The Specialized Fuse 27.5 rode away from the competition in our budget mountain bike test. This is hands down the best budget hardtail we've tested. Specialized's recent updates to the Fuse's frame design and geometry have taken this bike's performance to another level. It's highly versatile and a blast to ride on a huge range of terrain, and the long and slack treatment has made it more capable and comfortable at speed and when the going gets rough. It climbs as well as any hardtail with plus-sized tires and comes with a serviceable build kit that includes aggressive rubber and a dropper seat post. If you're on a budget and you want a mountain bike that can do it all well, we don't think it gets much better than the new Fuse 27.5.
Specialized Fuse 27.5 Review
Cons: Big tires can feel a little slow rolling, seat post is too short, no chain stay protection
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Should I Buy This Bike?
We highly recommend the new Fuse 27.5 for anyone on a budget that is interested in hardtail that actually rips. Specialized really nailed the 2020 redesign of their Fuse models and this bike extremely versatile and highly capable, especially when you consider the fact that it's a $1,250 hardtail. With modern long and slack geometry and aggressive 2.8" wide tires, the Fuse felt stable at speed, comfortable tackling steep and rocky trails, and had traction for days. You don't have to push it to have a good time on the Fuse, this bike is just as fun to ride on smooth trails and moderate terrain, it has a huge bandwidth. It climbs with all the efficiency you'd expect from a hardtail, though the more aggressive tires can feel a bit sluggish on paved or dirt roads. This is far and away the best budget hardtail we've tested, it does everything well. We feel this is an excellent first mountain bike for anyone or even an inexpensive hardtail to add into your bike quiver.
The 2020 Fuse 27.5 is built around Specialized's A1 Aluminum frame. This redesigned frame has a tapered head tube, internal cable routing, and a 148mm boost spacing rear thru-axle. Specialized has given the new Fuse the modern long-ish and slack-ish treatment, and it is longer and slacker than the other budget hardtails in this review. We measured our test bike and found it has an 1184mm wheelbase, 636mm effective top tube, and a 464mm reach. The head tube measured 66.5-degrees with a 73.8-degree seat tube angle. The bottom bracket sits 315mm off the ground with 430mm chainstays. Our size large test bike weighed in at 29 lbs and 14 oz set up tubeless and without pedals.
- Available in aluminum frame only
- Modern progressive hardtail geometry
- Designed around a 130mm fork
- Clearance for up to 3" tires
- Comes in 5 sizes XS-XL
In this budget review, we tested 3 different hardtails and the Specialized Fuse was the only hardtail bike that testers came back after riding and used the words "fun" and rips" to help describe the bike. This iteration of the Fuse makes you feel like you're riding a modern trail bike just without the rear squish, although a couple of lower price point components make you question how far you should really push the limits. Compared to the other hardtails in this test group, the Fuse 27.5 did wheelies, scrubs, and whips around them. The number one component that helps the Specialized Fuse shine over all the other budget test bikes including the full suspension bikes were the tires. The Fuse comes with a 27.5 x 2.8" Specialized Butcher in the front and the 27.5 x 2.8 Slaughter in the rear, better traction gives you more confidence and more confidence is more fun.
The descents are where the Specialized Fuse distanced itself from the other hardtails in this budget bike test. Every hardtail can go uphill reasonably quickly and efficiently. It's the main reason World Cup level XC racers continue to have a hardtail as one of their race bike options. If you aren't on the racecourse you probably continue biking because the downhills are so dang fun. Specialized packed a whole lot of downhill fun capability into this bike. It rides similar to the full-suspension Stumpjumper but with a lower top tube and shorter chainstays that keep the bike feeling playful and easy to move around on. Add in lots of grippy rubber and it is time to party.
The Fuse 27.5 incorporated many of the trail bike geometry trends we've seen on full-suspension bikes over the past few years. In general, bikes have become slacker, longer, and lower to help provide more stability and confidence while descending trails. A slack, for a hardtail, 66.5-degree head tube angle allows the fork to work better on steeper trails and at high speeds while a longer 464mm reach provides more room in the cockpit and the longer wheelbase adds stability. Finally, a relatively low 315mm bottom bracket height aids in cornering traction and control. The improvements in ride quality are instantly noticeable over older generation bikes, including previous models of the Fuse that we've tested.
Specialized nailed a few critical component specifications that help this Fuse descend so well. The tires and wheels are tubeless compatible which allowed testers to run lower tire pressures. The lower pressures provide more cushion and help smooth out the trail and deliver more traction. Additionally, they put a great tire combo on there that balances traction and rolling resistance. Every other bike in this budget test, including the full suspension bikes, had relatively low profile tires. Those tires roll quickly and efficiently but don't offer much traction when braking or cornering hard. The Specialized was the only bike that arrived with meatier tires, and in the loose decomposed granite and dirt of Lake Tahoe, the difference was dramatic. Tires almost always end up on the suggested upgrade list of our budget bikes because of how much they can improve performance. That isn't the case with the Fuse making the value more striking.
The Specialized Fuseis a capable climber with the efficiency you'd expect from a hardtail. The geometry and cockpit setup kept riders comfortable while 2.8" tires provided plenty of traction without feeling our testers feeling like they were towing anchors up the hill. Power transfer felt direct and efficient, and the Fuse scoots uphill quickly and without complaint.
It must be noted that two of our longer-legged testers ran into slight problems with the design of the frame and choice of parts on this budget build kit from Specialized. The Fuse, like many newer bikes, is designed with a lower seat tube to accommodate a longer travel dropper post. The problem is that this model only comes with a 120mm travel dropper post. Riders on the upper limits of each size may not be able to run the post high enough for comfortable climbing. Two of our testers had the post raised all the way to the minimum insertion line and still would have liked a 5-10mm higher saddle position. This is only a problem at the upper limits of each size range. The testers were both between 6'-6'1" and were riding a size large bike with a 120mm travel dropper post. Only this build of the Fuse should have this problem as both the Comp and Expert offer 150mm travel dropper posts in sizes L and XL.
Aside from the saddle height limitation the Fuse comfortably climbed all the test tracks. The cockpit was comfortable for long days in the saddle. A longer reach keeps the rider's weight over the front tire without feeling too stretched out while the short chainstays make it easy to lift the front wheel up and over obstacles on technical climbs. The 2.8" wide tires provided plenty of traction for steep or sandy climbs. The 10-speed Deore drivetrain with a 10-42t cassette had enough range for everything the testers dared to climb. The 10-speed drivetrain doesn't provide as easy of a gear or as smooth of shifting as the SRAM 12-speed SX drivetrain on the Giant Stance, though for most applications it offers pretty good range and performance.
The 2020 Specialized Fuse 27.5 is the least expensive build offered from Specialized. At $1,250 riders get one of the most complete all-around bikes in this sub-$1,500 budget bike test. A forward thinking frame design, great tires that are tubeless-ready, and a dropper seat post round out a package that is hard to beat.
The Fuse 27.5 has a RockShox Judy Silver TK fork with 130mm of travel. This is a lower end fork from RockShox and it performed ok for our testers. As with all the low-end forks, the Judy has a small sweet spot If you add too much air the small bump compliance is not very good, but when under-inflated the fork feels better on small bumps but becomes easy to bottom out when you find yourself coming into a rough section off line and take a big hit. Nothing impressive with this fork but substantially better than the SR Suntour XCR that comes on the Salsa Timberjack.
Wheels and Tires--
The Fuse 27.5 comes built with Specialized's own Stout Trail 27.5 wheels. The stout rims offer a 38mm internal width and are tubeless compatible. The wider 38mm rims give the tires more air volume and squares the tread off more for better tire shape and sidewall support. This means lower tire pressures for the rider and better grip and performance on the trail. Again, these tires help make this bike perform better than the competition on the trail. Up front, the Fuse has Specialized's own Butcher 27.5" x 2.8" tire. The Butcher is the same tire the World Cup Downhill team chooses to use, offering great traction at any speed. In the rear, the Fuse 27.5 runs a Specialized Slaughter in the same 2.8" width. This semi-slick tire has low profile knobs in the center to keep the tire fast and efficient but still offers large cornering knobs. When you lean the bike over, the tire offers massive amounts of traction to bite into the corners.
This Fuse 27.5 comes spec'd with a Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain. This is a pretty common drivetrain for bikes in this price range. In fact, every bike in this budget test came with this Deore 10-speed groupset except for the Best in Class Giant Stance. The newer Deore drivetrains offer a wide gear range with an 11-42 tooth cassette, the same gear ratios offered by most SRAM 11-speed drivetrains. The main difference is that with only 10 gears the jump between gears is larger and often feels a little harsher than the smaller jumps on drivetrains with more gears.
This area was one of the only issues we ran into on this bike. On our size large test bike and the extra-large frame, the Fuse 27.5 still only has a 120mm dropper post. With the shorter seat tube on this bike, our long-legged testers had to run the post as high as it could safely go and still would have liked a slightly higher saddle position. On the higher end builds of the Fuse, the Large and XL frames come with a 150mm travel post which should remedy this problem. If you're on the taller end of the medium, large, or extra-large frames sizes, be sure to test ride the bike to ensure a proper fit. Otherwise, the cockpit of the Fuse 27.5 was comfortable for all the testers. The 780mm handlebars should be wide enough for almost any rider. The Specialized saddle is one of the more comfortable stock options on the test bikes we rode.
Overall, the Specialized Fuse felt like the most complete package to testers. Everything on the bike worked well and allowed testers to ride at their ability level instead of being timid due to some lackluster components. There are certainly upgrades that can be made to improve the bike but it was the readiest to ride rig in our batch of 5 bikes.
The first upgrade testers would recommend would be the brakes. Testers didn't have any major complaints with the Tektros, though upgrading to something more powerful like a Shimano SLX with nicer brake rotors would make a notable performance improvement.
The other upgrade that would make a significant improvement is a nicer fork. It feels like Deja Vu writing this but it is a reality of a lower-priced bike. The difference in performance between a mid-level fork like the newer Rockshox Revelation or Fox Rhythm 34 is astounding in comparison to the low-end Judy this bike ships with. The price to upgrade is never worth it on these lower-end builds. For the price of a new fork, you could upgrade to a higher-end build of the same bike or be in a new price bracket that offers other standout bikes.
The $1,250 Fuse 27.5 is the cheapest build level Specialized offers for the new 2020 model year. It is also the only build kit that comes with 27.5" wheels. The upper-level Comp and Expert build kits both ship with 29" wheels.
At $1,675 the Fuse Comp 29 is the next step up in Specialized's line. The drivetrain duties are taken over by the SRAM SX Eagle 1x12 instead of Shimano's Deore 1x10 setup. Brakes are upgrades to SRAM's Level brakes. The fork is now a stiffer Rockshox Recon Rl still with 130mm of travel. The final notable upgrade is that size L and XL bikes get a 150mm dropper post instead of 120mm on the base 27.5 build.
For 2020 Specialized only offered an alloy version of the Fuse. So the Expert is the top-end model at $2,150. This version has recently been tested to update our hardtail review and took top honors as our Editor's Choice Award winner. The main upgrades over the comp are a Rockshox 35 Gold RL fork. The 35mm stanchions will mean a torsionally stiffer fork for better tracking and performance on the trail. The drivetrain is upgraded from SRAM's SX to NX Eagle 1x12 drivetrain. This is an excellent trail-riding hardtail.
The all-around trail ripping performance of the 2020 Specialized Fuse 27.5 makes this bike an impressive value. At $1,250 riders get all the tools to have a great time and improve their biking skills. A 120mm dropper post ensures you are always ready for the uphills and downhills while trail gripping premium tires laced to tubeless compatible wheels help maximize traction and compliance on the trail. Most importantly, is the geometry designed for trail riding instead of Cross Country, that allows riders to confidently ride a wider variety of trails.
The Specialized Fuse 27.5 stands out as a remarkably fun and capable trail bike at an affordable $1,250. Whether you are shopping for your first mountain bike or looking to add a reasonably priced hardtail to your quiver we find it easy to recommend the Specialized Fuse as a top pick in this price range.
— Jeremy Benson, Kyle Smaine