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Specialized Stumpjumper Review: An Adaptable Trail Chameleon

In 1981, Specialized’s Stumpjumper became the first production mountain bike available.

The Stumpjumper is not new. It’s been around since 1981 when Specialized introduced it as the first mass-produced mountain bike to hit the market. The bike has held a fixed position since and has acted as a benchmark for the category, but in its 37-year run, it’s also changed a lot (that first bike was constructed with a welded steel frame with no suspension and cost $750).

The latest entry is really three — in addition to the standard Stumpjumper, there’s the ST, which has less travel for increased agility and the EVO, which is slacker and more downhill-oriented. Each bike is optimized for particular riding styles and trail types, but all shoot for versatility — the bike employs a highly-innovative redesign that makes it capable of handling a range of riding styles from cross country to enduro. For this review, we rode the Stumpjumper ST and the Stumpjumper.

Learn More: Here

The Good: Specialized has worked to make this iteration of the Stumpjumper the most well-rounded and approachable yet. Offering three different versions is one-way address this — another is by making the frame both lighter and stiffer, improving both its uphill and downhill capabilities. The most notable design difference contributing to this is the asymmetrical sidearm that connects the rear end and shock to the front triangle. The company got to the final design by way of an approach that brought suspension designers and frame engineers together from the start.

There’s a lot to love when not riding too. For instance, Specialized has simplified the internal cable routing on the bike, making maintenance easy and mechanics happy. Specialized also did away with proprietary components that blocked customization in previous iterations — now, swapping shocks is fair game, as are tires up to three inches wide. Specialized also reverted from a press-fit bottom bracket back to the threaded BB system, and there’s additional adjustability supported by a “Flip Chip” system that changes the height of the bottom bracket by six millimeters.

Who It’s For: These days, there’s enough variety in mountain bikes that it’s hard to prescribe one specific model to a particular type of rider; personal preferences reign supreme and the smallest difference between any two bikes can create the largest impact. That being said, the 2019 Stumpjumper makes a hard play at casting a wide net through sheer versatility. Ride cross country or technical trails with equal parts up and down? The ST covers both. And if your tendencies skew more toward the downhill end of the spectrum, go for the classic. Both are fun everywhere.

Watch Out For: It’s hard to rag on mountain bikes for being expensive because many of them are, but the full-spec S-Works Stumpjumpers are pricey pieces of machinery (they go for $9,500). It should be noted that there are less expensive models in the range too though. Another thing — if you’re a fan of Specialized’s Auto-Sag feature, know that you won’t find it here. Other than that, there’s not much to dislike.

Alternatives: For a good chunk less money, you can get Canyon’s Spectral CF 9.0 SL, which is an equally versatile trail bike and a point of comparison to the Stumpjumper (it’s also one of our recent favorites). Another good option is Yeti’s SB4.5 C, which is equipped with less travel, like the Stumpjumper ST, and can handle a wide variety of trails on 29-inch wheels.

Review: On a map, there is a place in the upper right corner of Vermont that’s far from major cities — the nearest is Montreal — and is characterized by towns that, even by Vermont’s standards, are small. There are a few notable geological waypoints here, including Lake Willoughby, a deep and frigid depression carved into a fjord-like appearance by a mile-thick sheet of ice that covered the region roughly 13,500 years ago. Farming and sugaring is the way of the land. The Northeast Kingdom is its name.

The NEK, as it’s often shortened to, is also home to something unique: a system of mountain biking trails over 100 miles altogether that winds its way up ridges and down valleys, through open fields and tight trees — all of which is land held privately by more than 90 owners. It’s a mountain biker’s utopia, and it’s maintained by a non-profit organization called Kingdom Trails that works with the community to build new features and routes every year.


It was also the perfect place to pit two of the new Stumpjumpers against each other. I started with the Stumpjumper ST. This “short travel” mountain bike has a 130-millimeter fork and 120 millimeters of rear travel and was described to me as “the perfect bike for the trails” in the area. With that bit of knowledge, we started the day on a double-black diamond trail called “Burnham Down.” The route winds its way down through swampy woods, so there are lots of twisting bridges and where there aren’t bridges, there are roots and rocks.

The light and stable ST handled Burnham magnificently. Riding bikes through Vermont’s woods is a lot like skiing through them; the trees are tight, and line of sight doesn’t extend very far — you have to be on your guard, and you have to be able to react quickly. It helps to have a responsive steed, which the ST proved to be.

I won’t say that I didn’t fall off the narrowest of the bridges as they wound their way through the forest, but I will say that I don’t believe it was the bike’s fault — it held its line across the bridges as they wound their way through the trees and chugged right through the sporadic gnarl of roots and rock found between. The cockpit seemed to provide a Goldilocks Zone of control and comfort. I didn’t get that “on top of a machine” feeling that I had known before when riding Specialized’s S-Works Enduro.

As the trail bottoms out into the valley, it gets drier, and there are a few banked turns to lock into — no bottoming out, even with the shorter travel suspension here. We coasted down the pavement into downtown East Burke, where a knockout round of rock-paper-scissors decided that I’d be the one to make the mile-and-some slog up the road to retrieve the car while the rest of the team sipped ice lattes in the AC of Cafe Lotti. The bike’s lightness and the added stiffness of the sidearm frame design came to aid at this point, and I was glad not to have additional millimeters of suspension; actually, I didn’t need it on the downhill either.


After lunch, I swapped the ST for the fully-loaded Stumpjumper. The main difference between the two models is that which is denoted in their names — the ST has a 130mm fork with 120mm rear travel and the classic packs 150 millimeters up front and 140 millimeters in the back (in the 29-inch wheel models). That’s not all that separates the two though; the ST has a slightly steeper geometry, and 2.3-inch wide wheels instead of the classic’s 2.6.

Our primary goal for the afternoon was the halfpipe known as Sidewinder, but getting there involved traversing the width of the valley. As we began that journey, we encountered the first of a series of buffed-out downhill bank turns and I unintentionally discovered what the difference in suspension between the two bikes actually means, gracefully laying myself out on the trail as the new bike continued to flex deeper through the turn than its ST counterpart. Mental note taken.

After finishing off the downhill with a series of hairpin switchbacks, we cut across town, huffed our way up the paved Darling Hill Road and rode through manicured farmland to reach the woods again, and the top of a trail called Tap and Die. Unlike the morning’s ride, no bridges were involved here — just fun downhill, berms, a scattering of opportunities for air and a fast runout. The Stumpjumper ran this course fast and true — it locked into turns and snapped out of them and hopped over knolls and bumps like a thoroughbred. My apprehension that maybe this was too much bike for the trails receded far behind.

After that, our journey required us to link traverse-y downhills with not-so-mellow uphills. The destination is worth it though; those in the know will freely offer a travel tip: “Headed to Kingdom Trails? Make sure to hit Sidewinder.” What starts as a fairly-normal jaunt through the trees transforms into a serpentine luge up and down the walls of a steep gully in which the boundaries of skill and suspension are prodded at with shots of compressed gravity. It is, by any measure, a lot of fun.

I was glad for the Stumpjumper’s suspension every time I hauled into the vertex of the gully and, at the point where gravitational forces topped out a less-capable bike might bottom out (my teeth clenched at the thought of the hardtail I rode in college) it seemed to slingshot me through and back up to the apex of my next arc. The bike seemed to want this, and I was happy to provide

Our mission complete, we made our way back to our temporary headquarters by way of linking as many fun trails as possible. We rode up switchbacks on West Bench, over more bridges on Jaw (including one that shrinks from roughly two feet to a few inches in width), under active sap lines on Sugar Hill and eventually to the classic end-of-day sprint down Kitchel, a machine-made downhill featuring head-high berms and a series of jumps. It was here that the Stumpjumper shined brightest, pumping through every available transition.

Alex Valdman, the creative director at Rapha, once told me that the best designs are the ones that go completely unnoticed. He was talking about road race kits, but I think the statement applies generally. Once I got over the original jar of swapping bikes out midday, my ride felt supremely natural. I was impressed with the range that both bikes cover, handling the variety of terrain and features that Kingdom Trails has to offer with style and ease. The solid new frame, precision handling and beefy components make it easy to ride, and that’s a good thing. If the Stumpjumper was noisy, I didn’t notice it — probably in part due to the smart new chainstay protector, a small detail and one of many that make this update great. I rack my brain trying to think of something to be critical about, a relative flaw in the new redesign, but the only disappointment was that neither bike was mine to keep.

Verdict: It’s fun; it’s versatile; it’s awesome. The model you choose should depend on the trails you most frequently ride, but either can handle a wide range of riding. The ST is, as promised, nimble and capable of going up as well as down. The classic Stumpjumper is worthy of these tasks too but is more in its element when moving with the flow of gravity.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The mix of a super-stiff carbon chassis, great suspension performance, nimble handling and very capable 2.6in tyres makes for an incredibly fun yet capable ride that encourages you to hit truly reckless lines. That the bike is easy to live with and highly adaptable thanks to its threaded bottom bracket shell, the easiest internal cable routing I’ve ever come across and clearances for 3.0in tyres is just the icing on the cake. With that said, I doubt many will be jumping to change this bike from the off — the build is bang on (as you would hope of a $9,500 bike) and if I was speccing my own 140mm travel trail bike, it would look a lot like this.” — Jack Luke, Bike Radar

• “It comfortably tackled long and draggy and steep and techy climbs, fast and loose and tight and technical descents, confirming it has all the capabilities required to be a good all-round trail bike that can handle a wide range of trail types. The trail bike category is heating up at the moment, has Specialized done enough to ensure its Stumpjumper makes it onto your shortlist? First impressions are good, but we’ll reserve judgment until we’ve spent a lot more time on the bike on trails that we’re a bit more familiar with.” — David Arthur, Pink Bike

• “All in all, it’s impossible to say that the new Stumpy is better than the old one—it’s just different. It felt more like the 2014 Enduro 29 than its 2016 predecessor. That similarity speaks volumes about broader trends in the mountain bike market. As frames and parts get lighter, bikes continue to become more capable and aggressive, making riding that much easier.” — Aaron Gulley, Outside

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