Thursday, February 6, 2014

The S-Works Stumpjumper 29er Review


Every once in a while I dream about what it must be like to live the life of a Professional Mountain Biker. Traveling around Europe to all the big events, exploring new places, new trails, eating new foods and of course riding those amazing top of the line machines. While most of these things can be achieved with the right amount of money, one of them can be experienced for FREE!

On February 4th, 2014 the Specialized Mountain Bike company sent one of their trucks to Venice, Florida. They met up with the local riders at Sleeping Turtle Preserve for one of our Tuesday night rides. You wouldn't normally see a truck show up for a group ride but ours has been growing in size at an amazing rate. Last year we drew in 10 to 15 riders per night but now the norm is more like 25 to 40 riders. It is a perfect place for a big bike company to lend out their new models for demonstrations.


As the parking lot slowly filled to the brim, the big red Specialized trailer swung open its doors. Inside was 28 different models, from full suspension to hardtail, men's and women's styles but mostly the upper tier rides. Let's face it, no one wants to Demo an entry level bike. This is about trying new technology, the kind that opens people's eyes to the future of Mountain Biking.

I was second in line that night. I filled out the electronic waiver, handed over my license and credit card then climbed aboard a dream machine. While in Colorado during July of 2013 I had tried one of their Stumpjumper EVOs, a brilliant full suspension rig but this time I wanted something more suited to Florida's flat lands. The S-Works Stumpjumper 29er hardtail is not your typical trail klunker, it's more like the Formula One version of a race bike and it was my chosen weapon to slay the Carlton singletrack.


This was a special night for many reasons. Not only did Specialized grace us with their Demo bikes but SCORR had just completed connecting the "BoldlyGo" singletrack with the well known Red trail allowing all kinds of loop possibilities. I had opted to bring the Stumpjumper on a ride with the B group, who usually do about 15 miles at a relatively fast pace. It was demanding enough for a test but moderate enough that I probably wouldn't crash a creation that cost as much as my car.

Cruising down the road towards the trailhead another rider, who also had a 29er, asked, "Do you feel like you're driving a truck?" It was a thought. My body was more laid out than usual. I could feel my lower back stretching, elongated while my hips were positioned for maximum output. I also felt more weight on my hands but less tightness in my triceps. Would this body position affect my riding? We'll find out.


The second quality that was hard to ignore was the power. There was no question that the Stumpjumper was built to fly! The 2 by 10 drivetrain and Fast Trak tires combined with loads of uber light Carbon Fiber combined to produce the knobby tire version of a lightning bolt. Each pedal stroke provided notable efficiency that thrust me forward at speeds that would take some getting used to.

Everyone knows a good rider can do amazing things on a bad bike but what could a moderate rider achieve on an amazing bike? I was starting to wonder.


Our first challenge would be 6 miles of singletrack. I was the second man in and sat on the lead rider's back tire through the first section. The larger hoops and SID Brain fork ate up the palmetto roots and spit them out. I took new lines as there was less fear of getting hobbled by a blind bump or shadowy pig hole. "Go ahead, lead on," He pulled aside and let me put the pedal to the dirt. I wanted to see what it could do full out!

Concerns about the turning ratio of the 29er wheels was immediately disproved. Every tight twist and swerve was easily banked with grace and ferocity. This was no doubt due to the Stumpjumper's centered geometry which keeps the rider from leaning too far forward, a problem that causes lesser 29ers to understeer. On the rare occasion that I did go off track, it was due to my inability to catch up to the velocity of this beast. I almost needed headlights that could see around corners. A daylight run would have been like saddling a basilisk through a mouse maze. Luckily the Shimano XTR hydraulic disc brakes kept me in check. A one finger tap of the handle and I could skid around the corner like an expert.


Stumpy continued to impress when we reached the rolling hills. Here I suspected that larger wheels might not groove well over these whoop-de-doos and first time through it seemed true but on the return trip the momentum kicked in and there was no stopping me. Deeper into the marsh trail we hit the unfinished section where doorway turns were made difficult by random stumps, here you were lucky to keep going without putting a foot down. Again the larger wheels and Brain fork were even smarter I was. Easy rolling allowed me to make the necessary adjustments so that I never dropped out of line.

Breaking through to the Red trail was the halfway point of the ride. As we all stopped to regroup, I refueled on some homemade energy bars and waited excitedly for the next section. This wider double track allowed for a kick up in horsepower as we barreled onward. The Specialized representative, named Dan, worked his way into our group and sat in second position. He even took the time to direct me past him as he took out his phone to get action video of the fast rolling procession. It was a wild ride from then on as everyone went for broke on the final 4 miles of the singletrack as we hit it in reverse.


It was in the last five miles that I noticed the two drawbacks to this Carbon demon. One was the harsh stiffness of the frame. While the fork and wheels did compensate for most trail clutter, any shocks from the rear wheel shuttered right up through that unforgiving seat post. Worse yet was the Phenom seat which appears more suited to road riding. I just can't imagine spending 3 hours or more bouncing on it without suffering damage to my nether regions.

At the end of the night I reluctantly rolled back to the truck, dropped off the bike and picked up my plastic. I took one last look at that seven thousand dollar machine and started imagining yet again. As I walked away, my head low, another rider asked where my dream bike went? I answered, "They wouldn't let me take it." In the back of my mind I was thinking, for now. They can hold it, for now. Next on my list, I need to find a company that allows people to Demo trips to France. I've got my sights set on climbing Alpe d'Huez.

Keep an eye out for more upcoming events from Real Bikes Venice which will all
be re-posted on the SCORR Facebook page.

If you want to check out all the amazing technology being developed check out the Specialized website.
www.Specialized.com


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