If you’re going to launch the ‘ultimate trail bike’, you’d better launch it in a place with the trails to back it up. For that very reason, we were headed to Aínsa, Spain for the sole purpose of checking out the latest Specialized Stumpjumper. More than just a few geometry tweaks and changes to the spec, this new Stumpjumper represented a complete platform change with a lot of improvements. Most notably, the new Sidearm frame has a completely new look with an offset rear shock design and additional frame strut. Combined with advancements in suspension and frame tech, this could be the best Stumpjumper yet – so we hit the trails in Spain to find out.
Technically, Aínsa is the name of the ancient stone village which sits at the foot of the Pyrenees in Huesca, Aragón. It’s a bit of a trek to get here from Barcelona, but the drive is worth it. Also known as Zona Zero, the area is dense with trails – most of which are between 100 and 1000 years old. From trails that were originally cut to join adjacent villages to trails that were created during the 100 Years’ War, trails that were built to make it easy for villagers to easily get from one place to another over great distances, also make mountain bike trails. But over time, nature reclaimed most of these trails leaving only records in ancient maps and farmers’ lore.
Fast forward to 2003, and a small group of 3-4 volunteers including Jorge Ruiz de Eguilaz started trying to uncover all of these ancient trails. As Jorge put it, initially, they were doing it just for fun out of their love for trails. But as they uncovered more and more trails, they realized that mountain bike tourism could be a huge benefit for the sleepy little town. While Aínsa relies mostly on tourism for its economy, that is mostly limited to the summer months whereas thanks to the topography and soil, you can ride here pretty much year ’round. Over the next 15 years with the help of many volunteers and local businesses like Cerveza Rondadora, Aínsa is now home to over 1200km of MTB tracks, of which 40% are singletrack. With a solid mix of everything, including some genuine EWS tracks, Zona Zero turns out to be the perfect place to launch a trail bike.
Specialized Stumpjumper Expert 29
Ready to explore the Spanish country side, I showed up to a medium Stumpjumper Expert 29 with my name on it. Checking in at 150/140mm travel front and rear, the Stumpy was fitted with wide 29 x 2.6″ Butcher and Purgatory tires, both in burly Grid casings.
Even though the first day was mostly just the shake down ride to prepare for the big ride, some things were quickly apparent. Aínsa is down in a valley, which means most of the trails will have a lot of climbing to get to the good stuff. Right off the bat, the Stumpjumper and I got along very well on the climbs. The medium has a half degree steeper seat tube angle than the previous model which doesn’t sound like much, but between that and the rest of the geo I felt very comfortable.
Long travel 29ers and longer dropper posts don’t always work for me – which is why I like the Stumpjumper’s Command Post IRcc so much. Not only is it a 160mm travel post, but it also has room to spare in the seat tube. I’ve also never been much of a fan of dropper seatposts with pre-determined stops, but with the 16 stops of the IRcc, it’s almost become a non-issue. More importantly, the post is an obvious improvement over previous models with easier actuation, better top out, and just better performance overall.
After relatively sunny and pleasant conditions on the first day, we woke to overcast skies and temperatures in the lower 40’s with rain threatening. As this was to be our big day, we loaded up enough gear and food to hopefully get us through the full 26 mile loop. The long, gradual climb to the highest point on the ride warmed things up quickly, and the doubletrack provided a good opportunity to get better acquainted with the Stumpjumper’s climbing prowess. Overall, the suspension remained impressively quiet while climbing, even under hard efforts. As I said before, I really like how this bike climbs.
By the time we had reached the top, the weather front had moved in with a cold rain – just before we were set to drop in on the EWS track. But the reward was the chance to explore De Morcat – an 11th century church that was finally abandoned just 70 years ago. While the excellent trails are certainly one of the biggest reasons to ride in Aínsa, it was the addition of these trail side relics that really stood out for me. It’s also a big part of Zona Zero’s mission – not only to conserve the trails, but to conserve the history of the surrounding region.
The addition of rain to an already wet trail system made the EWS track tricky, but it wasn’t the bike that was holding me back. More like self preservation and the knowledge that we weren’t yet halfway through a very long ride. Regardless, I kept it upright and felt like the Stumpjumper kept me out of trouble a few times. The 2.6″ Butcher/Purgatory combo certainly didn’t hurt.
What we didn’t know, was that we were about to have to cross a large river. Ten times. At first everyone tried to pick the best lines and tried to keep their feet as dry as possible. But by the end, we were all drenched. This would have been great during the summer, but on an early spring day? Yeah. A little cold.
Fortunately, all we had was a paved climb between us and a chance to dry out a bit for lunch. Although, like always – after sitting around for awhile and not moving, it was hard to get going again.
But it wasn’t long until we were on the opposite ridge, the sun came came out, and everyone was smiling again. This last part of the ride was when I felt that I was really able to experience how the Stumpjumper felt while pushing it on the descent. Not only were the trails drier in this zone, but they also included a fantastic, twisty, high speed ripper down to the valley below. It was the kind of trail where you’re focused on nothing other than going as fast as possible and you would consider pedaling back up to do it again even after a long day. The kind of trail where having a stiff bike that responds precisely to your inputs is critical.
Specialized claims that the medium Stumpjumper isn’t any stiffer than the previous model, and that’s a good thing. To me, any stiffer, and the medium would be too stiff. Obviously, that’s for a 150lb rider with gear, so bigger, more aggressive riders might find differntly, but I’m glad that on this size the added frame efficiency was put into weight savings rather than making a stiffer bike. As it is, the Stumpjumper carves through corners and goes where it’s told.
Stumpjumper S-Works 27.5
For the third and final day of testing, we went to another completely different zone. Wanting to get another angle on the new Stumpjumper, this time I opted for the Stumpjumper S-Works 27.5. This bike has nearly the same travel numbers as the 29er, though it bumps up the rear travel from 140 to 150mm.
Immediately, the bike felt a bit more lively than the 29er as 27.5 bikes typically do, but there was another big difference I noticed as well. The RockShox suspension on on the 29er was perfectly adequate, but the Fox suspension on the S-works model instantly felt more plush and like it offered better small bump sensitivity. Obviously, there’s a lot of tuning that could be done to alter the ride of either model, but with two bikes set up with the same level of tuning, the Fox suspension (specifically the Fox Float DPX2 rear shock) was superior.
Otherwise, there wasn’t that big of a difference between the two. Given how well the 29er seems to climb, and how much I like the geometry (which is a rare thing for me to say for long travel 29ers), I think I would actually lean towards the Stumpy with the big wheels. That isn’t to say the 27.5 version isn’t a good bike, in fact I think it’s a great bike. It’s just that on first impressions, the Stumpjumper 29 is incredibly good. Because of that, it would be hard to deny that the S-Works Stumpjumper 29 isn’t at least in the running for the ‘ultimate trail bike.’ And if you’re looking for the ultimate trail riding vacation, certainly put Aínsa on your list. Between the trails, the scenery, the history, and the food and drink, it’s certainly a bucket list worthy destination.
If you missed our first post detailing all the new Stumpjumper tech, make sure to check that out here.