Specialized Fuse Expert Carbon 6Fattie review

Affordable plus-sized hardtail with modern geo and playful character

27.5 Cross Country Plus
Like other 34 models, the Rhythm uses an air spring and the same Fit GRIP damper found on the Performance models (left). Instead of the three position Climb/Trail/Descend lockout of more expensive models, the Rhythm gets Fox’s 2-position Sweep Adjustment lockout (right).

Like other Fox 34 models, the Rhythm uses an air spring and the same Fit GRIP damper found on the Performance models (left). Instead of the three position Climb/Trail/Descend lockout of more expensive models, the Rhythm gets Fox’s 2-position Sweep Adjustment lockout (right).

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’s X1 rear derailleur shifts the 10-42 cassette and is actuated by a SRAM GX shifter (left). The Fuse Expert Carbon 6Fattie comes with Specialized’s Command Post dropper. It performed well during testing though some grease did accumulate after the initial rides. After cleaning it no further seepage occurred (right).

SRAM’s X1 rear derailleur shifts the 10-42 cassette and is actuated by a SRAM GX shifter (left). The Fuse Expert Carbon 6Fattie comes with Specialized’s Command Post dropper. It performed well during testing, though some grease did accumulate after the initial rides. After cleaning it no further seepage occurred (right).

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.

A Race Face Turbine Cinch crank uses a direct mount, 28-tooth chainring is a good reliable choice.

The Race Face Turbine Cinch crank with direct mount, 28-tooth chainring is a reliable choice.

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.

SRAM Guide R four-piston brakes, along with 200/180mm rotors, did the stopping on the Fuse. They offered good power and modulation to keep the hardtail under control.

SRAM Guide R four-piston brakes, along with 200mm/180mm rotors handle stopping duty on the Fuse. They offered good power and modulation to keep this hardtail under control.

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.

With modern low and slack trail geometry, 27.5+ tires, 120mm of front travel and a dropper post, the Fuse is ready for fun (left). Fox’s new Rhythm FLOAT 34 fork is an OE only model that saves money by using less expensive, heavier materials, but its function is still excellent (right).

With modern low and slack trail geometry, 27.5+ tires, 120mm of front travel, and a dropper post, the Fuse is ready for fun (left). Fox’s new Rhythm FLOAT 34 fork is an OE-only model that saves money by using less expensive, heavier materials, but its function is still top tier (right).

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.


About the author: Nick Legan

Nick Legan is happiest with some grease under his nails and a long dirt climb ahead. As a former WorldTour team mechanic, Legan plied his trade at all the Grand Tours, Spring Classics, World Championships and even the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In recent years, gravel and ultra-distance racing has a firm grip on Legan’s attention, but his love of mountain biking and long road rides hasn’t diminished. Originally a Hoosier, Legan settled in Boulder, Colorado, 14 years ago after finishing his time at Indiana University studying French and journalism. He served as the technical editor at VeloNews for two years and now contributes to Adventure Cyclist, Mtbr and RoadBikeReview. To follow along on Legan’s cycling adventures, find him on Instagram at @nlegan and be sure to check out his new book Gravel Cycling: The Complete Guide to Gravel Racing and Adventure Bikepacking.


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  • John says:

    $3500? Let’s see my SC 5010 was $2800 on sale. I think I’ll keep my full suspension bike. If this bike was $2000, maybe?

  • Robert Park says:

    Love my Aluminum Fuse. It’s a mountain bike for us old fart road bike guys. Super stable on the roughest terrain. But not as slow as a fat bike. And it was $1300. I keep the carbon go fast on the road side of the hobby.

  • Steve says:

    For carbon and $3500 this thing should weigh 25 pounds…. I built up a NS Bikes Eccentric Djambo frame (Plus-compatible, cheap, aluminum, 420mm chainstays, NOT BOOST-142mm rear spacing) with a mix of used and new parts for $1200 with weight in mind with a NON BOOST and non-plus 2015 Fox Float 32 140mm because standard Fox forks have plenty of arch and crown clearance and 140mm travel versions have the same A-C as 120mm Plus forks that the frame was designed around. It came out to 26.2 pounds without pedals.

    • Jason says:

      yea, but your still left with an Eccentric Djambo with a bunch of mis-matched used parts…congratulations. Change the wheels and tires on the Fuse and your well below 26.2 lbs.

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