MBA Bike Test: Specialized Fuse Expert 29
Specialized offers a host of hardtail bikes—from the XC-ready Epic hardtail to the BMX-like P.3 dirt jumper. The all-new Fuse, however, falls near the middle, with a dash of modern trail-bike technologies mixed in. First introduced in 2015, the Fuse was a playful hardtail with 27.5-inch, plus-sized tires. These mid-fat tires soon seemed to deflate in popularity, allowing us to settle for a happy medium—a 2.6-inch-wide tire size.
The new Fuse rolls on 29-inch wheels and features the newest trends in geometry. Can you guess what those might be? Well, if you said long, slack and low, you’d be right.
The wrecking crew combined its cross-country talents with its heavy-hitter trail riders to search for the limits of this modern hardtail machine.
The Fuse 29 is offered in the Expert model seen here or a Comp model that retails for just $1675. The Expert model tested sells for $2150. Both frames are constructed from M4 aluminum and feature an aggressive trail-ready geometry, meaning the head tube is now slacker, the standover height is nearly 52mm lower and the reach was lengthened by 20mm across all sizes. Additionally, the seat-tube angle was steepened to aid in climbing performance.
Specialized then added sliding dropouts to the Fuse, offering the ability to adjust chainstay length for a single-speed setup or for riders looking to snap the bike around with a lower-volume tire in the rear. A threaded bottom bracket was added to keep up with industry demand, and internal routing was used to offer a clean finish. Boost hub spacing allows for tire clearance up to 29×2.6 inches or 27.5×2.8 inches. Continuing to follow industry trends, all Fuse models are now single-chainring-specific.
The geometry might be the heart of the Fuse, but its components scream confidence when it’s time to push things to the limit. Everything on the Fuse is trail-ready—from its short 45mm stem and wide 780mm bars to its burly 2.6-inch-wide tires and 130mm-travel RockShox 35 Gold RL fork. The bike features SRAM’s NX drivetrain, keeping cost at a reasonable amount while offering a wide-range, 12-speed cassette. An oversized TranzX dropper post was added with 120mm of travel on medium frames and 150mm on large and extra-large frames. A 44mm offset fork was used to improve handling characteristics, and SRAM Level brakes were added to keep this steed under control.
Ease of setup makes the Fuse such a fun bike to ride. We adjusted our fork to 20-percent sag and made minor tweaks to our rebound to find the best setting for our weight and riding style. From then on, it was just personal preferences—from saddle position to dialing in our cockpit.
DOWN AND DIRTY
Climbing on this hardtail is no-nonsense.
Climbing: The beauty of hardtail bikes, no matter what category they might fall into, is their simplicity while climbing. The lack of moving parts or suspension bob allows riders to focus purely on charging up the trails. Our test bike excelled in a variety of climbing situations, but it’s important to keep in mind the Fuse is no cross-country race rocket. Its meatier components lend themselves more to the descents than the climbs.
The steepened seat tube angle provides a more centered weight distribution, which makes up for the short stem, and the long reach offers a roomy fit that feels similar to most modern trail bikes. During steep climbs, our bike stayed planted to the ground and managed to hold traction well since we were able to get away with pressures as low as 18–20 psi in our tires.
A long-reach, slack head tube and a low bottom bracket help the Fuse maintain speed.
The flow: Cruising the trails on a hardtail requires extra attention to line choice, especially when compared to a modern trail bike. We’ve almost become accustomed to barreling straight down the trails without a second thought thanks to our long-travel 29ers that soak up anything in front of them. The Fuse, on the other hand, requires some finesse and pre-planning to be ridden at its full potential.
On flow trails, the Fuse is lightning fast. It pops into the air with ease and rails corners like nobody’s business. Rough trails offer a different challenge.
That said, this modern trail ripper uses its geometry and component spec to the best of its ability. We, of course, had a few tweaks we would have liked to make, but overall the new Fuse is a serious trail weapon.
The Fuse begs to be ridden aggressively.
MODS AND UPGRADES
Before we dive too deep into our list of upgrades, it is important that you remember that the Fuse retails for $2150. The Expert model is more than capable of shredding the trails, but with its entry-level price point, there’s also plenty of room for customization.
The first change we would make is upgrading the brakes to something more powerful. The SRAM Level T brakes worked fine for cruising speeds but our testers would have liked more confidence to charge harder. The next thing we would have liked to see is a longer dropper post on the medium frame. All of our testers on that model could have easily utilized the 150mm post that comes standard on the large and extra-large models.
Last, our bike lacked a chainstay guard, causing our bike to make terrible chain slapping noises down the trail. This was likely a mistake, as the photos of the bike online show a rubberized guard. But, if your bike doesn’t come with added protection, we highly advise making or purchasing your own.
The bottom line here is that the Fuse is an entry-level shredder built for hardtail riders who aren’t into cross-country racing. It’s a true trail bike and sports all the necessary design elements and components to be labeled as such. The ideal rider for the Fuse is one who wants a shred-worthy bike and is on a tight budget, or a rider looking to add a fun and versatile bike to his quiver that could be used to cruise around with his kids while his top-dollar machine is reserved for race day. Or, make it a single-speed and use it as a training tool for fitness. You could even go thrash it during the winter season since its lack of pivots will make it more resistant to mud. No matter how you plan to ride your Fuse, we’re sure you’ll have just as much fun aboard it as our test crew did. www.specialized.com
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