Specialized Stumpjumper 2016 and SWorks Camber Carbon
An uptight singletrack slasher or general duty trail machine, the decision to choose between the Specialized Stumpjumper or Camber for many people is an easy one. They’ll go for more travel every day of the week. But is it really that simple?
It was the Camber that opened our eyes to twenty nine inch wheel bikes. That’s a long time ago now. Since that time enduro has become a sport, evolving from its non-competitive early life into a fully-fledged, fully hyped global discipline. It’s the type of riding everyone does – so goes the talk – yet worldwide acceptance of such a claim often forgets that different places present very inconsistent challenges. In other words we still need Stumpy’s and Camber style bikes.
Enduro of ten or more years ago was all about the trail riding (you could argue that trail and enduro are the same thing) and the Specilaized Enduro back then sported around 120mm travel. That bike is now the Camber. Well kind of. Next to it is the Specialized Stumpjumper, at 135mm travel. Our location, Graeagle, the other side of the mountain from Downieville, the place once terrorised by Mark Weir, and then 160mm travel territory. Surely this was no place to launch tiddlers such as the Stumpy and Camber?
2016 STUMPJUMPER EXPERT 29
We had climbed up through jagged rock, skirted glacial lakes, the air thin, the views deep of forest, swarming of trail. Heavily we tipped over the summit of Mt Elwell before discharging all the bullets in a forty-minute firecracker descent back to town.
This was my first ride in anger on the new Specialized Stumpjumper, fleeing the chasing pack of Specialized’s fast and loose bosses. The previous Stumpy was one of our all time favourite bikes. It had just the right travel with just the right angles for tearing around the woods. This new model is only a small departure from that bike most notably in the shorter chainstays designed to get into corners quicker. I was sceptical of the move but as it turns out the bike has retained its soul.
Scared that the weight placement on the bike would have been affected and grip up front compromised by the move in weight bias rearwards proved to be unfounded as both 29 and 650 offer well-balanced ride characteristics.
Component wise the Specialized Stumpjumper certainly needs the Pike rather than the Revelation to get it through stuff and offers a fair more amount of rigidity to the system. Specialized’s revamped Command post is now a dream to use and a big improvement over the former version. Rims are wider, bars are wider but the stem will still be too long for many on the larger bikes.
SWAT caused quite a stir on the website when we first dropped the story over a month ago. People complained of flex, of it being a gimmick. The reality is that it’s a really practical common sense solution to carrying your junk especially when paired with the SWAT bib shorts to hold water and food. Motorcyclists have adapted to having petrol in their frame tubes I’m sure cyclists will adapt to this access to previously unoccupied space in the downtube.
First impressions of the new Stumpjumper are positive, its still the bike for caning everywhere, offering good angles and ample suspension. Most importantly it’s a bike that can be hoofed into position in an instant. The Camber, even in Sworks spec’ would have to be a hell of a bike.
SWORKS CAMBER CARBON 29
It’s a fine figure of a bike there is no doubt but its only when you climb on board do you begin to understand what this new Camber is all about. It’s the poise, the stiffness, you instantly feel the life in the bike and want to head out onto the trails immediately.
Climbing out of Graegle lodge, the ascent to Mill’s Peak is done efficiently and relatively painlessly. The Camber features a pretty skinny Fox can but is backed up by Brain on the rear which is said to kick in for the climbing. It did and the stability of the bike was impressive in this respect second-guessing your every move.
From Mill’s Peak the three hundred and sixty degree view is stunning. There is no sign of civilisation from here just rock, trees and our guy that’s manning the forestry watch tower. He lives up here on a ten days on ten days off schedule. It must be lonely and it has to be magic – and I’m thinking its 3000ft to the base of the hill so let’s not fuck around.
The trail argues its way through a slow twisted start, loaded with sharp rocks and awkward angles. Trying to avoid the edges, searching for flow I’m trying to pick up the bike and get out of trouble except there’s a momentary delay as the Fox communicates to the Brain. It’s not instantaneous and takes some getting used to on the slower speed terrain. We transfer rapidly from Sierra County back in to Plumas County, the pace increases and the trail smoothes out a touch.
The earthier, rootier terrain is now much more to the Camber’s liking, the higher speed means that pick and place is an easier affair as this Specialized now begins to dance as I get into tune with its suspension characteristic. Its slowly becoming a bit of a threesome with me, Fox and Brian….sorry Brain.
Mills Peak trail is an outstanding example of low impact trail building, there’s no surfacing here, just earthy arcs and high speed tree dodging interspersed with some short sharp power pedalling to keep momentum. It has the Camber’s name ALL over it. And this is quite different to what I had planned for in this mountainous terrain. Bringing an Enduro would have overbiked it massively. The Camber certainly has slasher angles to it and the corner poise is impressive from the main Camber chassis, high speed descending on this bike a total riot.
the reality is too much flex when ninety odd kilos starts leaning heavily into it mid turn
It too has SWAT and shares a similar front triangle to the Specialized Stumpjumper. Except it’s arguably a better looking bike. Component wise we were let loose with XTR braking, Sram XX1 shifting and Specialized’s own cranks. It makes for an incredibly direct drive. Up front the Rockshox RS-129 fork looks suitably up for action, and indeed it has good damping integrity, but the reality is too much flex when ninety odd kilos starts leaning heavily into it mid turn.
What about the rear damper then? Well as soon as you mention Fox/Specialized remote Position-Sensitive Mini Brain, AUTOSAG, Spike Valve, Brain Fade adjust I-Valve, Kashima coating. 205x53mm my head certainly does tune out. It’s a tricky beast to tune and one I certainly need more time on as when I rode the bike in 650B configuration the feeling was much different to what I experienced on the 29” bike. I’d like to ride both bikes back to back on similar surfaces to draw any conclusion that that facet of the bikes.
Stumpy or Camber? Tricky. 650 or 29”? Easy.
Three monster trails with contrasting surfaces on various bikes and different wheel sizes. All ridden at pace, all ending with a big smile, they’d all be amazing to live with.
Of course there are some points of bother, I sensed a degree of flex in the 29” Stumpy which I’d like to explore further, at the same time the Camber’s RS-129 fork was underachieving. I’d like to ride the Camber with a Pike but without Brian interfering and I’d simply like to ride the Stumpy more. The reality is that they are both powerhouses of UK trail riding for definite and you cannot say one is better based on….what…15mm more travel? Yes 135mm plays a slightly different game to 120mm but its just different, not better. And so close to call. The sensation is of the Camber being quicker, indeed that’s the Specialized spin on all of this, but again they both need a clock putting on them to be sure.
In terms of wheel size I wouldn’t waste my time on 650 for this amount of travel but then I’ve wasted my breathe on this line so many times I ain’t going to dwell on it. Except for this. It has been said 650 is for fun and 29 for speed. In the uk for much of the year 650 will require more crank spinning and 29 will offer more grip. When you engage speed into the equation a 29 will actually be more fun in more typical uk conditions simply because there is the momentum to enable you pick and place the bike as a 650 searches for grip and speed that only the 29 can find. To say 650 is more than 29 is a gross oversimplification.
Anyhow, why the hell are we riding shorter travel bikes? All I can say is go to Graeagle and find out. Many riders now fully believe they need a 160mm enduro because of the talk that takes place. Yet only this morning Mike the editor was telling me about his fishing trip yesterday. “Its not about the size its about the chase” he said reflecting on his day going after the little brown trout and not the big salmon monsters I had envisaged he might have been chasing. Many riders all too often go for the size thing these days, and that’s fine but on some of the finest riding on the planet that we were treated to out in the high Sierras, bikes such as the Stumpjumper and Camber would be catching such monsters for breakfast.