Trail testing fresh new rides from the big, bold and brilliant; Specialized.
Flow joined loads of Aussie and Kiwi dealers to check out what the big, bold and red (and black) bike manufacturer, Specialized, has in store for us next season. Not only was this a great opportunity to test all the bikes out in a short time, it also gave Flow the chance to meet the minds behind them, not just the marketing people, but the engineers. We asked why certain things were done, how and why.
Here we pick a few highlights and offer our first impressions on the new 2014 bikes, which we have just finished riding on the trails in and around the high altitudes of Copper Mountain, Colorado.
Stocking Specialized in a bike store is a mighty safe bet, no doubt about it. With a bike range so complete and everything to accompany them, the options are plentiful. It is a daunting range with so many models and there’s sure to be a suspension travel amount and attitude style of bike perfectly matched to you. From the hardtails, to a 95mm Epic World Cup, all the way up to the 200mm travel Demo downhill bike, with half a dozen or so in between. The women’s range is also growing with more options in a wider range of price points. Add to this even more Body Geometry apparel, accessories and parts than ever before.
Out of the 2014 range, it was the two Epics and Cambers that really caught our eye, with their completely overhauled frame constructions. The Epics, in carbon and aluminium, receive a new lighter rear shock tune, a racier frame option (Epic 29 World Cup), internal cable routing, SWAT compatibility, and space for two water bottles.
Taking a look at the rear suspension, we found that now with a couple clicks on the Brain Fade adjuster, the efficiency is quite simply, perfect. The Mini Brain shock has received a lighter compression tune in the name of increasing sensitivity during repeated impacts, and for us that knocking feedback transferred to the rider as the inertia valve opens and closes is most definitely less prominent than before. The shock is also 25g lighter, helped by the use of a new kevlar hose connecting the shock and damping unit. The range of adjustment has also been improved in the name of user friendliness, with only four clicks, instead of 14 or so, as with the previous versions. If this is confusing check out this video for an explanation on how this proprietary design works.
With a focus on improving the power transfer of your hard-earned energy through the frame to the rear wheel the engineers have worked on streamlining the shock mounting and pivot bearing housings for a more direct line. Additionally, the chainstays have also been beefed up considerably. To neaten the package, for the first time the Epics score internal cable routing. It has been done so very nicely indeed, with foam liners to eliminate rattling inside the frame and exceptionally neat entry and exit ports that allow for one, two, three of four cables to go internal. Plus the entry and exit point locations just seem perfect. A lot of thought has gone into what can easily go so wrong – as we have seen on many other bikes over the years.
Epic 29 World Cup
If the Epic we have known over the last few years was not racy enough, there will now be a sharper and leaner Epic available, dubbed the Epic 29 World Cup. With shorter chain stays, a sharper head angle, a new single chain ring specific frame (very good to see!), and a slightly firmer rear shock damping-tune, controlling the reduced 95mm of rear travel, this is about as exclusive to the racetrack as one keen racer could ever pull from a cardboard box.
Have you ever wondered how Olympic Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy can accelerate his bike so fast? Try this Epic World Cup out. We did and were imaging race situations (vivid hallucinations) as if we were all of a sudden worthy of a World Cup start.
We took an S-Works model (pictured) out for a good blast up the famed Colorado Trail, with tight switchback climbs and rocky strewn descents. The previous day we’d taken the Stumpjumper S-Works on the same trail, so the Epic was an interesting comparison, with a keener eye on smoother lines, less mindless ploughing and quick direction changes the Epic WC was lightning fast. Stomping on the pedals in and out of the saddle gave so much forward motion we had to cheer, and the long and low cockpit is exactly what racers need to cut fast laps on the circuit. Dialling in a couple clicks of Brain Fade adjustment, it was so ridiculously efficient it really was easy, there was never even a chance that unwanted suspension motion could rob you of energy. Put four clicks on, and whilst you do feel and hear it knock as the inertia valve opens, the ability to power forward is unrivalled. Love it or hate it, the Brain Shock on the Epic 29 is more supple and smoother than before, and works damn well.
Designed alongside the Epic, using the same top end carbon material and construction methods, is Specialized’s flagship cross country hardtail for the rider seeking the upmost speed in either short course racing or less aggressive terrain. It’s a sleek number, with visibly slimmer tubing on the rear end, and a feathery 1.05kg frame weight. That is crazy light.
The Stumpjumper HT with its aggressive geometry and high level price points also has an aluminium offsider, the Crave. Formerly named the Carve, a copyrighting issue has led to a little name change. But the Crave is a whole new aluminium 29er starting at $1400 AUD. With a lower stand over height, stiffer and more compliant frame and a relaxed geometry this guy will be a sure bet for first time mountain bikers.
Take one step up from the Epic 29 and increase rear suspension travel to 110mm and you will find the Camber, and its more aggressive twin the Camber EVO at 120mm. The Camber is a fantastic bike, bringing a more trail friendly attitude with 29” wheels to the rider who wants to race, but also ride. Out of all the bikes we rode, this was one had so many press folk and Specialized dealers excited. Geometry has not changed from previous models, but every part of construction has been slimmed, lightened and streamlined.
Along with the Epic 29, the Camber receives a completely new frame in both aluminium and carbon. The range is also expanded with more models, starting at under $2k AUD, and topping out at an S-Works model with all the good stuff for a touch over $10k. Note the sleek and tidy internal cable routing, even for the new internally routed Command Post IR dropper post on many models.
The Camber uses a standard (non-Brain damped) shock, which will appeal to those seeking a nice and plush, yet not too isolating ride of bigger travel 29ers. A 110mm travel bike with 29” wheels really can go a long way in terms of versatility. We feel that it would be very well worth trying one out along side the Epic as it opens up the trails to be very comfortable and stable without losing much in the way of race speed. We would love to see more riders experimenting with a bike like this, with a few races a year and all the trail riding and fun times to be had in between. The Camber is efficient and as light as you need, but a whole lot of fun when all you are racing your mate back to the car on the weekend.
The women’s specific version of the Camber; the Rumor is a very fine bike and we’ve been playing on it already for a while now. We will have the full review of the 2013 Rumor Comp coming very soon. No major changes to this already fresh bike, just more models in the range now to make more people happier.
Camber 29 EVO
EVO means more juice, more travel, slacker angles and spec modifications for more aggressive riding. Flow hearts EVO.
When Specialized waved the EVO stick at the Camber, suspension travel jumped from 110mm to 120mm, the tyres grew in meatiness, bars widened and the whole bike edges a half size towards the Stumpjumper FSR 29 in shred-ness. The frame is the same as the standard Camber, just a taller fork, and modified shock strut and shock length giving more travel and that extra oomph that an EVO has. We took the impressive Camber EVO 29 for a ride and loved it. With an aluminium frame, Rockshox Reba fork and a mid-range spec for a little over $3k AUD, this thing is our pick for the great all round bike for a rider looking to hit the trails for good times safely, and comfortably without spending too much.
Stumpjumper FSR 29
The Stumpjumper receives only a few spec modifications and a new rear shock for 2014, the frame remains the same, but oh dear, we are a fan of this bike.
The Mini Brain found on the Epic from 2013 and 2014 makes its way onto the Stumpjumper FSR 29. The slimmer and lighter shock helps drop 25g from the frame and with the more user friendly range of adjustability with less index settings.
We reviewed the 2013 Stumpjumper 29 this year, and with one of the greatest outcomes ever. For a bike with 29” wheels, this thing rips trails to pieces. 130mm of supple and balanced suspension travel works so hard to keep the tacky tyres in contact with the dirt and when leant right over into a turn, the traction this bike embodies is mighty impressive. When so much traction is at hand, you need to be able to use it. That is when great geometry and ergonomics come into play and being a Specialized it’s all good. We snagged the Stumpy S-Works for the biggest ride of the week, from the village all the way up past where trees can’t grow on the Colorado Trail.
Now this particular Flow member has had a love/less-love relationship with the inertia valved Brain shocks for many years, There is no lack of appreciation for it’s effectiveness and performance, it is just a personal thing, like driving an automatic or manual car. Typically favouring a balanced suspension bike with compression adjustments, like a FOX CTD shock, over one that effectively adjusts itself according to the trail, we actually really enjoyed our time aboard the Brain shocks found on the Epics and Stumpjumper FSR. Specialized say it to us every year that it’s more sensitive when switching from open and closed, but that knocking is again less prominent, whilst retaining perfect efficiency when you push down on the pedals. Chapeau Specialized.
Stumpjumper FSR EVO 29
Now this is a highly desirable bike and remains much the same from 2013. Take the Stumpjumper FSR 29, and feed it just a little bit too much raw steak for breakfast and you have the Stumpy EVO. Available in 26” and 29” this bike is going to really appeal to the rider with a gravity fed mind but the desire to go all day long.
The new Rockshox Pike with the new Charger damper and big 35mm diameter legs are found on high end Stumpjumper EVO models, and we simply could not get enough of it. The trails at Copper Mountain were most definitely gravity oriented, but overall we were pumping out of corners, lifting up rocky steps, jumping and accelerating so fast. We were struggling to give it back at the end of the day.
The new buzz-word making such a wide variety of riders is ‘enduro’. And lucky for Specialized, they actually have a model of FSR named the Enduro! In both 26” and 29” wheels, their big travel bike for the big mountains is a real pleaser, shed-loads of fun and can easily double the speed of the most timid rider.
On high-end models the Enduro uses the Cane Creek Double Barrel CS shock with the new Climb Switch. In 2013, the Enduro S-Works used a nifty little custom switch to enable slow speed compression damping adjustment on the fly, for next season Cane Creek have developed a switch that not only adds slow speed compression, but also slow speed rebound damping too, and just the right amount. Climbing this bike is not a chore like it should be considering the travel amount and maniac enhancing descending ability.
We will see both the 26” and 29” model in Oz for 2014, but we were so impressed with the traction alone on the 29” Enduro that we firmly stand behind its ability to convert the 29er skeptics out there. Front end height management for the shorter rider may be a challenge, but not too hard at all. The new dropper post is not only neater with its internally routed cable, but the actuation is also smoother than before. The improvements make for quick and predictable seat height adjustments when the trails turn up, down, or drop away blindly before you.
26″ 27.5″ or 29″?
The question came up about wheel sizes in the future, and Specialized admitted to not being 650B haters, but simply haven’t felt the need to adopt the in the middle size just yet, even after four years of prototyping 650B bikes. In our opinion we find that Specialized have done a great job integrating 29″ wheel bikes in the tricky ranges like small sizes or big travel. They are not cumbersome, too tall, heavy or flexy. 26″ models are gone from the ranges the hardtails, Epics, Cambers, Rumors etc but Stumpjumpers, Enduros and up from there still have a 26″ option. Did we test one out in Copper Mountain? Nope, we didn’t really feel the need to. For Specialized to keep trimming down the 26″ models there needs to be good reason and that is sales, 26″ bikes are not moving off the floor like they used to, enough said.
Storage, Water, Air, Tools is what SWAT is all about. Maybe someone at Specialized has a thing against hydration backpacks but the development of this new method of integrating, rather than carrying everything you need, is really quite cool. More bikes have twin water bottle mounts than ever before, and many models have full SWAT compatibility with tools and water bottle cages specced with the bike on the shop floor. The coolest is the chain breaker tool that is integrated into the top cap of your headset, so clever.
For a bit of fun for some, or the only way to go on the most extreme surfaces like snow and sand, a fatbike is a blast. Specialized wanted to make a fat bike that widened its use, not only from snow or sand, but to trails too. This one uses a full carbon tapered steerer fork and a lightweight set of wheels developed by Roval with a 795g, 95mm wide rim, and their hookless rim profile system. Not your average fat bike, this guy is also surprisingly light. Everyone who had a bounce around on one of these couldn’t wipe the grin off their faces. Coming to a dealer near you!