Women's gear, up first
Our writer tested the new model of the legacy bike she used to ride in the nineties and loved its speed, precision, and power
In the early 1990s, I worked at a ski and bike shop and waitressed in Avon, Colorado. I spent the rest of my waking hours in the mountains, occasionally dreaming up stupid human tricks, like the time four gear-shop buddies and I drove to the top of Loveland Pass and launched what we liked to think of as “big air” from a backcountry ski jump under a full moon. Winter turned to summer and, since I worked at a gear store, that meant time for new toys: I upgraded my circa-1988 Specialized Rock Hopper to a 1992 Stumpjumper Comp. With Shimano XT derailleurs, shifters, brakes, and hubs and 26-inch wheels sheathed in nubby 1.95-inch Ground Control tires, there was nothing this 28-pound rigid steel behemoth couldn’t handle. The frame was deep metallic red, but it looked more like hot-berry pink, a funny irony considering today’s contempt for the shrinking and pinking of women’s gear. Back then, there was no women’s gear, and I didn’t care. I just loved the way the bike embodied the freedom I felt that summer.
Twenty-six years later, Specialized’s new Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 27.5 ($4,200; alloy starts at $1,850) elicits the same joy, albeit with 150 millimeters of travel in the front Fox Float Rhythm 34 fork. The blazing headline about the 2018 Stumpjumper, which comes in either short or long travel as well as 27.5- and 29-inch wheel sizes, is that Specialized overhauled it with an asymmetric frame. The redesign makes it 20 percent stiffer while reducing the weight by 110 to 550 grams, depending on the model, making the bike faster and less like a pogo stick, a criticism that bikes with this much travel tend to earn. It’s also longer as well as slacker in the front, which translates to a flowing, precision ride on downhills. And to throw in another evolutionary curveball, the bike has Boost spacing, which allows for varying-width tires, and on the 29er version riders can swap in 27.5-inch wheels with the assistance of a “flip chip” designed into the rear suspension linkage that raises the bottom bracket six millimeters. This essentially gives the rider two bikes in one because the size of the wheel changes the dynamics of the ride—from cornering to obstacle clearance to downhill speed. (Note that the 27.5 version, however, cannot run 29er wheels.)
Specialized also improved the internal cable routing, added a threaded bottom bracket, and made it all compatible with any metric shock, changes that make the bike easier to repair and upgrade with non-proprietary parts. And finally, to quiet the ride, it added a chainstay protector that looks like a modernist, molded wave sculpture. In short, it’s a substantial overhaul.
As is the case with most Specialized mountain bikes, the frame size is unisex—a five-foot-nine guy would ride the same size-medium frame as a five-foot-nine woman—but the women’s version offers features like optional shorter cranks, narrower handlebars, a women’s saddle that adds comfort and strength and reduces pressure points, and rear suspension attuned to women’s weight ranges and riding styles. The bike is also gorgeous: sleek black with an orange and hot-pink “Specialized” blazing along the underside of the down tube.
Until I tested the new Stumpjumper, I had never ridden a women’s mountain bike. I’m not opposed to them, but at five foot ten I felt too tall to fit a women’s frame, which has historically been smaller than a men’s frame. Currently I ride the men’s version of the Specialized Camber Pro Carbon 29er, the Cadillac of mountain bikes, which elegantly steamrolls singletrack from the sharp red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, to the technical, rolling berms, roots, and rocks of Duluth, Minnesota, where I live.
If the Camber 29er is like a turbocharged Cadillac Coupe, the 27.5 Stumpjumper Comp is like a Porsche 911 Carrera: playful, aggressive, and power-packed. It’s impossible not to have a blast on this bike, especially going downhill. What struck me the most is how fast and smooth it is on tight curves. The Stumpjumper’s slacker front wheel angle and the faster acceleration of 27.5-inch wheels make going downhill less a physics project to master and more brainless fun.
Despite the Stumpy’s ease on the downhills, the bike and I still have a few kinks to work out. On the uphills it felt slightly heavier and less efficient than my Camber, an issue that might be overcome by buying carbon rims or riding tires less aggressive than the 2.6-inch front Butcher and back Purgatory models that come with the bike. The other bummer: on the most technical uphill trail sections, I struck my pedals on rocks and roots more often than I did on the same sections while riding the Camber. That’s likely a result of the Stumpjumper’s having roughly 25 millimeters more travel in the rear Fox DPS Performance shock than I’m used to. However, it could also be user error, a function of having to learn how to properly ratchet while riding 27.5-inch wheels.
After nearly a month of riding variable trails daily on the new Stumpjumper, it renewed my passion for Specialized’s legacy bike, one that has been in its lineup since 1981. It also made me appreciate the company’s dedication to the evolution of mountain biking. Without its innovation, my life, for one, would be a lot less fun.