Let’s start with the fork. New for 2017 is Fox’s Rhythm FLOAT 34 that uses the FIT GRIP damper found in the company’s Performance line, a simpler but heavier design. The Rhythm uses 6000-series aluminum instead of 7000 to save on cost. In use, the only real difference is two-position lockout lever instead of the familiar Climb/Trail/Descend three-position lever on the more expensive forks. On the trail, the fork worked well. It was a bit noisier than a Kashima-coated Factory fork, but the cost savings make it a great spec for the Fuse.
SRAM takes care of the stopping and most of the going on the Fuse Expert Carbon. As expected the X1 Type 2.1 rear derailleur worked well. Specialized saved a few bucks by installing a GX shifter, but this isn’t a big deal. Over the long haul, the less expensive lever may wear faster, though. A Race Face Turbine Cinch crank uses a 30mm spindle and direct mount chainring. In the case of the Fuse, that chainring was a 28-tooth wide/narrow, a great size for a bike that may see bikepacking duty and will certainly chug up the steepest incline your legs can manage. The 10-42 cassette is the current default for 1x drivetrains, though Shimano’s 11-46 and now SRAM’s Eagle 10-50 are changing norms quickly.
SRAM Guide R brakes are paired with 200mm and 180mm rotors. While I was initially skeptical of the need for so much stopping power, after several rides aboard the Fuse I was thankful to have it. The wide tires can trick you into thinking you can blast into rough sections more quickly than is perhaps advisable. On a hardtail, you don’t have the action of the rear suspension to save you if you get in over your head, so the ability to scrub speed quickly can save your skin.
Virtually every other component on the Fuse is Specialized branded. The aluminum riser handlebar, aluminum stem, grips, Henge saddle, and Command Post dropper all performed admirably. Dropper posts are now de rigueur on my mountain bikes, but they are especially useful on a hardtail where the saddle is directly connected to the bucking rear wheel.
The wheels on the Fuse use Specialized sealed bearing hubs, DT Swiss SuperComp spokes, and aluminum, hookless tubeless rims with an internal width of 38mm. While WTB’s Scraper rim, for instance, comes in 40mm and 45mm internal widths, I prefer the slightly narrower width. Going wider adds weight and flattens a lot of tires more than I like. I personally feel we’ve found the outer limits of rim widths and that 38mm-40mm is the a sweet spot for 2.8” and 3.0” tires.
Speaking of tires, the Purgatory Grid and Ground Control Grid 6Fattie tires certainly added to the playfulness of the Fuse. The Grid casing was up to the task of rocky, sharp edge-riddled Colorado Front Range trails, the tread patterns tucking into corners with confidence. After just a couple rides it was easy to feel the limit of the cornering traction; when there they acted predictably.
Of course the Fuse is not perfect. As I already mentioned, a 28-pound hardtail is not light. But I can honestly say that it rides lighter than it measures. The top tube is very wide, even by modern carbon standards, and I did manage to bang my knee against it on several occasions. Bruising has a way of quickly changing behavior though, and on subsequent rides it wasn’t an issue. The Command Post dropper was reliable during testing, but it takes some adjustment to find the 12 presets for its height. It’s also a bit loud.
The Focus is on Fun
Bottom line, the Fuse Expert Carbon impresses with its ability to deliver a lot of fun in an attractive, affordable package. It may be the most fun I’ve had on a hardtail since my early days of mountain biking on a rigid GT. Whatever you think about the 27.5+ platform, it is making hardtail bikes more relevant than they have been in a long time. Combining the plus wheel/tire size with low and slack hardtail geometry and a dropper post makes the Fuse a super capable off-road machine. It can make routine trails exciting again, round out a bike quiver, or even play top dog.