Part 1: Specialized stumpjumper FSR vs Niner RIP9 vs Pivot Mach 429 by Donn O

by FatBob on August 3, 2009

First, I will say that I am partial to Specialized because of my first two mountain bikes, a Hardrock and a Stumpjumper which got me hooked on the sport years ago.

The Specialized Comp 29 does have impressive styling, fit, and finish, it looks so good, and I could not wait to blast down the trail on it. That feeling lasted for almost 100 yards, then I jammed a pedal hard into the ground on the very first turn and I did it again a couple hundred feet later, two places I have never hit before. This bike is such a big disappointment I expected much more from the big S. The Comp 29 has a real serious ground clearance problem! We tried fixing it by using a longer 120 fork on the front but that destroyed the handling.

Donn on "Ronny's Rock" Named after the first person to take a header on the rock.

Donn on "Ronny's Rock" Named after the first person to take a header on the rock.

The best thing Specialized could do is license some modern suspension technology and start over with this bike.

We did extensive video analysis of the Specialized rear suspension in action while climbing our steep test hill and I believe you could use the rear suspension for a pogo stick. Surprisingly the video showed that Front Reba fork had noticeably less bob than the plush Fox forks.

The Comp 29 rear suspension seemed to suck the strength right out of my legs; I had to turn ProPedal on just to keep up with the test group. I did manage to get some speed out of it with ProPedal on and by using special riding techniques I.E. coasting through the corners with the pedals level to prevent pedal hits but why bother. Bike testing sometimes is a hard job I really had to force myself to complete the 7-mile test lap hating the power-sucking, pedal hitting spongy ride all the way.

Fat Bob the boss said I had to ride it some more so I thought I would pull a fast one and trick my sixer hardtail-riding friend into riding the Comp 29 for a fast lap on our local test trail with me setting the pace on my sixer. Do not let anyone tell you niners are slow they are not. I tried to drop him and he stuck right with me all the while he was telling me how much he liked the bike (compared to his hardtail sixer).

I was intrigued by the change in performance and decided I needed to ride another test lap to see for myself. The spongy feel was gone and the bike rode more like the Pivot I was quite surprised. I stopped to examine the bike and found that Fat Bob had over pressurized the rear shock so that it had hardly any sag – less that 1/8”. I believe I found the secret to make this bike perform, just set a tiny amount of sag, this gives you maximum ride height which helps to improve badly needed ground clearance. I also think having your sag set near the top of the shock travel can help limit bob because the shock can basically only compress I.E. travel in one direction instead of both directions which a properly sagged shock can travel. If you are stuck with one of these bikes this non-factory setup tip might help you to maximize your ground clearance and cut the bob to a more reasonable level.

This trail was relativity smooth but with the pumped up rear shock my friend still had two pedal hits and I left a bunch of big ring metal on one of our play boulders in a place I have never hit before.

Next, we took the bike over to San Lee Park’s – Jonesboro Fault Trail our favorite rocky torture trail. Ground clearance was still a big issue here even with the shock pumped up. I practiced pedal timing and tried to keep the cranks horizontal in the turns but I still had ten crank arm / pedal hits and three chain ring hits in six miles, oh; by the way, the R.I.P. 9 had zero hits on this same trail!

The slack head angle and low bottom bracket of the Specialized seems to work really well on steep bermed out single track like warriors creek in Wilkesborough NC

The slack head angle and low bottom bracket of the Specialized seems to work really well on steep bermed out single track like warriors creek in Wilkesborough NC

I then set the rear shock up for 3/8” sag and ran another lap I managed only eight pedal hits this time thru careful crank timing but two of these were very hard body jarring hits. Besides having to time your pedal for rocks and roots we have a couple sections of trail that are sloped side to side and you had to be very careful of your uphill side pedal. On this lap I was more aggressive thru the boulder garden and smacked the chain rings four times.

Fat Bob lets me test his bikes but he does get upset when I destroy SLX crank sets.

Overall, the Comp 29 was the lightest bike in the test group and it felt fast and handled good at high speed but it felt awkward in the slow tight turny stuff. The big negative is the rear suspension, which when set for the proper amount of sag it is soft, and mushy with lots of bob. This bike definitely needs ProPedal to tame the bob but the rear shock location puts the control lever out of reach while riding.

The deal killer in my opinion is the ground clearance issue / unanticipated pedal hits can put you down hard so why take the risk when there are better bikes out there.

The Specialized finished last in my shootout test and believe me I tested it a lot because no one else wanted to ride it. The Comp 29 grew on me after extensive use mainly because I figured out how to cheat the suspension and by modifying my riding techniques.

I did find one trail The Specialized really worked on – Warriors Creek Wilkesboro NC. This trail is a rollercoaster in the woods; it was cut with a mini Ditch Witch bulldozer and it incorporates tons of high speed banked turns. The slack head angle on this bike allowed you to carve these turns and the smooth trail surface helped to minimize pedal hits.

Suspension bob hurt me on the big climbs even though I had the Fox set to the dampened position. I eventually had to turn on the rear shock lockout to reel in my fast riding partner which of course defeats the purpose of having a full suspension bike in the first place. So if you ride really smooth trails the Specialized might work for you but it is going to need a suspension redesign to compete with the other brands in this test.