CASCADE COMPONENTS STUMPJUMPER
ALLOY LINK REVIEW
Review by Dario DiGiullo
As mountain biking matures as a sport, the machines we ride have become higher quality and more refined, but with significantly less room for tinkering. There was a long period where end users had a ton of latitude in the performance, feel, and look of their bikes, through the use of a plethora of aftermarket products. In many ways, it’s probably for the best that those days are behind us, as we see a whole lot fewer catastrophic failures on trail despite the massive growth of the sport. There are still some companies making widgets that can significantly change the character of your bike, with Cascade Components leading the charge with a wide array of aftermarket components that come with pretty lofty claims. Is this a new era of bike tuning, or just another way to add some purple bling to your mountain toy? We put their Specialized Stumpjumper EVO Alloy link to the test to find out.
Though they offer suspension links to fit many of the most popular bikes on the market, my experience with Cascade Components revolves around my personal bike, the 2022 Specialized Stumpjumper EVO Alloy. In the stock configuration, it’s a 150mm travel frame with very aggressive geometry, and well-tuned rear suspension that feels pretty appropriate to the bike’s intentions. The Cascade Components link bumps the travel up to 158mm, increases overall leverage rate progression from 19% to 26%, and alters the starting leverage ratio from 3.1 to 3.45. The increase in travel is small but having more on reserve is never a bad thing. The higher overall progression makes for much better bottom out resistance, and the ability to tune the shock with a wider range of adjustment, as you’re less reliant on compression for support. You can also run fewer volume spacers, making for a more sensitive feel. Increasing the leverage ratio affects the off-the-top feel of the bike, which aids in small bump performance and overall grip.
The Cascade Stumpjumper Alloy Link will fit models from 2021 onwards in any size, is available in a choice of three colors (black, silver and orange), and has a retail price of $235. For the weight conscious, fret not, the Cascade link is only one gram heavier than the stock link, at 214 grams.
Fitment of the Cascade link is the same as stock, so swapping the link is as easy as undoing a few bolts, cleaning your linkage with a rag, and reassembling the frame back to torque spec. I did the swap without a stand in a friend’s backyard, as I was already out on a riding trip and wanted to get some time on the link right away. Cascade has a thorough setup guide, coaching you through everything from shock compatibility to recommended spring rate changes to make with the link installed. Since I continued to use the stock Float X air shock, it was more a matter of getting back to recommended sag, which is easy as ever. With the stock link I was running 230 psi, and with the Cascade link I’m sitting around 240 psi.
Once fitted to the bike, the link is pretty inconspicuous, thanks to a very similar shape and size to the stock chunk of aluminum. Since the bike’s geometry is unchanged, the only way you’re going to notice a major difference is out on the trail. But how different can it really be? The changes may seem small on paper, but the difference was apparent from the very first ride. To try to get a fair back-to-back, I’ve swapped between the stock link and the Cascade, and every time I’ve been impressed by the change. Let me start off by saying that there are compromises made here, but in my specific use case, I think they are worthwhile.
I’ll start with the negative, as it’s the only area that doesn’t mesh with the claims made by Cascade Components. Despite higher air pressure, and tweaked settings, the bike does climb appreciably worse with the Cascade link. It’s not horrible, but there’s no mistaking a loss in sportiness and support when you’re pedaling in and out of the saddle. The benefit to that tradeoff when pointed uphill is the improved pedaling grip and shock sensitivity, which both amount to a stickier feeling bike, which I’ve enjoyed on tech climbs and loose, steep grades.
On my Stumpjumper EVO Alloy, the Cascade link provides two significant benefits. The first is grip, be it on the brakes or pushing through a corner. Thanks to the increased leverage ratio that the link provides off the top, the shock essentially has an easier time getting into its first bit of travel, which allows the bike to track the ground more closely and with less input. This translates to a chassis feel that is a lot softer on chattery loose ground, and a sticky planted feel when you hit the brakes. This robs the bike of a bit of the platform to push against in that first bit of travel, but that’s not really where you’re generating speed anyway, so it’s a happy sacrifice.
The second key benefit is the bottom-out resistance brought on by the increased progression. Prior to installing the Cascade link, I would run my Float X shock with either the .4 or .6 cubic inch spacers, and still found myself hitting the bottom of the pool pretty often. Luckily, the Float X has a big bountiful bottom-out spacer, so it’s not a harsh hit by any means; I just wanted to rely a bit more on the air system than a squishy bit of rubber. Once I got the Cascade link on my bike, I was able to get away with the .2 spacer, and only hit the end of the stroke every so often, maybe once per ride on the biggest hits or if I came up short on a gap. Even with the increased progression, the ramp up is still fairly neutral, so it doesn’t feel like you’re running into a wall every time you cycle deep into the travel. I found myself adding a click or two of rebound damping, due mostly to the increase in air pressure, but even with things quite open the bike landed confidently and felt stable on big one-off hits.
In terms of balance, the EVO retains its overall feel and character, just with a bit more forgiveness sprinkled in. Other aftermarket links from Cascade take things a bit too far in how they modify the suspension curves in my opinion (I’m looking at you, V2 Sentinel link), but this link feels like a well-considered and appropriate change. For what it’s worth, I tend to run my EVO with a 170 Lyrik out front, and that 10mm bump in travel seems to compliment the added travel in the rear, giving the bike a bit more of a downhill-focused feel than stock.
Though I haven’t had the opportunity to try the Cascade link with a coil shock, I should have one coming in the near future, so be on the lookout for a specific update once that lands. It stands to reason that the increased progression will play well with the linear nature of the coil.
The Wolf’s Last Word
At this point, pretty much every manufacturer is delivering an excellently designed and tuned suspension platform right out of the box. That being said, there are opportunities for slight tweaks and improvements, so long as you’re willing to sacrifice some of the other positive elements of your ride. In the case of the Stumpjumper EVO Alloy link, if you’re looking for an improvement in downhill performance that can’t be ignored, then the Cascade Components aftermarket link is the ticket. I’ve been repeatedly impressed by how different the bike feels, and mostly for the better. Despite their high cost, I do think some of the aftermarket links Cascade makes offer a significant change that is worth experimenting with.