Blister Brand Guide: Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup, 2021

Intro

When considering a new mountain bike, there are so many similar-looking bikes on the market being made by so many different companies, it is virtually impossible to (1) know where to begin; (2) quickly figure out which one or two products from a given brand might work well for you; and (3) determine what products from other brands might be the most similar and also worth considering.

So in our new “Blister Brand Guide” series, we provide an overview of the entire product lineup of a brand; highlight how each product stands out from the rest of that brand’s lineup; and help you figure out quickly and easily which bike might work best for you. 

In our individual product reviews, we go very deep into the details of particular products. With these Brand Guides, the goal is not Depth, but Breadth. Our Brand Guides and full reviews are designed to complement each other — provide a broad overview of entire company lineups, and then also very detailed reviews of individual products. First up on the MTB side is Specialized, and stay tuned as we roll out a ton of other Brand Guides over the coming weeks.

Our mountain bike Brand Guides are presented by CBGTrails. Learn more and start planning your trip today at cbgtrails.com, then download the CBG Trails app for info on the 750+ miles of singletrack and 150+ trails in Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley, Colorado.

See our other MTB Brand Guides

About Specialized

Started in 1974, Specialized was heavily involved in early mountain-bike development. As one of the largest bicycle manufacturers, they’ve had a massive influence on the whole industry. They make mountain bikes across the entire price spectrum, so people looking to try out mountain biking for the first time and the fastest racers in the world can all consider Specialized.

They are currently based in Morgan Hill, California, USA.

Current Warranty (for all Specialized products sold after July 1st, 2018)

  • Lifetime warranty to the original owner against structural defects in material or workmanship on ALL models of Specialized-branded frames, forks, and Roval wheels (Specialized’s wheel brand).
  • Five-year warranty on suspension attachment points and related equipment (pivot points, bushings, chain stays, seat stays, shock links, fasteners) on bikes sold after 2008.
  • If you’re the second, or later, owner of a Specialized or Roval product, you are eligible for a two-year warranty from the date of the original retail purchase.
  • For more information, visit Specialized.

Specialized’s Suspension Design: FSR (originally stood for Future Shock Rear)

(For more on different suspension designs, see our Suspension 101 article)

Before we get into their specific models and build options, here are some things to keep in mind when deciding on which build level to go with, and why.

First, when looking at complete bikes, suspension and wheels are going to make the biggest difference in how a bike really rides. Spend money on those before other things like higher-end drivetrain parts, cockpit parts (e.g., stem, handlebars, etc.), cranks, etc.

Tires make an enormous difference in performance, but are cheaper and easier to upgrade, especially since they tend to wear down quicker than other components. Upgrading a lower-end front tire to something better — and saving the original for rear-tire use — can be a good way to improve a bike while still making use of the originals, since front tires are generally a lot more important than rear tires when it comes to traction.

Drivetrain parts can be upgraded piecemeal as they wear out, or if you just want to upgrade down the line. Higher-end cassettes are mostly just lighter, while higher-end shifters and derailleurs get lighter, smoother, and sometimes last a bit longer as you go up in price.

We’ll outline here the different models in Specialized’s MTB lineup, organized from most cross-country-oriented (XC) to downhill-oriented (DH). In other words, the bikes at the top of the list are optimized to pedal and climb uphill very well, while the bikes at the bottom are optimized to handle very rough, steep, and challenging descents very well.

We’ve included some notable information for each model:

Available build kits & their MSRP

  • Best Budget Build: These are the build kits that we think make the most sense for people trying to spend the least amount without ending up with a build that’s going to immediately break or need to be upgraded.
  • Most Performance for the Price: These are the build kits that we think make the most sense for people seeking the best balance of performance and cost. I.e., if you don’t need to get the cheapest bike, but you also don’t need the absolute lightest bike or all the newest bling, this is the build we think makes sense for you.
  • Suspension travel (e.g., 100 mm of travel, 130 mm of travel, etc.)
  • Wheel size (e.g., 27.5”, 27.5+, 29”)
  • Frame material options (e.g., alloy vs. carbon)
  • A brief description of what the bike was designed for and any notable design details.
  • Some of the bike’s most direct competitors from other brands
  • Which Specialized bike it’s most similar to
  • Reasons why you should buy it
  • Reasons why you should not buy it

Specialized Mountain Bikes

(Most Cross-Country-Oriented to Most Downhill-Oriented)

Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

Specialized’s entry-level XC hardtail. Size-specific front suspension on each model (smaller sizes get less front travel and vice-versa). XXS size available with 26” wheels, XS-M sizes available with 27.5” wheels, and S-XXL sizes available in 29” wheels.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Rockhopper 26: $600
  • Rockhopper 27.5: $600
  • Rockhopper 29: $600
  • Sport 26: $700
  • Sport 27.5: $700
  • Sport 29: $700
  • Comp 27.5: $850
  • Comp 29: $850
  • Elite 27.5: $1,050 – Best Budget Build
  • Elite 29: $1,050 – Best Budget Build
  • Expert 27.5: $1,250 – Most Performance for the Price
  • Expert 29: $1,250 – Most Performance for the Price
  • Trek Marlin & X-Caliber
  • Giant Talon
  • Kona Hardtails
  • Cannondale Trail / Tango
  • Scott Aspect
  • Rocky Mountain Fusion & Soul
  • Norco Storm & Fluid HT
Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

Specialized’s budget-oriented XC race hardtail. A great option for those who are looking for an efficient XC race bike, but the Epic Hardtail is out of your price range. Each model is compatible with a 30.9 mm dropper post.

More like the Epic Hardtail than the Rockhopper.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Chisel: $1,600 – Best Budget Build
  • Comp: $1,900 – Most Performance for the Price
  • LTD Frameset: $1,500
  • Trek X-Caliber
  • Giant Fathom 29
  • Kona Kahuna
  • Scott Aspect
Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

Specialized’s XC Race Hardtail was redone for model year 2020 to be lighter, faster, and more forgiving.

More like the Epic than the Chisel.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Epic Hardtail: $2,200 
  • Comp: $2,800 – Best Budget Build
  • Expert: $4,500 
  • Pro: $5,800 – Most Performance for the Price
  • S-Works: $10,000
  • S-Works Frameset: $2,700
  • Trek Procaliber
  • Scott Scale
  • Giant XTC
  • Pivot Les
  • Santa Cruz Highball
  • Canyon Exceed
  • Cannondale F-Si
  • Ibis DV9
  • Norco Revolver HT
  • Mondraker Chrono & Podium
Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

Updated for the 2021 lineup, the new Epic is lighter and features updated suspension kinematics and more descent-friendly geometry. Features Specialized’s proprietary “BRAIN” shock and fork, designed to distinguish between trail and rider input to increase suspension efficiency.

More like the Epic EVO than the Epic Hardtail.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Expert: $6,200 – Best Budget Build & Most Performance for the Price
  • Pro: $8,200
  • S-Works: $12,000
  • S-Works Frameset: $6,000
  • Scott Spark RC
  • Giant Anthem 29
  • Cannondale Scalpel
  • Pivot Mach 4 SL WC
  • Santa Cruz Blur
  • Intense Sniper XC
  • Norco Revolver FS 100
  • Canyon Lux
  • Rocky Mountain Element XCO
  • Mondraker F-Podium
Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

A more downhill-capable version of the Epic. Updated for 2021, the new Epic Evo is lighter, has 10 mm more rear travel, updated suspension kinematics, and more progressive geometry. The Epic EVO also no longer features Specialized’s “BRAIN” technology.

More like the Epic than the Fuse.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Epic EVO: $3,800 – Best Budget Build
  • Comp: $4,400
  • Expert: $6,300 – Most Performance for the Price
  • Pro: $8,800
  • S-Works: $12,300
  • S-Works Frameset: $3,900
  • Trek Top Fuel
  • Santa Cruz Blur TR
  • Scott Spark
  • Giant Trance 29
  • Yeti SB115
  • Pivot Mach 4 SL
  • Kona Hei Hei
  • Transition Spur
  • Rocky Mountain Element
  • Cannondale Scalpel SE
  • Intense Sniper Trail
  • Norco Revolver FS 120
  • Mondraker F-Podium DC
  • Evil The Following
  • Banshee Phantom
Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

Specialized’s most downhill-capable hardtail. Comes with either 29” or 27.5”+ wheels and tires, but all models can accept either size.

More like the Stumpjumper than the Epic EVO.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Fuse 27.5: $1,500
  • Comp 29: $1,900 – Best Budget Build
  • Expert 29: $2,600 – Most Performance for the Price
  • Trek Roscoe
  • Santa Cruz Chameleon
  • Kona Honzo & Big Honzo
  • Nukeproof Scout
  • Rocky Mountain Growler
  • Devinci Kobain HT
  • Norco Fluid HT
Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

Specialized’s best Quiver Killer. New for 2021, this bike effectively replaces both the Stumpjumper ST and classic Stumpjumper. The new Stumpjumper got the standard updated bike treatment with more progressive geometry, as well as 10 mm less travel front and rear. The bike’s suspension design also got changed – it no longer uses a Horst-link design. Instead, carbon models now have a single-pivot design with a flex-pivot in the seat stays (alloy models still utilize a Horst-link design). Features high/low adjustable geometry via a flip-chip on the rear shock and internal “SWAT” storage in the downtube, as well as a multi-tool in the headset. This bike is also no longer available in the 27.5” wheel size.

More like the Stumpjumper EVO than the Fuse.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Alloy: $2,400
  • Comp Alloy: $3,400 – Best Budget Build
  • Comp: $4,200
  • Expert: $4,800
  • Pro: $7,200 – Most Performance for the Price
  • S-Works: $9,800
  • S-Works Frame: $2,900
  • Trek Fuel EX
  • Pivot Switchblade
  • Giant Trance X 29
  • Yeti SB130
  • Santa Cruz Tallboy & Hightower / Juliana Joplin & Maverick
  • Kona Process 134 29”
  • Norco Optic
  • Rocky Mountain Instinct
  • Intense Primer 29
  • Devinci Troy 29
  • Evil The Following MB
  • Cannondale Habit
  • YT Jeffsy 29
  • Canyon Neuron
Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

This is the more downhill-capable, slacker sibling of the Stumpjumper. Updated for 2021, the Stumpjumper EVO has 10 mm more travel front and rear over the previous Stumpy EVO, more fit / geometry adjustability, and is no longer available in alloy or 27.5”-wheeled models. This bike’s geometry can be changed into 6 different configurations thanks to a headset insert and chainstay flip-chip.

More like the Stumpjumper than the Enduro.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Comp: $4,300 – Best Budget Build
  • Expert: $5,000
  • Pro: $7,500 – Most Performance for the Price
  • S-Works: $10,000
  • Commencal Meta TR 29
  • Transition Sentinel
  • Rocky Mountain Altitude 29”
  • YT Capra 29
  • Norco Sight 29”
  • Ibis Ripmo
Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

Specialized’s dedicated 29” enduro race bike. New for model year 2020, the updated Enduro features a linkage design inspired by the Specialized Demo, more travel, a slacker head angle, longer reach, and steeper seat tube angle compared to the previous version of the Enduro. Also features SWAT integrated downtube storage.

More like the Stumpjumper EVO than the Demo.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Comp: $4,700 – Best Budget Build
  • Expert: $6,100 – Most Performance for the Price 
  • S-Works: $10,500
  • Frameset: $2,900
  • S-Works Frameset: $3,400
  • Santa Cruz Megatower
  • Yeti SB150
  • Trek Slash
  • Pivot Firebird
  • Giant Reign 29
  • Rocky Mountain Altitude 29”
  • Scott Ransom
  • Intense Carbine
  • Commencal Meta AM 29
  • YT Capra 29
  • Devinci Spartan 29
  • Evil The Wreckoning
  • Nukeproof Mega 290
  • Norco Range 29”
  • Canyon Strive
  • Mondraker SuperFoxy Carbon
Blister Brand Guide: 2021 Specialized Mountain Bike Lineup

Released June 2020, this version of the Demo comes stock with a mixed-wheel configuration with a 29″ front wheel and 27.5″ rear wheel for race-ready speed on downhill trails. This bike has an adjustable rear end via a flip-chip so it can run a 29″ wheel in the back if desired.

Consider If:

Don’t Bother If:

  • Expert: $5,300 – Best Budget Build
  • Race: $7,000 – Most Performance for the Price
  • Alloy Frameset: $2,700
  • Commencal Supreme DH 29/27
  • Santa Cruz V10 MX
  • Though many DH bikes from other brands can be configured to run a “mullet” 29″ front and 27.5″ rear setup, this bike is unique because it is available as a mixed-wheel setup with no changes necessary. That said, the similar bikes listed below for the Demo 29 are in the same general category as the mullet Demo, just without the stock mixed-wheel configuration.

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