Test: Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper HT Disc

While Specialized’s reigning cross-country world champion, Christoph Sauser, did the deed on the popular dual-suspension S-Works Epic, Specialized has not forgotten about the hardtail holdouts. The 2009 Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper HT Disc is made for this small but enthusiastic group who want nothing to do with rear suspension.

Many bikes fall into a gray area of usage. The Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper HT Disc (we’ll call it the SW HT for the rest of the test) is not one of them. This bike is made for cross-country racing. Period. End of story.

The SW HT’s frame, available in five sizes, is Specialized’s own blend of carbon fiber called FACT 10M carbon. The SW HT’s frame appears to have been sculpted rather than molded. It is a thing of beauty that almost obsoletes the notion of frame tubes, because every tube on this frame morphs into the next. The top tube to seat stays is one solid arch. The seat tube and downtube blend together at the massive bottom-bracket shell. In a word: stunning.

The frame uses forged disc dropouts with a replaceable derailleur hanger. The head tube accepts a 1-1/8-inch cartridge bearing on top and a 1.5-inch cartridge at the bottom. An integrated, oversize bottom bracket was designed together with Specialized’s S-Works oversized carbon crankset.

Specialized has decked out the SW HT with their own crank, fork, wheels, saddle, grips, waterbottle cage, handlebar, hubs, seatpost, tires, quick-release skewers and chainstay guard. The only companies allowed to join the fun were Shimano for the derailleurs, shifters and cassette; Syntace for the stem; and Avid for the brakes. And even Avid had to agree to making a special version of their Ultimate SL Mag brakes with alloy-backed organic brake pads, a magnesium caliper and titanium hardware before they were invited to join the team. To say Specialized product managers are a picky bunch is an understatement.

Something important to note is that while some bike companies develop components to their own proprietary standards (leaving you no way to experiment with other components or use components you already own), Specialized went to great lengths to make sure aftermarket components will fit this frame. If you purchase an SW HT frame, chances are most of your favorite components from your existing cross-country racer will switch over.

This is an easy bike to evaluate because the Specialized established well-defined rules of engagement. This is a weapon whose trigger should be pulled when aimed at the start of a cross-country race.

While a hardtail race bike doesn’t need a lot of setup time, the Specialized’s Future Shock S90 needs some careful setup attention to achieve its full potential. The fork, which includes Specialized’s Brain Fade technology, is not intuitive to set up. You need to carefully read the setup instructions in the owner’s manual or visit the Specialized website. Following their recommendations will get you close to the ideal setting from the get go.

Moving out: The SW HT puts you in a full-race position. Your back will be close to flat as you stretch out in the long cockpit. This position is not for comfort. It is for staying low and cheating the wind. The bar has a subtle bend, and the lack of suspension lockout levers cleans up the cockpit considerably. The saddle is firm without being a torture device. Standover height is a bit intimidating, and the top tube feels high.

Hammering: The SW HT feels lighter than its 20 pounds (with waterbottle cage, number plate and computer bracket attached). Take that weight and add a bottom bracket and rear stays that are so stiff a sledgehammer blow to the crankarm wouldn’t bother them, and you have a rocket ship. This bike doesn’t accelerate as much as it explodes. In the saddle or out, as long as you pick the best traction, you are going to be moving.

Cornering: The SW HT doesn’t tolerate lazy riders. It is a precision machine that takes rider input seriously. If you are used to slow, heavy trailbike steering, you will find the SW HT almost unridable. This bike does exactly as instructed and does it fast. What surprised the wrecking crew is that the SW HT held its own on fast fire road descents where race bikes can become skittish. The SW HT held its line with authority.

Climbing: Good tires, a rigid frame, ideal rider positioning and the bike’s quality drivetrain will get you up your favorite (or most hated) climb faster than you have ever ridden it before. Stay seated, pick any gear that won’t destroy your knees and power away. The Brain in the fork relieves you from the chore of choosing between locked-out and open settings, and there is no tendency to wheelie. Even out-of-saddle efforts are rewarded with a solid blast of acceleration.

Descending: The SW HT requires mad skills for descending. That is the price you have to pay for a 20-pound race bike that could win a World Cup out of the box. There is little margin for error. Apply too much brake and the wheels will lock. Move too far forward and you risk endo’ing. Hesitate and you will lose.

The wrecking crew was all over the board on the fork’s Brain Fade setting. Some ran it full force, while others preferred between four and five clicks out. Riding courses with soft or muddy terrain requires more clicks out. Still, it boils down to rider preference.
The seatpost and seat tube were a sloppy match, and a shim was added to assure that the seatpost did not suffer creep during the ride. Speaking of seat tube, we were a little surprised that setting a 30.5-inch saddle height (from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle) required running the seatpost above its limit. That is a definite no-do on a carbon frame with a carbon post. We were testing an 18-inch frame, so that saddle height should be accommodated. Our advice is to carefully work with the bike shop to make sure the frame you end up with accommodates your saddle height requirements.

The Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper HT Disc does not offer the versatility of a dual-suspension race bike like the Specialized S-Works Epic (and that would not be considered a versatile bike either). Making your buying decision even tougher is recent sightings of an S-Works Stumpjumper HT with 29-inch wheels that will probably be a 2010 model option.

So is the Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper HT Disc a great bike for you? We can see only two scenarios where it would be a logical purchase. First, if you are rich or sponsored, this bike could be your second cross-country race bike. Your first should be a dual-suspension race bike. You would then choose which bike to race based on the racecourse you are attacking and the day’s conditions. The only other reason for purchasing the S-Works Stumpjumper HT Disc is if you refuse to ride a dual-suspension bike.
If you decide to add the S-Works Stumpjumper HT Disc to your stable, one thing is for sure—you will have the most technologically advanced cross-country hardtail race bike that we have ever had the pleasure of throwing a leg over.

Price   $6600
Country of origin   Taiwan
Weight   20 pounds
Hotline   (408) 779-6229
Frame tested   18″
Bottom bracket height   12″
Chainstay length   16.6″
Top tube length   23.6″
Head tube angle   71°
Seat tube angle   73°
Standover height   30.5″
Wheelbase   42.2″
Suspension travel (front)   3.5″
Suspension travel (rear)   None
Frame material   Carbon fiber
Fork    Specialized Future Shock S90
Shock   None
Rims    Roval Controle SL
Tires    S-Works Fast Trak LK (2″)
Hubs    Roval Controle SL X/DT Swiss Aerolite (f)
Brakes    Custom Avid Ultimate SL Mag
Crankset    S-Works OS carbon crank
Handlebar    Specialized XC Carbon flat (23.5″ wide)
Shifters    Shimano XTR Rapidfire
Front derailleur   Shimano M660 SLX
Rear derailleur   Shimano XTR
Chainrings   Specialized (44/32/22)
Cassette    Shimano M970 XTR Ti (11-34)
Pedals   None (weighed with Shimano XTR)