A fast, fun and efficient alloy hardtail, but best of all it doesn't shake the life out of you on rougher trails
The new Specialized Fuse Expert 29 lends a lightweight alloy frame with 29in wheels and a 130mm fork. Ther most aggro trail hardtail.
Specialized Fuse Expert 29 review
Beneath the raw finish, the M4 aluminium frame is simply brimming with tech. The slender seat stays have been manipulated to offer a more compliant ride, and combined with the curved seat tube that allows a little flex, the Fuse frame is designed for increased comfort in or out of the saddle.
Our favourite feature though, is the adjustable dropouts. By sliding the 12mm rear axle forward or back you have the choice of a super short 420mm rear end for increased agility, and up to 435mm for a more stable ride. It’s a sleek design where integrated chain tugs in the compact dropouts prevent the hub from moving under power. Removing the rear wheel is as straightforward as any other 148x12mm design, but best of all, it only takes a few minutes to adjust the chainstay length, so it’s easy to experiment with different settings out on the trail.
To achieve the necessary clearance for the 2.6in tyres, while retaining that super short 420mm chain stay position, Specialized use an elegant, elevated chain stay design. It runs perilously close to the upper run of chain though, but thanks to the rubber chain stay protector and impressively resilient ride the bike is rattle free.
Cutting edge as Specialized’s frame tech is, it has been more conservative with the geometry of the Fuse. At 66.3° the head angle isn’t particularly slack for a modern trail hardtail and with a 313mm BB it’s 10mm higher than it needs to be. Granted, it’s nothing like as high as on a Norco Torrent S2, but the Specialized is also over 20mm shorter.
We’ve long been convinced that 130mm travel is optimum on a trail hardtail as it limits large variations in the dynamic geometry when cornering hard. So on the face of it Specilalzed has totally nailed the fork spec on the Fuse Expert 29 with the 130mm RockShox 35 Gold suspension fork. Not so fast.
Because the Fuse has a relatively short headtube, even with stem at full height, we felt too over the front of the bike. This forced us to run the fork higher in its travel to compensate, which meant we had to forgo the final 20mm of travel. Thankfully, the larger volume negative spring meant that the fork still felt supple with plenty of control.
Specialized it one of only a handful of brands that takes advantage of RockShox’s the Torque Cap compatibility, fitting bigger 28mm end caps to the front hub for increased stiffness and steering precision. And because the hub is now a perfect fit in the cupped fork dropouts, you get the added benefit of making it much easier to locate the 15mm thru-axle when fitting the front wheel.
We mentioned earlier that the bar height on the Fuse was a tad low due to the stubby headtube, but there’s no faulting the quality of the components. The 780mm handlebar had a good profile and the saddle is well padded without being too soft, so it offers great support. Even the under-bar remote for the TranzX 150mm dropper post felt great.
After playing around with the adjustable dropouts we settled on a slightly shorter set up, to help take some weight off the fork and combat the low front end. And that’s the real beauty of this design, it gives you options, including single-speed conversion.
With the shorter rear end the Fuse felt more balanced on the steeps and when cranked over in turns, even if it always felt like a slight compromise. Switching to Maxxis Assegai 2.5in tyres lowered the BB a hair, and while the softer compound rubber robbed the Fuse of some pace, it was still easier to accelerate and more playful than the Norco, because there’s just no getting around the that 2kg weight difference.
The Fuse Expert 29 is a fast, fun and efficient alloy hardtail, but best of all it doesn't shake the life out of you on rougher trails. But rather than simply making up the numbers in the trail hardtail category, Specialized could tweak them and lead the way. With a slacker head angle, lower BB height and extra length in the front end, the Fuse would have the attitude to match the ride quality of its superbly engineered frame. Maybe Specialized needs to roll out a Fuse Evo, just like it did with the Stumpy.