Editor’s Note: Twenty Nine Inches is testing two models from Specialized Bikes 2010 line up, the Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29 and the Epic Marathon 29. We also were able to put some questions to Specialized’s own Eric Schuda, who is in charge of all of Specialized’s 29 inch efforts, and Brad Paquin, Specialized’s engineer on the 29″er Stumpjumper Carbon Expert 29″er. Following are some questions penned for Twenty Nine Inches by our writer, Grannygear and the answers from Eric and Brad.

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TNI:- Before we get into the Epic 29er and the carbon Stumpjumper hardtail 29er and discuss some of the finer points of those models, I would like to spend a minute and get the companies thoughts on 29ers in general. Big wheels have been fairly revolutionary in many ways and have, at the very least, been revelatory for many riders who finally feel as if they ‘fit’ on a mountain bike. Gary Fisher looks like it is fast becoming a 29er only brand. Giant is in with at least one foot dipped in the pool. Specialized has, by my count, 8 29ers not counting framesets: Hardtails, FS, carbon, aluminum, singlespeed…quite an array to choose from. Top level racers are winning on Stumpy 29er carbon hard tails.

That looks like a pretty serious commitment to 29ers on your part; from recreational weekend warrior to World Cup XC to 12/24 hour racing. Was this a difficult point in time to get to for Specialized or are they sold on big wheels?

Eric: You are correct, for 2010 we have quite an offering of 29ers to suit a wide range of experiences and riders. It was not difficult for us to arrive at this point; it was just a matter of timing. There is no arguing that we were later to offer 29ers than some of our competitors. It is a big commitment for us to take on any new project, with both human and financial resources. We have added ton of manpower to our engineering and product development teams recently, and had our biggest year of development in the history of the company for the 2010 model year. We made this investment so that we could continue to innovate and expand all of our current bike models, as well as add an entire newly developed family of 29er bikes to our product offering. As I mentioned above, it was about timing and having everything in place to develop an offering of 29ers that would bring something new and unique to the market. Some people ask, “Is Specialized becoming a 29er only company?” The answer to this is no. For us, it is not about 26” vs. 29”, instead it is about making the best bike for the intended experience, and the rider. In some cases this will be a 29” wheel, and in other cases it might be a 26” wheel. Of course, myself being the 29er guy here, I am always pushing the 29er angle every time we have development discussions.

TNI:- This last year was eye opening for many as several important races were won on 29ers by factory sponsored riders, something that was not even considered possible by many naysayers’. Quite a few of those riders have a big, red “S” on their jerseys. I have to wonder if the “Chicken VS. Egg” dilemma does not apply: Riders do not want to race a 29er because no one has won on one, yet no one will win on one until someone starts campaigning in a serious way on them. What broke that open? Did the level of technology finally make it attractive enough to go for it (for instance, the S Works Stumpjumper HT)? Or was it something else?

Eric: I really do believe that for us and many other companies, it was about both technology, and having the riders see some of their peers embrace it. Professional racers are very conscious about weight and performance, and you can spend all day telling a pro that something is going to be a huge benefit to them, but if you are asking them to ride something that doesn’t perform as well as their current bike, or isn’t as light, they won’t go for it….especially if they have not seen anyone else be successful on the product. As you mentioned, with all the technology being thrown at 29ers, this is not the case anymore and we are seeing tons of pros both nationally and regionally having great success on 29ers. Todd Wells has had great success on our S-Works carbon hardtail, but it wasn’t easy to convince him to try it, and it wasn’t exactly a bike he was asking us for.

There is actually a pretty good story behind Todd and the 29er: As we were developing the new carbon 29er hardtail, we were planning to launch it at Sea Otter, and of course, were hoping to have someone race it. Ned Overend is pretty close friends with Todd Wells, and was convinced that the 29er would be the perfect bike for Todd. Ned encouraged Todd to race the bike at Sea Otter, but Todd wasn’t really interested, as he really likes his S-Works Epic and had heard from many people that 29ers were heavy, slow, and handled poorly. We told Todd he was (and still is) free to ride whatever bike he prefers, but that we were going to send him a bike to ride and try out. Todd received a test bike the week before the US Cup race in Fontana, CA. (a few weeks before Sea Otter.) Todd rode the 29er a couple times, and then called us telling us how much he liked it, and asking if he could race it at Fontana, before we officially launched the bike. That’s why, if you remember, he raced Fontana on an all black bike with just a simple Specialized decal on the down tube….that’s our typical paint job for field-test bikes. He followed this up with a short track win on the 29er at Sea Otter and we couldn’t have been happier. Todd also won some other short track races, as well as 8th place at World’s on the S-Works 29er.

TNI:– I know you can’t divulge secrets and I don’t want you to box yourself into a corner, but 29ers are getting a lot of attention in the area of bigger travel. The Dissent and Kodiak tires from WTB, the Dorado fork from Manitou, Devin Lenz’s stuff, and even Intense with the 2951 frame are pushing into that over 6” travel arena. Any thoughts you can share?

Eric: I personally spend a lot of time riding my Stumpjumper FSR 29er with 130mm of travel, but haven’t spent time on anything with longer travel yet. The whole longer travel 29er movement is pretty interesting, and I wonder where it will go in the future. I can tell you that it is definitely something that we are keeping an eye on. I personally feel that the benefits of 29” wheels are most noticeable on hardtails and shorter travel suspension bikes, where the roll-over capabilities and compliance of the wheels are most noticeable on bikes with steeper head angles and less travel. As you get into longer travel bikes (140mm +) head angles become slacker and there is more suspension, so things change a bit. I have done some back to back runs in Downieville on my SJ FSR 29er and our new 2010 Enduro, just to play around and see what the differences might be. I like to ride 26” wheeled bikes on occasion, so that I always maintain a balanced perspective between the two wheels sizes, and am constantly reminded of the differences. The biggest hurdle to overcome with the longer travel 29ers is the weight. The bikes become more capable, and to get the right tires on there, with wheels that are stiff enough, and a proper build, you are talking about a 30+ pound bike. That is a tough pill to swallow when we have 160mm travel Enduros coming in under 27 pounds. I will admit that we are a bit of a weight weenie crowd around here, but the weight is an issue. There are of course, sizing challenges too with handlebar heights and rear bottom-out clearance. If you spend any time on internet forums, it is obvious that people are riding and enjoying these bikes, and there is a lot of interest in them.

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TNI:– Ok, the Epic 29er. Certainly revered as a winning ride in 26” wheels, now in big wheeled form, were there any compromises made in the process of fitting the larger hoops?

Eric: There were no compromises made. When you glance at the Epic 29er, it has the same layout as the 26, so one might think that we just stretched it for 29” wheels and called it a day….that is not the case. The Epic 29er has its own geometry set, a tapered head tube for added stiffness, an integrated headset to (take) advantage of a longer head tube for strength, while maintaining a low stack height. The Epic 29er also has a larger diameter seat stay to boost rear end stiffness. One of the goals for the Epic 29er was to keep the wheelbase as short as possible. We run fairly short (448mm) chain stays on the Epic 29er, and the overall wheelbase for a Medium sized Epic 29er is only approx 11mm longer than a Medium sized Epic 26.

TNI:– The buzz lately has been in different permutations of the DW linked system or VPP or CVA. Yet here is Specialized, still riding into 2010 on the aging FSR platform. I (Grannygear) have owned 2 true FSR/Horst Link bikes and they have certain personalities. Other than the fact that Specialized owns the patent, why is this design still in use and does it compare in today’s market?

Eric: Moving into our 17th year with FSR, we still believe what we always have: an active and independent system is the best way to ride with the most efficiency, comfort and control. We want the suspension to stay active over bumps and in smooth terrain, whether braking or pedaling, climbing or descending, shifting or just flat out hammering. An active suspension keeps the tire on the ground a higher percentage of the time and the only way to speed up, slow down, and change direction is to keep the tire on the ground. With an “aging” suspension we can learn and evolve the system. FSR may be the same name on the bike and the suspension that you have seen year after year, but we are always pushing ourselves to be better and make the next bike better than the last one, and continue to exceed what other systems can offer. FSR can be configured in many different ways to achieve the goals of a particular model. Having a system that evolves over many years and is built for specific riding experiences is better than having something new just for the sake of being new. To this day, we have not found a system that meets our needs better than FSR and is more versatile.


TNI:– Let’s talk about the Brain shock. In my opinion, it makes the Epic great and sets it above what would be just another Pro Pedal required design. There were a lot of issues in the past that gave owners grief and even though Specialized’s customer service was exceptional, what has happened to get beyond those problems?

Eric: You are right; we have had our troubles and growing pains with the suspension program, and have been working very hard to sort out these issues. When we starting making our own suspension, the goal was not for Specialized to become a suspension manufacturer. We developed our own suspension because it gave us absolute freedom to further integrate the frame, fork, and rear shock into one unit that performed in harmony with each other as a system. Having a suspension team in house allows us the freedom to tweak and tune in the morning, and then be out on the trail testing later day. Our suspension engineers are involved with a bike’s development throughout the entire process and are included in every development meeting along with frame engineers and product managers. The frame and suspension develop side by side, instead of developing a frame first, and then searching for a suitable shock. The new program that we have with Fox for 2010 could not be anymore ideal for us. Fox was involved with Brain shocks back when we first started, but it was more of us just buying the shocks from them. Our new relationship for the 2010 model year and beyond is a true partnership, where we are working together with Specialized engineers and Fox engineers sharing intellectual property. Fox is not just a supplier; they are a suspension partner with Specialized. Our suspension engineers work together with Fox engineers in the design of the suspension and work together to accomplish the specific needs and goals of the project. Fox brings years of suspension manufacturing experience to the table. This is where we fell short on own branded rear suspension. The designs are great; we just were not able to hold consistent manufacturing quality. The co-branded Fox Brain shock solves this issue, and also frees up time and resources for us to focus on our forks. We have continued to further develop our own AFR branded rear shocks from previous year’s bikes, and these improvements are implemented into warranty replacement shocks to better serve our customer

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TNI:– Carbon fiber is saddled with the aura of fragility, right or wrong. What, in your opinion, is the proper attitude when dealing with the considerations of owning and riding a carbon bike over a similar aluminum one?

Eric: This answer comes from Brad Paquin, the engineer for the carbon hardtail 29er frames, and our new Tarmac SL3 road frame:

Brad: “If you are comparing similar models of aluminum and carbon fiber frames it would need to be done on a per weight basis. The same model carbon vs. aluminum frame can be nearly 1 lb weight difference. If you made an alloy frame as light as a carbon fiber frame, the carbon frame would actually be more damage tolerant than the alloy version. In the real world, we compare frames which are not of the same weight, so it makes sense that the lighter frame will always be generally less damage tolerant due to thinner tube wall thicknesses. When we design our carbon frame layup we design the damage prone areas with higher elongation fiber with the plies oriented such that they provide the most damage tolerance possible. We then test each tube for impact strength using a hemispherical indenter from prescribed drop heights. The amount/type of damage is documented, and compared with our previous frames, as well as competitor’s frames. Generally, if an impact is severe enough to damage a carbon fiber frame, it would also have dented/damaged an alloy frame.”

Eric:We work to make the frames as strong as possible and include mylar protectors, and metal protectors in areas on the frame that might be prone to damage.

TNI:– When I look at the Stumpjumper FSR 29er, something we at twentynineinches.com have yet to ride, I see ‘Every-man Weekend Warrior’ written all over it. It seems like the perfect companion for a ‘one bike’ solution that will work pretty well from a team 24 hour with the gang to a road trip to Moab to….whatever. Am I close? It does not seem like an all-mountain experience is the focus here, but it is more bike than the Epic. Who was this bike made for?

Eric: The whole naming thing can be a bit confusing sometimes. One man’s “all-mountain”, could be the same as another man’s “xc-trail.” For marketing purposes, we call the Stumpjumper FSR an “xc-trail” bike. The new layout of the SJ FSR 29er makes a very capable machine, with increased versatility. The new bike has seen a significant travel increase from 105mm rear on the previous rocker design, to 130mm rear travel on the new one. The new frame has seen significant stiffness increases with a liberal use of hydroformed tubing and cold forgings. The new in-line shock layout and revised kinematics make for a bike that is very sensitive on the small bumps and is very plush on medium to big hits. Compared to the 08-09 rocker design, this bike is a completely different machine, with increased versatility. In many ways, the new bike climbs better than the old one, as it is much more sensitive to small bumps. This is very noticeable when climbing rocky/choppy/ledgy climbs. As far as descending goes, the new bike is an entirely different league. We were also able to keep the weight pretty much the same as the previous version. Having a Brain on there might make you think that it is a longer travel Epic. The kinematics and Brain tuning on the Stumpjumper FSR 29er are completely different than the Epic 29er. This is meant to be the “one bike that does it all” kind of ride. We need to get you on one to see for yourself, we are really proud of how the bike turned out and it is being very well received thus far.

TNI:– OK, I have a request. I know that hydroformed aluminum is becoming common on bikes and carbon is the latest buzz word. But I have a vision, if you will, that pays homage to the classic lugged steel frame of the old Stumpjumpers that I remember from way back. I think a steel 29er singlespeed in a classic motif, lugged frame at least at the main tubes, and decaled and painted to reflect the classic look of the old Stumpys would be a killer bike, even in a limited edition. Pinch shell EBB, classic diamond frame, nice tubing quality, angles adjusted for a suspension fork but sold with the option of a tapered leg steel fork with a crown on it….I dunno. I would want one. I think others would as well. Just thought I would toss that out while we are talking. You can thank me later! Hah!

Eric: Thanks for the request….consider it noted.

Thanks to Eric and Brad for their time in answering our questions!

Note: These products were provided to Twenty Nine Inches at no charge for reviewing. We are not being paid or bribed for this review. We will give our honest opinion or thoughts through out.