Last year we sold several Fuses and Ruzes, Specialized’s plus-tired hardtail bikes. I’d only ridden a Fuse once on a sketchy trail in California, so I thought it would be good for me to try one around here. I took a bike that we’ve been using for demos and rode it three times before the snow started flying.

This is the bike in question, a 2016 Specialized Fuse Expert.

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Specialized calls the Fuse (and I’ll just write Fuse, though I’m also talking about the ladies-specific Ruze) a trail hardtail. Trail implies something a bit more burly than a straight-up cross-country bike, and the Fuse foots the bill with:

  • 120mm travel Manitou Magnum fork with 34mm stanchions
  • 67 degree head tube angle
  • Dropper post
  • Boost hub spacing for increased wheel stiffness

It’s a nice package rounded out by a slick SRAM GX 1×0 drivetrain, a custom 11-42 cassette, strong brakes, nice 27.5″ WTB Scraper tubeless-ready rims and three inch wide Specialized Ground Control tubeless-ready tires.

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I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that I really like this bike. In fact, had I not just spent a big wad of money on a very cool mountain bike, I’d be finagling my way to purchasing one of these things. As it stands, I’ll need to part with an existing bike or two… then finagle my way to purchasing one of these things.

Two questions people ask when they see the Fuse are “What’s it like?” and “How does it compare to the Stache?”

For the Fuse, imagine a good 29er hardtail — maybe a Superfly or a Stumpjumper hardtail — with more traction. It feels really laterally stiff; there’s nothing at all vague about the location of the front wheel. The big tires with low pressure (I ran about 15-16 psi) provide enough passive suspension to keep the bike from punishing your back. I found the steering to be just about perfect, precise, but not too quick. Matt Jensen (Service Manager at the downtown shop and very proficient mountain bike dude) went riding with me and pronounced the Fuse, “Immediately comfortable and familiar. I like it more than I thought I might.”

The trend in interesting hardtail (and some dual-suspension) mountain bike geometry is one of slacker head tube angles and as-short-as-possible chain stays. What this means is that the bike wants to steer more slowly due to the more relaxed head tube angle, but wants to steer faster due to the short rear end. Kona’s been doing this for a little while with good results. 1 x 10/11 drivetrains make really short chain stays difficult, as a bigger chainring is located closer to the centerline of the bike than is the case with double or triple cranksets, so the ring is right where you need to weld the chain stay to the bottom bracket. Trek solved this by using a mid-stay on the Stache, mounted well above the bottom bracket. Specialized decided to keep the chain stay in its traditional location but to remove material as needed. They came up with this:

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The Fuse feels pretty darn small. I did some poking around various geometry charts and discovered that almost all of the short feeling can be attributed to the 45mm stock stem. So, yes, it does feel short, but I got used to it very quickly.

Comparing it to the Stache is pretty interesting. The Fuse feels more punchy than the Stache, probably because the wheel/tire combo of the Fuse is lighter. Steering might be a tad quicker than the Stache for the same gyroscopic reasons. Both bikes are pretty heavy compared to cross-country hardtails. This Fuse and our 19.5″ Stache 5 both weigh within spitting distance of 30 pounds. The Fuse feels more like the bike you have now. In fact, I compare it very favorably to my Kona Big Unit. The Stache is something else. You can roll over anything with a Stache. It’s jumpier than a Fuse… or just about anything else.

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If you want the “fastest” possible hardtail, I’m not sure you want one of these. They’re a bit heavier. They steer a bit more slowly. They have more front suspension travel. That said, they’re super fun and super capable. The additional traction is HUGE fun, and the willingness of the bikes to hit technical trail is exciting and, at times, the most reassuring thing in the world.

It’s kind of a shame that you can’t talk about Fuse qua Fuse; it has to be compared to something else, most notably the Stache. The Fuse is not the Stache. It’s a really cool bike in its own right. It has tons of character and spunk. The pudgy tires take a lot of the sting out of roots and ruts for the “you don’t need a dual-suspension bike” crowd. It goes up and down the trail really well. I found it to be a willing and able companion on a few different adventures.

Much beef is heaped upon Trek and Specialized because they’re big companies that may, at times, appear to lack soul or character or personality or whatever. I want to state very emphatically that the Fuse and the Stache have piles of charisma. They ooze personality. One of them might just be exactly what you’re looking for.

 

Monkeys on Typewriters

Each month we go to the zoo and hand out typewriters to monkeys. After a few days, we collect their thoughts and format them into an email newsletter suitable for framing or birdcage lining. Sound good? Enter your email below and check it out.

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