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Specialized Fuse Expert 29 2020 Review

A stellar hardtail that is tremendously fun, versatile, and a solid value.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $2,150 List
Pros:  High value, fun on a wide range of terrain, dialed geometry
Cons:  Poor fork specification, less compliant frame compared to outgoing model
Manufacturer:   Specialized
By Pat Donahue, Jeremy Benson  ⋅  Aug 5, 2019
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86
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 12
  • Fun Factor - 25% 9
  • Downhill - 30% 9
  • Climbing - 30% 8
  • Build - 15% 8

Our Verdict

The all-new Specialized Fuse Expert 29 is a stellar hardtail mountain bike at a reasonable price. As a result, the Fuse continues its reign as Editor's Choice for Best Hardtail Mountain Bike.

This sleek, silver, shredder features dialed geometry that delivers a stable ride and a sky-high fun-factor. This new iteration of the Fuse replaces our long-running Editor's Choice Fuse Expert 6Fattie in the Specialized lineup. While we found the outgoing model was a little more compliant due to its 27.5+ tires and more flexible tubing on the seat stays, pretty much everything else about the new version is better. This slick-looking 29-inch wheeled hardtail rips downhills and inspires you to push the speed limit. Climbing abilities are respectable and uphill handling is relatively crisp. Specialized did a wonderful job outfitting this wallet-friendly, $2,150 bicycle. They nailed the ever-important tire, dropper post, and drivetrain specifications while running a budget-friendly RockShox Gold 35 fork that is sturdy and functional but a little less refined than some other options.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  
Price $2,150 List$2,167.99 at Competitive Cyclist$2,399.00 at Competitive Cyclist$1,599 List$1,499 List
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Pros High value, fun on a wide range of terrain, dialed geometrySwift climbing, sharp handling, excellent valueHigh fun-factor, rails corners, very poppyExcellent descender, high-end fork, excellent pop out of cornersExcellent high-speed stability, great traction, capable on rough terrain
Cons Poor fork specification, less compliant frame compared to outgoing modelNot as fun on rough trails, 11-speed drivetrainNarrow range of terrain where it shines, terrible rear tire specificationNo dropper post, weak tire specificationGeometry could be awkward for some, no dropper post, long wheelbase
Bottom Line A stellar hardtail that is tremendously fun, versatile, and a solid value.A swift-climbing hardtail that could serve as a daily driver or a cross-country race bikeA supremely adjustable hardtail that has a high fun-factor but is at home on a narrow range of terrain.An aggressive descender with an impressive build kit despite a couple notable drawbacks.An aggressive hardtail built for high speeds with some geometry quirks.
Rating Categories Specialized Fuse Expert 29 Ibis DV9 NX Santa Cruz Chameleon 29 R Meta HT AM Essential Whyte 901
Fun Factor (25%)
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
Downhill (30%)
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
8
Climbing (30%)
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
6
Build (15%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
7
Specs Specialized Fuse... Ibis DV9 NX Santa Cruz... Meta HT AM Essential Whyte 901
Wheel Size 29" 29" 29" 27.5'+ 27.5"+
Weight (w/o pedals) 29 lbs 14 oz 26 lbs 8 oz 30 lbs 5 oz 29 lbs 8 oz 28 lbs 2 oz
Frame Material Aluminum Carbon Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum
Frame Size Tested Large Large Large Medium Large
Available Sizes XS, S, M, L, XL S, M, L, XL S, M, L, XL S, M, L, XL S, M, L
Fork RockShox 35 Gold RL, 130mm Fox Float Rhythm 34 Fox Rhythm 34 120mm RockShox Yari RC, 160mm, 35mm stanchons RockShox Recon RL Gold 130mm, 32mm stanchions
Wheelset Specialized Stout Alloy SL, 29mm ID Ibis Hubs, Ibis 938 Alloy rims SRAM MTH hubs with WTB ST i25 TCS 2.0 rims E*Thirteen TRS, w/ Formula Hubs, 35mm ID WTB i29 w/ Boost hubs, 29mm ID
Front Tire Specialized Butcher Grid, Gripton, 2.6" Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.6" Maxxis Minion DHF EXO TR 2.3" Vee Tire Co Flow Snap 27.5 x 2.6 Maxxis Forekaster 27.5 x 2.6
Rear Tire Specialized Purgatory Grid, Gripton, 2.6" Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.6" Maxxis Ardent Race EXO TR 2.25" Vee Tire Co Flow Snap 27.5 x 2.6 Maxxis Forekaster 27.5 x 2.6
Shifters SRAM NX Eagle SRAM NX 11-speed SRAM NX Eagle SRAM NX 11-Speed SRAM NX 11-Speed
Rear Derailleur SRAM NX Eagle SRAM NX 11-Speed SRAM NX Eagle SRAM NX 11-Speed SRAM NX 11-Speed
Crankset SRAM NX Eagle DUB SRAM NX 30T SRAM NX Eagle 148 DUB 30T 175mm SRAM NX 32t SRAM NX 30t
Bottom Bracket SRAM DUB Threaded SRAM GXP XR SRAM DUB Threaded Press Fit Threaded
Cassette SRAM NX 11-50T SRAM PG 1130 11-42T SRAM PG 1230 11-50T SRAM PG-1130 11-42t SRAM PG-1130 11-42t
Saddle Specialized Bridge Comp WTB Silverado 142 WTB Silverado Race Ride Alpha Whyte Custom
Seatpost TranzX dropper 150mm travel 34.9mm diameter KS E30i Dropper Race Face Aeffect Ride Alpha Rigid Whyte Rigid
Handlebar Specialized Stout Riser 780mm Ibis 780mm Alloy Race Face Ride Ride Alpha 780mm, 31.8 clamp Whyte 760mm
Stem Specialized Stout Ibis Race Face Ride Ride Alpha 40mm Whyte 40mm
Brakes SRAM Level TRL SRAM Level SRAM Level T SRAM Level SRAM Level
Grips Specialized Trail Lizard Skins Charger Evo Santa Cruz Palmdale Ride Alpha Whyte Lock-On
Warranty Lifetime Seven Years Lifetime Five Years Four Years

Our Analysis and Test Results

The new Specialized Fuse 29 is a well rounded  capable  and confidence-inspiring hardtail.
The new Specialized Fuse 29 is a well rounded, capable, and confidence-inspiring hardtail.

Should I Buy This Bike?


There is a good chance you should buy this bike. Riders who are seeking modern geometry in a budget-friendly well-spec'd hardtail mountain bike will love the Fuse Expert 29. This bike is as fun as a barrel of monkeys when ridden hard but is just as happy meandering along some tame terrain. In our eyes, the combination of an attractive price point paired with fun, well-rounded, performance will always be a winning recipe. Our only major gripe is the low-end fork, but hey, you're getting a totally ripping hardtail at $2,150, a few corners have to be cut. In our eyes, the wide, aggressive rubber, solid drivetrain, and 150mm dropper post heavily outweigh the clunky RockShox Gold 35 fork.

The Fuse Expert 29 is a new bike for the 2020 model year. There is a good chance you could find a sweet deal on the outgoing Fuse 6Fattie models that have just recently been discontinued. The Fuse 6Fattie runs 27.5 x 3.0-inch tires. These mid-fat tires can be run at a lower tire pressure compared to the 29x2.6-inch tires on our test bike. The lower pressure adds an element of damping and a smoother ride. In addition, the very thin tubing on the seat stays allow for a little bit of flex in the rear end that absorbs some of the forces of the trail. The Fuse 6Fattie is a more comfortable bike, but the Fuse Expert 29 has much better geometry and is generally a more capable bicycle.

We loved the previous version of the Fuse  the 29er version is better in virtually every way.
We loved the previous version of the Fuse, the 29er version is better in virtually every way.

Looking to log some serious miles on a hardtail. The Ibis DV9 is a swift pedaling, mile-crushing, hardtail. This light bicycle has more conservative geometry compared to the Specialized. As a result, it sets the rider up in an extremely efficient climbing position and delivers crisp, razor-sharp, handling. If you want to enter a cross country race or two, or spend long days in the saddle, the Ibis is the bike for you. If you are looking to get aggressive and like progressive geometry, the Fuse is the better choice. The Ibis is available in carbon fiber only with build kits starting at $2,550.

Do you like to have fun? The Santa Cruz Chameleon is a fun-loving hardtail. This bike has more of a compact wheelbase and somewhat of a dirt-jumper inspired attitude. The Chameleon enjoys being pumped through rolls, snapped through corners, and blasted down flow trails. Given the very short rear end, this bike prefers buff trails to bony ones. Having that rear axle tucked right under your bottom gives it a harsh feel over rocks and roots. In addition, it can loop out more easily on the climb. Still, if you are looking for a supremely fun hardtail, the Chameleon is an excellent choice. The Fuse is a better daily driver for the masses. The Santa Cruz is available in carbon fiber and aluminum with build kits starting at $1,799.

There's something about the brushed aluminum frame that everyone seems to like.
There's something about the brushed aluminum frame that everyone seems to like.

Frame Design


The new Fuse is currently available in aluminum only and has the ability to run 29-inch or 27.5+ wheels. Adjustable dropouts give you the ability to adjust your chainstay length by 15mm and the option to run a single-speed setup. The threaded bottom bracket is a nice touch on a bike at this price range. Often times, manufacturers cut corners on bikes of a lower price point. One way to do this is to sacrifice the user-friendly threaded bottom bracket in favor of a simple, but difficult, press-fit bottom bracket where the bearings are simply pushed into the frame. Tip of the cap to Specialized on this one. We were disappointed by the lack of chainstay protection, and we quickly zip-tied a section of an old tube on there to reduce the loud chain slap noise.

We don't often comment on the aesthetics of our test bicycles as so much of it is personal preference. That said, this polished aluminum frame looks clean and sleek. We love it.

The clean brushed aluminum frame is interrupted by some sparkly purple lettering in a few spots.
The clean brushed aluminum frame is interrupted by some sparkly purple lettering in a few spots.

We measured our large test bike to have a 465mm reach and 642mm effective top tube. The head tube angle is 66.6-degrees and the seat tube angle is 73.5-degrees. We found the wheelbase to measure 1178mm and the bottom bracket is 320mm off the ground. Our test bike hit the scales at 29 pounds 14 ounces setup tubeless without pedals.

Design Highlights

  • Available in aluminum only
  • Adjustable dropouts to run a geared or single-speed drivetrain
  • Accepts 29-inch or 27.5+ wheels
  • Internal cable routing
  • Boost spacing
  • Threaded bottom bracket
  • Designed around 130mm fork

To say that the Fuse 29 rips is an understatement. Our testers couldn't stop riding or raving about the performance of this bike.
To say that the Fuse 29 rips is an understatement. Our testers couldn't stop riding or raving about the performance of this bike.

Downhill Performance


The Fuse offers ripping downhill performance. This bike has the attitude to get radical on moderate terrain and inspires you to keep pushing the speed limit. Handling is crisp and it feels great in both high-speed situations and slow, ultra-tight, ones. You are very aware you are riding a hardtail when charging over rocks, but the 2.6-inch tires do help take some of the edge off compared to standard 2.3-2.5-inch tires.


Specialized nailed the geometry on the new Fuse. The measured 67.5-degree head tube angle and 1178mm wheelbase work beautifully together. This bike isn't nearly as long and low as the gravity-focused hardcore hardtails we've tested, but it still feels awfully stable and planted. In other words, the geometry is progressive enough to feel stable and confident at speed, but still reasonable enough to handle pretty darn well at slower speeds. The Fuse isn't the best choice for truly steep and rowdy trails, if that is your jam, we suggest looking at some of the hardcore hardtails or better yet, a full-suspension bike.

The Fuse's modern geometry helps make it feel quite stable at speed  while beefy 2.6" tires give it excellent traction.
The Fuse's modern geometry helps make it feel quite stable at speed, while beefy 2.6" tires give it excellent traction.

Charging down fast flow trails is exceptionally fun. This bicycle operates confidently at speed. The geometry and aggressive 2.6-inch tires allow you to keep pushing the speed limit. When you get this sleek silver shredder into moderately choppy situations, the Fuse holds its own. To be sure, there are better hardtails on the market for aggressive riding. Those bikes may have enduro-esque slack geometry with meaty 150-160mm forks. That said, the Fuse is more than capable in most situations.

When ripping downhill, you are very aware you're riding a hardtail. The slightly wider 2.6-inch tires can be run at lower air pressures compared to narrower rubber. Testers found the sweet spot to be somewhere near 22-PSI in the front and 24-PSI in the rear. This helps take some of the edge off of the generally more harsh nature of hardtails. We have found the 27.5 x 2.8" or 27.5 x 3.0" tires are more effective at providing some damping since you can run even lower pressures. Some of the bikes we have tested with 3.0-inch tires are surprisingly comfortable.

You're unlikely to forget that you're riding a hardtail  but the Fuse 29 handles chunky rock gardens better than most.
You're unlikely to forget that you're riding a hardtail, but the Fuse 29 handles chunky rock gardens better than most.

Handling is crisp and the fun factor is high on the Fuse 29. At moderate to high speeds, the bike responds to minimal rider input. Simply dip a shoulder into a corner and the bike snaps through. Manuals, boosts, and bonks are highly encouraged. This is another benefit of Specialized using semi-conservative geometry. Shorter bikes with steeper geometry handle quicker and often provide a more fun-filled ride while ultra-long and slack bicycles can feel too grounded/planted to engage in shenanigans. Testers agree, if the Fuse could be described in one word, it would be fun.

The build kit on our $2,150 Fuse Expert was decent and there are very noticeable highlights and a very notable lowlight. The combination of the 2.6-inch Specialized Butcher and Purgatory worked well together. The Butcher is aggressive enough to back up aggressive riding and the Purgatory delivers a nice blend of rolling speed and braking bite. The SRAM Level TRL 4-piston front and 2-piston rear brakes were fine. These binders are far from our favorite, but they work well enough. The 150mm Trans-X dropper post was a stealthy but functional specification. Our main gripe with this bike is the RockShox 35 Gold fork. The fork has a sturdy-feeling chassis and 35mm stanchions, but felt terrible out of the box and immediately needed to be rebuilt. Even after the service, the fork felt harsh and had a hitchy or sticky feel in the mid-stroke. At this price point, sacrifices need to be made somewhere within the build kit. We can live with this fork because the rest of the bike is so radical, but this would be a target of an immediate upgrade.

It's far from the fastest climber out there  but the Fuse 29 is comfortable and efficient given its downhill prowess.
It's far from the fastest climber out there, but the Fuse 29 is comfortable and efficient given its downhill prowess.

Climbing Performance


The Fuse is a stellar climber that delivers solid traction and decent efficiency. This bike shines while scooting up smooth and buff climbs. Working up and over techy climbs requires a bit of a finesse approach to ensure a comfortable experience. The Fuse is no featherweight at nearly 30-pounds, that said, it never feels clunky or cumbersome on the ascent.


This Fuse sets you up in a nice climbing position. The 73.5-degree effective seat tube angle is about par-for-the-course for a trail-oriented hardtail. While you are not straight on top of the bottom bracket like some other bicycles, you are in a respectable position to put some power down. We loved the longer top tube and airy 465mm reach measurement. The Specialized has plenty of real estate for riders to shuffle weight around as needed. Need to get forward on a steep punch? No problem. Need to get some weight over the rear wheel on a loose section of the climb? No problem. For how fun and versatile this bike is on the descent, it still delivers a comfortable climbing feel.

The geometry makes for a comfortable position while climbing and the components  especially the drivetrain and tires  are beneficial to its overall uphill performance.
The geometry makes for a comfortable position while climbing and the components, especially the drivetrain and tires, are beneficial to its overall uphill performance.

Efficiency is respectable aboard the Fuse. To be sure, there is no confusing this bike for a super-light mile crusher like some other bikes we have tested. If you plan on hammering big, long, climbs frequently, we recommend looking elsewhere. That said, the Fuse doesn't feel piggish like some of the most aggressive, enduro-inspired, hardtails in our test. In other words, it occupies the highly desirable middle-ground that makes it such a versatile bike.

The 29 x 2.6-inch tires offer nice rollover abilities and generous amounts of traction. While narrower tires are lighter and produce less drag, wider rubber has a larger contact patch to scoot up those technical bits where traction is at a premium. The outgoing Specialized Fuse ran 27.5 x 3.0-inch tires. These mid-fat tires offered supreme traction and a little bit of a more comfortable ride. That said, they didn't feel all that precise. The tires were so wide, it was tough to feed them through a tight line. In addition, they produced a good bit of drag. We feel the 29 x 2.6-inch tires are an improvement for the overall ride-quality of this bike, but they do require a slightly more confident and experienced pilot since there is less traction to bail you out when things go wonky.

The Fuse 29 hits that perfect middle ground of climbing efficiency and comfort  while maintaining the most well-rounded downhill abilities of all models we tested.
The Fuse 29 hits that perfect middle ground of climbing efficiency and comfort, while maintaining the most well-rounded downhill abilities of all models we tested.

Uphill handling was sharp. The measured 67.5-degree head tube angle steered well through uphill switchbacks and tight corners. Longer and slacker bikes can feel bulky and sluggish through the bends. The Fuse has moderate enough geometry to handle well without sacrificing the descent. The mid-length 430mm chainstays work well on the ascent. The rear end isn't so short to want to wander or lift up on steep, seated, climbs. In addition, the slightly longer chainstays make for a more comfortable climb by moving the rear axle slightly rearward and out from under your bottom. This translates less of the trail surface to the rider.

The build kit on our Fuse Expert was generally quite solid. The SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain is serviceable. While it is nice to find 12-speed drivetrains on budget-oriented bicycles, the lower-end systems can be a bit finicky, and the cassette is very heavy. The combination of the Specialized Butcher/Purgatory delivered plenty of bite to scoot up some lose tech sections without being unnecessarily burly or heavy.

Photo Tour


The RockShox 35 Gold fork is a definite step up from the Recon with a sturdier chassis and bigger stanchions  though it isn't the plushest fork we've ever ridden.
The SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain is nothing special  but works well enough and has all the range you need.
The Fuse 29 has a great cockpit setup including a 150mm dropper post and a comfy saddle.
The adjustable dropouts on the Fuse 29 allow you to adjust the length of your chainstays by 15mm  if you're into that kinda thing.
The recently redesigned 2.6" Purgatory GRID is a great rear tire and a significant improvement over the old version.
The 2.6" Butcher GRID front tire is excellent.

Value


The Fuse Expert 29 is a strong value, no two ways about it. At $2,150, you get a tremendously fun bicycle with a respectable build kit. Yes, there are lighter hardtail mountain bikes. There are also more aggressive hardtails. However, we feel the Fuse offers the most fun, well-rounded, ride out of all of our test bikes. We love it, we think you will too.

The Fuse 29 is an excellent do-it-all hardtail. If you're looking for ripping trail-riding hardtail to add to your quiver or as a quiver of one  this is the best we've tested.
The Fuse 29 is an excellent do-it-all hardtail. If you're looking for ripping trail-riding hardtail to add to your quiver or as a quiver of one, this is the best we've tested.

Conclusion


The Specialized Fuse continues its reign as our Editor's Choice Hardtail Mountain Bike. What this bike lacks in flashy components or cutting-edge geometry, it makes up for with its super-fun, well-rounded, performance that had testers smiling from ear to ear. Whether you are just entering this sport and fancy the simplicity of a hardtail or you're a seasoned rider looking for a highly amusing, hardtail, the Fuse is an excellent choice.

Other Versions


Specialized recently unveiled several new versions of the Fuse. In addition to the Expert 29 build we tested, they also make a Comp 29 that retails for $1,675 and comes with the same M4 Alloy frame, and a relatively comparable build to the Expert model with notable downgrades including a SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain and a RockShox Recon RL fork.

Specialized also sells a super affordable Fuse 27.5 for $1,250 that is built around the same frame. It comes with 27.5" x 2.8" tires, a RockShox Judy Silver fork, Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain, and a TranzX dropper post.

The Fuse is also offered as a frame only for $800 for the rider looking to build up their dream trail riding hardtail.


Pat Donahue, Jeremy Benson