With things thawing out around these parts, things are also heating up with testing and reviewing again. It is now time to give my mid-term report on the Specialized Expert Carbon 29. In the First Impressions post, I took a look at the four goals that Specialized laid out for this bike and gave my first impressions on whether or not those goals were met. For a brief refresher, let’s have another look at those goals.

-Lightest weight 29er hardtail frame
-Torsional stiffness
-Vertical compliance
-Agile handling (without sacrificing descending capabilities)

Okay, with that refreshed in our minds, let’s move on with the review………..

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First off, I need to let you all know that this was the rig that got the Ritchey Carbon 10D flat bar that is being reviewed, so there was that change to the bike. I also went to a tubeless set up since the last posting with the same tires I had before, Specialized Captains.

Torsional Stiffness: I’m starting with this one because it is the easiest goal to report on. No change from my last report. This frame is torsionally stiff and Specialized has definitely nailed that goal well. I thought something was amiss for a bit, a strange sensation where the bike would seem to pivot from somewhere in the rear on off cambers. I tracked it down to my rear wheel/tubeless tire set up. Mostly the S-Works tire was to blame with its thin sidewalls. I was running a low enough pressure that the sidewalls were flexing while the contact patch stayed put. So, the frame passes with flying colors. The rear wheel could be a bit more laterally stiff, and I could bump up the air pressure a bit! I was running lower pressure during my recent trip to rock laden El Paso, Texas, so that is where I discovered all this. I came to really appreciate the torsional stiffness of this frame there, as the trails are quite technical.

Vertical Compliance: Okay, here we go. I wasn’t totally sold on vertical compliance in my last report, and I will have to say that I’m still not quite ready to buy into this claim/goal on this frame. What I will say is that when I think “vertical compliance” the “gold standard” for this feel is a nice steel bike closely followed by titanium. Springy, lively, and with a lack of harshness. That’s a good recipe for “vertical compliance” in a hard tail frame in my opinion. Does this carbon wonder bike measure up to that? In a word, no. It doesn’t have that “lively, springy” feel. It does have a definite lack of harshness; however. Yes, that is very noticeable. So, it has something going on, certainly. I just wouldn’t call it “vertical compliance” in the traditionalist sense. Let’s face it: Vertical compliance is the realm of full suspension bikes these days. At least in an off roading sense. The Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29 rides with a lack of harshness that you will appreciate though. At least I did.

Agile Handling: I mentioned in my First Impressions post that I felt the Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29 called out for a certain style of handling to wring out the best performance. This really is a function of its front end geometry being dialed in with a bent towards fast downhilling. Where this helps tremendously is when the trail gets sketchy and the rider gets tired. On my recent El Paso Texas trip, I found this to be a real plus on the rock ridden trails where technical handling was a high priority for riding there. Yes- Down hills are tamed somewhat, but the slight bent towards more stable handling was also really appreciated in the rough stuff, loose, gravel and rock laden climbs, and on the off camber slick rock. Maybe you will find this bike needs a bit of “body English” on buffer, tighter trails at speed, but in the hairball sections of El Paso’s Franklin Mountains, it works really well to have the geometry this bike has. Agile? Depends on your definition of that term. I’ll give it a passing grade based on the Stumpjumper’s mild mannered handling and ease of handling fast down hills.

Lightest Weight 29er Hardtail Frame: Whoa! This is a claim/goal that is pretty hard to verify, and really, will always be disputed, even if it was the lightest. And to be perfectly honest, this is really the realm of the S-Works frame, and not this Stumpy Expert Carbon 29″er. That said, this bike has some heavy-ish wheels, (for a race wheel set), an overbuilt, heavy cassette, heavy-ish handle bars, seat post, crank set, and other components for a pro level racing bike. The frame is definitely worthy of upgrades, and as several of our commenters have posted, this bike can go on a serious diet and get down in the lower 20’s in weight without much effort. So, this is really a point that doesn’t mean much in terms of my review. The bike is reasonably light weight, has no-nonsense components out of the box, and is durable as is. That’s a big plus to a privateer, un-sponsored racer who needs reliability as much as light weight to contend season after season while having a bike that can also be trained on without fear of trashing something fragile. Speaking of which………..

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Carbon Fiber And Durability: Take a close look at this image. The Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29 is off in the distance up the trail here. Those rocks that make up the trail are all loose. Nothing embedded here! That means that I had rocks flinging around of various sizes up to and including lots of fist sized rocks. They pinged, thudded, zinged, and clanged off all portions of the components and frame for an entire 15 mile loop. I even laid it down when my front tire washed out in a loose gravel arroyo and the frame slammed down on some big, jagged loose rocks. All this with no discernible damage to the frame. Scuffs and scratches that were superficial, yes- but no damage. I was rather impressed by this to the point that I was totally comfortable with the idea of carbon fiber on my home trails where I would never see this level of rock abuse. Is carbon fiber a good idea for a mountain bike? The answer seems to be pointing strongly to a solid “yes”. I think that due to the higher cost of entry a person is going to be a bit more “concerned” about damage to carbon fiber than say, an aluminum rig. And of course, metal bikes dent, carbon fiber bikes do not. Big difference there! Still, it is hard to deny the strength, light weight, and sexy good looks of a carbon fiber 29″er for your stable. If you’ve got the cha-ching to get a well executed design like this Specialized rig, it just might make sense for you.

More Thoughts On The Ride: I felt that the Stumpy was a great bike for the highly technical trails of Franklin Mountain. This surprised me seeing as how the bike tends to be more of a racing set up than a trail set up. The hard tail nature of the bike did catch up with me in the end, but again, these trails are really best suited to full suspension rigs, so to have this Stumpy Carbon rig hang tough through to the end was a bit of a revelation. That probably owes to a combination of the slight nod to stability and the nature of the carbon frame. This bike would probably be a rippin’ sub 12 hour endurance rig, hundred miler, and of course, a great XC race rocket. What if you don’t race? This bike still makes a lot of sense. 29″ers have arguably resurrected the hard tail idea, and if you have the right terrain, the Stumpy Expert Carbon would make for a real fun, sweet handling trail bike for everyday riding set up as is out of the box.

I’ll be putting in a bit more time on this rig yet this spring and then I will chime in with my Final Review in a couple of weeks.

Editor’s Note: This product was submitted to Twenty Nine Inches for review at no charge. We are not being bribed or payed for this review. We will strive to give our honest opinions throughout.