My old 1991 Specialized Stumpjumper was and amazingly still is a great mountain bike… a wheel love story for sure!
Even though my previous MTB, a 1990 Shogun Prairie Breaker, was too big for me I was hooked on living in Victorian High Country and roaming the Alpine National Park over summers. Just needed to get a better bike.
The vibe of local (and small!) MTB scene was dominated by American magazines like Mountain Bike Action, packed with stories and images of the NORBA race series, places like Mammoth Mountain and legends like Ned Overend who rode a Stumpjumper for Specialized. The Stumpjumper line is steeped in MTB history, regarded as the first mass production mountain bike (The first Stumpjumpers were made in Japan in 1981).
So when I met a guy holidaying in Falls Creek who happened to run a bike shop in St Kilda Melbourne there was only one bike I was interested in, a Stumpy! The model I could afford at the time was a Specialized Stumpjumper Comp.
The Stumpy came with rigid forks, but as soon as RockShox Mag 20’s were released I upgraded to those. The hype around suspension forks finally coming to MTB was insane, and just like every change there were no shortage of naysayers. Compared to forks today the Mag 20’s hardly absorbed any small bumps at all, while still managing to flex all over the place but dang they were cool and definitely helped with bigger bumps at high speed. Who cared anyway, the big deal was that it was the start of a new era of MTB!
I’d been riding with toe clips for years so made the jump straight into MTB SPD pedals when they became available, the same beaten up set of SPD pedals are still work ok and are on the bike today. There weren’t many MTB SPD shoes to pick from initially. Netti made some crappy ones, I got those before getting some excellent Look shoes a year or so later that I still use today.
Running a supermarket has some great benefits. I was able to stock goodies like Powerbars and access Syncros goodies at reduced prices. By the end of 1993 the Stumpy had undergone upgrade surgery including a Syncros Cattleprod stem, Syncros ti handlebar, Syncros Ti seat post, Selle Italia Flite saddle, Syncros Ti bottom bracket and Crank-o-Matic bolts, Scott superbrake pads, Mavic rims, Ringle ‘oversized’ front hub,Ringle water bottle cage, Onza Porci Paw grips and RockShox Mag 21’s.
The most memorable upgrade was the Syncros Ti handlebar. It felt like a rubbery noodle when I first put it on, the flex in the titanium was amazing, like a suspension handlebar. At the time it was also regarded as a wide bar at a ‘massive’ 560mm, which now seems insanely narrow and uncomfortable compared to the standard 720mm+ bars. Oh yeah, that and snapping my Flite Evolution Carbon Titanium saddle in half, that was dumb 😛
Dang I loved the Stumpy to death though and had endless memorable rides exploring every nook and cranny of the Victorian High Plains, often descending the +1500m vert into the surrounding valleys before climbing all the way back home. Lots of crashes too over the years, and way too many busted rear derailleurs to recall but probably the funniest mechanical drama was the day when while descending an overgrown unused but mega high speed fire track between Howmans Gap and Bogong Village a branch went through the rear wheel and became wedged beneath both rear brakes, in an instant ripping out most of the spokes before the wheel stopped rotating!
After being on the waiting list for a couple of years in 1994.95 I managed to score a rental house in Bogong Village, an incredibly scenic spot set on Lake Guy, half way down the mountain. It opened up a whole new world of riding. I still worked at Falls so over summers would ride most days to work, climbing trails from 600m elevation to 1700m and then flying back down in the evenings. In Winter it was an insane night ride home – with the Nightrider light blazing away on my helmet through snow and sleet, descending dirt trails beside the Mt Mackay Hydro power station piplelines. Some nights I’d take the sealed road and often pass cars before disappearing down bush trails. Some nights I’d soak in the bath for hours when I got home, defrosting!
Leaving the mountains in the years that followed and heading north was tough. The Stumpjumper came along, but became a commuter bike which only reminded me of how much I missed the mountains, missed the flow. Mountain biking was changing too, becoming much more mainstream, much more about money, the fun of it replaced with overly serious posing. Dual suspension bikes were starting to appear but were many years away from being refined enough to bother with.
All those years of abuse caught up with me too, requiring back surgery to rectify. The Stumpy sat on the verandah, then in the shed. Cobwebbed. Waiting. When I did try to ride it again I found the body position on the Stumpjumper way too stretched out, too long and low as was the norm on early MTB bikes. It pulled me apart, and gave my back a pounding all over again. It took me months to recover from a single ride and I thought that might be it for mountain biking and me.
Because of this enforced time away from biking I got around to doing something I’d wanted to try all my life — learning to unicycle. As it turns out there are mountain unicycles specifically made for riding off road. Not only is it incredibly challenging and a lot of fun, it also rebuilds your core strength. I started to feel pretty good physically. Every now and then I’d have a go on the Stumpjumper but it was still not going to work.
Looking at mountain bike design in the late 2000’s things had changed. Dual suspension bikes were now fully sorted, and more importantly the long and low road bike body position had been replaced with sitting quite upright. I thought I was a good chance to squeeze in some more MTB riding, one way or another. It wouldn’t and couldn’t be on the Stumpjumper, but I settled on a current American classic from one of the hippie fathers of Mountain Biking, an Ibis Mojo HD — a dual suspension carbon fibre rocket ship with the comfort of a lounge chair. Another sweet slice of MTB in the cake of life.
I’m sure the Stumpy has a future though. It’s in great condition for its age. Maybe I’ll put the original forks back on, swap over to a 1x drivetrain and use it as a cool around town bike. Maybe I’ll hang it on the wall just as is, as it was in the mid 90’s, to remind me of the mountains. We’ll see.