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Death Throes of the 26 and Little Stumpy

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Part 1: The Epoch of the 26" Mountain Bike (1981 to 2011)

ep·och (noun) A particular period of time marked by distinctive features, events, etc.

Once upon a time, all mountain bikes had 26" wheels. The first production mountain bike was the 1981 Specialized Stumpjumper.

The first "Stumpy" is displayed in the Smithsonian Institute. Prior to 1981 mountain bikes were expensive custom creations.

The old Stumpy looks a lot like a road bike with knobby tires and custom handlebars. But looks can be deceiving. Road bikes had, and still have, 29" wheels, often called "700c" size. The 1981 Stumpy was purposely built around 26" wheels, which made the bike compact and maneuverable. Old Stumpy was also equipped with the first generation Specialized Ground Control tires.

These knobby tires literally gave the ancient Stumpy teeth! Even today, a mountain bike is only as good as it's tires. Back in the day, the old Stumpy was killer fast on mountain trails. For the unheard of price of $750, the first production run of 125 Stumpjumpers sold-out in less than six days.

This old glossy magazine advertisement was not hyperbole. Every mountain bike sold today is a descendant of the 1981 Specialized Stumpjumper.

According to the Department of Commerce, 56% of bikes sold in the United States in 2012 were mountain bikes. A far cry from the first 125 Stumpys that first hit the market.

Today, the storied name "Stumpjumper" is bestowed on the best mountain bikes in the Specialized line.

In 1984, Specialized introduced the more affordable Rockhopper to compete with the plethora of inexpensive mountain bikes produced by companies like Trek, Giant, Schwinn and Huffy. The mountain bike wars have been raging ever since. Bicycle companies have been looking for any little edge that will get them a bigger piece of the pie.

Part 2: Death of the 26" Mountain Bike

There are people in this world that are paid a lot of money convincing us to be dissatisfied with what we have.

The perfectly serviceable car we own will not impress a sufficient number of super models. We need to get rid of the old bucket and buy a high-powered sports car to impress friends, neighbors and super models. (Note: Guy Thing)

Unless we are an Olympic record holder, we are all woefully our-of-shape and if we buy some exercise contraption we can become lean and beautiful in less than 15 minutes a day. And if we order before midnight tonight , we get a bonus offer of a wonder drink that will melt fat and make us irresistible!

If we were foolish enough to buy a 26" mountain bike, we will suffer the indignity of being out-ripped by a novice on the latest-and-greatest high-dollar 27.5"/650b machine and be forever shamed!

Here are some bicycle industry representatives talking about the demise of the 26" mountain bike. Warning, this is a not a very exciting video.


I like the mea culpa from the Giant rep for pushing bikes with 29" wheels.
Twenty-Niners hit the scene about 15 years ago. In 2012 the "Big Three", which are Specialized, Giant and Trek, phased-out high-end 26" mountain bikes in favor of the 29er. The 29ers were not the perfect solution. The 26er and the 29ers lived in harmony for a few years. Now the "obsolete" 26er is being replaced by the 27.5/650b "Tweener".

Here is a comparison of wheel sizes.

The poor small 26er looks puny and weak. Looks can be deceiving. I like the 29er for speed and stability. I like the 26er for the sheer fun of flying down a trail.

Part 3: I Like What I Like

You can still get an entry-level 26" mountain bike from the Big Three. One of the best is the Specialized Hardrock Sport Disk.

The Hardrock is a fully capable mountain bike with a light aluminum alloy frame and 24-speeds for about $600. You also get hydraulic disk brakes, nice seat and good tires for your $600. Not surprisingly, there are many mountain bikers that like this last remnant of a bygone age. The 26" Hardrock Sport sells-out as soon as a shipment hits the bike shop floor. I checked with a few mega-shops that sell Specialized bikes and there is a waiting list for 26" Hardrock Sport bikes.

Yes, bike industry reps, there is still a market for 26" mountain bikes. Why? Because nothing can rip like a 26er.


Cotic is an odd-ball British company that still sells 26" bikes. One of the most endearing qualities of ripping with a 26er is being airborne much of the time!

Santa Cruz is one of the few U.S. bike companies that still makes high-end 26ers. The Blur is a full-full suspension 26er that is still available in 2014.

Depending on components and frame materials, the MSRP for the Blur is $3,000 to $8,000.

The Blur is cool. But I have already have a full suspension 26" mountain bike. In 2013, I bought a 2012 Specialized Camber Comp with 26" wheels, which I call "Little Cam". I upgraded Little Cam into a trail terror!

Little Cam has a complete Shimano XT component group and Fox Factory suspension. Little Cam is the last 26" full suspension mountain bike made by Specialized. Little Cam is pure fun.

Santa Cruz makes a 26" hardtail that has a cult following called the Chameleon.

This bike has a great geometry and comes yellow and blue. Depending on components, this bike cost between $2,300 to $4,000. I considered buying a new Chameleon frame for $750. I could build the bike to suit me for a total of $2,500. I wanted to put in my stable a fine 26" hardtail mountain bike before they were extinct.

Part 4: What About Little Stumpy?

After thinking about my alternatives for getting a new 26" hardtail , I though, "Hey, I have a 26" hardtail mountain bike already. That bike is named Little Stumpy!" Little Stumpy was the first really good mountain bike I owned. Little Stumpy is a 2007 Specialized Stumpjumper Pro Disk that was designed for cross-country racing.

This is a factory photo of "Little Stumpy", which shows a black crank and silver front fork. Little Stumpy was actually equipped with a black fork and silver crank.

I put a bazillion miles on Little Stumpy. The bike has a great geometry and light aluminum alloy frame. However, Little Stumpy was starting to show some signs of aging. Everything on the bike worked. But I remember the bike being a bit crisper back-in-the day.

I bought Little Stumpy in 2009 as a dusty left-over from West Side Cyclery in Lakewood, Colorado. Little Stumpy was almost 3 years-old when I bought the bike brand new. I had gone to the bike shop to look for a 2010 bike. The 2010 models were just starting to hit the bike shops. I was looking for a high-end bike. The bike sales guy knew he had a live one. He rolled the odd Candy Blue Stumpjumper from the back of the shop.

Little Stumpy was originally intended for sale in Great Britain and somehow was gathering dust in Colorado bike shop. Little Stump's brakes were backwards compared to US bikes. In other words, the front brake was on the right.

I was sold!

Compared to Little Stumpy, the new 2010 bikes were more expensive and had lower grade components.

This 2010 Stumpjumper Comp had a RockShox Dart front fork with a coil spring, SR SunTour crankset, mechanical disk brakes and SRAM X4 components.

While the 2010 bike was perfectly serviceable, Little Stumpy was superior in every way, and less-expensive to boot. I have noticed that good bikes are getting more expensive every year. To hold a bike at a certain price point, the quality of the components tend to drop from year-to-year. I paid $1,150 for Little Stumpy, which was a giveaway price that included a $500 discount.

Today, really good bikes are expensive. Here is a photo of the 2014 version of Little Stumpy.

This bike is a 29" Specialized Stumpjumper Comp. The quality of the components on this new bike are comparable to those on Little Stumpy. I have demoed this bike and it fast! But the 2014 Stumpy is tamer and more tidy than Little Stumpy. This new 2014 bike also costs $2700!

Whenever I take Little Stumpy in for any type of service, the bike techs often ask, "Where did you get this bike?" Little Stumpy is a rare bike.

Part 5: Updating Little Stumpy - Decisions, Decisions and More Decisions

Little Stumpy is a little long in tooth. Seven years is a long time in mountain bike years. However, Little Stumpy's frame is basically sound and as "modern" as any bike sold in 2014. However, 2014 components are superior to 2007 components including: cranksets, pedals, headsets. derailleurs, chains, cassettes, brakes, handgrips, seats and shifters.

What about suspension forks? Well, this is a tricky question. Little Stumpy came with one of the best front forks available in 2007. Little Stumpy has a RockShox Recon Gold 351 SL with a Poplock remote lockout. To get a similar 2014 fork, I would have to spend $600!

I decided to have the 2007 fork rebuilt at Golden Bike Shop. The fork came back as good as new.

I installed the fork and took Little Stumpy for a test ride. The fork was perfect! The rebuild cost $110 and was well worth it!

I could easily have spend a fortune rebuilding a 7 year-old bike. I just simply decided to replace the 2007 components with the 2014 versions. For example, I could have purchased Shimano XT brakes that cost about $325. I decided to buy Shimano Deore brakes that I go for $135.

These mid-quality brakes are still very good and are a dramatic upgrade over the original 2007 Avid Juicy that came on Little Stumpy. The old Avid Juicy brakes were okay, but not really up to stopping Little Stumpy at high speed. And Little Stumpy is very fast.

I also decided to replace the crank. The original crank was showing some wear. I could have sprung for a $300 Shimano XT crank, however, Little Stumpy came with a Shimano Deore crank that worked fine for 7 years. The 2014 Deore crank was really nice and only cost $97.

This 2014 Deore crank is a bargain and is a nice upgrade for Little Stumpy.

I also sprung for new shifters. I went for 2014 Deore multi-release shifters. Little Stumpy had Deore single-release shifters that where starting to lose some crispness. The new Shimano Deore shifters are nice.

These shifters are just a straight replacement for the old shifters. A set of upraded Shimano XT shifters go for $125. These Deore shifters go for $58 a set. These Deore shifters are not as crisp as the XT shifters. But the Deore shifters work well.

I also upgraded the rear derailleur. I sprung for a new Shimano XT Shadow rear derailleur for $72. This is going to make Little Stumpy shift very nicely.

I have this same deraillier on my Specialized Camber and it is great.

I also have bought new pedals and cable kit. I have mixed-up some touch-up paint to cover some of Little Stumpy's battle scars! Little Stumpy will look new and ride perfectly.

Part 6: Why Not Just Buy and New Bike?

I mentioned that Little Stumpy is a rare bike. Firstly, Little Stumpy's frame has a perfect geometry. Secondly, Little Stumpy is specifically designed for a 4" travel fork. And last, but not least, Little Stumpy is super light.

I stripped down Little Stumpy to the frame. Here he is hanging from a bike scale.

Little Stumpy's frame is not little. The frame is actually a 19" or large. The frame weights a scant 3 pounds 11 ounces. Little Stumpy is the forerunner of the Specialized S-Works factory race bikes.

Little Stumpy may be old, but he is fast!

Thanks for reading my blog.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Fun and informative...as always.

    This time I forwarded a link for this blog to my hubby. He's currently riding a 2008 Cannondale "Lefty" and thinking about a 29er. Also thinking of building his own. I'm sure he'll enjoy this as well.

    Oh, and thanks for the visual aids--!
    1702 days ago
    yay, resuscitated Little Stumpy! and yay Bruce for not getting the most expensive components!
    1748 days ago
    If the frame's not broke, don't fix it!

    One thing that I found out when researching components like brakes and cranks (Road, CX, and MTB) was that a lot of today's low-end components are the equivalent of the mid-range components just a couple years ago. There are some features of the highest-end components that just simply don't make it down to the mid-range, but a lot of the tooling and materials trickle down through the manufacturing process. After all, they are all coming out of the same factories with a lot of the same machines.

    Long live Little Stumpy! (and all his brothers tood!)
    1754 days ago
    Wow, lots of information there. Thanks for the education, Bruce.

    I liked the line "There are people in this world that are paid a lot of money convincing us to be dissatisfied with what we have."
    1754 days ago
    You really know your bikes!

    1759 days ago
    Yay Little Stumpy!!
    1759 days ago
  • BILL60
    Great stuff. Fortunately, I like my bones as they are, thus a road bike is my preference.
    1759 days ago
    Another great bike lesson!
    1760 days ago
    I am glad you were able to re-vamp Little Stumpy. I know he has a lot of sentimental value to you as well. emoticon
    1760 days ago
    When you retire please do what you love to do and that is work with bikes helping others who love riding but aren't tech savvy. You could make a fortune and have fun doing it. It sounds like you have the working space.

    Long live Stumpy!!
    1760 days ago
    Thanks for the history. Since this bike is not common and has some definite advantges not easily found it makes sense to buy the new parts needed instead of just buying a new bike that may not be what you want. Glad you are happy and have an almost one of a kind that you can make like new again. Great job!
    1760 days ago
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