By Eric McKeegan and Jon Pratt. Photos by Justin Steiner.
An overview of the bikes
Both of these EVOs are built with the same vision: take a standard Stumpjumper FSR, slacken the head tube angle from 68 to 67 degrees, add a few more millimeters of travel, widen the rims, bolt on a chainguide, slide in a dropper post, and let ’er rip.
The largest difference, other than wheel size, between these siblings is the material used for the front triangle. The 26-inch bike gets the carbon treatment while the 29er sports hydroformed aluminum. You’ll find a 150mm Fox Float RL on the 26-inch bike and a 140mm RockShox Revelation RL on its big-wheeled brother.
Both bikes use Kashima-coated Fox RP23 Adaptive Logic shocks with Specialized’s proprietary Autosag adjustment. Setting up the RP23 with Autosag is a breeze—just pump it up to 20-30psi over your body weight, sit on the bike, hit a release valve, and go. The parts specs are spot-on for aggressive trail bikes: 2×10 drivetrains with bashguards, Formula brakes with big rotors, wide bars, short stems, and ride-all-day, comfortable saddles.
Jon’s ride impressions
Riding on the East coast, through its rocky, technical terrain, I found the carbon 26-inch EVO to be much more playful and less apt to suffer from pedal strike, a side-effect of a low bottom bracket combined with the longer wheelbase of the 29er. The front and rear stiffness coupled with a beefy 2.3 front tire felt at home hitting the rock gardens and launching off anything I encountered. The 29er flattened out the trail features and hid some of the liveliness of the ride for me.
It was a much different story in Sedona, Arizona. The 29er seemed in its element, while the 26er always left me wanting more. During our time in the desert, we swapped the 29er’s Revelation for a Fox 34 and immediately noticed an improvement through technical terrain. One of the great trails in Sedona, Hangover, was a joy on the 29er with the upgraded fork and some flat pedals. It glided over the trail features, and pointing the 29er EVO down hill left me feeling extremely confident due to its low and slack geometry.
The slack angles along with the all-mountain component package allowed me to ride both of these bikes through technical terrain at speeds that made the stock 32mm-stanchion forks feel out of their element. I don’t like feeling a fork flex when I plunge into a rock garden at full speed. In my opinion, these bikes could truly live up to their EVO ethos with burlier forks—Fox 34s come to mind as a worthy fork replacement for both bikes. I would gladly trade the RP23’s Autosag adjustment for forks with more muscle.
Eric’s ride impressions
The 26” bike happily surprised me. Not much to complain about really with a 26-lb. trail bike that is capable of handling short spins on local trails or all-day backcountry excursions without fuss. The 29er is pretty similar, but its strengths are almost the opposite of the 26-inch bike. The 29er is one of the most unflappable trail bikes I’ve ridden, but it needs to be ridden very aggressively to get it moving in tight singletrack. I frequently utilized the Command Post’s intermediate drop position to help muster the body English demanded by the long wheelbase, long chainstays and slack head angle.
I didn’t find either bike to feel terribly efficient when climbing or trying to put the power down on flatter sections of trail. Fox changed the way the ProPedal switch works this year. This new RP23 seems more geared to XC racing than trail riding. And even with the platform fully engaged, both bikes could get pretty bouncy under power. Maybe non-platform-dependent multi-link bikes have spoiled me. The high-end, non-EVO Stumpjumper FSR bikes have a Brain-equipped rear shock, and I can see why.
Those fancy and light Formula brakes are loud; swapping to some Brake Authority pads quieted things down. The bashguard on the 29er was barely large enough to cover the big ring; a few more millimeters might have prevented some of the bent teeth I experienced. Otherwise, the high-end parts kit worked as it should, with precision and very little fuss.
I never noticed any difference in stiffness between the two, except with the forks: the 29er’s 140mm Revelation always felt like the extended XC chassis it is. That’s why I was happy to install a Fox 34 that showed up just in time for a trip to Sedona. Out west in the rocks, when things got into the warp-speed zone on really chunky terrain, the 26er got a bit more “busy” feeling and needed much more rider input to keep the rubber side down. With the stock fork in place, the 29er had a similar feeling, but the longer wheelbase kept things in line pretty well. After I installed the Fox 34, braking and accurate line choice almost became afterthoughts; more speed always felt better in wide-open terrain. With 34mm forks coming soon for 26-inch wheels, a fork upgrade may be the hot ticket for the FSR EVO in both wheel sizes. Like Jon, I’d trade the Autosag shock to get a 34mm fork.
When it came to slower-speed technical terrain I preferred the 26-inch bike, although I had a hard time keeping the front down on steep climbs. Switchbacks were not an issue, up or down, with either bike. The 29er was so stable I could trackstand and select a new line when I needed to navigate tight uphill turns. However, the 29er needed a lot more effort to bunny hop, and the long wheelbase made it harder to get up and over obstacles without the assistance of a good bit of muscle, or speed.
Jon’s final thoughts
Almost everything on these bikes is perfect. Almost. As mentioned several times throughout our review, we kept coming back to the fork— 32mm stanchions just don’t cut it on these bikes.
That said, I loved the 26-inch Stumpy EVO on the trail systems I regularly ride. If you dig hitting stunts, hucking rocks, and general trail mayhem, I could make an argument for the 26er with a beefed-up front end. Unfortunately, I don’t think you should need to change anything on a bike that retails for $5,800. The 29er, with a Fox 34 leading the way, would be a fantastic bike for the 29er rider who wants a little more meat with their potatoes.
Eric’s final thoughts
I’m pretty torn about these bikes; they may be a bit too “tweener” for my tastes. Neither bike is terribly efficient on mild XC terrain, and on hairy descents bigger bikes inspire more confidence. But I’m also more of a horses-for-courses rider than a one-bike-to-rule-them-all type.
So which one is for you? If you are an XC rider looking for a bike to step up your game on big terrain, the 29er EVO is a confidence-inspiring beast, and the 26-inch bike seems ideally suited for riders with a gravity background who are looking to go long, rather than big. Neither won my heart, but both are amazing machines that really showcase the capabilities of the modern trail bike. I spent a lot of time thinking about the rear of the 26er grafted onto the front end of the 29er. Maybe the 650B rumors are good news for me?
Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon EVO
Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Expert EVO 29