Stumpy 29 S-EVO: Mountain man gnar

If you’re racing 40something Cat 1 DS and DH at Sea Otter, all 29ers — especially my Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 29 Carbon S-EVO — suck. They are big, hoopty admissions of terrible riding ability. Stay away.

The rest of you, keep reading …

Phone photos by Farid Tabaian, Singletrack Maps.

Quick background

I’ve switched to a 29er trail bike. So far it isn’t terrible.

Check out Week one: Stumpjumper FSR 29 Carbon S-EVO

Stumpjumper FSR 29 Carbon S-EVO

Today’s adventure

Left Hand Canyon Off Highway Vehicle Area has the gnarliest (legal) trails around Boulder. The whole place is steep, loose, rocky and violent — and conditions are different every time.

I know everyone says their trails are gnarly, but I’m telling you: I’ve ridden a few trails in my life, and LHC rates very high on the overall mountain man gnar scale. Most people ride LHC on 4x4s, motos and DH bikes — what a great place to really test a carbon 29er trail bike.

Check out Paul Bunyan riding at Left Hand Canyon.


Farid, a strong man, does it the old fashioned way. Today I pedaled up this for the first time ever.

No matter what bicycle I am on, I hike almost the entire climb. It’s just so steep, rocky and loose that it’s easier (and faster) to get off and push. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen anyone ride the entire climb feet-up. Not Jon Watt, not Von Borst, nobody. It’s that tough.

Well, today I rode most of it. I just settled in (with clips), pedaled smoothly and cleared sections I’ve never been able to ride. My fitness is decent, but the bike got tons of traction and just rolled over things more easily. Today the limiting factors were power and confidence, not traction or momentum. The difference was staggering.

A little bobble, but stoked to be pedaling here!


Negative rise stem aids hiking.

I swear I’m not some 29er zealot, but I’ve pushed a lot of bikes up a lot of hills, and the 29er is easier.


Angle of incidence.

Every time you hit a rock, there’s less of a bonk and more of a roll.

When your DH bike weighs less than 28 pounds, that helps too.


Not double black: Double red.

By now we all know 29ers plow through (or is it over?) small-to-medium chatter.

But what about big bumps and drops on a severely steep, deep, narrow and exposed trail?

The North Red Trail (aka Trail 836) is so steep, loose, rocky, ledgy and non-flowy that it’s not double black: It’s double red. Yeah, they have a double red. On this trail I highly value the Enduro’s 66.5-degree head angle and stiff FOX 36 fork.

How would the Stumpy 29’s 68-degree head angle and FOX 34 fork handle this gnarliest of gnarlies?

Just fine.

Today’s conditions were extra eroded and loose. I did not pin it DH racer style, but I got down pretty smoothly and in one piece. The 29 S-EVO carried smooth speed over the gruesome rocks, and it held better than expected in the turns. On a trail like this I’m happy to find some flow and not get hurt. I don’t think I would have ridden faster on anything less than a full DH bike (with pads and full face helmet).

This is way steeper in person.

At one point I was trying to skitter through a sweeping, rutted right filled with baby heads, foot out because it’s sketchy and I always pull my foot out there. As I felt the tightness gather in my throat, I realized, Wait a second, this isn’t sketchy. I just clipped back in and kept railing. No big deal.

The main ridge has 100s of lines, all of which are rocky, random and a complete surprise. All you can do is stay centered and ride whatever appears. Today I got going so fast I didn’t know what to do. It was nuts: Like I wasn’t afraid, I just didn’t know what to do with the speed. Good thing I caught a guy on a KTM, and he slowed me down.

I’m still missing some of the subtle line changes. I need to be less subtle.

I feel like I am leaving a lot of speed and flow on the table. I honestly don’t know how to ride this bike to its potential. Yet.

Equipment notes

• Dude, these XTR Trail brakes are incredible. I used them a LOT today, and they always had the same feel and power. This builds confidence, which makes me think I should pin it harder.

• For trail riding I’ve been running the 34’s low speed compression and the RP23’s ProPedal at their middle settings. This gives a somewhat plush but very controlled ride. For part of the descent and traverse I tried both wide open. The bike felt wallowy, and I went back to middle/middle. I’m getting about 90% of travel front and rear, which saves some room for mistakes.

• The 60mm Specialized Pro Set stem at -10 degrees feels really good for general action, but something shorter and taller would help me stay balanced and confident on the ultra steeps. I plan to try a Shimano PRO 50mm.

• In this dust, sand and gravel, the 2.3 Butcher front tire hooked awesomely. The 2.3 Ground Control rear was out of its depth, but it got the job done. For dedicated gnar, a pair of 2.3 Butchers seems ideal. (That’s what I run on the Enduro out here.) 2.3 x 29 Butchers won’t be publicly available until later this year. I need to learn this one but keep it fresh for Sea Otter.

In all, today I climbed way faster/easier/better than ever, and I descended at least as well (or maybe better?) than on the Enduro.

29ers suck.


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17 replies
  1. Josh130 says:

    Hey, Lee. I recently tried my 29er on tunnel trail in Santa Barbara and was really happy with the performance. Only down side is that I keep getting hit by the taller wheel when I am really far back, and it isn’t in a comfortable place! Have you noticed this, and do you have any advice for avoiding the thing?

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Josh, great point!

    That is a real issue with 29ers. The big wheel reduces the size of your usable cockpit.

    It’s analogous to riding a 20″ then getting on a DJ hardtail. You quickly realize how big that rear wheel is.

    No great advice other than to pin it and use your entire cockpit. Maybe freeze some, uh, genetic material in case of mishap.

    Tunnel Trail is rad. Talk about big rocks (and a big climb).

  3. Nath says:

    How about some back-to-back timed runs, 29er versus the Enduro? Would be great to truly see what you are faster on, not just by feel.


  4. leelikesbikes says:

    >> How about some back-to-back timed runs, 29er versus the Enduro? Would be great to truly see what you are faster on, not just by feel.

    Awesome idea.

    I haven’t written about this yet, but since the Stumpy 29 is so capable, I’ve pushed the Enduro even farther DH with a fresh RP23 shock and a VAN 36 coil fork. I only have one ride on the new setup, but the improved front end traction is noticeable.

    Bikes are rad!

  5. Jeff says:

    You need to use that climbing picture in your next book or handout or slide show. I have never seen anyone that far forward while climbing! You can tell how steep it is which great. Stem almost touching belly button. Elbows high and back, back straight. Light hands I am guessing. Legs strong but smooth and controlled so you still have traction. Like a hundred things going on there.

    P.S. I demoed a HT S-Works Stumpy 29 here in FL and I was truly shocked by the difference and smoothness. Plus it was crazy light compared to my 08 FSR. Trying different bikes is rad!


  6. BrianS says:

    I wish Specialized would test the waters with 650b tires so I could see what benefits or drawbacks it could bring to a bike like the Enduro. I like riding my 29er hardtail more these days which makes me wonder what that middle size would be like.

    The ground control is a good fun tire in the rear. I find it is a little more sensitive to body position. A little too far forward and it likes to break free but in the sweet spot it climbs good.

  7. leelikesbikes says:

    I’ve been thinking a 650B Enduro (or similar) would be inevitable.

    Agree on the Ground Control. I think they found a nice balance of speed and traction for a quickish trail tire. The Butcher — that thing is all business.

  8. max says:

    After reading these posts and spending a lot of fun time lately on my 29er rigid, I have been toying with the idea of 650being my Mojo HD.
    Tire options right now are super limited which is the only thing holding me back.
    I think the big hoops allow you to see the trail in a whole different way. The rollability and stability they give you is noticeable.

  9. BrianS says:

    Have you tried the Purgatory 29×2.2 in the rear paired up with the Butcher 29×2.3? it may roll a little slower than the Ground Control but I think it is a little more consistent at times.

    The Purgatory being true to size should end up being the same size as the Butcher. 🙂

  10. Louis says:

    Words that come to mind when I see that bike: Envy, Lust, Desire. I won’t be able to afford a beauty like that for the next who knows how long,(just had my second kid) but you’ve doubled my resolve to increase my skill/fitness base so that i can beat one of those things should I see it in the wild. If you can’t join them, beat them!
    seriously, that thing looks like more fun than an Ironman suit.

  11. Bill Jacoby says:

    Hi Lee: I think I’m going to buy a Stumpjumper FSR 29 EVO to replace my venerable 5-inch trail bike. My gravity dropper has changed my riding style, I have become much more aggressive. Hoping this new bike will stand up to 240 lbs landing on it regularly.

    Are you the guy who’s S.O; is Carol M.? If so, please send her my regards from here in Columbia, MO. Also, thanks for the e-mail about the Ceran St Vrain trail (one of my favorites since the 80’s). Sorry I didn’t respond. Thanks,

    Bill (fellow bike zealot)

  12. James says:

    I love the back and forth on the whole wheel size thing so here’s my 2 cents. I am going back to a 26er after a Santa Cruz bikes demo day here in Texas. One of my riding buddies and I rode the Tallboy and the Blur TRc so we could switch back and forth and try the same sections on each bike. I was fully expecting the 29er to show a noticeable difference in the Baby Heads and flatter rolling single track sections. I was amazed to find I just couldn’t see any noticable improvement and I loved the light flickable feel of the smaller wheel, especially climbing steep rocky ledges. I was immediately comfortable jumping and popping off rocks which I have really been struggling with on my 29er. Who knows, I might even learn to manual some day even though I don’t have the Manual Gene. My friend is a confirmed 29er rider and he was going just as fast on the Blur when we traded bikes. The Blur has some fairly unique geometry for a 5″ travel bike, so I am thinking frame geometry is more important than wheel size. Or, it is just one man’s pleasure is another man’s poison. FYI, I am an old guy (56),so 26er’s aren’t just for kids.

  13. Greg says:

    My first ride on a set of big wheels blew my mind with the
    traction that they have and that was almost 4 years ago and
    never looked back. If i ever start yaking my new ride for
    granted I just yake out my old little bike for a ride and
    remember how much I enjoy my niner. At times its almost like
    cheating as easy as they roll over stuff but when I’m
    racing i’ll take every advantage I can get. Nice to see a
    openminded review about them.

    How long before you start a 29er kung fu skills clinic.

  14. Daniel S says:

    Dang… after reading this… I’m almost sold, on buying the “stumpy fsr 29 expert evo” (long name by the way), still I need to test it first, but now I’m really eager to do it so. (and hoping my wallet can stand the cost…)

    by the way, great Info

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