives me a fork that does not bob at all during hard out of the saddle climbs but will move through a ‘firm’ feeling travel when called to do so. Bang on perfect for my area and single speed riding. Open it up and I notice that it seems to brake dive less but is really nicely controlled and plush. It has been a while since I have been on a current model SRAM fork and this one is really good for this application. I have read that the carbon crown/steerer makes for a slight loss in stiffness over the aluminum version so big guys be aware. However for this type of use (SS) in the area I live (So Cal) and at my weight of 180lbs+ gear, I doubt it will be an issue and at a weight of 3lbs 7oz/1558g, it was nearly a half pound lighter than the old Fox F29 it replaced. I would suspect that a 2013 model with Solo Air and different graphics would still be a similar performer.
What do I like about this bike? Everything so far. I am struggling to find a bad thing to say. The sliders have been fault free. The ride is butter. The handling is aggressive but not scary. It pedals fast enough to put you on the local XC podium if you have the legs yet could be good choice for longer endurance events.
Simply a stunner so far. More riding to come.
Note: Specialized sent over the Stumpjumper Carbon 29 SS for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being bribed, nor paid for this review. We will strive to give or honest thoughts and opinions throughout