Tested: The All-New Specialized Stumpjumper

From the company that brought us the first mass-produced mountain bike in the early 80s with the same name, Specialized announce the newest generation of the iconic Stumpjumper.

Three Stumpjumpers, no more Camber.

There will be three versions of the Stumpjumper available; a new Stumpjumper Short Travel, regular Stumpjumper and the return of the Stumpjumper EVO – aluminium frame only at this stage – with longer travel and burlier spec – All of them are available in both 29” and 2.75” versions, with a women’s short travel and regular too.

Lady-spec options.

The lady-spec is available on the 27.5” and 29” short travel (ST) Stumpjumpers. These have 130mm travel front and rear on the smaller wheels, and 130mm front and 120mm rear with 29” wheels. These models replace the Camber (or going back a couple more years, the women’s Rumor). The 27.5” long travel (150mm front and rear) Stumpjumper is available with a women’s spec, but the 29” long travel Stumpjumper (150mm front, 140mm rear) is only available with a unisex build.

In Australia, we’ll see the 27.5” ST Comp model available in alloy only (AUD $2,700 and $4,000), the 29” ST up to the Carbon Comp model, and the 27.5” Comp (alloy, long travel, $4,000). If you want to ride a higher spec or different frame colour, you’ll need to look at the unisex range and custom it up.

Alright, so what is new?

Most unmistakably the frame is asymmetrical, while Specialized informed us that this new asymmetrical design was essential to increasing of the frame’s stiffness in combination to a loss of weight, we don’t bother, it looks modern and sets it apart from the rest.

The ‘Side Arm’ looks neat, agreed?

The rear shock sits off to the side about 1cm, you can run a coil shock if you wish and the gear cable and rear brake line pass through the new ‘Side Arm’ which in turn frees up space in the SWAT storage space, for a 20% larger burrito to be carried on rides.

Other notable new bits include a new chainstay protector to cut down on chain slap noise, the bottom bracket is threaded, and geometry is adjustable by flipping a chip in the lower shock mount.

The new chainstay protector design might not be the biggest feature of the new bike, but the bike is certainly very quiet on the trails.

Seeya, proprietary bits.

In bigger news however in an interesting move, surely driven by consumers and dealers, the new rear shock on the Stumpjumpers are 100% standard and metric sizes, no more Specialized-only specifications and their Shock Block lower mounts. The handy suspension setup system Auto Sag has also gone in favour of creating more space for negative air volume inside the shock.

Flip a chip in the linkage for geometry adjustment.

It has to be longer, lower, slacker, right?

Not entirely. Regarding geometry compared to the outgoing Stumpjumper, the new frame is very similar, looking at the two geometry charts we see that the new one is a touch longer in the reach and half a degree slacker in the head angle.

To give you an indication, the medium-sized 29er we have on test is 20mm longer overall, but the chainstay measurement of 437mm remains the same as the previous model across all frame sizes.

Standover height is lower thanks to the ‘Side Arm’, and the new models come with shorter stems.

Anyhow all the details and numbers are all over the net, check it out here if you want it all.

How does it ride?

Well, it’s not like we had any major complaints with the outgoing Stumpjumper, that’s for sure. On the trail, the bike is very easy to get along with; it strikes a delicate balance between its ability to ride like a maniac or ride conservatively, comfortably and efficiently.

Last year this model came with 2.3” tyres, now we have 2.6” of proper rubber, and on the trail we really let it hang out. A 2.6″ Butcher tyre on the front is a sure way to improve your cornering speeds! The longer reach puts more bike in front of you, too, giving you greater stability downhill.

Ripping trails on the new Stumpjumper, the new model is nicely balanced and more confident to push hard.

Forgive us if we sound like a broken record, but what else is there to say? The Stumpjumper is hard to pass up as an ideal all-rounder. And in classic Specialized style, there is no stone unturned in the quest to deliver the latest and greatest; it’s totally dialled.

This is a great bike, though it might not be exceedingly different than the outgoing version, it has a few notable improvements that will keep it at the front of the game, and the type of mountain bike worth considering if you’re after a brilliant all-rounder trail bike.

Suspension. Women. Lightweight man riders. And the new Stumpjumper.

Collaboration between the suspension team and frame engineers right from the concept stages of the new Stumpjumper was aimed at prioritising the overall performance not just for Joe Average, but for all types of riders on all sized frames. So with that in mind, what makes the women’s tune different?

“I’ve ridden some pretty poor tunes in the past, and was sceptical at best about how this one would translate to the trails. But the welcome difference was noticeable immediately – even more so when swapping between man-specced and girl-specced bikes over the three days of the launch.” Kath Bicknell.

In fact, what even IS a women’s tune? Is it something radically different to a dude-tune, or is it a case of coming up with a well-developed starting point that allows effective rider-specific customisation? (Spoiler alert, it’s the latter.)

One of the highlights of the Stumpjumper launch for me was getting to ask these questions in person. While every bike brand has their own way of developing and marketing their own take on suspension, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how someone like Chance, who works as part of the suspension team at the Specialized HQ in the USA, views their in-house development processes.

Specialized’s Suspension Development Technician, Chance Ferro.

As Chance says, it’s easy to get in over your head with suspension set up. But a little bit of information can go a long way to getting even more enjoyment out of your bike.

The women’s-specced Stumpjumpers come with this magical thing called a ‘women’s tune’, but people aren’t really sure what that means. Can you explain what it actually is?

With the women’s tune, it really is just a little bit of fine-tuning. There’s no black magic behind it really. The key part of the RX tune – it stands for ‘Recommended Experience’, which is us mating a shock to the bike…That’s the real meat of it [he clarifies] creating a shock that works best with our bike, not so much tuned for the individual.

And you’ve done that across the range?

Yes, so every bike has that. We take it one step further with the female rider. We worked with our simulation engineers, who have done a lot of studies on limb weights, body distribution and things like that. We came up with a slightly softer spring tune. We already have lighter damping tunes across the board on this bike already through our RX tune programme. So we really just made the spring curve slightly less progressive. It’s something that’s reversible, even at a shop level, it’s really nothing too crazy.

Wait, just to slow it down just a second for people who haven’t learned much about suspension before…To make it less progressive [easier to push through the travel], what are you changing to do that?

Say in RockShox, they call them their tokens. So in a fork, it would be removing a token. In the shock, it’s removing a token. A volume spacer is all it is really. But they make a big difference. People tune with them all the time, even aftermarket. We’ve come up with our key RX tune, and we’ve just dialled it back a little bit for the women’s tune.

How does the difference of a volume spacer translate to the trails? What does it mean in terms of how it feels to push through the travel, especially for the rider who is using lower pressures?

It really affects the mid and end-stroke. Basically, it takes less force to utilise full travel. It’s not that you couldn’t get on a men’s bike and ride it well and have a good experience. But oftentimes you’re not going to really utilise it to its fullest. That can be true for anybody too. It’s really just tuned better for lighter weight riders in the stature that we’ve come up with through our simulations.

So basically, that means the action of the suspension still initiates in the same way but in get that mid area you get more…reactivity?

Yeh, it takes a little bit less force to use the same amount of travel as the men’s tune. Say you’re hitting a certain bump or a jump landing and it takes 2000 newtons to bottom it out, it might take you 1500 newtons.

Right. In my own riding life I’ve never got full travel out of most of the suspension that I’ve used with a standard, out-of-the-box tune. So this would allow most riders, who are that lighter weight, riding a 150mm travel bike to actually get 150mm of travel?

Exactly. And again, it is tuneable. It’s not to say that a really lightweight male rider couldn’t benefit from this as well.

How hard is it to tune the suspension in this way? Say a female or a lighter weight male bought one of the bikes in the range that doesn’t have the women’s tune. How hard is it to change it?

It’s definitely easily done at a shop level or by a savvy person in their home shop. In the fork it’s really simple, it’s just the top cap: let the air out, unthread the top cap and there are two or three little plastic spacers depending on the travel. We have different tunes depending on whether it’s the short or long travel Stumpjumper. You just add or remove one or two of those spacers.

We will have more tuning guide information coming along. Through our simulation engineers, we’re coming up with a tuning app which is going to be on the Specialized website. [The app is available now.] That’s going to give recommended pressures for you. So you put in your weight and height and it will give you your recommended pressures. And there’ll be an advanced side to it where we’ll help you through any issues. If you’re having a bottoming out issue then we’ll give you a recommendation – in that case you’d probably add a volume spacer. Or again if you’re still not using full travel, you might reduce your air pressure or you might take a volume spacer out.

Does it give a guide on how to set your rebound for different pressures? Or is that a bit more terrain specific?

We think that’s mostly spring specific. We’re going to recommend a spring rate for you, which is your air pressure. And then we’ll also recommend your rebound. Basically, your rebound should be mostly dependant on whatever spring rate you’re running. With a really stiff spring rate, when you compress it you have a lot of energy and it’s going to return quicker. With a lower spring rate, you’re going to need less damping to get that same return rate.

How do you see these things developing in the future?

That’s a good question! It’s hard to say. That’s the fun part of the job, figuring out what we can do next and how to elevate the game.

What would you like to see happen?

I just want to make suspension work better for everyone I guess.

Easier for people to individualise it if they don’t know what to do?

Yeh, definitely. I think that one of the biggest things that I’d like to put my mark on is helping people with set up and understanding it. A lot of it is simple to some people but it’s easy to get in over your head with suspension set up. It makes a huge difference. Without an RX tune you could be lost but even with an RX tune but the wrong set up, you could be way off. I think that’s really important for us to help our consumers get the right experience.

Given the people we see out on the trails I think that could make a huge difference.

We even see it in house. There are some guys that are pretty knowledgeable, but I can make a few tweaks and help them out with a few things and it makes a huge difference for their ride which is pretty satisfying.

Specialized Stumpjumper short and long travel – women’s perspective

With almost as many models to choose from as trails to ride them on – long travel, short travel, big wheels, medium wheels, evo (more gravity focussed), women’s-specced, non-women’s-specced, vegetarian, gluten free… – I took a closer look at what the range offers female riders. Head here to read about the new Stumpjumper more broadly, including a closer look at the tech behind it.

Woah, before the tech stuff…You rode these bikes on trails in Aínsa. How were they?

Surprisingly different in character and huge amounts of fun – the bikes and the trails! In terms of the ride experience, there were three stand-out features across the short and long travel Stumpies: how well-balanced they felt on the tech stuff and at speed (partly due to the geometry, but also because of how well matched the trail feedback was through the front and rear of the bike), how effortlessly they climbed even with 150mm of travel and how *silent* they were (have a closer look at that 3D chainstay protector).

While the 150mm 29er monstered over everything, the 150mm 27.5er encouraged a looser, wilder riding style. The 29” 130mm ‘short travel’ was a stand out too. It’s less bike than the others making it easy to manoeuvre while still offering the superior traction of bigger wheels We were obviously there to learn about the marketing behind the updated design, but it was a pleasure to get on the bikes and feel the way they met our raised expectations and often exceeded them.

Is it true that new Stumpjumper uses the same frame design for ladies and dudes?  What’s the scoop?

Market research revealed that ladies buying more expensive trail bikes didn’t want a ‘women’s bike’ they wanted the same bike as everyone else. As we see a lot on the trails, in the case of brands using a shared or gender neutral frame, most women prefer to modify the seat and bar width to their choosing. They want the increased spec and colour options available through the unisex range and are concerned about the lower resale value of the women’s model later on. “It’s what women were asking for,” said Specialized staff at the launch.

“If they were asking for a specific frame we would have done that.” That said, the research, data, computer simulation and testing that has gone into each sized Stumpjumper frame make them better matched to riders of different sizes than unisex frames of the past.

Why does the Stumpjumper come in a women’s spec at the lower end of the range, but not the higher end?

A women’s spec at the more entry-level price points makes sense. This makes it easier for these women to jump on a trail bike for the first time and experience the benefit of gender-specific contact points without having to know (or try to imagine) what to change. These changes continue to drive research and development and provide insights into what women purchasing the higher end bikes might want to modify, like the suspension tune.

So what’s different about the women’s spec compared to the man spec?

The bars are narrower (750mm compared to 800mm) but are still generous enough in width that riders can cut them down further. They also come specced with Specialized’s women’s Myth saddle. The 27.5” models run from XS-L frame sizes, while the 29” models are available specced for women in S-L. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the fork and shock come with a women’s trail tune.

Tell me more about the suspension tune.

We thought you’d say that, so we sat down with Suspension Development Technician, Chance Ferro, to chat about the women’s suspension tune in more detail. The short version? Given most women are lighter than your average guy and put less force through the suspension when landing a jump or riding the rough stuff, the women’s trail tune is designed to work more effectively at lower pressures.

Click here for the full story behind the women’s suspension tune, with Chance Ferro.

It’s easier to bottom out and feels more responsive in the mid-zone. All changes are reversible and can be done in store. In fact, the difference between the men’s and women’s tune in the fork is the difference of one volume spacer token. Swapping this out would likely suit some lightweight male riders too.

How hard is it to ‘women’s’ a man-spec?

Swap out the saddle, cut down the bars, and ask shop staff to tweak the tune. But to get the sweet looking green and copper paint job featured here, you’ll have to purchase the Women’s Short Travel Carbon Comp 29 (AUD $5,600).

Which models are available decked out for lady-riders from the get-go?

The lady-spec is available on the 27.5” and 29” short travel (ST) Stumpjumpers. These have 130mm travel front and rear on the smaller wheels, and 130mm front and 120mm rear with 29” wheels. These models replace the Camber (or going back a couple more years, the women’s Rumor). The 27.5” long travel (150mm front and rear) Stumpjumper is available with a women’s spec, but the 29” long travel Stumpjumper (150mm front, 140mm rear) is only available with a unisex build.

In Australia, we’ll see the 27.5” ST Comp model available in alloy only (AUD $2,700 and $4,000), the 29” ST up to the Carbon Comp model, and the 27.5” Comp (alloy, long travel, $4,000). If you want to ride a higher spec or different frame colour, you’ll need to look at the unisex range and custom it up.

Why isn’t the 29” long travel Stumpy available pimped out for lady-shredders? We like big wheels too!

I’m with you on that one. In fact, given the opportunity to ride any bike I wanted from the range at the launch in Aínsa, the 29”, man-specced, long travel was the bike I chose for our longest (seven hours) day on the trails. It hungrily devoured everything I threw it at, and I threw it at everything I could – including a slidey, gnarly, mud-covered trail used in the Enduro World Series that even had some of the guys walking.

That said, women who thrive on this kind of riding are still in the minority and have fairly specific ideas regarding set up. Some prefer 800mm bars for instance. Some prefer a different saddle, such as the Power.

Given how customisable the new Stumpjumpers are, and the need to spec each model with sales in mind, I left the launch feeling the Specialized have made the right choice leaving this model one for individual users t customise as they see fit.

Any final thoughts?

Fit and set up issues for women and smaller-than-average guy riders often get missed from bike reviews or condensed into a sentence or two, so I’ve written this article to specifically address some of these issues in a space of their own. However, there’s a heap of other well-integrated, customisable tech in these bikes that gives each model a different character out on the trails. With that in mind, make sure to read up on the performance of the bikes as a whole.

For more on the new Stumpjumper click here.

We have the opportunity to spend more time on one of these bikes later in the year. Which would you like to know more about?


Words: Kath Bicknell.

Photos: Harookz, Specialized.

Giant Anthem vs Specialized Epic – The Ultimate XC Face-Off

Specialized S-Works Epic vs Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 0, it is on! Testing either bike individually we’d expect to feel pretty positive about them, they are both the top-shelf models, with proven parts and a high-quality heritage. But what about when you ride them side-by-side? How do they differ? Which bike does what best?

Of the two, what would we choose? What would you choose? Firstly, make sure you’ve read our Giant Anthem 29er 2018 review and Specialized Epic 2018 review.

Dive in deep with the full reviews right here.

Complete Specialized S-Works Epic 2018 review.

Complete Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 0 2018 review.


Where do these two sit in the scheme of things?

100mm-travel 29ers, we think, have the magic formula for cross-country racing. With the increasingly technical nature of race tracks, combined with the improvement of suspension systems and lower weights, it’s no wonder we’re seeing full suspension bikes at the top of the game in the World Cup more often each year.

giant anthem vs specialized epic

Specialized Epic 2018.

All-new for 2018, the release of the new Epic had us all in awe. The new Brain 2.0 suspension system is a significant advance over the preceding one, the bike’s handling takes it to another level, and the frame weight drops significantly. It’s an impressive release that we didn’t think was achievable!

Anything with ‘S-Works’ written on it is about as good as it gets, no stone left unturned in the hunt to blow your mind and wallet.

Anything with ‘S-Works’ written on it is about as good as it gets, no stone left unturned in the hunt to blow your mind and wallet. It’s a $12500 bike that sits at the top of a decent range of options, and all the way down to an aluminium frame version developed around the same concept.

The new Epic has taken a different approach to frame geometry. The head angle is now 69.5 degrees, a full 1.5 degrees more relaxed than the previous Epic. The Epic uses a custom RockShox SID Brain-equipped fork, with just 42mm of offset (compare that to the 51mm found on many 29er). That means it’s slacker but paired with a shorter stem for quicker steering.

s-works epic 2018 review

Giant Anthem 29er 2018.

We touted the new Anthem as ‘The cross-country race bike we’ve been waiting for from Giant’. It breaks a long drought of 29ers in their range, after staunchly standing by their ‘27.5” is best’ mantra. The new Anthem 29 is unquestionably fantastic, an excellent race bike with a lively nature and seemingly unlimited speed, we’ve thoroughly loved ripping laps of the race track with it.

The new Anthem 29 is unquestionably fantastic, an excellent race bike with a lively nature and seemingly unlimited speed.

The Advance 0 model is the top model from a healthy range of Anthems, with a far more value conscious representation than the Epic.

giant anthem 29er 2018 review


FOX dual remote lockout vs RockShox/Specialized Brain.

Epic.

The Brain suspension system is what sets the Epic apart from the rest of the pack, the unique inertia valve damping can successfully differentiate between impacts from the ground and bobbing motions from the rider, to give you an amazingly efficient ride without relying on external lockouts. Push down on the bike and it won’t compress the fork and shock, run over a bump and it will. Confused? Watch this.

specialized epic 2018 brain
The new RockShox/Specialized Brain 2.0 is said to react faster and feel more sensitive than the previous model, which it is to a degree, but still sacrifices a lot of feel and comfort for increased efficiency. Especially when compared to the plush Anthem.
specialized epic 2018 brain
View of the Brain unit with the rear wheel removed.

Anthem.

The Anthem’s suspension system may be without any fancy proprietary suspension technologies like the Epic, but that’s certainly not a downside, quite the contrary if you ask many of us here. The Anthem uses regular FOX Suspension front and back with remote lockout control. The new FOX lockout levers are easy and quick to use, sitting comfortably under the left side of the bar requiring only light action to engage. It only 90mm of rear travel, but it’s super-active and supple. Why only has 90mm of travel? Read this.

giant anthem advanced pro 29er 0 2018 review
The Anthem’s stout 90mm of rear wheel travel is ultra-plush, very smooth and supple. The polar opposite of the Epic’s system.

Back-to-back on the race track. 

We spent hours riding these two bikes back-to-back on three different circuits to replicate what terrain you’d encounter in a season of multi-day, short course and marathon racing. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad in our minds between the two.

Best aspects of the Specialized Epic:

  • Fantastic handling. Right away we found the Epic’s handling to be a real highlight, especially the steering through singletrack corners. The new approach to the frame geometry of longer, slacker front end/quicker steering, with shorter stems, has paid off and makes a cross-country race bike far more confident to rip through the singletrack super-fast. The front end is remarkably composed and easy to hold onto, where we’d expect the front wheel to feel nervous and to tuck underneath you in a sharp turn it wouldn’t, so our confidence grew, and we found ourselves going faster and faster and laying off the brakes for longer.
  • Brain 2.0. The updated Brain 2.0 shock out the back takes the inertia valve technology to the next level with a more sensitive action and a wider range of adjustability. There’s still that trademark knocking feedback as the Brain opens up with each impact – even in the softest setting – but it’s a significant improvement over years past. It’s about as close to ultimate efficiency as you can get, just with the sacrifice to a certain degree of ‘plushness’.
  • Aesthetics and cleanliness. The Epic will win over the most pedantic freak with its squeaky-clean aesthetics; the bike is all class. With no remote lockouts or any added fuss on the bars, the cockpit is refreshingly clutter-free.
  • Mad light. 9.58kg out of the box, c’mon that’s pretty insane!

Low points for the Specialized Epic:

  • Ouch, that fork! Our hands are still aching as we type, ok that’s a slight exaggeration, but we never got along with the Brain damper in the fork. While we respect this bike’s high-end race intentions, and it sure is efficient, the feedback transferred to our hands and body as we rode rough terrain was pretty brutal.
  • Noisy drivetrain. For a bike that’s so dialled, it makes quite a racket on the descents, the chain slap on the chainstay is not what we’d expect. Not too hard to rectify though, with a little section of rubberised tape.
  • Outrageous price. Nobody can tell us this bike is good value!  S-Works models are a premium offering, and the frame and suspension technology are superb, but when you stack it up against the Giant which has a very comparable spec, it’s hard to justify the $3500 difference in price.
  • Proprietary suspension concerns. Sure it may not ever pose an issue, but the rear shock and fork damper are parts exclusive to Specialized. Proprietary elements are always at risk of limiting your options and serviceability centres.
specialized epic 2018 review
Set how hard or soft you wish the Brain to feel, and you’re off. Hammer hard on the pedals and the Epic is an absolute rocketship.
specialized epic 2018 brain RockShox SID World Cup fork
Deluxe carbon crowns on the RockShox SID World Cup fork with a Specialized exclusive Brain damper system inside.
specialized epic 2018 suspension sram xx1
The new one-piece rear with the 2018 Epic forgoes the Horst Link pivot of years past; the frame flexes in the right place instead.
specialized epic 2018 brain handlebar
Winning the clean cockpit challenge, the Epic is a standout with a neat and clutter-free handlebar setup.

Best aspects of the Giant Anthem:

  • Fast yet comfortable. The Anthem strikes a great balance between fast and too fast to handle. While the Maestro Suspension relies on you to hit the lockout for better efficiency during climbs or sprints, its smooth and supple action wins our hearts and our hands.
  • FOX 32 SC fork. There’s something special about the new 32 SC fork from FOX, the combination of the low weight, smooth action, supple air spring and stable damper make it a fantastic addition to a race bike. The 100mm of travel was so supportive when pedalling out of the saddle, yet it kept that front wheel sticking to the dirt and reduced feedback to the hands damn well.
  • Fast rolling 29er. The wheels and tyres wind up to speed easily and the body position is low, long and fast. The Anthem feels like a classic race bike just with really great suspension.
  • Fair price. Compare it to a Specialized or compare it to a Canyon and the Anthem holds its own in the value department, especially considering that we can’t think of anything that needs to be changed to make it race-ready.

Low points of the Giant Anthem:

  • On or off remote lockout. Compared to the regular non-remote FOX suspension that has three modes of adjustment, the remote has two. The two modes are ‘on and off’ so it’s either locked out for the smooth climbs or open for rough descents. The middle ‘trail mode’ is sorely missed, we know we’d use it more than both of the provided settings combined.
  • Male model only. The Anthem 29 is not represented in the LIV range, which doesn’t make it un-rideable for women, Specialized does offer the Epic with a gender-neutral frame with gender-specific parts.
  • Where is my dropper post? Repeating this will send the product managers at Giant into a groaning frenzy, but building the new Anthem with a 27.2″ seatpost severely limits your options for dropper post with only a couple key brands producing one that size. If the Anthem were our bike, we’d want to add a dropper; we’re probably not alone either.
  • Cable Carbonara. The suspension remote levers add two cables to the equation like pasta hanging from your bars. It’s not a deal-breaker for us, as we see how it adds to the efficiency of the bike without sacrificing the suspension performance on the descents (sorry, Epic Brain). But we can appreciate how it’ll mess with the minds of the fussier riders. You can certainly make it all neater with a little cable-cutter tailoring and time.
giant anthem 29er 2018 review
The long, low and fast Anthem is the ultimate race bike, just with really good suspension! With such efficiency and low weight, it’s a worthy choice over a hardtail any day.
giant anthem 29er 2018 with SRAM XX1 eagle drivetrain
So smooth, so quiet.

FOX SC forks on giant anthem 29er reviewThe narrow crown and chassis of the FOX SC forks are partly responsible for its low weight. This fork outshone the RockShox SID fork with the Brain internals hands down; it’s perfect for this purpose.giant anthem 29erOut of the box, the Anthem’s cockpit is a bit of a headache with the additional two cables for the fork and shock lockout but with time, tailoring, trial-and-error and a pair of cable cutters and cable ties it’d be quickly consolidated.


Proprietary vs standard?

The Giant is 100% standard; the Specialized is not. How does that sit with us? On one had it limits upgrade options, and on the other the approach to servicing, but we are talking about Specialized here and not some obscure brand. We’re pretty confident that the Epic shouldn’t run into any issues with its proprietary bits with strong after-sales support.


Gender options?

Specialized has taken a new approach for this year model offering a gender-neutral frame with a gender-specific build instead of a women’s specific bike. A women’s ‘version’ is available which uses a lighter suspension tune, a ladies Myth saddle, a smaller 30t chainring and a different paint job.

s-works epic 2018 women's


Simple suspension setup.

Specialized’s own suspension setup system ‘Auto Sag’ takes the guess-work out of setting the sag on the rear shock, it is as easy as inflating the shock, sitting on the bike, pressing a button and presto, it’s good to go. The Giant loses out with any whiz-bang helping hand here. Auto Sag is an excellent feature.

The Giant will require the good-old trial-and-error setting sag as you balance propped against a wall, not exactly a chore but in comparison, the Specialized Auto Sag is pretty nifty in contrast.


Be sensible.

Two water bottle cages on all sizes? Yes, the Epic has you covered here, sorry Giant while we appreciate the merits of a rear shock that is mounted in the centre of the frame down low, the single-bottle mount could pose an issue for a marathon racer needing more water storage.

No frame protection, Specialized? C’mon rocks puncture downtubes all the time, Giant have prioritised protection here, and a rubber guard underneath the downtube is sure to prevent expensive unfortunate incidents. And what’s with the poorly placed chainstay protection, not only does the chain wallop the stays over rough trails, it’s chipping away the expensive paint!

Don’t drop the dropper, Giant! The Epic uses a post diameter that can accommodate any brand of dropper post; the Anthem doesn’t.


Be snazzy!

Oh, Anthem you look so lovely! Your 50 shades of blue and mixture of matte and gloss graphics give the Giant attractive looks, while the black on white Epic looks as flashy as a bike of half the price. Bummer that the team riders and international markets have access to the coloured frame S-Works models, as they look so fine! Like the women’s S-Works Epic above, it is way cooler than the mundane magpie we tested.


$3500 between the two, sorry what!?

There are no two ways about it; the S-Works Epic is astonishingly expensive, $12500 is mind-boggling! Yes it’s an industry-leading brand, yes it is loaded with excellent and modern tech, and yes they will still fly off the shop floors because they are fabulous bikes, but $12500… They use the same drivetrain, brakes, and all have carbon bits everywhere. Put it side-by-side with the $8999 Giant you could argue all day about where the dollars go, but we’re talking 3500 of them!

Is the Brain suspension and lighter overall bike worth the difference? Nah, it’s not worth that much to us.


Verdict.

If we were to take it a marathon or multi-day stage race? The Giant. It’s way more forgiving to ride over a few hours or multiple days, no doubt about that!

Our choice for a 1.5hr cross-country Olympic distance event? The Specialized for its hard-out pedalling efficiency and cornering prowess, especially on a buff race track you’ve been practising.

What’s lighter? The Epic is 9.58kg and Anthem is 10.08 as we tested them.

If we had to race it 100% stock, no parts changed? The Giant, it is simply ready to go. We’d not put up with the Specialized’s fork any longer, and send it to a suspension service centre for a conventional RockShox Charger 2 damper to be installed, not a cheap fix.

Part-time trail bike, part-time race bike? The Specialized’s handling feels more like a trail bike, but the suspension on the Giant was more confident and active off the beaten path.

What bike impressed us the most? The Specialized, it’s an engineering masterpiece with its frame construction, Brain technology and overall weight.

Women’s option? The Specialized has you covered with a women’s gender-specific spec model, though the Anthem with a few spec preference modifications will bring it in line with the Epic.

Value for money? Giant, hands down. The complete spec is very comparable, though the price is not. The Giant blows the Specialized out of the water with this one. $8999 vs $12500, ouch.

Fastest lap times? The Specialized. It beats you up and doesn’t feel exceptionally kind at times, but the clock doesn’t lie, and we posted faster lap times of our 20-minute race track on the Specialized.

If money was no option, bottom line verdict? The Specialized, thanks.

Specialized S-Works Epic vs Giant Anthem 29er

S-Works Epic review.

Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 0 review.

Specialized S-Works Epic 2018: Reviewed and Rated

A more epic Specialized Epic

As we said in our 2018 range overview, improving on the 2017 Specialized Epic was always going to be a tall order, but Specialized have pulled out all the stops. The result is a very fine race bike, built for the new generation of race tracks which demand more from riders and bikes than ever before.

At the heart of the Epic is the Brain, Specialized’s one-of-a-kind suspension platform, it sets it apart from the rest of the pack, nobody has a system like it. The Brain has stood the test of time, a testament to its effectiveness and how the cross country community has accepted it with immense popularity.

The lighter, faster, better Epic.
Australian team rider, Cam Ivory on the very bike we reviewed, once we washed away the Cairns dust from it.

How light?

350g has been sliced out of the S-Works model Specialized Epic, and over 500g from the Expert level frame. Our medium size Epic weighs 9.58kg without pedals, very impressive! The most notable change, and one that let Specialized shed some of that weight, was the move to a flex stay system, rather than the traditional Specialized FSR link. Dropping a pivot makes for a lighter, stiffer and more durable rear end. Did we miss it? Not one bit.

Sleeeeek! With the FSR pivot gone, the Epic is a clean, lithe machine.

You can read more about the changes to the Epic in our preview piece here.


Inertia valve… Sounds complicated, what is it?

The Brain… it’s a proprietary system from Specialized that aims to eliminate unwanted suspension activity, ensuring every ounce of your effort is converted into pedal power and not absorbed in the bike’s suspension – the holy grail of mountain bikes, ultimate efficiency. On paper, the Brain system seems like the perfect solution, but it’s not without its quirks.

The heart and brain of the Epic, the Brain.

Like the way triathletes obsess over aerodynamic performance in their equipment, top-level cross-country racers prioritise suspension efficiency and weight.

Via an inertia valve, the suspension responds to activity from the ground, not from the rider. It’s adjustable, too, in the firmest setting the bike feels totally rigid with no movement in the suspension when pushing down, only an impact from the ground in an upwards direction will activate it. The Brain is in both the RockShox SID fork and on the rear end also.

Like the way triathletes obsess over aerodynamic performance in their equipment, top-level cross-country racers prioritise suspension efficiency and weight.

View of the Brain with the rear wheel removed.

For the 2018 Epic, Specialized collaborated with RockShox (previously the Brain shock was built by FOX) to develop the Brain 2.0 rear shock, a wholly revised unit that is said to react quicker to impacts for a smoother transition between open and closed. It’s a tiny little system, and worth having a closer look at its construction to appreciate the clever engineering fully.

Are your trails buff, singletrack flowing, do you dabble in gravel roads or considering entering the National XCO Series? The Specialized Epic is your tool to give back every inch off your effort in return.


Our thoughts on the Brain.

We’re not going to beat around the bush here, the Brain system polarised us and dominated most discussions about the bike. Each time we threw a leg over it, we would relish its incredible efficiency and acceleration speed, and on the other hand, we’d curse the way it punished our hands on rougher sections of the race track. We are well aware that it is built for all-out cross-country racing and not much else, and has won plenty of medals doing so, but blimey it isn’t sunshine and lollipops when the trail surface isn’t ultra-buff.

The Brain is adjustable, at both ends, but it’s not something that you can entirely turn off. The rear shock’s Brain Fade adjuster is way out of reach on the fly down behind the rear axle, the SID World Cup’s Brain Fade adjuster is on top of the right leg, easy to reach. In a perfect world we’d like to be able to turn it off with a remote somehow, but then that would detract from its incredible simplicity, argh, it’s not a perfect world, we know that ok…


Brain in the fork, do we need it?

It’s the fork that had us the most frustrated, does the Epic really need the inertia valve in the fork? Could the Epic be just as good with a conventional damper with a good range of slow speed compression?

Dial it up, dial it down. While we ran the rear shock’s Brain on the firm side, we preferred the fork to be as supple as possible.

The Brain out the back makes a lot of sense and seems to be more sensitive and faster to react that the fork. If we could have our way, we’d opt for a conventional FOX Fit 4 damper or a RockShox Charger 2 damper in the fork, with a three-stage lockout and slow speed compression adjustment.

We think preserving your hands is more valuable, so we’d forgo the Brain up the front, keeping it to the rear suspension only.

The current crop of top-end XC forks are excellent at discerning the difference between high and low-speed impacts so with a couple of dials of low-speed compression it lets you lean over the front of the bike and mash away without too much – if any – unwanted suspension bobbing. They don’t leave your hands feeling like you’ve been hi-fiving a busload of exuberant karate students.

The Brain Fade adjustment lets you choose a firm or soft ‘breakaway’ setting, in full-firm it won’t budge if you push down on the fork, but in full-soft there’s a little more give.

Ok, so, we do appreciate how the Brain can make a suspension bike feel like a hardtail when you want it to but still helps you control the bike on technical sections, sure you could easily adapt and become used to it. And we unquestionably love how clean the whole system is with no remote lockout cables or clutter on the bars. But in comparison to other 100mm cross-country race bikes we have ridden, we think preserving your hands is more valuable, so we’d forgo the Brain up the front, keeping it to the rear suspension only.


Gender-neutral frame, gender-specific build.

A big point of emphasis from Specialized is that they’re moving away from women’s specific frames in 2018, and the Women’s Epic sees the end of an Era…or the Era to be more specific, the company’s previous women’s XC dual suspension offering.

Flow contributor Kath Bicknell has just picked up her size-small S-Works Epic. Loving it.

Only a handful of distinctions remain between the Women’s Epic and the men’s model: a women’s front and rear suspension tune, the ladies Myth saddle  (thankfully available in a less padded model on the S-Works build), a smaller 30-tooth front chainring instead of a 32, a different paint job, and that it’s only available in sizes small to large. That’s it, as far as we can tell. We were surprised to find that the stem length is the same relative to frame size, and the stock handlebar width is identical for the men’s and women’s rigs, leaving it up to the rider change the size if needed.

Being able to fit two water bottles (and a SWAT multitool too) into 16″-framed full-suspension 29er is pretty awesome.

While both models look similar placed side by side, a standout feature for women, and any men needing a 16”/small frame size, is this is one of the only XC race bikes available at the moment with 29” wheels and space for two drink bottles. Most other major brands, with the most obvious exception being the Rocky Mountain Element, currently build their small sized, dual suspension XC bikes around 650b wheels and/or a vertical rear shock limiting space for a second biddon.

Contact points, chainring size and shock/fork tune – those are the only differences between the men’s and women’s Epic.

The mono-bottled Giant Anthem 29 is available in a small size, but the company’s brand for women, Liv, only offer the equivalent Pique in 650b. Trek’s Fuel EX 29 also fits one bottle and is only available in sizes 17.5” and above. This makes the Epic a desirable option for riders with marathon or stage racing aims, who prefer bigger, faster rolling wheels and onboard hydration to smaller rubber and a non-negotiable hydration pack.


Enough Brain and gender chit-chat, how does the Epic ride?

A big focus on the new Epic was to improve its steering and handling. In our experience, this Epic has to be one of the best handling 100mm travel 29ers available. For a bike so light and fast up the climbs, it manages the descents way better than it should. It first became apparent when we took on a series of switchback turns downhill, where turning so hard and using the front brake, we’d expect a sharp-angled race bike to understeer and dive, but it felt quite the opposite. We were able to truly haul ass into corners leaning right over the front of the bike to carve through the turns with astonishing speed.

In our experience, this Epic has to be one of the best handling 100mm travel 29ers available.

There is so much room to move too, the wide bars and roomy top tube means there is a lot of bike in front of you and a strong position to brace yourself with, for those moments when you want to lay off the brakes and milk the terrain for more speed.

There’s a lot more fun about this bike than previous versions of the Epic – it’s built to tackle the tricker, more technical XCO courses that are becoming standard.

The head tube is super-short, too, that will please even the meanest racer with a low handlebar height. And for 2018 the Epic took one step away from the traditionally narrow handlebars and tyres found on cross-country race bikes, so we found ourselves sitting pretty comfortably on the type of bike that would historically be hard to spend more than a couple hours in the saddle on.

Dial the Brain Fade adjuster towards the firmer end of the spectrum, and you are presented with a suspension bike that pedals like a hardtail; we’re not talking crap here, there is no hint of any energy-sapping bounce or wallowing, it’s full steam ahead with each pedal stroke. That feeling is absolutely fantastic. There’s no need to lock or unlock your suspension or risk forgetting about it and drop into a downhill with your suspension still locked accidentally.

No wasted energy – that’s what makes this bike shine.

There’s no need to lock or unlock your suspension, or risk forgetting about it and drop into a downhill with your suspension still locked accidentally.

Despite its perfect finish, we were surprised to find the Epic quite noisy on the rougher descents, though, the super-large and stiff chainstay’s proximity to the chain was the cause of chain slap and even paint chips on the frame behind the rubber guard. If it were our own, we’d be experimenting with adding more rubber protection in that particular area.


Sleek, slick, sexy.

Aesthetically the Epic is an elegant bike to look at, Specialized value clean bikes and this new steed is about as slick as they come. With only three cables going up to the bars, and the Brain’s hose travelling very neatly through the little suspension linkage, it’s a bike that will please the most finicky purists with its ultimate cleanliness and simplicity.

The hose connecting the shock to the Brain actually runs through the minimalist linkage.

There are provisions for a dropper post, too, with internal routing and we can imagine plenty of riders will take up this option to further expand this bike’s spectrum of use.

With only three cables going up to the bars, it’s a bike that will please the most finicky purists with its ultimate cleanliness and simplicity.

Cleanest cockpit in the XC world, we love it.

The black and white paint job is kinda bland in our opinion, the lower spec and women’s Epic models are way flashier, but that’s just our taste, it does look smart. We do like the way it keeps the logo branding to a minimum, and it’s actually hard to find the word Specialized in many places anywhere on the bike and parts. But keep an eye on the wheels, the stickers were peeling in multiple places with our bike, quite unexpected considering how meticulously well-finished everything else is.


All the good parts. All of them.

It’s an S-Works, there is no expecting anything else but the absolute best, especially for $12500. Like most Specialized bikes, there are more in-house components than not, with only the brakes and drivetrain that you’d find on other brand bikes. This kit is supreme, from the carbon wheels right down to the grips. There’s so much carbon in this bike; if it were ever exposed to fire, only a small handful of shiny bits would be leftover.

The SRAM Eagle XX1 drivetrain scores a fat ten out of ten from us; we have a set on our long-term test bike, it’s a system as close to perfect as we’ve ever experienced. The SRAM Level Ultimate brakes are also a great option for XC racing.

Great Specialized Fast Trak tyres with a large volume 2.3″ width offer fantastic cornering confidence.
The SRAM Eagle XX1 drivetrain was 100% at all times, we love this stuff.
SRAM Level Ultimate brakes feel so nice under the finger and provided ample power on the race tracks we rode.

The Fast Track tyres have significant volume and a very supple casing, so when we are really hooking into a turn, they track the ground and conform to the surfaces providing exceptional traction on hard and dry trails. We’d keep a front tyre with a deeper, more open tread pattern on hand for wetter or softer surfaces, just to be sure.

What parts would we change if we were to take it racing? Nothing. But, there’s racing and then there’s riding. If it were ours to keep, we’d look into fitting a regular RockShox Charger 2 damper in the fork, and a dropper post, to make it a bit more friendly on rougher trails.



Are you up for it?

The Epic is a high-end bike that will suit a high-end rider. While they have made considerable improvements to the way the bike handles rougher terrain and therefore widening its scope, there is still no ignoring the fact that it’s designed to race, and that’s what it does so well. Racing a few times a year, but spend the majority of riding time enjoying the trails with friends? Then don’t rule out the Specialized Camber as a worthy option, which uses a traditional fork and shock in the super-supple and efficient FSR suspension design.

Are your trails buff, singletrack flowing, do you dabble in gravel roads or considering entering the National XCO Series? The Epic is your tool to give back every inch off your effort in return.


Verdict

Cleanest cockpit in the game, hands down. Simplicity exemplified.

This bike is seriously impressive, it rips through singletrack way faster than it should for a bike that climbs so well. While we didn’t love the Brain entirely on all race tracks we tested it on, we appreciate the way it is as close as it gets to the ultimate efficiency in a simple and user-friendly manner. It’s smart engineering too, and the latest iteration is better than the past, but we just aren’t sold in the system in the forks, but we know that sentiment comes from our particular taste of how we like the suspension to behave.

Rocketship.

The price? Yes, $12500 is about as expensive as it gets, no doubt about that. Poor value in comparison to other big brands? Yes, though it’s not hard to see how much they have worked to improve an already excellent bike, and there is no stone unturned when it comes to the best parts, and it’s 9.58kg, remember!

You’d be mad not to consider the Epic if you’re serious about racing, it’s seriously fast.

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized S-Works Epic

We’ve assembled, set up and had a couple of quick laps of the race track on the most anticipated arrival to the XC circuit this season, ahead of our full review here’s what we are in for.


Mad light, S-Works light.

10kg (including carbon water bottle cage) is very exciting for a bike you can wheel out of the bike shop, this brings it in line with the top-end Giant Anthem Advanced 0 and Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup, though half-a-kilo lighter than the Cannondale Scalpel Si HiMod Team.

10kg of speed.

How so light? No expense is spared with the S-Works model; carbon wheels, fork crowns, bars, post, saddle, cranks, shifters, brake levers… It’s superior kit and much of it from Specialized’s in-house component line, and wheels from Roval.


What’s new with the frame?

No more FSR suspension, the Horst Link has gone in favour of a one-piece rear end that relies on flex in the carbon (on aluminium Epic model also) instead to drop weight and moving parts from the bike.

The new RockShox Brain 2.0 shock is structurally very different and is mounted right off the back of the bike. Why? We’ll get into more of that in our review. For a quick video from Specialized of the brain’s brain, click here.

The one-piece rear end, lighter, simpler, sleeker.

It’s slacker by a full 1.5 degrees in the head angle, and pair that with a fork offset of only 42mm (regular 29ers tend to be 51mm) the new Epic feels a whole lot less twitchy and nervous than previous models.

A few more modern updates include Boost hub spacing, new internal routing for the cable and brake and it’s dropper post compatible too.


Early impressions?

After only a couple quick rides to dial in the position and suspension setup it’s safe to say a few things; it’s fast, light and begs for more. The brain in the fork sure feels firm even when dialled right back, and out the back, the transition between open and closed is a lot less apparent than earlier models with a useable tuning range via the little blue lever.

New brain location and structure pictured with the rear wheel removed.

 

Putting the hammer down on the Epic is a wonderful experience, it’s efficiency personified, there just is no unwanted loss of energy through the suspension at all.

With a new brain damper and slacker geometry, will the new Epic widen its value to being less limited to the race track? We’re going to find out.


Of course, it’s good, it’s an S-Works.  

Yes, so that’s why this Epic is going in a head to head review with a few other comparable bikes. So far we’ve confirmed the all-new Giant Anthem Advanced 0 and the Scott Spark RC 900 SL, two chart-topping race bikes that will undoubtedly be compared to by eager Australian cross country racers.

So, stay tuned for the ultimate XC race bike battle ever!

The Mother of All E-Bikes: Specialized’s Levo Kenevo is Here

OMG. What IS that?

A 180mm-travel, Ohlins equipped, 2.8″ tyred, descent crusher, that you can pedal up hill faster than Nino Schurter.

The story here is pretty simple. Take the proven Specialized Levo platform, add more travel, better dampers, and slacken it out. What you’re left with is a bike just a few steps shy of a full on downhill rig in terms of descending prowess, but that you can comfortably climb at up to 25km/h. If you want more background on the Levo, read our full review here, or some info about the 2018 Levo carbon here.

Oh yes.

Surely it weights a tonne? 

Of course, probably 23kg. But when you’re barrelling back down the DH run you’ve just pedalled to the top of, you won’t be too worried about the weight, we promise.

Is it alloy or carbon?

Alloy, and there’s only the one model of the Kenevo available at the moment, with the spec you see here (though Australia will be getting an all black version). It will retail for $9000 AUD, arriving in October 2017.

So how does it ride?

Well, if the regular Levo offers the e-experience equivalent to the Specialized Stumpjumper, the Kenevo is more like the Enduro, but with even more of a downhill flavour. Because of the bike’s weight and insane stability, it has a real downhill bike feel about it, it is incredibly calm, absolutely planted to the earth in the corners on its big rubber. It rumbles over the rocks, just like you’d expect of a bike with a 180mm Lyrik and a coil-spring Ohlins shock to do.

The Kenevo isn’t a gazelle, but it was a lot more willing to launch than you might assume.

Getting it off the ground was not nearly as hard as we’d feared, and on just our second run down the hill, we found ourselves cleanly hucking a pretty tricky step-down that we’d have assumed was too big a stretch on a heavy bike like this. It flies evenly too, with all the stability you’d expect.

There is a small price to pay in terms of manoeuvrability when compared to a regular Levo, but the difference isn’t as dramatic as you might assume.

Who is this bike for?

Frankly, we think a lot of former downhillers are going to fall in love with this bike, plus all those riders who generally just live to descend.

We’ve always thought this was a predictable path for the evolution of e-bikes, and we’re a bit surprised there aren’t more long-travel pedal assisted bikes already. You have a motor, it’s not like the extra travel is slowing you down.

We really want to get this bike into some properly challenging terrain to see what it can do.

The pure downhill market is tiny, and shrinking. And it’s riders like the staff here at Flow who have been part of that exodus.  We used to do a lot of downhilling. While getting older is part of it, to some degree we also stopped downhilling because it’s a bit of a hassle: you need a shuttle vehicle, someone is always having to sit out a run and drive, you only actually get to ride half the time and you’re stuffed into a smelly van the rest…. All of these obstacles are overcome with a pedal-assisted bike.

Our test ride on the Kenevo was the first time we’ve done a group ride on e-bikes, and it was a real revelation. We all rode the climb as a group, chatting the whole time, all arriving at the top of the hill together. No one was left out, no one felt bad for holding the group up, and no one had to drive the shuttle. And then we blasted the descent like normal.

Look, you’re either going to love this thing, or you’re going to view it as an aberration of the sport. We fall into the first camp. Why? Because downhilling is a lot of fun, and because shuttle vehicles aren’t.



Specialized 2018 Range Highlights

The new, new Enduro! A few worthy revisions have been made on this recently improved platform.

More #enduro Enduro

Wait, didn’t this bike get a massive update just 12 months ago? Yes, it did. But the feedback from the market and team riders was that perhaps the geometry and suspension rates weren’t quite right, and so Specialized have made some tweaks.

Full credit to them here, as it’s bloody expensive to open new carbon moulds, but obviously Specialized regard the Enduro as a real flagship bike in their range hence their willingness to bite the bullet and re-jig the bike.

Ok, the best looking bike of the year is here.
The Enduro 29er is more than a enduro slayer, it’s a great trail bike too.
Specialized are making it easy and affordable for 2017 Enduro owners to upgrade their linkage to the 2018 version.

Geometry and suspension changes

“We want it longer” was the message from the market, particularly with regard to the 650B version of the Enduro which was proving a little tight for riders who were getting rowdy, and so length has been added to both bikes up front. The Enduro 29er grows by 10mm in a medium, while the 650B bike is 15mm longer.

At the same time, a new shock link and yoke provide a more progressive suspension curve and a small degree of geometry adjustment too – there’s a simple flip chip to give you half a degree of head angle tweakage to play with.

Owners of a 2017 Enduro will be happy to hear the new linkage/yoke is retrofittable, and Specialized are making it available super cheap too.

Longer and more progressive, so you can get more aggressive. #rhyming

WU Post adjust the angle of the dangle

This one has been in the works for a while, as hinted by the massive 34.9mm seat post found on the Enduro frame last year. The new WU Command Post is a re-think of the traditional dropper – as the seat is lowered, it also tilts rearward by 14 degrees. Anyone who has ridden a downhill bike will know the advantages of having your seat angled like this, as it aids getting behind the saddle and makes it generally less obtrusive when you don’t want it.

On our test ride around the You Yangs, we definitely found the WU post’s unique positioning to be more noticeable than we anticipated – we think on steeper terrain the benefits would be more obvious, whereas on flatter terrain it felt a bit funky.

What are you hiding in there….?

Slicker SWAT

The coolest thing ever? Specialized’s SWAT on-bike storage integrations go to a new level for 2018, with a steerer tube stashed multitool and chain breaker. Flip the little door open and the spring loaded system pops out your multitool. Remove the whole system from the steerer tube to get access to the chain breaker and spare quick link.

Making use of dead space to stash your tools.
The SWAT steerer tube assembly removed. Note the chain links stashed too?

Ohlins, now in 650B and with revised sealing

The Specialized/Ohlins partnership gets stronger, with the Swedish manufacturer now offering 650B Boost forks, whereas last year Ohlins forks were only available in 29er format. The reliability issues that plagued last year’s air shocks has apparently been resolved, though obviously time will tell on this one. Hopefully it’s all hunky dory now, as the sealing issues last year really put a damper on our experiences with this bike last year.

Ohlins are now supplying Boost 650B forks too, so there’ll be more of them in the range than before.
The simple adjustments of the Ohlins shock are ideal.


Epically improved Epic

One of the most successful cross-country bikes of all time has had a huge rethink for 2018. The new Epic is a much more modern take on what XC racing is all about, and a really lovely piece of work. We already took a good look at this bike in a previous piece here, but a few recaps below.

The Epic was always going to be a hard one to keep improving, but Specialized have gone to a new level with the latest iteration.

More shredding, less flying over the bars. 

The geometry was been toned down from the savagely sharp handling of previous generations to deliver a more confidence inspiring ride, suiting the increasingly technical tracks of the XCO circuit. With more trail friendly handling now, we’d be surprised if this bike doesn’t woo a few riders away from the Camber. Things like bar width and tyre width have been upped too. Hooray! Going fast uphill doesn’t have to mean being terrified when the trail gets gnarly going back down.

Super light

The Epic has dropped a ridiculous amount of weight. 350g has been shed from the S-Works model, and over 500g has been weaselled out of the Expert level frame. Those are huge chunks to carve out!

No more Horst link!

No more FSR

The Horst link is gone! A big portion of the Epic’s weight loss has been possible with a move to a flex stay arrangement, rather than a using a pivot on the chain stay like just about all previous Specialized dual suspension bikes. Flex stays are nothing new – on a short travel bike like this they can still deliver all the sensitivity and control needed, but with a big gain in lateral stiffness and huge weight savings. Bikes like the Cannondale Scalpel and Scott Spark all use flex stays too.

Improved suspension sensitivity

The Brain system has had an overhaul as well. It’s been shifted from its previous position mid-way along the chain stay to sitting right on the rear axle. This should lead to faster responsiveness of the Brain in transitioning between its closed and open states. The oil flow from the Brain to the actual damper has been improved too, with less convoluted routing.


Gender neutral platforms

Specialized have abandoned the use of gender specific frames, across the board. There are still men’s and women’s versions of most bikes (all the way up to S-Works variants) , but the differences are restricted to things like paint, saddles, crank length, grips, bars and suspension tune.

Now the bike industry is full of spin on this subject, and there are certainly going to be detractors who’ll portray this move as a purely cost saving exercise, but Specialized have their rationale. They say that it’s all about delivering performance first and providing a bike that is most suitable for the ‘experience’ a rider is after, no matter what gender. Just because a rider happens to be female doesn’t mean they want their bike to somehow handle differently to a man’s. After all, a woman riding an Epic wants the exact same performance traits as a guy – they want it to rip uphills and devour fast racetracks.

Men’s and women’s bikes now share the same frames, which means guys can get their hands on this ridiculously good paint job.

Specialized say that the subtle differences in fit that might be required can all be handled in store with position adjustments and small equipment changes, especially if the shop has access to the Retul bike fit system that Specialized own.

Look, it’s a hard one to decipher; on one hand, you’ve got this line from Specialized about experience first. On the other hand, you’ve got brands like Liv bringing out a huge range of women’s specific bikes and pointing to their own research into biomechanics that validate their approach. We’re confused, and we’re sure consumers are too.


 

Lighter, stiffer, more natural feeling and longer travel. The Levo carbon is here.

Levo goes carbon

The e-bike that really spearheaded things here in Australia makes a leap to carbon, gets more travel, and a more natural feeling motor too. If you want to know what we think of the Levo, make sure you check out our full review here.

The S-Works and Expert models get a more powerful battery for longer range than the Comp.

Lighter, stiffer

The full carbon S-Works version of the Levo sheds almost 700g compared to the full alloy frame, but it’s the stiffness gains that are more impressive. With a bike this heavy and with this much traction, keeping it all stiff and stable is hard work and carbon construction does a much better job of keeping it all tracking where you point it.

It’s important to take a moment and consider how impressive the construction really is too. It must be bloody tricky to make a carbon bike strong and stiff enough when you chop out half the down tube to stick a battery in there!

Gaping holes, just waiting for POWER. It’s an impressive piece of frame building.

More natural pedal response plus walk mode

The motor and software has been reworked to make the pedal response feel more natural. Previously, the motor relied on the rider pedalling with a high cadence to operate effectively, which felt a bit strange at first. Things have now been tweaked so the motor will reach peak power output at around a pedalling speed of around 20 RPM less, which is more in line with a natural cadence on a regular bike.

A walk mode has also been added that scoots the bike along at 5km/h (super handy if you need to push it along), along with a remote mode to make it a lot easier to toggle between power outputs on the fly.

The belt drive inside the Levo motor is good for 15,000km.
Razzing about the You’ies on the Levo Carbon.

More travel

Front and rear travel has been bumped up to 150mm as well, which is a welcome addition. As we noted in our previous test, the rear end struggled to keep up with the bike’s abilities in the past, so giving it all slightly longer legs is a big win. After all, it’s not like getting that extra travel up the hill is an issue!

A bar mounted button makes for easier mode adjustment. The bottom button toggles the walk mode too.

We discussed the changes coming with the 2018 Levo models in more detail here.


Canola You’ie Vehicle Pan.

First Impressions: New Specialized 2FO Flat Shoes

Subtle, light, $200.

Last weekend, Sam Hill won a round of the EWS on flat pedals, defying conventional wisdom that there’s too much pedalling in an EWS to come out on top running flats. Ok, Hill’s riding is far from conventional, but we think it’s safe to say all the doubters about using flat pedals on trail bikes have now been hushed. Flats are fun and they can be fast too.

We’ve got a pair of the new 2FO shoes on test. First impressions are that they’re a very lightweight shoe, we weighed them at 359g in a size 43, which is about 70g lighter per shoe than our usual set of Five Tens.

Not as soft as some, but much gummier than previous Specialized shoes.

They’re a straight up lace-up job, no buckles or ratchets to be seen. The sole compound is noticeably softer and gummier than earlier 2FOs as well, and the chunky, open lugged design of the tread looks like it’ll do a good job of hanging onto pins and directing mud out from between pedal and shoe.

Press your thumb into the side of mid sole of the shoe and it’s got a cushiness to it that’s more reminiscent of a pair of running shoes than other flat pedal shoes we’ve used. According to Specialized’s 1500-word press release (yes, it’s big on tech!) getting the density of the EVA foam rubber midsole correct is vital – too firm and the pins won’t penetrate enough, too soft and you’ll feel everything and your feet get fatigued.

The inner cuff offers a little extra protection.

Specialized’s Body Geometry program is immensely impressive (read our interview with some of the chief Body Geometry scientists here) and even though it’s a flat pedal, the 2FO gets the same technologies that make other Specialized shoes anatomically sound, adding stability to your knees under pedalling.

Durability and protection looks good, there’s solid reinforcing around the lace holes and a raised inner cuff to stop you whacking your ankles on the cranks or frame too. We’re giving these shoes to our resident flat pedal rider to test. So stay tuned for a full review soon.

 

 

 

 

All-New Specialized Epic

The paint job on this S-Works model is ridiculous, changing colour like a carbon chameleon.

From our perspective, it feels like cross country is on the ascendency again. The World Cup coverage of XC is superb, huge players like Iron Man and Red Bull are investing in top-tier cross-country events and athletes, and there are loads of brilliant new XC race rigs hitting the market too. In the past 12 months, both the Scott Spark and the Giant Anthem have had a complete overhaul, and now you can add Specialized to that list.

Hey! Where’d your Horst link go?

There are so many changes with the new Epic that we don’t really know where to start. Perhaps we could begin by pointing out that this bike is no longer the Epic FSR – it’s just the Epic. Why? Well, it no longer uses an FSR linkage. For the first time since god knows when, Specialized have ditched the Horst link, a design that has been underpinned their dual suspension bikes for decades.

Another look at that sleek and pivot-less rear end.

Instead, you’ll find a flex stay arrangement. Travel is still 100mm, but dropping a pivot obviously, saves weight, reduces a point of wear and potential flex, and makes for a super stiff rear end laterally. Even the alloy versions of the Epic use a flex stay.

For the first time, RockShox supply the Brain shock for the Epic. The layout and damping has been changed entirely from the previous version.

There have been some absolutely massive weight savings. The mainframe alone is 500g lighter than its predecessor. 500g! That’s like removing the shock, all the pivot hardware and the paint. And that’s just the front end. On the models with a carbon rear end, Specialized have shaved another 200g+. That’s the better part of a kilo chopped from an already light bike.

Specialized’s long-standing partnership with FOX for their Brain shock seems to have come to an end, with RockShox providing the new rear damper across all Epic models. The Brain system is totally revised too, both in terms of structure and damping. The Brain reservoir now rearward of the brake caliper, behind the rear axle. By our reckoning, this should increase the responsiveness of the inertia valve hugely. But what really grabbed us, is the integration of the shock, the linkage and the hose that joins the shock to the Brain unit. The pictures do a better job of telling the tale, but in a nutshell, the linkage forms part of the conduit from shock to Brain, with the damping oil actually running through the linkage. Insane. Brilliant. Sleek as hell.

The hose from the shock to the Brain valve is integrated into the linkage, which becomes an element of the shock itself.

With every iteration of the Brain, Specialized seem to strive to make it feel less intrusive when you don’t want it. While we haven’t ridden the new bike yet (we will soon!) Specialized claim the new Epic has a far more plush ride, closer to that which you’d expect from the Camber.

Of course, the bike uses Boost hub spacing, and like all new bikes, the geometry is slacker and has more reach than before. The head angle is now 69.5 degrees, a full 1.5 degrees more relaxed than the previous Epic. The Epic uses a custom RockShox SID Brain-equipped fork, with just 42mm of offset (compare that to the 51mm found on many 29er). It’ll be interesting to see how this affects the handling, it should make it very stable in theory.

The new cable routing deserves a mention too, running over the top of the bottom bracket shell (which is threaded, not press fit – hooray!), and there are provisions for running a dropper post too, which we think many people will. This bike has a much more ‘trail bike’ kind of vibe to it than earlier Epics, so a dropper would play to those strengths.

Apparently, we’re not going to be waiting long to actually get a ride on this bike too, with stock arriving in July 2017, but prices have been set as below:

S-Works (men’s and women’s) – $12,500

S-Works Epic frameset, including fork – $6500

Epic Expert – $6900

Epic Comp Carbon (men’s and women’s) – $5200

Epic Comp – $3800

Shootout: Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29 vs Scott Spark 900

A tale of two trail bikes from the big ‘S’ and bigger ‘S’.

We love these type of reviews, where we carefully set both bikes up and jump between them multiple times over a few solid rides to feel the differences, then we sit back and pick the finer details apart taking into consideration everything that would concern a potential buyer.

Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29er: $7000, 12.82kg.

Scott Spark 900: $6500, 12.32kg.

We chose the Spark and Camber for many reasons, they share the same wheel size, suspension travel amount and are aimed at the all-round trail rider. The Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29 and the Scott Spark 900 are only $500 Australian dollaroos apart too, see, very close in many ways. Still, no matter how similar they may appear on paper, there were quite a few subtleties that helped us to our final verdict.


Where these two sit.

Slotting in between the lean World Cup cross-country racer, the Epic and immensely popular all-mountain Stumpjumper, the current iteration of the Camber has been around for a few years now and is a touch older in its development cycle than the Scott Spark which was completely revised for the 2017-year model. The Camber uses the outgoing non-boost standard hubs and could possibly be due for a refresh soon-ish, while the Spark is up to date with all the modern standards. The Camber is available in 27.5” and 29” wheel sizes, and in a wide range of price points from $2500 right up to the $11000 S-Works.

The Camber is Specialized immensely popular trail bike, built to suit the everyday trail rider.

The Spark has won its fair of World Cup races too and recently both gold medals at the Rio Olympics. While the longer travel and more laid back Spark 900 we have on test is not the ultra-light and mighty sharp version that Nino Schurter and Jenny Rissveds race, it’s built on the same platform. It must be confusing to work at Scott with so many Spark models in the catalogue – there are dozens of variants, in three wheel sizes, 27.5”, 27.5” Plus and 29er.

The Spark draws on its cross country racing heritage and adds travel and a slacker attitude.

Frame and build:

The Camber and Spark both have lovely carbon front triangles mated to an aluminium rear end. The well-regarded FSR suspension design used across all Specialized suspension bikes gives the Camber top marks straight away. The Spark uses the one-piece rear end with a flex stay taking place of a suspension pivot on the rear end. Both bikes have 120mm of rear travel.

Scott haven’t done much at all in the way of frame protection with this Spark, leaving the underside of the frame vulnerable to flying trail debris, even the chain stay is bare, resulting in noisy chain slap and chipped paint. In fact, this is our second Scott Spark 900. An unfortunate incident on the Juggernaut Trail in Launceston rendered the first one useless as a random rock kicked up and put a whopping hole in the down tube. Unlucky? Yes, but it could have been avoided with protection like the thick rubber shielding found on the downtube and along the chain stay.

On the scales, the Spark is 500g lighter than the Camber. The wheels and drivetrain are the bulk of the weight savings on the Spark.

Aesthetically, they’re both winners. The Specialized is a real jaw dropper, its understated glossy finish and minimal graphics are appreciated, take a step closer and the glittering blue paint will wink back at you in the sunlight, very slick indeed. The Spark’s light grey and green scheme is also well done and matched nicely with all the components, sharp indeed.

Shining carbon and glitter under a dark blue clear coat, be the envy on the trail with a bike looking this good.

With Scott’s new frame design placing the rear shock and linkage low and centred in the frame it gives the bike a low centre of gravity and loads of space in the frame for a full-size water bottle. The move to this new shape, suspension configuration and one-piece rear end allowed Scott to make the lightest suspension frame on the market with the Scott Spark RC model.

Wide, low and beefy, the heart of the Spark.
Check out how the rear brake calliper attaches to the hub axle, another weight saving and allows the rear end to flex without a suspension pivot.

Both bikes have very neat internally routed cabling through the frame, and we appreciate the way the Spark so neatly gets the TwinLoc cable to the rear shock, you can barely even see where it exits the frame.

Unique to Specialized is the SWAT system, a very clever way of incorporating storage inside the frame. By removing the ‘trapdoor’ underneath the bottle cage you can access a large amount of space in the Camber’s down tube to stash an inner tube, chicken burrito and spare parts. An allen key set clips securely into the underside of the top tube, it’s amazing how handy that can be!


Suspension configuration:

The Camber is a real set and forget type of bike, with the Auto-Sag system taking the guess work out of the rear shock setup. With a standard three-position compression lever on the rear shock (open, medium and locked) and indexed GRIP damper in the fork, it is very easy to get your head around.

Simple, neat and quick to setup. The Camber is very low on fuss.
That red valve is Specialized’s own technology – Auto Sag, inflate the rear shock, press the red valve and it’ll rest at the right sag for your weight. Too easy.

In classic Scott fashion, the Spark’s suspension revolves around their Twinloc design, which allows the rider immediate control over the suspension at both ends. The Twinloc has three settings; 120mm travel,  an 85mm travel setting (which gives you a much firmer spring rate and less sag), and then fully locked out, while simultaneously adding compression damping to the fork to match. The Twinloc does a stellar job of adapting the bike’s characteristic – not just travel amount – to suit the moment. Use full-travel mode for descents and rough surfaces, the medium one for the climbs (less travel, firmer compression and less sag) and locked out for tarmac or out-sprinting Julien Absalon.

The Twinloc lever sits close to the thumb on the left side of the bar, it’s is incredibly ergonomic which promotes you to use it often during the ride to your advantage. A lot of people dislike the cabling associated with TwinLoc, but once you’ve used the system for a while, you’ll be less concerned about the cabling and stoked on the performance, we promise.


Parts and spec:

Both bikes have a solid dose of in-house components. Scott’s own component brand Syncros dominates on the Spark, and the Camber is dressed Specialized’s own parts. With the Camber, Specialized gear is used everywhere except the drivetrain and suspension. While the Scott uses Maxxis for tyres and FOX for the dropper post amongst their Syncros parts.

The Spark is a real winner in our eyes when talking spec – the 12-speed SRAM Eagle drivetrain is a HUGE upgrade from the Camber’s 11-speed SRAM GX drivetrain. We’d also pick the FOX Transfer post over the Specialized Command Post, it’s really our favourite dropper on the market right now.

The Spark’s brakes are a level higher than the Camber with Shimano XT vs SLX (we dig the Camber’s integration of the SRAM shifter and Shimano brake levers, nice one!), not a huge difference in braking performance while riding though. The difference in suspension, on the other hand, is quite noticeable – the Spark’s FOX FIT 4 Performance Elite fork feels leagues ahead of the GRIP damper in the Camber’s fork.

There’s a big difference in the wheels with the two bikes too. The Roval Transfer rims are 29mm wide versus the terribly narrow 20mm Syncros rims. The sturdier rims and tacky tyres gave the Camber a sure-footed feeling when the trails got faster. We also bent the Spark’s rear wheel out of shape on one ride. The narrow Syncros rims may feel light and contribute to the Spark’s fast rolling, but we’d ditch them in favour of something wider in a flash.

The Maxxis Forekaster tyres seem to feel more at home on softer soils while the Specialized Purgatory/Ground Control combo is a great pair of tyres for a wider range of trails. During our testing, the trails were dry and handpicked, so the Forecasters on the narrow Syncros rims felt a little on the sketchy side in comparison to the Specialized tyres.

The higher specced drivetrain and suspension has a real impact on the way the bike rides, it feels lighter, smoother and the increased gear range is a big bonus.


Pricing and value:

The pricing came as a real surprise to us. Without checking we’d have sworn the Spark would have been dearer than the Camber, but it’s the other way around. Considering they are both from well-established brands with subsidiary headquarters in Australia the pricing is quite a contrast. The Specialized is priced $500 higher than the Scott, but with a level of spec that comes in well under that of the Spark. We have to question why it’s so expensive, it does seem fairly uncompetitive on that front.

**UPDATE** Specialized have informed us of updated pricing on the Camber, since April’s Autumn Savings sale the price dropped from $7000 to $6000, a big drop in price for sure!


Ride time:

Shredding the trails on these two steeds was unreal. They both meld the best bits of a cross country race bike with just the right amount of trail bike performance. We’re often watching riders, white-knuckled and tense, trying to wrangle their sharp cross country race bikes around the local trails. If only they knew how much better off they’d be on bikes like these two!

With 120mm of travel, dropper posts and decent width bars you’re able to relax and tackle the trails with more confidence and comfort. If you’re considering a Specialized Epic or Spark RC/World Cup we’d suggest trying one of these too, for 90% of the trails they are just as efficient and can also cross over to a race a few times a year too.

The Spark has slightly slacker geometry than the Camber, which will let you push a little harder when trails get steep and technical, and in the hands of a skilled pilot, you could let it rip very hard. It’s got more fire about it, encouraging you to get up and attack, weighting the front wheel, and the suspension is very smooth. If you’re diligent with the TwinLoc lever, it’s fast and efficient too – hit a climb, push the lever, and sprint away.

In comparison, the Camber felt slightly more laid-back to ride; we found ourselves seated more, pedalling through the trails, less aggressive overall. It’s calm demeanour and grippy tyres make it a very stable and relaxed bike, but without at the same sense of urgency as the Spark.

The wide rims, tacky tyres and sensitive suspension feel very sure-footed.

Best aspects for the Camber:

It’s a sturdy bike to ride with zero-fuss suspension, easy to understand the setup. We love the clean aesthetics, minimal graphics and lustrous finish. The SWAT system is nifty and handy. On the trail the Camber is a comfortable and confident bike to ride, the sure-footed manners from the wider rims and tacky tyres really set it apart from the Scott.


Low points for the Camber:

It’s the value in the spec that received low marks in this comparison –  the drivetrain, brakes, less sophisticated fork and shock are all good performers though for $7000 we’d have to wish for more coming from one of the biggest brands in the world. There was rattling in the dropper post while the FOX Transfer felt smooth and quiet all the time. 


Best aspects for the Spark:

The Spark is quite good value for the money, excluding the rims, the spec is dialled. The Twinloc broadens its usage ability; it could well dabble in a marathon or multi-day event with its quick adjustable suspension, low weight and fast rolling wheels.

The frame geometry is very trail friendly; it will be a great bike for an aggressive rider without isolating a cross country rider who requires efficiency.

There’s a lot to like with its attention to detail, the way the Syncros grips integrate both the FOX Transfer post remote with the Twinloc lever and the stem spacers shaped like the stem to give a unique and clean aesthetic. We appreciate the nice Syncros chain guide for peace of mind and the SRAM Eagle drivetrain is a standout spec choice we are totally impressed by.


Low points for the Spark: 

We are dumbfounded that there’s no frame protection either underneath the downtube and across the chainstay. We have had firsthand experience how that can play out.

The 20mm wide rims are too narrow which give the bike nerves over loose terrain, and we bent the rear wheel way out of shape during testing.

A debatable point is the Twinloc’s added complication. It adds an element of untidiness to the cockpit with two extra cables to manage and of course, maintain. There are a lot of fussy neat-freaks out there (us included) and the added cables might deter them, though really with some time and TLC (and a pair of cutters) you can tidy the Spark’s front end up just fine.


Verdict: 

If it’s a question of practicality vs performance, the Specialized has that edge with its zero-fuss suspension, frame protection, the ability to store your tools and spares on the bike so they’re ready to go, and robust wheels and sure-footed tyres.

**UPDATE** Note the updated pricing from April onwards, the Camber went on sale for $6000.

Though from a performance standpoint the Scott has its measure, we found it a more exciting and versatile bike to ride and the higher quality suspension and drivetrain are noticeable on the trail. It’s hard to pass up, especially when you consider the price.

Not even our concerns about the fragile wheels and unprotected frame could turn us off the Spark in this head to head review. Its superior spec, adaptable suspension, low weight and price impressed us. Once you trash the rims, stick on some wider ones, and you’ll be good to go.

Pick one? The Scott.

Tested: Specialized S-Works Enduro 29/6Fattie

Read on for our full review, or watch the video below for a discussion about the S-Works Enduro.

 


The latest generation of the Specialized Enduro is an absolute stunner.
The latest generation of the Specialized Enduro is an absolute stunner.

The 2017 Specialized Enduro 29″ keeps on pushing too. Not only is it a 29er with 165mm of travel, but it has a hole in the downtube to store spares and suspension from a company that has only been producing mountain bike products for a handful of years.

If that’s not taking a leap in search of the next best thing, we don’t know what is. For a bit more a breakdown on new Enduro frame and the changes, check out our introductory piece.


Which wheels size are we testing?

The Enduro has been available in multiple wheel size options for years, but in 2017 you have the third option, with the 29er version also capable of running the 6Fattie format (27.5 x 3.0″ tyres). We only had a brief opportunity to run the Enduro with 6Fattie wheels, and so nearly all our testing was done in a 29er guise.

Is the Enduro fully enduro?

The Enduro 29″ is most definitely an Enduro race bike, you only have to look at Curtis Keene and Graves tearing it up on the  EWS to see that. But unlike some 160mm/170mm bikes, which can feel like pure descenders with climbing abilities barely salvaged by virtue of low gearing and suspension lockouts, the Enduro still aims to be a bike that caters to a wider variety of riding than just flirting with the limit on downhill tracks.

The Enduro still aims to be a bike that caters to a wider variety of riding than flirting with the limit

The Enduro wants to go FAST!
The Enduro wants to go FAST!

What are the Enduro’s strengths?

The Enduro’s biggest strength is its incredible versatility for a bike with 165mm of rear travel. Despite being well up there as an Enduro race bike, the Enduro is still a hoot to ride on relatively tame singletrack.

For one thing, the beast can climb. The steep 76-degree seat tube angle assists seated pedalling on more sedate trails, and even in a size large the Enduro doesn’t feel like a boat. The geometry doesn’t go to the same extremes as some new-school enduro bikes, which means a more versatile ride. For instance, the top tube in a size large of 600mm and 66 degree head angle is significantly less extreme than a large Whyte G-160, which has a 655.9mm top tube and a 65 degree head angle.

The Enduro's front centre is less extreme than other 160mm bikes out there.
The Enduro’s front centre is less extreme than other 160mm bikes out there.
The new Enduro climbs remarkably well for a 160mm bike.
The new Enduro climbs remarkably well for a 160mm bike.
Jumps? No worries aboard the Enduro 29".
Jumps? No worries aboard the Enduro 29″. All the myths about 29ers being bland to ride get smashed by this bike.

On the descents, the Enduro 29er crushes every 29” stereotype out there. If you’ve got a riding buddy who still insists on bagging 29ers as being boring, awful to corner, and afraid of jumps, then put them on this thing for a run down the hill.

Specialized worked hard to keep the rear end short (430mm stays with this much travel is pretty impressive) which brings the big wheeler to life. It feels more nimble than many 160mm 27.5” bikes out there, but never does it feel unstable or too short out back either. Even on some of Thredbo’s more rowdy offerings, where a lot of testing took place, we felt calm aboard the Enduro.

The Enduro 29" corners exceptionally well.
The Enduro 29″ corners exceptionally well.

Perhaps the only barrier to the Enduro 29’s descending abilities is its rubber. The front tyre is just too skinny in our opinion for a bike travelling at this pace, and bigger rubber would enhance both cornering confidence and forgiveness when ploughing the front end through rough terrain. We found the combination of the stiff Ohlins fork, Roval wheels and narrow Butcher 2.3” front tyre a bit harsh sometimes – bung on a 2.5″ tyre.

Some bigger rubber up front would make the Enduro even more confident in the corners.
Some bigger rubber up front would make the Enduro even more confident in the corners.
The Enduro's front end was a very stiff setup.
The Enduro’s front end was a very stiff setup.

It differs from the 29” model in that you almost can’t run out of traction

Speaking of rubber, the Enduro 6Fattie, with its 3.0″ tyres, is a very different ride. It differs from the 29” model in that you almost can’t run out of traction, but we did find ourselves riding it less aggressively than the 29er. With the lower pressures of the big tyres and a lower bottom bracket (the bottom bracket height drops by 5mm when you run 27.5×3.00” tyres), barrelling through rock gardens or any harsh impacts can lead to striking your rims, so we tended to select more gentle lines in these sections of trail.

The only other downside to the seemingly limitless traction and trail dampening is in high speed bermed corners, especially droppy ones, where there is potential to for the tyre to squirm and burp air.

High speed corners require smooth cornering technique aboard the Enduro 6Fattie, rather than the old spray and pray.
High speed corners require smooth cornering technique aboard the Enduro 6Fattie, rather than the old spray and pray.

What are the Enduro’s weaknesses?

Not a great deal. As mentioned above, when steamrolling through technical terrain in the 29” configuration, at times the narrow front tyre meant the front-end felt a bit harsh. However, we were reluctant to drop tyres pressure or soften up the fork, because the Enduro encourages you to ride so fast that we felt much safer coming into sections hot with a high, stable front end as opposed to the front-end diving or slamming the rims into rocks. We do think that a wider front tyre at lower pressure, and more fine tuning of the fork could address this issue.

We’d also like to see the bike come with a dropper post that has more travel. 125mm on a size large is ok, but 150mm drop would be much better, to get that centre of gravity lower when things get properly steep.

The Enduro bloody loves smashing into rocks.
The Enduro barrelling through rocky sections.
Charging through rock gardens was a highlight aboard the Enduro 29".
Charging through rock gardens in Thredbo.

Is the spec worth the money?

There’s no hiding from the fact that the S-Works Enduro 29/6Fattie costs $11000. With that in mind however, you’re getting the best of the best throughout.

The S-Works Enduro costs the big dollars, but comes with some premium kit.
The S-Works Enduro costs the big dollars, but comes with some premium kit.
The Enduro's cable routing is well thought out.
The 10-50 tooth range on Eagle puts the front derailleur argument at the bottom of the sea.

The full Eagle XX1 groupset is the perfect setup, not just for this style of bike, but for mountain biking in general. The range is massive, and it didn’t miss a trick. SRAM also provide the brakes, Guide RSCs, and whilst they come equipped with a 200mm rotor on the front and a 180mm rotor on the rear, we were finding they had some fade on the long runs down Thredbo, and so we’d suggest swapping the organic pads out for sintered pads. If you’re really keen, you could even modify the brakeset like we have on our Canyon Strive, by hooking up the RSC levers with the more powerful Avid Code Caliper.

The wheels are of course from Specialized’s wheel subsidiary, Roval. We found the carbon rims stiff and direct, and the 30mm internal rim width is ideal. Keep an eye on the spoke tension though, as after a few days of many runs at Thredbo, the rear spokes were getting loose. Despite the abuse, both wheels ran true after weeks of riding.

Finally, the Enduro is finished off with a lovely cockpit comprising of a stubby Syntace ‘MegaForce’ stem and an S-Works handlebar. Despite costing the big bucks, you’ll really struggle to get a more premium spec than the S-Works Enduro.

The moulded chainstay protection has been impressively sturdy.
The moulded chainstay protection has been impressively sturdy.
We found the limits of the Sram guide brakes on the long Thredbo descents.
We found the limits of the SRAM Guide brakes on the long Thredbo descents.

Is the Ohlins suspension really that good?

Specialized’s partnership with Ohlins suspension gives a certain gravitas to the brand – these Swedish suspension experts have an immense reputation – the Enduro S-Works gets Ohlins front and rear. We’ve had positive experiences with the RXF 34 in the past, so we were interested to see whether the beefier RXF 36 would step things up a notch.

The RXF 36 is an impressive unit.
The RXF 36 is an impressive unit.

It didn’t disappoint. With 36mm stanchions as well as the one-piece crown/steerer tube, it’s an incredibly stiff fork. In terms of damping performance, multiple testers reported the suspension feeling dead and dull when rolling around the carpark, but out on the trail the fork feels balanced and supportive. It really comes alive once you’re hammering.

We felt comfortable loading up the RXF 36 through corners.
We felt comfortable loading up the RXF 36 through corners.

The fork has dual air chamber adjustments. There’s a main chamber, for setting your overall spring rate, then a separate ‘ramp up’ chamber to adjust latter part of the spring curve. Another feature we appreciated that carried over from the RXF 34 was the compression adjustments on the top of the left fork leg, which can be used as a quasi-lockout for long climbs. Is the fork any better than a FOX 36 or RockShox Pike? It’s certainly at least on par, and the uniquely burly one-piece crown/steerer and tool-free ramp up adjustment do have real benefits.

The RXF 36 features compression adjustment on the left hand fork leg.
The RXF 36 features compression adjustment on the left hand fork leg.

The RXF 36 is paired with the Ohlins STX22 in the rear, which gets Specialized’s Auto Sag feature. Like all Ohlins shocks, there’s actually a very limited band of damping adjustment, with only a few clicks of compression and rebound to toy with, plus a ‘climb switch’ to firm things right up. The compression adjustment is very subtle too which, coupled with the absence of adjustment descriptions on the shock, made setup a bit tricky at first, so dialling in a base setting took longer than usual.

What does this knob do?
What happens if I twiddle this knob?

Once we had a base setting, however, the STX felt supportive and stable in the rear, and we didn’t feel any harsh bottoming out throughout the course of our testing, despite some casing action going down when our ambitions exceeded our abilities at Thredbo.

Despite some issues with reliability, we were pretty impressed with the STX 22.
Despite some issues with reliability, we were pretty impressed with the STX 22.

We’d like to say that everything was 100% peachy with the Ohlins gear, but we did have some problems with the rear shock. It lost air, and we had issues with air passing from the positive to the negative chamber, which caused the shock to become ‘stuck down’ and remain compressed!

To Specialized’s credit, a new shock was on its way to us immediately. Specialized told us that they haven’t seen the issues that we were having before, so here’s hoping they were genuine outliers and moving forwards Ohlins suspension is as good as we know it can be.

The Roval wheels were fast and effective, but the spokes come loose remarkably quickly.
The Roval wheels were fast and effective, but the spokes came loose on the rear wheel.
There's lots of room for bigger rubber on the Enduro 29"!
There’s lots of room for bigger rubber on the Enduro 29″
You won't be doing many upgrades to the S-Works Enduro!
You won’t be doing many upgrades to the S-Works Enduro!

Who is this bike for?

The Enduro 29/6Fattie is a bike that could service a far wider range of riders than just the Enduro race crowd. Specialized have refined long travel 29” geometry over the years with the Enduro models, and the 2017 edition does a remarkable job of hiding the big hoops in a geometry that feels lively, but also stable when the going is fast and rough.

In the 6Fattie configuration, one word that we found ourselves using continually was control. If you’re not the craziest rider out there, jumping into rock gardens and slapping turns with reckless abandon, and you’re looking for something that is predictable in just about every situation, then the S-Works Enduro 6Fattie is hard to look past.

Due to its hard-charging attitude and well-balanced angles, the Enduro 29″ is obviously a bike that fits the bill as an enduro race machine, but it could also be a great option for a rider looking for something confidence inspiring on the descents that doesn’t lose its zippiness on more sedate trails.

The Enduro is fun and lively out on the trail.
The Enduro is fun on lots of trails, not just EWS race courses.

We’re obviously testing the crème de la crème model here, so if you’re tossing up between a mid-range Enduro or perhaps a Stumpjumper, we would highly recommend going for a test ride.

There's not too much drifting through corners on the Enduro 6Fattie!
There’s not too much drifting or skidding through corners on the Enduro 6Fattie, it has so much traction.

We started the review by talking about how Specialized are a brand renowned for taking risks with their products and moving the sport in new directions. After spending some quality time on the new Enduro, it’s clear the future is only getting better for mountain bikers.

Specialized Gravity Announces 2017 Team Roster

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We expect we’ll be seeing the new bike on a few podiums this year.

Öhlins is regarded as the premier name in motorsports racing and has been conducting extensive R&D with Specialized since 2012.

Torkel Sintorn of Öhlins had this to say, “We are super excited to work together with Specialized Gravity—one of the world’s best MTB racing teams. Öhlins has a long and successful background in motorsport but this is the first time we are going into mountain bike racing.

We believe that together with Specialized and their top athletes we can supply and develop next-generation, race-winning products.”

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When asked about the newly deepened partnership, Brad Benedict from Specialized had this to say, “After years of developing suspension from the ground-up, this move will take our efforts to the next level.

Alignment between the athletes we support and the exact products we spec will only help further development of our bikes and suspension, as well. Öhlins has top-notch knowledge in the suspension business – I’m hopeful to see more podiums and wins this year.”

Finn Iles is coming into 2017 after a dominant 2016 season.
Finn Iles is coming into 2017 after a dominant 2016 season.

2015 World Champion, Loic Bruni is excited about the switch to Öhlins, “It’s great to see such a legendary brand enter into MTB, and being the chosen team to put the products on the top step is a big honor. They’ve been working hard and close with the guys at Specialized and we are all very confident about the products. I’m pumped about this relationship and I know we will be successful on it.”

We're very excited to see how the Ohlins fork will stack up against the competition.
We’re very excited to see how the Öhlins fork will stack up against the competition.

Öhlins is not the only exciting change for the team, Bruni and Iles will also make the switch to Fox Head apparel.

Finn Iles in the new team kit.
Finn Iles in the new team kit from Fox Head.

”FOX is proud to equip the Specialized Gravity team as gear partner. Loic Bruni and Finn Iles represent the future of the sport – they’re both driven by passion and in constant search for perfection. This partnership is the association of two premier brands in the MTB industry, driven by a common appetite for innovation and a constant will to bring premium products to market. After almost 20 years, and the first association between Fox and Specialized around Shaun Palmer, we are lined up to write a new chapter of MTB History.” -Matthieu Bazil – Fox Head, Inc.

“People at Fox are very innovative, like at Specialized, and the products are next-level. The fabrics and custom fits are going to make us look rad. They listen to us and our expectations so we are very excited about starting a long relationship with this huge name of the off-road industry.” – Loic Bruni, 2015 UCI DH World Champion.

Loic Bruni is excited about the new sponsors for 2017.
Loic Bruni is excited about the new sponsors for 2017.

Top bearing maker, CeramicSpeed has also come onboard with the team, providing their best-in-class bearings, rounding out the total performance package and leaving not a single detail overlooked.

“We’re excited to bring our expertise in performance optimization to Specialized Gravity for 2017. Our work with such a cutting-edge program will further advance our development of high-quality mountain bike products.” – Martin S. Banke, CeramicSpeed

The Specialized Gravity Team will be rolling on boutique CeramicSpeed bearings in 2017.
The Specialized Gravity Team will be rolling on boutique CeramicSpeed bearings in 2017.

It is an exciting evolution for Specialized and Ohlins to partner on a DH World Cup program, the first for Ohlins. So too we are thrilled to welcome Miranda Miller to the second year of the Specialized Gravity Team.

After a strong 2016 season, Miranda Miller has signed with Specialized Gravity for 2017.
After a strong 2016 season, Miranda Miller has signed with the Specialized Gravity Team for 2017.

We believe Laurent and his team are the best developers of talent in the sport, and believe Miranda will find her true potential with the team.

Miranda Miller will be racing the full World Cup with Team Specialized Gravity plus select Enduro World Series events. Miller had this to say about joining the team, “Thanks to the crew at Specialized and Pure Agency, I’m getting the opportunity to transition from a privateer to now racing a full season with the best support available.

Miranda Miller will compete in World Cup and EWS events.
Miranda Miller will compete in World Cup and EWS events.

This is a dream come true and I can’t wait to progress in a setting I’ve never experienced before, alongside a couple of World Champions and a killer staff.”

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized S-Works Enduro 29/6Fattie

The new Enduro is so hot it's melting the ice here in Thredbo.
The new Enduro is so hot it’s melting the snow here in Thredbo.

This bike comes with a legendary reputation, way back in mid-2013  it emerged as one of the first 29ers to challenge perceptions of what a big wheeler was capable of. It’s received a major overhaul for 2017, and as we discussed in our initial impressions piece back in August, we like the changes Specialized have implemented.

We're excited to give the Enduro a thrashing on the variety of awesome trails Thredbo has to offer.
We’re excited to give the Enduro a thrashing on the variety of awesome trails Thredbo has to offer.

So, what sort of changes are we talking about?

The new Enduro begs to be pushed hard, and Thredbo is the perfect place for that.
The new Enduro begs to be pushed hard, and Thredbo is the perfect place for that.

Heading to Thredbo? We’d suggest you give the Makin Trax Basecamp a try. They hosted us for our week in Thredbo, and it was the perfect setup for our crew of six riders. With five bedrooms, to sleep up to 12 riders, a huge kitchen, an open fire and plenty of space to store your bikes, it’s just bloody ideal. They’re doing some great accommodation and lift pass packages too. Take a look!  

Makin Trax Images-2372


Firstly, a glance at the geometry chart for the Enduro tells you that Specialized has given this bike the ‘long, low and slack’ treatment. In our large 29” Enduro, a roomy 604mm top tube is paired with a 66-degree head angle and 432mm chainstays. For a bike that can also accept 27.5×3.00 tyres, that’s a pretty short rear end!

The new Enduro utilises a longer top tube than its predecessor.
The new Enduro utilises a longer top tube than its predecessor.

Speaking of 27.5×3.00 tyres, for our test we’re going to be alternating between the stock 29” wheels and tyres and a set of 650B+ wheels, to see exactly how the bike changes with wheel and tyre size.

Getting the big wheels of the ground on a fresh section of the All-Mountain trail that is going to blow minds.
Getting the big wheels of the ground on a fresh section of the All-Mountain trail that is going to blow minds.

How much travel is the Enduro 29/6Fattie equipped with?

The Enduro 29/6Fattie comes equipped with a 160mm fork and 165mm of rear-end travel, which is a smidgen less than you’ll find on the 650B version of this bike, which is 170mm front and rear. Even still, 165mm on a 29er is a hefty amount of travel. Will it prove too much?

165mm of rear travel handled by the Swedish maestros of suspension, Öhlins.
165mm of rear travel handled by the Swedish maestros of suspension, Öhlins.

Is that Öhlins suspension front and rear?

It sure is! We’ve reviewed the RXF 34 fork in the past, and we rated it highly, so we’re excited to get some riding in on the RXF 36, which as the name suggests comes with 36mm stanchions, as opposed to 34mm. In this longer travel format, we think we’ll be able to get a better idea of the performance on offer, which was a little tricky to appreciate in the shorter travel version we previously tested.

We're excited to see how the RXF 36 stacks up.
We’re excited to see how the RXF 36 stacks up against the Pike and FOX 36.

What about the frame itself?

Another big tick from us is the inclusion of the SWAT box in the Enduro’s downtube. We love sneaking in rides without a backpack whenever possible, so keeping the SWAT compartment packed with essential spares and room for a snack means that you can pop a bottle on the bike and you’re ready to head out for at least a couple of hours. With the riding this bike is aimed at, you’re going to appreciate not having weight on your back and being able to move around the bike freely!

We're big fans of the SWAT box on the new Enduro.
We’re big fans of the SWAT box on the new Enduro.

Another change to the frame design is the cable routeing. All the internal routeing is guided by sleeves within the frame, which means fewer hassles when working on the bike. Adding to this, Specialized have moved the rear brake and derailleur cables from exiting underneath the bike to running through the chainstays, which eliminates the chance of them snagging and bashing into debris out on the trail.

Neat cable routing through the chainstays ensures that cables are out of the way from trail debris.
Neat cable routeing through the chainstays ensures that cables are out of the way from trail debris.

There seems to be a lot of 170mm ‘enduro specific’ bikes cropping up, do I need one of these bikes if I’m not racing? 

Whilst the emerging trend of 170mm ‘enduro’ bikes is perhaps overkill for a lot of riders, the bike still only weighs a hair over 13 kilograms, so if descending is your priority, then maybe this is the right bike for you, regardless of if you plan to race or not.

We're looking forward to seeing if the Enduro lives up to its 'do it all' reputation.
We’re looking forward to seeing if the Enduro lives up to its ‘do it all’ reputation.

Anyhow, we’re off to do a few laps of the hill here at Thredbo – stay tuned for our detailed review shortly!

Specialized 2017 Models Revealed

The first taste of the new 2017 Specialized range has been unveiled, and we like what we’re seeing. There’s a new super light hardtail, a women’s Camber plus a souped up Stumpjumer.

Judging by the teasers kicking around on social media, there’s a lot more to come too – we’re picking there’ll be new Epic at Rio (perhaps under Peter Sagan – yep, that Peter Sagan) and probably something new on Enduro front too. We’ll have to wait and see!

Here’s what Specialized are showing us for now.


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The new Epic HT uses Specialised’s lightest frame yet.

New Epic HT:

In a sensible move (that will no doubt cause much wailing amongst the olden folk) Specialized have decided to move away from the Stumpjumper badge for any hardtails. Yes, the Stumpjumper name now has less of an association with the original Stumpy, the bike that ‘started it all’.

Fair call we think, having a Stumpjumper hardtail and dual suspension was just confusing! From now on, things with a cross country bent will get the Epic name (Epic FSR and HT), while the Stumpjumper name is reserved for trail bikes.

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There are Epic HT models from $2500 – $10,500.

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At 890g, the new Epic HT is the lightest frame that Specialized have ever made, and that includes road bikes too. When compared to their previous flagship S-Works hardtail, the Epic HT is a little slacker for more confident handling, it also gets Boost 148 hub spacing yielding a better chain line and more tyre clearance too.

As we mentioned above, it’s a no brainer to assume that some of the tech that has allowed the Epic HT to get so light will be incorporated into a new Epic FSR too – Jaroslav Kulhavy is making it pretty clear that something fresh or at least a unique paintjob is on the way!

some dark photoshooting ?

A video posted by Jaroslav Kulhavy (@jaroslavkulhavy) on

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Specialized’s women’s range expands once again.

Women’s Camber: 

Specialized have really been pretty influential in the women’s mountain bike market in recent years, and the incorporation of a women’s specific version of the Camber will reinforce this. Details are pretty scarce on this one so far, in terms of how this bike will differ from the 2016 Rumour which is already pretty closely aligned with the Camber.

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Stump jumper FSR:

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The Ohlins equipped S-Works Stumpjumper.

As you’d expect, the Stumpjumper FSR gets the Boost treatment. The extra room this generates new means you can squeeze the 27.5+ (or 6Fattie as Specialized term it) into the 29er frame now, which is cool if you want two have two different experiences with one frame. In the 650b format, you can fit up to a 2.6″ tyre as well, which isn’t shy of the new Plus dimensions anyhow.

Specialized 2017DSC_1412
SWAT’s in there? Specialized’s cool SWAT Door compartment on the Stumpjumper FSR.

The flagship S-Works Stumpjumper looks like an absolute weapon, with Ohlins front and back. We reviewed the Ohlins fork on a Camber not long ago, have a read here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-ohlins-rxf-34-fork/

We wish we had more detail to bring you, but that’s all that’s come across our desk so far! We’ll hopefully have more on the new range soon, including some on-trail impressions too.

Tested: Öhlins RXF 34 Fork

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Öhlins haven’t rushed into the market open slather though, instead they’ve strategically partnered up with Specialized; initially it was their TTX coil shock that found its way onto the Specialized Demo, then the STX22 air shock graced the S-Works Enduro. In terms of forks, they have released a cartridge damper for the FOX 40, but up until now they hadn’t produced a complete fork. But here comes the RXF34 fork, which a 29er only item (at this stage) and comes in three travel variants,  designed specifically for the Specialized Camber (120mm), Stumpjumper (140mm) and the Enduro (160mm).

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We had the Camber Expert Carbon 29 on test recently and by a stroke of luck the Öhlins fork became available, so on it went, allowing us a great opportunity to directly compare the stock FOX 34 fork and the Öhlins.

See our review of the bike here – Camber Expert Carbon 29 tested.


Chassis construction.

Before we even delve into its guts, the Öhlins  has some unique construction features. Most obviously, the Unicrown, which means the steerer tube and crown are all one piece of aluminium, rather than having the steerer pressed/bonded into the crown. This setup promises more stiffness than a British upper lip and should deliver creak-free performance. The steerer is machined to integrate perfectly with the lower bearing used in Specialized’s headset, so there’s no need for a crown race. This confused the hell out of us when installing the fork at first! If your bike uses a different headset, at worst you’ll need to source a new lower headset cup/bearing to run the Öhlins fork. One downside of this arrangement is the absence of any rubber sealing to keep the crud away from the bearing, so using plenty of grease on installation is a good idea.

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Öhlins  claim the Unicrown makes the RXF 34, with its 34mm legs, is as stiff as the competition’s 36mm-legged forks. It’s a trail fork, not an XC fork, so it’s more of a welterweight on the scales. We clocked it at 2.07kg with an uncut steerer, which makes it around 200g heavier than the FOX 34 Performance fork originally fitted to the Camber. Interestingly, it’s actually a pretty similar weight to a FOX 36 Factory 29er fork too, so even though the RXF uses 34mm legs there’s no real weight saving benefit in doing so._LOW0061

If you’re a fan of clean lines, you’ll appreciate the RXF’s 15mm axle system. It requires the use of a 5mm Allen key for removal/installation, but it sits flush with the fork legs, which looks great. The Camber has a similarly neat rear axle system too, and with the RXF fitted it all looked nicely matched front and rear. For now the RXF has standard 100mm dropout spacing, there’s no Boost 110mm version yet.
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We’re not opposed to having to use an Allen key to remove the axle, and we like the stiffness of this setup, but we did find it was a bit of a pain to remove as the pinch bolts don’t fully release the axle and there’s nothing to grip when you’re pulling the smooth and slippery axle out of the fork.


Internals and adjustments.

The guts of the Öhlins RXF34 borrow from the company’s motorcross technology, with a TTX twin tube damper. In this configuration, the damping oil is under less pressure than a standard single-tube damper, which Ohlins claims allows for better sensitivity amongst other things. External damping adjustments include a five position high-speed compression dial, and low-speed compression and rebound, both of which have a huge adjustment range. If we had any concerns about this fork’s build, it was the compression adjuster assembly, which felt pretty loose and rattly compared to the likes of FOX or DVO. The adjuster dials work well, but they don’t feel as high quality as the rest of the fork._LOW0045_LOW0044

We found the range of low-speed compression adjustment to be very subtle, there’s not a huge difference between either extreme of the range. Conversely, the high-speed adjuster has a marked effect. Turning the dial to its firmest setting dramatically stiffens the fork, making it almost usable as a quasi on-the-fly pedalling platform.

Like many high-end forks, the RXF gives you control over the spring curve. Other brands, like the RockShox Pike for example, achieve this with spacers or ‘tokens’, but the RXF uses a third Ramp Up Chamber to give you this control. The main air spring determines your positive and negative air pressure, but the second valve on the bottom of the fork leg determines the progressiveness of the fork’s spring curve. We followed the recommend pressures from Ohlins for the main chamber (95psi), then opted to run the pressure to Ramp Up Chamber a little higher than recommended setting for our weight (150psi) to give the fork a nice progressive feel under big hits. The Ramp Up Chamber system is a winner, it’s a much more user friendly system than the spacers or tokens in FOX or RockShox forks, and it makes a noticeable difference with only small adjustments.


On the trail.

What was most appreciable about this fork on the trail was how incredibly and immediately smooth it was. Even before we’d done enough riding to properly break in the bushings and seals, the suppleness and responsiveness was perfect, the slightest murmur on the trail was enough to get the fork moving. As we’ve noted above, the low-speed compression adjustment is fairly unobtrusive, so we ran the adjuster about two-thirds of the way in to better match the supportive feel of the Camber’s Brain equipped rear suspension.

We rode the Öhlins pretty hard, and certainly noticed how well it’d hold itself up in the travel, resisting diving and wallowing. Descended with the front brake on and ploughing the front wheel through braking ruts left us impressed with the fork’s damping.

The progressiveness of the fork’s travel is a real highlight, we were able to tune the fork to our liking using the Ramp Up Chamber, resulting in a very useable 120mm of travel without harsh bottom-outs.

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In a perfect world, we’d loved to have tested this fork in a longer travel version on a Stumpjumper or Enduro. At 120mm-travel it’s harder to get a real appreciation of what a fork’s capabilities truly are – travel and geometry start to hold you back a bit before you can really put the fork through its paces. Still, that said, if you only have 120mm of travel available, then you want it to be working for you to the highest possible standards, and the RXF certainly does so._LOW1539

As it stands, we’d have no issue with saying that the RXF 34 performs at the same level (or even higher) as the very best, perfectly maintained 120mm forks we’ve ever ridden (including the Pike RCT3 and the FOX 34 Factory FIT4), but with the added bonus of having a more easily tuneable air spring and crown assembly that should stay silent and stiff forever.


Verdict.

The RXF 34 is just what you’d expect from a company such as Öhlins; a true performer that places real performance benefits ahead of flashy stickers, acronyms or fads. It’s not going to revolutionise the world of mountain bike forks, but it does serve notice to the dominant brands that they’d better stay on their toes and keep agile, because the Swedes are coming, and what they do, they do right._LOW0049

Destination Trail – Tasmania

In this episode of Destination Trail, we follow Troy Brosnan to the remote island wilderness of Derby, Tasmania.

Jungles, pine forests—this corner of the world checks all of the terrain and flora boxes, and with only a handful of cafes and pubs to keep the isolated locals occupied, an epic trail network seemed only natural. 

Join Troy and Specialized Australia employee, Patrick Young, as they leave the stress of the professional DH circuit behind in pursuit of loose singletrack, insights into trail building, and all-around good times.

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Welcome to the second season of Destination Trail. This year, we’ll continue to follow riders as they travel the globe, hunting for its greatest trails.

Some of what they’ll find might be renowned, some undiscovered, but that’s the point.

After all, when expectations and attitudes are stripped away, only the essence of mountain biking remains. This where adventure continues to thrive, and it’s here that memories are made.

Specialized Announces Aluminium Version Demo

Do you remember when we nearly melted the Internet last year with a crazy, single-sided Demo Carbon that changed the way we look at downhill bikes?

Its revolutionary construction, S3 geometry, and completely new FSR layout put it on top of World Cup podiums. Well, the Demo Alloy has the same killer formula, only now, it’s aluminium.

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UNIQUE FRAME

Before we’d even released the Demo Carbon, we knew we had to make it in aluminium. Making an asymmetrical, singled-sided frame out of aluminium, however, was no small task, but the engineering team worked hard to apply the signature look of the Demo at a more accessible price. It also has all of the amazing performance benefits of the carbon version, like internally routed cables, new FSR layout, and it’s still fully customisable for the riders with no new standards.Demo Alloy 5.jpg

More important than the features is that it has the geometry and handling riders have come to expect from the Demo & Specialized. Its S3 geometry was introduced last year, and it takes all of the sizing questions out of buying a bike. Now, you can buy the size you want based on how you want to ride — see below:

– All sizes have low stand over and seat tube heights. Short & Medium sizes share head tube heights, as do Long & Extra-Longs.

– Each size has its own reach measurement, making them truly unique sizes.

– Most importantly, they all have low BBs (343mm), slack head angles (63.5°), and short rear ends (430mm chain stays).Demo Alloy 3.jpg

WHEN CAN YOU EXPERIENCE THESE NEW BIKES?

We wanted to get the word out so we can talk to riders. Let them know that we haven’t forgotten about aluminum DH bikes, and that we’re bringing some more exciting and advanced bikes to market. These bikes will not only be offered as complete bikes, but also as frame sets.

These bikes and frames will be available from the beginning of march in our retailers.Demo Alloy 4.jpg

Pricing below, AUD RRP. Please note prices are subject to change.

MODEL

RETAIL

DEMO 8 FSR 650B FRM

$3,499

DEMO 8 FSR I 650B

$4,499

DEMO 8 FSR II 650B

$6,499

 

Riding With a Legend – Ned Overend

Manly Dam and the surrounding National Park trails in Sydney’s Northern Beaches was the place for an exciting opportunity for Specialized dealers and staff to meet and shred with Ned, and believe us we took him on the rockiest trails around and he absolutely killed it.

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Welcome to Sydney, Ned, how is your whirlwind tour of the Southern Hemisphere going?

It’s great to be here! I don’t think I took the best route to get here though, I flew from Durango to Phoenix, to LA then to Sydney, then to Auckland and finally to Queenstown. But since I got to Queenstown it’s been great riding everyday.

What brought you down this way? 

I’ve just come out to see the trails here and to meet, and ride with some dealers and reps. I’m visiting some stores to talk about their individual markets and the Specialized product in the area.

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What are you up to with Specialized these days?

I do all the major product meetings at Specialized, so it’s important to see the trends are in different countries and how the brand is going in the different places.

Every three months we have a week-long product meeting with distributors from all around the world and the product managers walk the new lines and depending what time of year it is we might be talking about 2018 product and what areas need testing and development. Or we might be fine-tuning a product that is coming out soon.

Because I travel a lot and attend many events I’m able to deliver a unique feedback from my experiences.

Also being involved in the sports marketing we work on making the most out of the cross country race teams.

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What bikes are you involved in?

The high performance mountain biking segment, like the Epic and Stumpjumper hardtail. Also more recently the Camber and Stumpjumper.

I’m across the cyclocross range, especially with the tyre development. I work with the fat bike crew too.

I’ve enjoyed seeing trail bikes and types of trails developing together. For example the trails we rode today, if you were on a classic 26” hardtail it’d be tough to do ride the way we just did, but these new bikes with bigger wheels, relaxed angles and dropper posts are making it possible. People are building more technical trails as people are more capable with their bikes allowing them to so more.

And you’re obviously still racing?

Sure, I’ll do a variety or road races, mountain bike races, cyclocross and fat bike races as well. But what’s really growing fast is the gravel racing, like a 100km race on a cross bike, I love those.

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Yeah, what’s with all this gravel racing up there? 

I think people are sick of cars, so they are exploring a lot of roads without cars!

The races are more are like a grand fondo event; people are going in these events just to complete the ride and check out the dirt roads in the area rather than racing.

We’d love to see the gravel bike segment grow here!

For sure, you guys have some pretty challenging road conditions to ride in here! It’ll happen.

So you’ve gone from Queenstown to Rotorua, Brisbane, Canberra and now you’re in Sydney with Melbourne up next. That’s a variety right there!

Oh yeah, a huge variety. Queenstown was so different to Rotorua, and then riding Underwood in Brisbane felt like a giant BMX track, tight and twisty and super hot!

Nerang trails were hard! Such natural trails and the rocky sections and tight trees were cool, I did had a couple altercations with some of those tight trees though and came a little bit too close to them… Riding in 34 degrees temperature was a shock.

In Canberra we rode the 2009 World Championships course, a really amazing variety in one track. Riding that Hammerhead descent on a 26” hardtail would have been crazy. _MG_7874

And now you’ve just ridden Manly Dam, the most ridden trail in the country, did you dig it?

This place is pretty cool; I love this kind of rock. There’s nothing like this where I’ve been so far.

I like the challenging rocky step-ups and rock drops, all designed and constructed to be safe to ride. If you rode a trail like this in Moab you might get a surprise and come across a sheer drop, dangerous stuff. But you can ride these trails first time and trust that if you’re going too slowly to drop off it, you’ll be able to roll down safely.

You’re on a 150mm travel 650b Stumpjumper today, but you rode a Stumpjumper 6Fattie in Rotorua, what do you make of these new Plus Bikes?

Plus bikes are super interesting, I got involved in the fat bike development really early on, and from those bikes the plus bikes evolved. I think people saw the stability in the big 4” tyres, in the snow it makes a lot of sense, but on the trails it’s a little too much, too slow and bouncy. So from learning about what a massive tyre volume can do and how much fun they are to ride, we arrived at 650b diameter wheels with 3” tyres.

They are super forgiving, but I don’t think they should be pigeon holed as a bike for beginners. If a beginner can benefit, so can an expert.

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Specialized has signed Jared Graves, that’s pretty cool!

The company is seriously so excited to have Jared riding for them now, not only for his skills but the whole attitude and passion for riding is making the entire group of product managers pumped. He’s incredible.

Where are you off to next?

I’m only home for a week and I’m off to Brazil! There’s a trail festival on and we’re launching our new Specialized Levo, the electric bike. But that’s a whole different conversation!

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I’m all over the world this year!

Well cheers for coming all the way down here.

Thank you, it’s been amazing; the level of riders in all your different cities is super high!

Tested: Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29

Specialized Camber Expert-13
Hole in one.

Now a few seasons into its evolution, the Camber platform has seen some big changes for 2016; it’s now available in both 650B and 29er wheel sizes, with two different travel lengths (130mm for 650B, 120mm for 29″ wheels), and the frame and shock technology has leapt ahead massively. Our test bike is the 120mm-travel Expert Carbon 29er, worth a hefty $7999. The cheese smells good, but how does it taste?_LOW0260


 Other Specialized Camber reviews:

Read our review of the 2014 Camber S-Works for an interesting comparison of how the Camber series has evolved: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-s-works-camber-29-finished/

Or the Camber Expert Evo, the traits of which have been absorbed largely by the regular Camber series now: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-camber-expert-carbon-evo-29/

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Who is it for?

Good question. With 29″ wheels and a new version of the ultra-efficient Specialized Brain shock, you could easily think the Camber was designed for the cross-country racer who wanted a little more travel. But the Camber’s wide rims, big-arse rubber, dropper post and cockpit suggest it has other intentions for more rugged riding. The geometry is by no means slack or particularly long, so don’t mistake it for an all-mountain machine either.

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The heart of it all: the diminutive shock, joined to the Brain out back.  Look at the massive size of that down tube and bottom bracket area, too, it’s a seriously stiff front end.

And somehow, it all comes together to deliver a scintillating trail bike experience. It’ll conquer lofty climbs, it’ll rip fast descents, but it’s everything in between where the Camber really shines. And yes, we realise that’s a lot of terrain, but this bike is a great all-rounder.

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Part cross-country racer, part trail bike – the Camber borrows from the best of both worlds, with a Brain shock and a 125mm-travel dropper post.

The frame:

Hoolly doolly! The lines on this bike are some of the nicest going. We’ll touch more on the price tag later (cough) but the frame is gorgeous, and with the features this bike crams into such an outwardly simple appearance, you can see where the dollars have been invested.

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The concentric FSR link is very neat.

The Camber is carbon up front, but out back it’s alloy, and it’s sublimely clean all over. All the cables are managed brilliantly, and graphics are kept to a real minimum, leaving the frame cleaner than a dog’s bowl after brekky. Subtlety is underrated!

The mounting point for the Taco Blade front derailleur. Without a tradition front derailleur mount, the main frame is super clean.
The mounting point for the Taco Blade front derailleur. Without a tradition front derailleur mount, the main frame is super clean.

The sleek appearance is enhanced by the absence of a traditional front derailleur mount. Specialized launched the Taco Blade front derailleur mount, which mounts off the chain stay bridge, a couple of years ago on their Enduro 29, and it now carries over to the Camber meaning the mainframe is kept free of ugly mounting points, and the rear end of the bike can be made nice and short.

The Camber Expert is one of the selected Specialized models to score a glovebox. The SWAT Door (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) is a compartment INSIDE the down tube. In their quest to absolve riders of the need for backpacks on short adventures, Specialized have turned the bike into a tupperware container.

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What lies under the trap door?
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Inside the SWAT Door you’ll find two pouches, which you can stuff with whatever takes your fancy. They have little rubber tabs on the ends to make them easier to remove from the frame.

Leaving all jokes aside, the SWAT Door is fantastic. Undo the clip that secures the panel beneath the water bottle, and you’ll find enough room to stash a huge amount of gear – a tube, a CO2 or two, some food, you could even fit a lightweight jacket in there. We love riding without a backpack, especially in summer, and having the ability to still carry spares, food and more without feeling like there’s possum wriggling about about in your jersey pocket is awesome. Specialized go even further, to the point of including a chain tool underneath the top cap of the steerer tube and hiding a little multi-tool tucked within the forward shock mount. The tool is so well integrated that we didn’t notice it till our third or fourth ride!

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Beneath the top cap you’ll find a chain tool.

We’ll touch on the miniature shock more below, but one secondary benefit is just how much room there is within the front triangle for a bottle, even though the frame also provides very generous standover height. The shock’s Brain unit, down at the rear dropout, gave us pause – it does hang quite low, lower than the chain stay, and while we think it’d be very bad luck to whack it on a rock, we wouldn’t want to find out the cost of doing so.

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The cables are managed perfectly!

The suspension:

Run-of-the-mill this ain’t. Specialized have long worked closely with FOX to develop truly innovative suspension, and the Camber carries on this tradition. Travel is 120mm, but it’s probably the most efficient-pedalling 120mm you’ll ever ride. Just like the World-beating Epic, the Camber gets Specialized’s Mini-Brain shock technology, with a few tweaks to make it more suitable for trail riding rather than racing.

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The shock uses an inertia valve, located in the reservoir near the rear dropout, which keeps the suspension firm under pedalling forces but opens up when there are impacts from bump forces. You can tune the sensitivity of the Brain via a simple five-position dial – we settled on position 3 and left it there, which we’ll delve into more later. What’s also new about the Mini Brain is the introduction of position sensitivity, so that the Brain only engages at around the sag point (25% of the way into the travel) meaning that the shock remains supple and sensitive over the really small bumps.

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The Brain Fade dial has five positions. We ultimately preferred the middle one for our trails.

The usual hassles of suspension setup have been lessened with an Autosag rear shock too. You simply inflate the shock to 300psi, sit on the bike in all your kit and depress the red valve, and your sag is set! Of course you can go firmer or softer if you wish, but in this instance we didn’t feel the need to make any further pressure adjustments. With such a small shock body, we definitely have some concerns about heat on really long descents – will the shock get hot and and start rebounding like a pogo stick in the Alps? We haven’t got the hills to test it unfortunately.

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The red valve of the Autosag system. After inflating the shock, a quick press of this valve is all it takes to set your sag.

All this technology is fitted into an FSR four-bar suspension system. This configuration needs no introduction, but the latest incarnation is really something special, with a compact linkage that drives the shock directly, rather than having any pivoting at the rear shock eyelet. The FSR system is well known for its performance under braking; if 120mm is all you’ve got, you want it working for you all the time, especially when you’re on the anchors.


The parts:

While the Camber’s asking price should, in our mind, at least get you a carbon fibre handlebar and a few higher-end bits and bobs, Specialized have actually done a great job speccing the Camber. There are no weak points in the spec at all.

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A 34 fork means you’ve got a front end that’s ready for punishment.

34mm fork: Specialized did the wise thing and accepted the small weight penalty of larger diameter fork legs. The FOX 34 may be from the second-tier Performance range, but by Minnie Jessup’s beard it is a slick piece of kit – the small bump performance is sensational, even without the Kashima coated legs found on the high-end Factory series of forks. We like the way Specialized have gone the extra mile and had the fork painted a custom glossy black too. Small touches make big differences.

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The cockpit is all Specialized gear. We like the shape of the low-rise bar, and it’s very progressive of Specialized to spec a stout 60mm stem on 29er trail bike.

Specialized kit all over: Like a permaculture farmer, Specialized are pretty much self-sufficient. The drivetrain, suspension and brakes are just about the only components not from the Specialized farm. They provide the wheels, tyres, cockpit, grips, dropper post and saddle. And we love every single item of it.

Whopping rims: Who’d have thought we’d finally see the day that a 120mm-travel 29er trail bike came stock with super wide rims? We’ve been touting the benefits of wide rims for ages, but so few brands have been brave enough to spec girthy hoops as a stock item. Bravo to Specialized for doing so! The Travese rims are 29mm wide internally, which allows you to run much lower tyre pressures without fear of burping the tyre or any of that vagueness normally associated with low pressures.

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The 2.3 Purgatory is one of the best trail treads out there. With the wide 29mm rims, we ran the front tyre at around 18psi.

Great rubber: Maximising the benefits of the wider rims are the excellent Specialized Ground Control and Purgatory tyres, both in a 2.3″ width. This is an awesome combo. The bike is ready for tubeless use, naturally too.

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Specialized’d SRL (Single Ring Lever) is the best dropper post lever on the market. It’s perfectly positioned, and the long lever makes the cable pull very light.

Much improved dropper post: Specialized’s IRcc Command Post is a massive improvement over their previous Command Post, and the SRL under-the-bar lever is our favourite dropper lever. The action is very light.

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A 28-tooth chain ring may sound too small, but we were surprised how usable the whole range was in singletrack.

Tiny ring: SRAM’s X1/X01 drivetrain needs no introduction. We initially baulked at the miniature 28-tooth chain ring, but after half a dozen rides, we’re actually pretty happy with it! If your home trails are flat and fast, or you ride a lot of fireroad, then you could consider going up to a 30 or 32-tooth ring, but don’t rush to do so. Give the 28 a go first.


Setup:

The appeal of the Brain shock system is that you don’t have to worry about making any adjustments on the trail. You select the level of Brain sensitivity and then leave it alone – there’s no flipping levers for climbs etc. This does mean a bit of experimentation is needed to work out the best setting for you and your trails. We suggest finding a short loop that you’re familiar with, something with some climbs, some rough sections, some smoother pedally bits, and then do some laps! We rode the Brain shock in every setting before eventually settling on the middle of five positions and leaving it there. This provided more than enough pedalling efficiency for our tastes, but without making the Brain feel too choppy, or making the front and rear ends feel mismatched. We adjusted the fork to the middle compression setting too, as this was a better fit with the rear end.

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With the SWAT Door, all your spares can stay with the bike.

Our tyre pressures with the wide rims were just 18/19psi. Even with such low pressures, we only felt the rear rim bottom out with a clang once.

Finally, we stuffed the SWAT Door with a few spares – a tube, a CO2, some bars – so we knew we’d have all we needed for each ride. It’s nice being able to leave all that stuff with the bike, rather than having to hunt around for it all in the garage before each ride.


Ride:

Despite our initial misgivings about the Camber’s confused identity, we meshed with this bike well. From the moment we jumped behind the wide 750mm handlebar and grabbed a hold of the soft waffle-pattern Specialized grips, we knew we were going to get along well with the Camber. The cockpit is aggressive, the front tyre looks ready to bite deep into the dirt, everything feels very confident, sturdy and built for fun.

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We ran the fork exclusively in the middle compression setting.
We ran the fork exclusively in the middle compression setting. The fully open setting felt too different to the rear end.

It’s a real singletrack monster. Once you’ve mastered the riding position (get forward on it!) it becomes a matter of trying to find the limits of the Camber’s grip. We found that the Brain had a real effect on the bike’s cornering performance, which was interesting. In the fully open position, the Camber had a tendency to understeer, but with a few clicks of Brain adjustment added, more weight was naturally transferred to the front wheel as the rear suspension stayed up higher in its travel. This had the effect of greatly improving grip in flatter corners in particular.

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The wide contact patch of the Ground Control rear tyre helped us clamber up just about anything.

 

The acceleration benefits delivered by the Brain are obvious. Even with the rolling mass of big tyres and wide rims, the Camber gets up and running out of tight corners like a scared rabbit. If you happen to blow out a corner or take a dud line, your mates aren’t going to drop you.

Over the years we’ve found some Brain equipped bikes felt a little dead – they’d make bunny hopping or manualling/jumping a bit unpredictable. This is definitely not the case with the new Camber and we found it much easier to pre-load the suspension and play with the trail than we’d expected. The latest Brain shock does its job of increasing efficiency without intruding when it’s not welcome. It was only very occasionally, over fast, repeated hits, that we’d feel the suspension get a little harsh. But truly, it was rare that we detected any ‘negative’ impact of the Brain on the bike’s ability to soak up impacts.

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With the short stem, you’re not pulled over the front end. The travel might be on the cross-country end of the spectrum, but the riding position is not.

Going up! It may share the same suspension technology, but don’t expect the Camber to climb like the spritely Epic. With a short 60mm stem, you’re not in a very aggressive climbing position for hammering out of the saddle. That said, you won’t find many bikes that can tackle a technical scramble better than this. With loads of rubber on the ground at low pressures, gearing that delivers plenty of torque, and the Brain suspension keeping the power going to the rear wheel rather than the rear shock, the Camber absolutely devours tricky climbs. It’ll maintain climbing momentum where other bikes would stall out.

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If you haven’t tried a bike with wide rims, then it’s hard to believe how much of a difference they make to the ride quality.

On the descents, the Camber exemplifies just how much a stiff fork, good rubber and a wide cockpit can elevate a bike’s confidence beyond what its travel would suggest. It chews up rough terrain at high speeds. On those ugly, slow-speed descents that threaten to eject you over the bars, the Camber is super adept at just keeping the wheels rolling and not suddenly snagging and spitting you out the front door. The exceptional control available with the XT brakes plays a part here, offering perfect modulation. It’s only when things turn steeply down that you’re reminded that you’re still rocking a 68.5-degree head angle!_LOW0092


What we’d change:

The price? As incredible as this bike really is, $7999 is a large wedge. Maybe with the falling Aussie dollar we’re just going to have to get used to seeing big ticket prices. We’d also ask the bike shop to chuck in a spare chain ring, maybe a 32-tooth, just in case we had plans for a marathon race or two. Otherwise, we’d change nothing! The Camber is brilliantly well put together.


Overall:

Who’d have thunk it? Category-leading efficiency doesn’t have to be restricted to cross-country race bikes! The Camber’s innovative suspension saves you time and effort on the trails – less thinking, more riding, more efficiently. Mix that with good geometry and a truly progressive parts selection, and you’ve got a bike that is ideal for blasting singletrack. The clean design and brilliant incorporation practical storage is just the icing on the cake.

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We’ll be hanging onto this bike for a while longer now too, as it’s going to become the test vehicle for the new Ohlins RXF 34 fork as well.

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Tested: Specialized 2FO Cliplite shoes

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Lighter, stiffer, narrower, radder.

Actually, the weight saving isn’t all that huge to be honest, saving about 140g for the pair when compared to standard 2FO Clip shoe, but they are a much neater, nicer shoe overall in our opinion.

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Double BOA and one velcro strap.

While we really like the 2FO Clip shoes, we find the laces a bit finicky in muddy or gritty conditions. That’s why we’re stoked to see the increasingly popular Boa dial system on the Cliplites. It’s a very simple, fast and precise adjustment system, and it’s practically impervious to mud too. It’s easy to adjust on the fly as well.

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Dialling it in.

The fit isn’t as ‘glove-like’ as we’d hoped – the upper is pretty stiff around the ankle, and we did notice that if we had the top Boa dial done up quite firmly that this top edge of the shoe dug in a bit. We’ve heard other riders make the same remarks, so it’s not just our boney ankles! A little more padding, or use of a more flexible material in this area, wouldn’t go astray. Backing off the tension of the Boa dial a couple of clicks resolved it, but gave us more ‘float’ in the shoe than we like.

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The upper felt quite stiff around the ankles.

Leaving that issue aside, there’s a lot to like. The Cliplite has a grippy SlipNot sole that ensures you don’t end up on your arse if you have to hike the occasional section of trail, and the extended cleat slots (4mm longer than most Specialized shoes) lets you run your cleats further back, which is common amongst more aggressive riders.

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Clipping in and out is a snack.

Getting back into your pedals is made easier thanks to the Landing Strip, which is a deep, long cleat recess and which seems to work particularly well at catching and guiding your foot back into the pedals. If you’re the type of rider who likes to dangle a foot in loose corners, you’ll appreciate this.

To date, they’re proving to be nice and durable. The finish wipes clean easily and the tall rubber edging off toe box is tough. While the black and white versions here have a bit of ‘foot in a fairy penguin’ vibe to them, you can also get them in an understand black/grey or a lairy green/black too.

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Great shoes.

Try them out for fit first and make sure they play nicely with your ankles (remember, Specialized also do a range of great Body Geometry inner soles too), as they’re certainly a great shoe for the trail rider if they work with your leg-ends.

 

Specialized and Aaron Gwin Part Ways

Aaron joined Specialized for the 2013 season, and although it was a rough year in terms of race results, in many ways it was still a near perfect match-up; Aaron, being multi-time USA DH National Champion and the fastest American downhill racer to come along in at least a decade, and Specialized, a US-based brand dedicated to the pursuit of creating the fastest race bikes and equipment.

After the first year, growing pains were overcome and things picked up dramatically. 2014 would see Gwin take two World Cup victories, one 2nd place result, and a total of five appearances on the podium. For 2015, the momentum continued to build with Aaron bringing home an astonishing five wins (one of which with a broken chain!) and the UCI World Cup Downhill series overall.

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“Aaron is a rider unlike any other. His commitment to success is unrivaled, and I have never known another athlete who works as hard and is as focused as Aaron. This past season with him was unforgettable and one for the history books. He will be greatly missed.”—Benno Williet, Specialized Factory Racing MTB Team manager

Aaron himself had this to say, “It’s been a great three years for me at Specialized. I’m very thankful for their kindness, hard work, and continuous support in helping me further my racing career at the highest level. I leave the team satisfied with the results we achieved and will remember the great times we had for a very long time. It’s been an awesome ride and I wish them all the best in the future.”

Specialized would like to thank Aaron for a truly unforgettable ride that will be forever written into the history of our brand and not forgotten any time soon. We wish Aaron the absolute best in his next chapter and look forward to watching him continue to push the boundaries of speed on a downhill bike. Chapeau, Aaron!

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29

Let’s take a quick look at the new Camber before we get it real dirty. Full review coming soon.

The Camber is available in carbon and aluminium, ranging from $2799 up to the S-Works for $12999, check out the full range here: Specialized Camber.

Our review of the 2015 Camber Expert Carbon EVO: Camber EVO review.  

Read our review of the new 2016 Stumpjumper too, she’s a real beauty. Specialized Stumpjumper review. 

Seen the new 6Fattie range? Worth a look if you’re a fan of traction. Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie review. 

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The new-look 2016 Camber, subtle with its minimal graphics and lack of stickers.

Slotting in between the lean and mean Specialized Epic and longer legged Stumpjumper, the Camber has grown to be a mighty popular trail bike with its ability to suit just about any mountain bike rider with its neutral ‘just right’ on-trail character.

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The front end is a beautiful mixture of smooth lines and sleek shapes. It’s hard not to run your fingers over it and say “ooooh”.

Two wheel sizes: The Camber is now available in both wheel sizes (previously only 29″), 650b and 29er. 120mm travel for the 29er and 130mm for the smaller wheel 650b version. We’ve got the 29er on test, the Expert Carbon Comp 29.

Tighter numbers: It’s all the rage, shorter rear ends for a zippier ride. The new Camber 29er drops from a previous length of 450mm to a short and snappy 437mm. The head angle slackens off slightly to 68 degrees.

Internal routing: We really appreciate a clean bike, and this new Camber is so damn fine it’s just a dream. The cable routing is even neater than before, and everything just seems to be so tidy.

Internal cable routing done the good way.
Internal cable routing done the good way.
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Trimmed the rear centre down in length, and beefed it up in girth.

SWAT: What? Storage, Water, Air and Tools. The new Camber uses the SWAT Door, a storage compartment under the water bottle cage. It’s Specialized’s new thing that nobody else has even come close to, you’re able to mount small repair tools on the bike, there’s always space for a full size water bottle and now even a storage compartment INSIDE the down tube takes it to another level. Match that up with their excellent SWAT Bib (that we’ve reviewed and swear by) you can leave your hydration bag at home and carry all the essentials you need for shorter rides on your body or on/inside your bike.

In addition to the SWAT Door, there’s a nifty little allen key set hidden under the tup tube and a chain tool integrated into the headset top cap, now that is clever! We’ve used the SWAT Door plenty of times, and it is actually a really great feature executed very well.

Stiffer and lighter linkage: The new Camber is a lighter and stiffer frame than its predecessor, chiefly due to a new linkage that connects the rear shock directly to the seat stays, said to improve lateral rigidity whilst losing weight. The bike weighs a very impressive 12.34kg out of the box, not bad at all.

The tiny little FSR linkage.
The compact little FSR linkage.
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A reconfigured linkage drives the tiny Micro Brain rear shock.

Position-Sensitive Micro Brain: Specialized have used their Brain rear shocks for yonks, made in collaboration with FOX it uses an inertia valve housed down towards the rear hub which can differentiate between impacts from the ground and the rider’s inout pushing down. Over the years our relationship with this system has improved, earlier versions whilst very efficient they would lack feel.

The latest version of the Brain is said to be a vast improvement in this regard, with a greater range of adjustment with more sensitivity. This is of particular interest to us, we’re looking forward to testing it out on the dirt.

Wide Rims: YES! 29mm wide rims, winner. Specialized got the memo about wider rims are better rims a couple years ago, and now offer good width on so many of their bikes. The Roval Traverse wheels on this Camber have an internal width of 29mm. Thumbs up.

The classic tyre combo of a Specialized Purgatory up front and the Ground Control out the back is a real winner in our eyes, and they’re all set up tubeless.

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Glossy FOX forks.

34mm FOX: The new 2016 FOX Fit 4 forks are sweet, and with the 34mm legs leading the way everything is stiffer and more precise.

Shimano meets SRAM: In what Specialzed must call ‘best of both worlds’ the brakes are done by the Shimano with the new XT brakes that are winning everyone over with their light feel and heavy power, read our review on them here: Shimano M8000 XT tested.  And the drivetrain comes from the other corner, SRAM.

The SRAM 11-speed drivetrain uses a tiny 28 tooth chainring on carbon cranks up front, with the base level 10-42 tooth SRAM GX cassette out the back, that’s a nice and low range of gears.

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It’s all looking pretty good so far, but we couldn’t help but gasp at the price. $8799 is pretty massive, the prices of bikes just keep on going up, and it seems Specialized are particularly effected. Only a couple years ago the same version was closer to $6000, crazy.

We’ll be putting in the testing miles on the Camber this summer, so stay tuned for more.

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Let the testing begin!

Tested: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp 6Fattie

Ok, you’re out having a great mountain bike ride, the feeling of going really fast is fantastic. Then you get a little bit carried away. All of a sudden the trail turns slippery and you’re going way too quick, but don’t worry you’re going to make it through: you’ve got 3” tyres.

Riding a bike with huge 3″ tyres is obviously going to be amazing, the large amount of traction on hand will let you do things you never thought could be possible.

It’s a new standard, everyone is doing it, we love it, it’s a tonne of fun to ride. But who will these bikes suit the most? And where do they work the best?

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Yeeehaaa!
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Specialized’s entry level 6Fattie dually.

For 2016 Specialized are going pretty deep with this new category of bikes. Coming to Australia is the Stumpjumper FSR like we have here, a women’s version called the Rhyme, as well as the hardtail Fuse with its women’s version, the Ruse. Jump on the Specialized site for all the models.

It’s all about the pros and cons with any bike or product. And in the case of this new standard of semi-fat tyres on mountain bikes, it’s more about balancing up the pros and cons for you than ever before.

This bike has capabilities far greater than a regular tyred one, but like anything it does come with drawbacks. Our best advice would be to weigh up the pros and cons before you rule them out.

[divider]What is it?[/divider]

New standard: The Stumpjumper 6Fattie boldly presents itself from an emerging new category of bikes using big tyres and wide rims. The 3″ wide tyres can be run at super-low pressures, and the wide rims help support the tyre from squirming around underneath you. In the case of this bike it uses an aluminium Specialized Stumpjumper 29er main frame, with a new dedicated rear end. With a 27.5″ wheel wrapped in big tyres, the outside diameter is really quite close to a 29er, perhaps only a centimetre’s difference in diameter. We took out the ‘callipers of truth’ recently, here’s what we found.

Because the tyres are so fat clearance issues arise trying to fit it all in the frame without the bike blowing out to unrideable lengths and widths. Hence the need for the new, wider ‘Boost’ standard components: the hubs are 110mm wide up front and 148mm wide out the back (regular hub widths on a comparable bike would be 100mm front and 142mm rear). The chain line is also shifted outboard with the new wider SRAM cranks putting the chainring only an extra 3mm further out to accommodate for a wider rear end.

Confused? All that doesn’t really matter to a degree, but it does mean that older parts won’t be compatible with a new generation plus sized bike like this one.

For more on the 6Fattie Stumpy, check out our initial impressions on them here: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie.

Our first experiences with these new breed of bikes was with the 6Fattie hardtail, the Fuse. Full review of that trail ripper here.

[divider]The Frame.[/divider]

There’s a lot to like about this frame. The construction, geometry, finishing detail and suspension design give us even more reason to respect the fine work that Specialized do. While is may only be the entry level Stumpjumper 6Fattie, its aluminium frame looks like it’s taken from the top of the catalogue. The welds are perfectly neat and the paint is lovely.

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Very neat welding joints.
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The compact and stout FSR linkage.

Essentially the 6Fattie uses the front end from a 29er Stumpjumper with a dedicated rear end to make space for the bigger tyres. The designers have worked hard to give the big tyres clearance while simultaneously avoiding the stays getting so wide that you rub your shoes or calves when pedalling, the result is a real mix bag of shapes and lines, no straight tubes to be seen.

The FSR suspension design is used across the whole range of bikes from Specialized, and is often regarded as the benchmark in pedalling efficiency and feel. Cables are a mixture of internal and externally routed, a good balance between quick and easy maintenance whilst still looking tidy.

Designing a bridge-less seat stay has allowed the length of the rear end to be shorter for snappy handling.
Designing a bridge-less seat stay has allowed the length of the rear end to be shorter for snappy handling.

In trademark fashion the Stumpjumper 6Fattie is very low to the ground and short in the rear end, which we found was to be awesome in most instances, but also at times not so much of a good thing. More on that later.

[divider]The Parts.[/divider]

$4499 gets you a very well thought out mixture of the best from both worlds of Shimano and SRAM while Specialized and FOX handle the rest. Over the years we’ve grown to not expect any crazy value from Specialized, especially with the Australian dollar not at its best. Given this bike uses a whole host of new technologies and is clearly not slapped together and rushed out the door we think the pricing is fair but not amazing.

They certainly have covered all the bases well though, nothing jumps out at you needing to be upgraded straight away. From the quality Specialized Command Post IRcc to the comfortable cockpit and saddle, this bike is pretty dialled and ready to shred.

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The drivetrain and brakes are amazing, for what is meant to be entry level stuff the performance is more akin to top shelf parts. The Shimano Deore brake levers feel light under the finger and offer very consistent power during testing, and the new SRAM GX drivetrain may be heavier than their other 11-speed offerings but it works so damn well we were quite blown away with the similarities with the expensive stuff.

A tiny 28 tooth chainring might seem a little absurd at first, whether such a low range of gears is needed everywhere is up to the user, but we loved using all the gears available.

Combining such a low gear range with the massive traction allows you to ride in a way that is simply not possible, even riding directly up a flight of stairs is a snack as we were to find out.

Wheels: These new plus sized bikes use wide rims to help support the big tyres at low pressure, but in fact Specialized have been using wide rims on their bigger travel bikes for a couple years already with their Roval Traverse Fattie wheels. We’ve ridden them on the Enduro, check it out here. Top end Fattie bikes will come specced with the carbon Roval wheels which measure 30mm in width, this bike uses the aluminium version at 29mm. An even wider 38mm Roval wheelset is soon to be available aftermarket.

While we’re on the wheels, our test bike needed a bit of spoke love, a few spokes were loosening off making a bit of noise. We doubt that it’ll happen on all bikes, but if you do hear something pinging away, that could be the issue.

Tyres: The Ground Control 6Fattie tyres are big and very rounded in shape and the tread is shallow in depth. At first we thought we’d never lean the bike over far enough to actually use the side knobs but you certainly do. Our test bike came from a batch of early release models with two Ground Control tyres, but we’re told 2016 stock will be specced with a more aggressive Purgatory up the front.

Suspension: The 6Fattie is another bike that has a little more travel up front than out back, something we’re seeing increasingly often. The rear end has 135mm travel, with 150mm up front. The FOX suspension feels very smooth to ride, and the wider fork crowns are quite a sight to behold when you first jump on. We did find the compression tune on the rear shock quite light, so we spent most of the time in the middle setting to keep it from wallowing into its travel when pedalling and pumping through the trails.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  54
The FOX 34 Float 150 forks at 110mm wide look HUGE!
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FOX Float out the back with Specialized’s nifty Autosag, a feature that takes the guesswork out of suspension sag setup.

[divider]The Ride.[/divider]

Ok, on to the most important bit.

The 6Fattie rides like mad, it’s capable of taking your mountain biking to an unprecedented level, you’ll corner much harder, launch down descents with reckless abandon and climb up things you never thought possible. It’s a blast.

This is only the second dual suspension 27.5+ bike we’ve ridden, the Scott Genius Plus being the first. Because these bikes are so new it reminds us of when we first started testing 29ers, where we would be comparing them to 26″ bikes in performance. In this case we find ourselves comparing it to non-plus bikes rather than other plus bikes.

Setup: After plenty of experimenting, we set the tubeless tyres up with 14 and 15 psi in front and rear, slowed the suspension rebound speeds and kept the sag as we’d normally do for a regular bike.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  109

Climbing: So much traction changes everything. Climbing takes focus and technique to maintain traction, if you don’t get the balance right you will expel too much energy and go nowhere. When we were testing the 6Fattie we picked fights with the ugliest of climbs and won, and found ourselves climbing out of the saddle more when we needed more power, with less care about weighting the rear wheel to help it find traction.

With a fairly sharp seating angle and a short reach the Stumpy was also quite comfortable to drop into a low gear and spin the legs up a climb.

The low bottom bracket height might be great for keeping your centre of gravity low for a great cornering position, but there was a frustrating amount of pedal striking going on around our regular testing trails. We be bashed our pedals on the ground more than any bike we have ever tested. Whilst it didn’t cause any crash it certainly would give you a little fright and interrupt your pedalling rhythm, but that’s the trade-off for great cornering performance.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  122
Put down enough power, and you’ll get up the ugliest of loose climbs. Don’t worry too much about good technique.

Cornering: If there was one element that the 6Fattie shines the brightest, it’s the corners.

Adding to the nearly infinite amount of traction is the Stumpjumper’s nimble and fun-loving frame geometry.

When ripping around a tight corner we found ourselves not worrying about washing out and crashing, instead we put all our effort into picking the faster line, braking less and getting back on the pedals sooner. After a few corners doing that, we really got the hang of it, then the speeds lifted whilst the energy output didn’t.

With such a wide and round tyre with low profile tread the 6Fattie does has a certain vague feeling to it, where on regular bikes you know when the side knobs are biting into the dirt through a corner. We’d love to have tried the Specialized Purgatory up the front, we’re sure that will add a certain degree of precision to the ride.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  108

Descending: It’s the added confidence of the big tyres that makes you feel safer when gravity is behind you giving you a push.

Our first ride was a clear indication that going downhill on this bike is a whole lot of fun, we yelled and laughed a lot.

It’s like riding a burly downhill bike at times, but where downhill bikes get their confidence from – being long, slack and with loads of suspension travel – it’s the huge tyres of this Stumpy that give you a new-found courage and confidence.

It will take a little getting used to the extra width tyres, they tend to tag more trail features off the side of your riding line. You’ll know about it too, the noise when the side of the tyre snags and pings off root or rock is pretty loud.

Flat tyres become less of a risk with such a large volume of air to cushion the rim from hard objects, but at the same time you tend to ride into more stuff harder than normal. While we didn’t flat during testing, these bikes won’t be immune to flats – it just takes more to create a pinch flat, but when you’re riding that much harder it is still possible.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  118

[divider]Where does it shine? [/divider]

– Loose surfaces are where we were most blown away by how much these tyres hang on.

– We cleaned tricky climbs and set faster times on descents.

– While there is extra weight on the wheels, it’s far less fatiguing to ride on rough terrain so the overall energy expenditure is low.

[divider]Where does it flounder? [/divider]

– The mushy low pressure tyre is certainly noticeable on the smoother trails, and on tarmac. If you don’t want to trade mad dirt performance for a little bit of drag at the wheels on the way to the trails, you may need to reconsider.

– The 3″ Ground Control tyres have a very round shape to them, we tested 2.8″ Schwalbe Nobby Nics on the Scott Genius and we appreciated the way they felt more like a normal tyre with side knobs and a less balloon shape.

– No matter how wide the rims, when we would push it hard into a banked berm or the face of a big jump there was often an uncertain feeling that the tyres were squirming beneath us. So it’s not one for the bike park riders with crazy g-forces, stick to the trails.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  101

[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]

Whether the pros ride them or not, we’re not too fussed, we’re not as fast as them and our priorities are different. Buy this bike if you want to have more fun on the trail than you’ve ever have had before.

It makes mountain biking more manageable whilst also making it faster. Especially if you ride trails that are loose, rocky, ledgy and steep.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  111

We have no doubts that the 27.5+ bike will become more common over time, the more people that can try one out the better. Expect to see the vast majority of brands offering options for 2016, and component manufactures too.

Specialized’s Electric Assisted Mountain Bike, The Turbo Levo

Electric assisted mountain bikes are on their way to Australia, and Specialized are on board in a big way with their new Turbo Levo range.


_MG_15_05_Levo_8362

Mention electric mountain bikes and watch the internet implode. Battle lines are quickly drawn with riders dividing into the ‘it’s not mountain biking’ camp, or the ‘this is awesome’ camp. Whichever side people tend to ascribe themselves too, you can almost certainly bet they haven’t actually ridden one of the new generation of pedal-assisted mountain bikes.

Before we we get ourselves sucked into the pros, cons and propaganda from both sides, let’s take a look at Specialized’s new e-bike offering.

Specialized: To be clear, the Turbo Levo is a trail bike with pedal-assist Turbo Technology, not an electric bike or motorcycle with a throttle. Some riders and trail users may not be as excited as that you and your Turbo Levo are sharing the trails with them. Please be aware of the rules and laws of your local trails.


What is the Turbo Levo?

As far as we can tell, the Levo looks to be an adaptation of Specialized’s new Stumpjumper 6Fattie, with a 3-inch x 650b tyres to deliver absolutely bag loads of traction. If you didn’t see our coverage from the launch of the new Stumpy, take a look here. We also tested Specialized’s new Fuse 6Fattie hardtail just a few weeks ago and came away really, really surprised.

But of course the tyre size is completely secondary to the real talking point of the Levo, its electric motor which should help you crest the nastiest hills like feeling like Lance in his most turbo-charged era.

_MG_15_05_Lift_2102

Specialized have been developing electric bikes for a while – their Turbo electric assisted commuter bike is an impressive piece of work – but e-mountain bikes are a different kettle of fish, and the hub-drive motors found on many commuter bikes aren’t appropriate off road. Instead the Levo uses a centre-mounted motor, that has been custom built exclusively for Specialized.

Of all the electric assisted mountain bikes we’ve seen so far, this has to be most cleanly executed from a visual standpoint. It actually looks like a normal bike at first glance, which can’t be said of all e-bikes. Fitting in a motor, battery and associated electro-doids can make it hard to create a bike with decent geometry – the Levo’s geometry figures all look relatively standard, with the exception of the chain stays which are a lengthy 459mm to allow the motor to be squeezed in.


 

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 2.11.01 pm

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 2.11.25 pm

[divider]The Motor[/divider]

250W motor specs:

– Compact and lightweight at 3400g

– Quieter, quicker engagement with the smoothest disengagement

– 530W / 90Nm power output

– Battery will recharge in 3.5 hours,

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 2.11.49 pm
That’s a whole chunk o’ battery.
[divider]Mission Control App[/divider]
Unlike other brands which use an onboard computer, Specialized have gone down the route of an external app. For iOS and Android devices, the Mission Control app gives you all the toys to tune the bike including a Smart Control algorithm allows you to set your desired ride time, distance, or destination and it will adjust the Levo’s motor and battery output to suit. Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 2.12.08 pm

_MG_15_05_Lift_0387
What massive climb?

[divider]Australian pricing[/divider]
S-WORKS  TURBO LEVO FSR 6FATTIE $14,999

TURBO LEVO FSR EXPERT 6FATTIE $9,999

TURBO LEVO FSR COMP 6FATTIE $7,999

TURBO LEVO HT EXPERT FAT $7,999

TURBO LEVO HT COMP 6FATTIE $5,999

TURBO LEVO HT COMP 6FATTIE WMNS $5,999

Specialized Unveil Completely New Camber, in Two Wheel Sizes and with new Brain Shock

Not long after Specialized revamped the classic Stumpjumper and introduced the Rhyme, we’ve been handed the exciting news that a whole new Camber will also be on its way for 2016. Do these guys sleep? So many new bikes, so much work!

The new Camber is a completely fresh bike, but its position in the market remains the same. Filling the gap in Specialized’s line up between the racy Epic and all-mountain Stumpjumper, the Camber is a popular one for riders seeking a lightweight, short travel dually with a confident feel on the trail.


We recently tested the Camber’s bigger brother, the brand new 2016 Stumpjumper FSR – hear our thoughts. 


Camber 1
The top tier S-Works Camber FSR Carbon 29. A whopping $12999!

[divider]Highlights of the new 2016 Camber range[/divider]

– Available in TWO wheel sizes, 650b and 29″.

Previously a 29″ only model, riders will now have the ultimate choice, two wheel sizes. Choose between smaller diameter 650b wheels for a fun and flickable ride, or 29″ wheels for speed and confidence.

The 29er uses 12mm of travel, the 650b has 130mm.

We’re all about choice, as no two riders will want to ride one trail the same way, so having the same bike in two wheel sizes is a great option. The 29er will have shorter travel (120mm front and rear) and sharper geometry than the 650b model (which runs 130mm-travel front and rear) to play to the strengths of the bigger wheels.

In an effort to simplify the large range, there will be no Camber EVO model, with the 650b version filling that void with slightly more travel a more aggressive riding style.

Camber 12

– All-new geometry with shorter chain stays and a slacker head angle. 

The 2016 Camber will have a wheelbase of 1119mm (650b) and 1135mm (29″). But most interestingly to note is that the chain stays on the 29er drop from a previous length of 450mm  to a short and snappy 437mm,the  same length as the upcoming Trek Fuel EX 29. The 650b version is much shorter again.

The all-new 650b model will have very tight 420mm length stays which brings it right in line with other fun and playful bikes. I It’ll be a sweet bike to ride, for sure.

Head tube angles are slackened off, too. With the 29″ Camber moving from 70 degrees to 68, and the 650b version will sit at 67.5 degrees. The low bottom bracket height remains the same, 329mm (650b) and 335mm for the 29er.

Camber 5

– New Concentric Link FSR, for a stiffer and lighter rear end.

The linkage arrangement has been given a big shakeup. The new Concentric Link is allows weight to be saved from the seat stays and is said to be a stiffer arrangement.

Camber 8

Camber 3
The fat carbon stays bolt onto linkage centred around one pivot. It’s all lighter and stiffer than before.

– New Position-Sensitive Micro Brain rear shock.

Short travel suspension bikes from Specialized use their proprietary inertia valve suspension design – The Brain. Constantly evolving, this very clever system has the ability to give your rear suspension ultimate efficiency – it ensures your suspension is only activated when an impact occurs from the ground upwards (i.e. hitting a bump), and not from you pushing down on the bike (i.e. pedalling). You can dial in how much damping you want from the Brain, from almost totally non-existent, through to super firm.

The Brain concept has been around for yonks, but for 2016 we will see the Camber with its own special variant called the Position Sensitive Micro Brain, and we like the sound of it very much.

The Position Sensitive Brain will let you feel the trail underneath more. The inertia valve will only engage when you’ve reached the sag point of the travel. The first 25% of the travel will remain open and plush.

Whilst the Brain has always been great in that it let’s you hammer hard on the pedals without the rear suspension bobbing bob as you do, we’ve found it it can be somewhat unpredictable and intrustive at times. For instance, when pumping the ground, or pushing into the bike to preload the suspension to make a jump, we’ve often found the Brain can make the rear suspension feel a little funky.

So, with this new 25% of ‘brainless’ portion of travel at the top of the stroke, we can envisage this letting the rider feel the terrain a little more, not skimming over the top of it.

Camber 9
The new Micro Brain operates along the same lines as earlier Brain shocks, but the inertia valve is always kept open in the initial 25% of the travel.
Camber 11
The blue dial adjusts the firmness/sensitivity of the Brain, so you can adapt its performance to suit your trails.

– SWAT Door.

Like the new Stumpy and Rhyme, the Camber gets the new SWAT Door. There’s literally a hinged door, that gives you access to the the big space inside the downtube for storage. Understandably, we’ve heard many people deride the new SWAT Door (or Glovebox as we like to call it) but we’re sure it’ll end up being super useful. It’s all part of Specialized’s goal of freeing the ride of the need to use a hydration pack, as you can mount a water bottle, tools, and spares on/inside the bike.

Camber 10
The SWAT door. A handy place to stash your spares, you sandwich, or hide your Euros if riding in Greece.

– Taco Blade front derailleur system.

Following suit of the Enduro and Stumpjumper range, the Camber will now use Specialized’s trick front derailleur mount, the Taco Blade. This allows the bike’s rear end to be super short in length, whilst still allowing the use of a front derailleur if needed.

Camber 6

Details are a little light on the Camber at this stage, but stay tuned as we attempt to find more out about this sweet new bike. In the meantime, have a flick through our reviews of the original Specialized Camber.


S-Works Camber 29:  http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-s-works-camber-29-finished/

Camber Expert Carbon Evo 29: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-camber-expert-carbon-evo-29/

Women’s Specific Rumour Expert Evo 29: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/shred-ette-specialized-rumor-exper-evo-29-reviewed/


[divider]Australian Retail Pricing[/divider]

S-WORKS CAMBER FSR CARBON 650B $12,999

S-WORKS CAMBER FSR CARBON 29 $12,999

CAMBER FSR EXPERT CARBON 650B $8,799

CAMBER FSR EXPERT CARBON 29 $8,799

CAMBER FSR ELITE CARBON 650B $7,799

CAMBER FSR ELITE CARBON 29 $7,799

CAMBER FSR COMP CARBON 650B $5,799

CAMBER FSR COMP CARBON 29 $5,799

CAMBER FSR COMP 650B $3,499

CAMBER FSR COMP 29 $3,499

CAMBER FSR 650B $2,799

CAMBER FSR 29 $2,799

CAMBER FSR GROM $2,999


 

Fresh Product: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie, a 27.5+ Trail Bike

6Fattie is here. Specialized embrace the cush new era of semi-fat trail bikes with a dedicated Stumpjumper rolling on 6Fattie (27.5+) wheels. Hold on tight, they look like fun!

Click here for our final review of the Stumpjumper FSR 6fattie Comp.

The Stumpjumer 6Fattie rolls on 650b tyres that boast a whopping 3″ width. While not as obese as a full-blow Fat Bike, the tyres/wheels certainly look big – almost comical. Fitting such big rubber definitely requires some pretty careful frame construction, let alone the challenge of making it all still ride well and retaining the fun, lively ride that most mountain bikers demand.

At the recent 2016 Specialized launch in Rotorua, we were lucky to get a very advanced preview of these new bikes. Unfortunately it was still too early in the piece for these bike to be ridden. Here is what we saw. A proper test ride is coming soon! Specialized claims that the 6Fattie tyres have a contact patch that’s 69% bigger and that tyre volumes are 56% larger (though we’re not sure what these comparisons are being made to). Either way, there should be shedloads of grip.

6Fattie details 2016 14
With such a massive tyre, the traction will be off the charts!
6Fattie details 2016 10
3″ tyres. We weighed one at 970g, which is not that much more than say a 2.3″ trail tyre. For instance, a Specialized Butcher in a 650 x 2.3 weighs 755g.
6Fattie details 2016 8
An aluminium rear end with no seat stay bridge helps the rear end remain short enough for good on-trail handling.
6Fattie details 2016 7
Clearance is tight between the chain and rear tyre, so the adoption of the wider spaced 148 Boost hub standard helps line things up nicely.

Our take on 27.5+

Without doubt these new bikes are going to be fun to ride, and that’s the main goal, right? We’ve not yet ridden one, but seeing these bikes in the flesh gives us confidence that they will work, Specialized have obviously spent some serious development time on these.

But at the same time, we can’t help but expect that 27.5+ (or 6Fattie) will attract some ardent critics, and we can see 27.5+ is going to divide opinion much like emergence of the 29″ wheel once did.

And like 29ers, these 27.5+ bikes will certainly have some benefits on the trail, the control and traction on hand will be on another level, but they most certainly will not be ideal on every trail type out there.

From our perspective, the arrival of 27.5+ is bitter-sweet. We love options, we love innovation, we love bikes that have more control and grip. But on the other hand, it finally felt like the mountain bike community had gotten over the 26 vs 27.5 vs 29 debate – we’d accepted two wheel sizes on the whole. 27.5+ is a step away from this consolidation, and we can’t help but think it’ll confuse much of the mountain biking public who just want to go ride, and don’t necessarily want/need/have an opinion on the ‘best’ wheel size.

Our sport is already very confusing – imagine being a punter looking to buy their first serious mountain bike; trying to get your head around the benefits of different wheel sizes, suspension travel amounts, or decipher the different categories -and 27.5+ definitely adds another elements of complexity.

But, we need to ride one of these things before we go getting ahead of ourselves. Luckily, a 6Fattie bike is winging its way to Flow HQ at the moment. Are we afraid that we’ll love it?

6Fattie Stumjumpers will be available from July/August, at price points from $4499 for the alloy base model, up to $11999 for the S-Works version. Yikes!

6Fattie details 2016 13
Local fellas were just as perplexed about the tyres as we were!

Fresh Product: Specialized Rhyme, a Women’s Specific 150mm Trail Bike

The expanding lineup of women’s specific bikes at Specialized is testament to growth in demand, but there are few brands out there that offer women’s bikes and product on such a complete level as the crew from California.

For 2016 we will see an entirely new women’s trail bike, with 150mm of generous travel on 650b wheels – the Specialized Rhyme, which will come in both regular and 6Fattie (3-inch tyres) versions.

Rhyme 2016 3 Stumpjumper 2016 6

While Specialized have been a leader in women’s bikes for a long time, a longer-travel bike was noticeably absent from the range. More aggressive riders were served well by the Rumor Evo (which we tested here) but if you wanted a little more travel, or didn’t want a 29er, you were out of luck. The Rhyme solves both of those issues, with a 650B wheel and 150mm travel.

Front to back – from the size specific components to the Women’s specific suspension tuned rear shock, the Rhyme is dialled.

Highlights of the new Rhyme:

 – 150mm travel front and back.

 – 650b wheels.

 – SWAT Door technology on carbon models, internal storage inside the downtube.

 – Exclusive Women’s Rx Trail Tune FOX rear shock. For lighter riding styles, the rear shock will use its full travel more often.

 – Narrower handlebars than men’s models.

 – Size specific components, smaller size Rhymes will use shorter crank arms, stem length, and travel in the adjustable seatposts. 

 – Women’s specific Specialized Myth saddle.

Rhyme 2016 3
SWAT Door storage space under the bottle cage, and a women’s specific rear shock tune.

For more details on the frame construction head over to our in-depth review of the 2016 Stumpjumper from Rotorua, up on Flow now.

Rhyme 2016 2
Leave the backpack at home, put what you need in here.
Rhyme 2016 1
The stunning Rhyme FSR Expert Carbon 650b

Stay tuned for more, as we plan a proper test on one of these, very soon! The Rhyme will be available July/August, in three spec levels with regular and 6Fattie version in each. At each equivalent spec level, the 6Fattie variant will set you back an extra $500.

  • Rhyme Comp 650 / 6Fattie: $3999 / $4499
  • Rhyme Comp Carbon 650 / 6Fattie : $5499 / $5999
  • Rhyme Expert Carbon 650 / 6Fattie: $7999 / $8499

 

 

 

Tested: 2016 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 29 & 650B

Old name, new game. The 2016 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR is hotter than the surface of the sun, and boasts some pretty cool features. It is hard to believe that a bike that we’re so fond of could be improved, but here goes.

For 2016, the Stumpjumper FSR tightens up its geometry numbers with an even shorter rear end for snappier handling on the trail, it scores some classy aesthetic improvements and at a complete surprise to us, an internal SWAT Door compartment storage system on the carbon models.

Internal SWAT Door? Yep, it’s like a glovebox in your downtube, with enough space for an inner tube, mini pump, Vegemite sandwich and a couple Space Food Sticks. Specialized’s plot to rid us of the need to ride with a backpack steps it up a notch.

Gone are the ‘in the middle’ Stumpjumper EVO models for 2016, just the three wheel size options with the 650b taking over the slightly more aggressive role on the trails.

Flow was lucky to take part in a super-secret testing session on the new Stumpjumper in Rotorua, NZ. We rode the hell out of the bikes, and made the most of the opportunity to to chat in detail with the actual designers behind them.

Stumpjumper 2016 15
Playing around on the Stumpy 29er.
Stumpjumper 2016 9
The mouth watering Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR 29

Before we get to the SWAT bit, let’s take a look at the highlights to the new 2016 Stumpjumper’s chassis.

 – Now in three wheel sizes, yes, three. 650b, 6Fattie and 29″ (or in non-Specialized terms – 27.5″, 27.5+ and 29″)

 – The Stumpjumper 650b receives its own dedicated frame. The 2015 model was effectively a 29″ Stumpjumper main frame adapted for 650B wheels.

 – No more Specialized Brain Shocks on Stumpjumpers. The special inertia valved Brain shock will stay on bikes like the Epic and Era.

 – The women’s specific version – The Rhyme – in 650b wheel size only receives all the sweet updates as the Stumpjumper FSR. The sizes available are able to fit rides from 4’10” up to 6″ tall.

 – Internal cable routing on carbon models, done very nicely indeed, with full carbon tube-style cable guides.

 – A shorter chain stay length. This is achieved by a combination of a few things, most notably the use of their Taco Blade front derailleur mounting design (debuted on the Enduro, with its category leading short rear end) and by removing the bridge between the seat stays (yep, no seat stay bridge!). 

 – There’s a new proprietary RX tune on FOX rear shocks, supplied to FOX by Specialized’s suspension testing department to help the shock suit the frame’s kinematics even further. 

– Dropper posts and wide rims on ALL Stumpjumpers, too good!

Stumpjumper 2016 4
The Danny Devito of chainstays, short and kinda portly.
Stumpjumper 2016 3
Internal cable routing done well.

SWAT Door

If you’ve ever lived in a small apartment you would know how important storage is. Finding any unused space for stashing your stuff is a real challenge, there is only so much crap you can jam under your bed!

Specialized are calling it a groundbreaking feature and we’re certainly with them on that one. When we walked into the room to see the new bikes nothing would have prepared us for what we saw on the downtube; a glove box.

By manufacturing the frame in a way that a large opening can be moulded into its down tube, Specialized were able to open up a whole lot of space inside the largest part of the frame, for the sole purpose of storage. Crazy, clever and mighty handy! It’s all part of their Storage Water Air Tools (SWAT) concept. The whole system is seriously well done, and we can only begin to imagine how much would have been involved in interrupting the shape of the largest tube in the frame without sacrificing strength or rigidity. Specialized say the SWAT Door took nearly five years to develop.

Stumpjumper 2016 1
Stumpjumper 2016 2

You could put whatever you want in there (perhaps a pigeon?), but demonstrated here is the S-Works SWAT kit.

Stumpjumper 2016 3
plenty of space, our iPhone even fit inside. Just watch your prawn salad or pork bun, don’t forget you’ve left it in there!

The water bottle cage screws into a flat and wide plastic door on a hinge, and the door clips positively into place with no hint of a rattle when riding. Inside the frame the carbon is immaculately smooth, the internal cables are housed inside moulded piping, and a little plastic net clips into place at the bottom to stop anything from dropping down too far towards the bottom bracket.

SWAT Door, used in conjunction with a water bottle cage, Specialized SWAT clothing items (liner shorts with loads of pockets, and a vest for the ladies) and the clever chain tool headset nut, and allen key set clipped into place above the rear shock, you have enough storage and tools for a ride. It might not suit longer epic rides where more water or clothing is needed, but if you like that feeling of riding with nothing on your back, this will make you happier than ever.

At Flow we are divided: some of us are devoted Camelbak wearers, and some can’t ride any bike without a bottle cage. You have certain limits with just carrying water in a bottle on your bike or in your SWAT bib shorts, so perhaps the SWAT concept is best suited for short blasts in the woods rather than epic rides.

As long as the weather didn’t change too much, or we ran out of water, it was a free, refreshing and lightweight feeling to ride without a backpack, no doubt about it.


Riding the Stumpjumper FSR 29

With the horrid task of testing the new season bikes on Rotorua’s dreamy trails, we took out both the S-Works Stumpjumper FSR 650b and 29 for a rip around.

First up we straddled the 29, with the bigger wheels the travel a little shorter than the 150mm travel 650B version, with 135mm in the rear and 140mm up front. We’ve been huge fans of the Stumpy 29 over the last few years, it pretty much sums up what we like about a trail bike and manages to reap the benefits of 29″ wheels without the downsides. Click here to see our review of the 2013 version. 

Stumpjumper 2016 12
Supple suspension, tacky tyres and a sweet balance of slack and sharp – the Stumpy rules the trails.

Skimming through the fast and flowing trails in the Redwoods, the Stumpy 29 instilled confidence and efficiently handled anything in its path, no surprises there. What did amaze us though was when the trails turned into jump lines, with table tops, doubles, and fast berms as far as the eye can see, we forgot we were on a 29er and nailed the lot. Nosing into landings, popping off the lips and railing turns on the edge of the tyres the Stumpy 29 really had us pleasantly surprised.

The 29er really shone when the trail surfaces weren’t exactly friendly. Slippery roots, loose surfaces, and rough braking ruts were handled easier than on its 650B brother.

We would even go as far to say that if we were racing the Enduro World Series race on the same trails we were testing, the 29er would be our pick. The 29er delivers real confidence on the trails.

The new Stumpjumper 29 is slacker than its predecessors (the 2015 version had 69 degree head angle, while it is now 67.5 degrees), and the chain stays are a whole lot shorter too, dropping from 450mm to 437mm across all sizes. The bottom bracket also drops a couple millimetres.

For a 29er those are some pretty slack numbers, and with the leaner Specialized Camber and burly Enduro on either side of the Stumpjumper, it seems to really have found its place in the lineup as a go anywhere bike with a playful nature.


Riding the Stumpjumper FSR 650b

Smaller wheels, wider eyes, the 650b Stumpjumper was what we really wanted to spend time on while we had the chance. We were mighty curious about this one.

Specialized had a bit of a wobbly start with the whole 650b wheel size thing, hanging onto the ‘one wheel size is best’ mantra for a very long time, focussing whole heartedly on the 29″ wheel for the majority of their range. In fairness though the excellent 29ers they were producing when the debate was running hot were just how you would want a great bike to ride, so perhaps they weren’t in such a hurry as most brands were. As you’d have it, consumer demand for 650b increased, and Specialized released a 650b Stumpjumper that rode well but still felt a little like a half measure, with an obvious compromise in its construction – a spacer under the headset to adapt what was essentially a 29″ front end with a new rear end.

What they’ve done for 2016 is give the Stumpjumper a real leg up into the new school world, and it charges a whole lot harder than before. With 150mm of travel front and back, a very short rear end, slack head angle, long top tube/short stem and the new Rx tuned rear shock this bike seriously rips. And we absolutely loved riding it!

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The S-Works 650b. RAD!

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Jumping off the S-Works 29er onto the S-Works 650B the trails felt very different to ride indeed, not so much easier or faster, we were just able to ‘let it hang out’ a bit more and that’s more our style, but of course not everyone’s.

We laid the bike right over onto the sides of the tyres, spent more time drifting with a foot off the pedals and the smaller wheels made those tight turns and quick decisions happen with a real snappy action.

150mm of travel is a fair bit, and only a few years ago this amount of travel was one stop short of a downhill bike. But we’ve come a long, long way and what you can do with a bike with this amount of bounce is crazy, but even crazier when you don’t feel like it is holding you back one bit when you don’t need it. On the buff and smooth trails in the Rotorua forest the FSR’s efficient suspension came into its own, and switching the FOX rear shock’s little magic blue lever would help us make light work of tough climbs.

Geometry wise the Stumpy 650b runs a 67 degree head angle, one notch slacker than the 2015 model and the chainstays trim off a whopping 15mm down to 420mm. A criticism we had with the 2015 Stumpjumper 650b was the super-low bottom bracket, it turned on a dime with such a low centre of gravity, but we had to take too much care to avoid bashing our pedals on the trail below. The new version lifts the bottom bracket up from 327 to a more acceptable 335mm.

With the removal of the EVO models from the Stumpjumper line, the message is simpler to the consumers, and the 650b fills the space nicely with its hard-charging attitude and beefier appearance.

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Verdict

When we heard that Specialized was releasing a new Stumpjumper we hoped we’d see at least two things – a shorter rear end using construction methods like the Enduro, and a dedicated 650b version. Well, that happened and more. The SWAT Door feature is really clever and could be very useful, and the internal cable routing finishes off a stunning bike in a classy fashion. They ride like a dream, come in a variety of price points, and are pretty hard to fault.

While the two variants of the Stumpjumer are aimed at one thing – trail riding – having a choice of wheel sizes is excellent, as not everyone wants to ride the same trails the same way.

Alongside the Stumpjumper came the release of the women’s specific Rhyme (read about it here) and the semi-fat Stumpjumper 6Fattie (here for more). For pricing and availability, wander in to your local Specialized dealer, they’ll know what’s up. The guy below sure knows what’s up.

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Tested: Specialized Command Post IRcc

The best thing to happen to mountain bikes since tubeless tyres is the adjustable seatpost. It’s one part that we can’t do without, and seeing them become a standard part on most dual suspension bikes from 120mm and up is a wonderful thing indeed!

We scratch our heads when we’re told by fellow riders that they don’t use them, especially without trying one out first. Sure there is a weight penalty over a fixed seatpost, and extra fuss with a cable etc but the benefits to your riding is so well worth it. Do yourself a favour and try one.

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Looks identical to the Command Post IR we’ve seen on bikes this year, but with more adjustable positions.

Specialized have used their in-house seatposts as a stock item on their bikes for years, they’ve always been popular and we’ve seen them improve in quality and user-friendliness over time. We reviewed one of the earlier Command Posts with the external cable here. – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-command-post-blacklite-adjustable-seat-post/

The Command Post is based around a purely mechanical system with a good old gear cable actuated remote lever. The majority of posts use a hydraulically adjusted mechanism (RockShox, KS, Giant, FOX, Thomson etc.). There is a lot to be said about the reliability and simplicity of a mechanical system versus hydraulic, and we’ve certainly had our share of mixed experiences and heard of many more too.

The post we have here is the latest from Specialized, the Command Post IRcc (internally routed, cruise control). It’s an updated version of the IR post with its three height positions, it looks the same on the outside but the new cc now has 10 incremental positions that are located towards the middle of the seatpost’s motion range.

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Drop the post down to find one of the ten 5mm incremental positions.
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Dumped.

If you loved the original Command Posts, but found it hard to locate that ‘dropped, but not quite dropped exactly where you wanted it’ position like us, you’ll love this one.

The Command IRcc is not infinitely adjusted as such, the 10 positions are pre-determined and when you press the lever with weight on the post, you can let the lever go where you want the post, and it’ll positively engage into place.

The Command Post’s are well known to return back to full extension with mighty force, but with the air valve easily accessed under the front side of the seat clamp, you’ll be able to fine tune the post for the desired speed. We like ours to return super fast though, it might scare your nether regions with the thought of it rocketing upwards, but when you’re riding that feared impact never happens.

The remote lever comes in two flavours, the new SRL (single ring lever) which takes place of the left hand shifter if you’re running a single chainring setup, or the original thumb lever on top of the bar. The SRL is about as easy as it gets, perfectly ergonomic but will require you to find a SRAM shifter clamp first.

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The SRL, simple and ergonomic.
Specialized Command Post IRcc 1
Taking place of the left hand shifter, the SRL lever is minimal and out of the way.

The Command IRcc comes in both 31.6 and 30.9mm diameters, and for smaller bikes a shorter drop 100mm post is available. We tested the 125mm version.

[divider]Installation[/divider]

No, internally routed seatposts are nowhere as simple and fast to install as the older style external ones, but they are much neater once fitted so it’s worth the extra time and swearing for the first time, so we sucked it up and got it done.

Our Pivot Mach 4 has all the provisions for internal cable routing, even for the Shimano Di2 that is fitted. It takes a bit of trial and error to find the right length outer cable so the cockpit still looks neat and tidy, but following the manual is easy, and clear.

With the help of our brilliant new Park Tool Internal Routing Kit, the job was much easier. Seriously worth the investment if you’re doing these things a lot like us.

Being a cable system there was no complicated bleeding needed and if you messed up the cable it’s just a standard gear cable found at any bike shop.

[divider]On the Trail[/divider]

We spent a few days in Rotorua on the Command Post IRCC recently in horrendously wet and muddy conditions, and the post was always doing its thing just right. The mud and grime from the trails will test a seatposts mechanism and sealing, and where some become slow to return or drop, this one never faltered during our testing time.

Back home and fitted to our Pivot Mach 4, we’ve been enjoying the post’s snappy action and intuitive adjustability, happy days.

We did find the previous version of this seatpost a bit frustrating at times with only one ‘dropped’ position, so this one has cleared up any misgiving we had. The positions were easily found when both dropping and returning, the post made a bit of noise and sent a little shudder into your backside at times, but nothing worth worrying about.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

With the increased positions of adjustment, and using the SRL lever the updates to this popular post make it a worthy option, fitted to a Specialized or not.

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The clamp is also very easily adjusted for a wide range of seating angles. Creak free for us too.
Specialized Command Post IRcc 3
A Schrader valve under the saddle can be adjusted to determine the desired return speed and resistance.

Specialized Command Post IRcc 9

Pricing is still yet to be advised, and mid-year availability but keep an eye out for the new post on new season Specialized’s coming to dealers very soon.

Video: Trail Hunter – Sun Valley

Matt Hunter and his friends plan a trip every year to reconnect and ride.

This year, the group elected to meet in the Sawtooth Range outside of Sun Valley, Idaho. Few places embody the heart of the American West like the Sawtooth. Rugged, wild, and ever changing, it’s the perfect place to crack a beer, earn your rides, and laugh with great friends when it’s over.

Specialized’s new 6Fattie hardtails and Rumour 650B

Righto! We knew it was coming, and now here it is, knocking down the door if we’re ready or not; Specialized are the first brand to unveil a bike using the new 27.5+ standard, only they’re not big fans of the 27.5 name, and so they’ve termed it 6fattie (geddit? 6fifty/fattie?).

Naming semantics aside, and before we all go into an internet meltdown as to whether or not we want/like/care about the arrival of another wheel standard, let us take a look at these new bikes, because they’re actually potentially very cool.

Fuse and Ruze 6fattie hardtails:

So what are these slightly chubby (but not technically ‘FAT’) bikes? The Fuse (men’s) and Ruze (women’s) hardtails take a conventional 650B wheel and shod it in some very big rubber – 3.0″ to be exact. The trend towards big tyres on wide rims is nothing new, but this is definitely a huge jump.

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The idea, says Specialized, is to make a hardtail that’s fun to ride, by virtue of the fact it now has an absolute shedload of grip and floatation. According to Specialized, the 6fattie setup with its 3.0″ rubber gives a 69% larger contact patch and 56% more tyre volume, though we’re not sure what size tyre this is in comparison to.

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Fitting in such big tyres is obviously a massive engineering challenge, and so the Fuse and Ruze make full use of the new Boost standards with a 148mm rear hub spacing to make room for it all. What’s really impressive is that Specialized have managed to keep the chain stays to just 430mm with their new Diamond Stay design. While we haven’t ridden these bikes yet, we’d imagine that Specialized are well aware that keeping the handling as snappy and playful as possible is pretty important when you’re also dealing with the inertia of bigger rubber.

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Both the Fuse and Ruze are going to be available at three spec levels – Comp, Expert and Pro – with pricing info yet to be confirmed. We’ll update this post as soon as it comes to hand.

Whether you instinctively love it or loathe it, we’re going to wait until we actually ride one of these bikes before we form our opinions. The other obvious question this all raises is, will there be a full suspension 6fattie bike too?

Rumor 650B:

Specialized’s other big news is the highly anticipated release of a 650B version of the excellent women’s Rumor platform. We tested this bike in its 29er format last year, and we think a 650B version will have a lot of appeal for both smaller riders and those looking for a more lively ride.

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The 29er format isn’t being replaced – it’ll continue to exist alongside the new 650B version. Wheel size aside, the 650B gets slightly longer travel, with 130mm front and 125mm rear, versus the 120/110mm found on the 29er. Choice is always a good thing, especially when it comes to women’s bikes, where the variety of options is often really lacking.

A super-low top tube is a hallmark of the Rumor design.
A super-low top tube is a hallmark of the Rumor design.

The Rumor 650B is also available in three spec levels. There’s the plain old Rumor, which runs a mix of X-Fusion and basic RockShox suspension, with a Deore drivetrain and Tektro brakes. Then there’s the Comp, with a FOX/RockShox Revelation combo and SRAM 2×10 drivetrain. Top billing goes to the Rumor Expert which is a truly primo offering, with FOX out back, a Pike up front, SRAM X01 and Shimano XT stoppers. Nice!

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Rumor
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Rumor Comp
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Rumor Expert

Tested: Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B

You won’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that any S-Works is going to an absolute pleasure to ride, Specialized stop at nothing when dressing their flagship model bikes in the most ridiculously fine components money can buy. But when you wave the S-Works wand at a big travel Enduro, we found you end up with a bike that hides its brawn like magic, but knows exactly when to show its cards when you need it the most.

Click below to watch our video review.


The Enduro sits proudly in the increasingly competitive category of its namesake – enduro. That buzz word has grown rapidly in popularity all over the world, and  is responsible for the birth of a new and fashionable way of riding. In short, going enduro riding is what we’ve always done, hitting the descents as hard as you can and riding back up the other side again. But going enduro racing is about getting every possible inch of performance out of your body and bike, when both climbing and descending. It’s tough, so ideally you need a lightweight downhill bike with lots of gears and efficient pedalling performance. Simple, right?

As a side note, the Enduro is now available in both 29″ and 650B wheels (Specialized prefer the measurement 650B rather than 27.5″, as the exact measurement is not 27.5″), giving riders a choice that we don’t usually see in this long travel and high end category. Hopefully we can line up a review on the 29er version soon too.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 3

[divider]Build[/divider]

This Enduro uses a carbon front end mated with an aluminium rear end, and it’s Specialized’s finest FACT 11m carbon material that allows the impressive lack of mass. Sitting on the Enduro you look down at a very burly frame, all the tubing and shapes are huge, giving you the confidence that this bike ain’t mucking around. The cables run externally down the underside of the down tube in a remarkably neat and easily accessible way, Specialized know how to route cables that’s for sure. Another neat touch is at the chainstay with a tidy and effective rubberised guard to silence the ride from the slapping chain. No downtube protector though like we’ve seen a lot of lately on carbon mountain bikes, perhaps the three cables will provide the frame with enough protection from debris impacts.

In classic Specialized style, this is a boldly finished bike. Making no secret that it’s an S-Works there is big red lettering and a beautifully detailed matte and gloss hybrid paint job and all the colours match up to perfection, even the custom stickers on the RockShox fork look just so neat, it’s a real head turner.

Specialized’s suspension bikes use variants of the long-standing FSR design, it’s their own design and a very popular one indeed with anyone who appreciates a supple and grounded feeling suspension bike. The suspension pivot that sits just below and in front of the rear wheel axle allows the FSR system to benefit from a certain amount of vertical wheel travel as it compresses. The FSR is a suspension design that doesn’t give the rider too much feedback through the pedals, and also remains active enough when the rear brake is actuated.

An FSR suspension bike is a winner in just about every area, but in more recent times with the advent of bigger wheels used in longer travel bikes the compact configuration of the FSR has fortunately allowed Specialized bikes to keep the rear ends of their bikes super short in the name of enhancing the bike’s on-trail agility.

When the Enduro 29er was first announced there was a whole lot of hype around the promise of a big wheeled bike that would reap the benefits of a bigger wheel, but maintain quicker handling that a we’re used to with 26″ and 650B bikes.

In the case of this 650B Enduro, the chainstay length is an astounding 422mm (and 430mm in the 29er). We’ll elaborate on what a short chainstay does to a bike’s handling later.

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The Enduro’s impressively stiff frame with the distinctive X-Wing shape will confidently go wherever you point the front wheel.
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The top shock mount hides inside a wide and beefy section of carbon.
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The tight and compact FSR linkage is partly responsible for allowing the Enduro’s rear wheel to come so close to the centre of the bike without compromising on tyre clearance or lateral rigidity.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Yes, it’s a very high end bike. For $10500 you’d want to expect really, really #*%$*@! great parts, but don’t worry the S-Works Enduro won’t disappoint. Interestingly it’s only the fork, shock, shifter, cassette, chain, derailleur, brakes and stem that isn’t a Specialized branded component. Even the cranks and wheels are from Specialized’s catalogue and we stand by all their gear as some of the best available. Tyres are a particularly hard one to get right, and they succeed with flying colours with the tacky and lightweight combo of the Slaughter and Butcher.

The SRAM XX1 drivetrain is flawless in its operation, and we especially appreciate the small 32 tooth chainring giving the Enduro a nice and low gear range. Give us a lower range of gears any day! If you’re spinning out of a 32 tooth chainring, you’re probably on a road so just chill out and enjoy the fresh air. We never felt the gear range was too low, this test bike travelled with us to Roturoa, Mt Buller and all over Sydney’s Northern Beaches, it’s fair to say that it had a solid and varied amount of terrain to be tested against.

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Hard to beat, the SRAM XX1 drivetrain is the duck’s nuts.
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A rotor size that we’d typically see on downhill bikes, 200mm. Extra power!
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Specialized’s new Slaughter tyre, bite in the corners but low profile in the centre for speed.

A whopping 200mm rotor up the front gives the SRAM Guide RC brakes with its silky smooth carbon lever a powerful amount of braking bite, and keeping in theme of real enduro a RockShox Pike with 160mm of buttery smooth handles the ugliest of trails with its trademark composure.

Out the back the Cane Creek DB Inline shock has a lot more adjustability than a typical RockShox or FOX shock, and you’d hope the type of rider who’d be interested in buying such a high end bike to be at least a bit savvy with shock tuning. There’s lots to fiddle with: you have air pressure, high and low speed rebound, high and low speed compression and a Climb Switch. Cane Creek make it simple and clear to understand what adjustment does what and their website is excellent, and to simplify the setup even further Specialized supply their recommended ‘base setting’ to help get you in the right ball park to get started. Only the Climb Switch is adjustable on the fly, the other four adjustments require a small Allen key. Air volume is also adjustable via a simple process of fitting spacers inside the air can to achieve a more linear or progressive spring rate. It’s a highly tuneable shock, so to get the most out of  it the trial and error testing period is imperative.

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The Cane Creek DB Inline shock is new to the market, and offers a massive range of tuning options.

It’s the Cane Creek shock that we didn’t exactly get along with though. Our first ride became a frustrating one, with the shock losing all its rebound control making the bike ride like a noisy pogo stick. A replacement shock was swiftly sent and we headed out for round two, but disappointingly we never got to a point where we felt comfortable with the rebound control. Although better than the first shock, it still wasn’t right.

Specialized assured us this was only a teething issue with a batch of shocks on the early release pre-production bike that we had (previously used in the Test The Best demo fleet) but in truth we’d heard whisperings around the place that we were certainly not the only ones having issues with this new shock. Third time lucky and we were running a shock which seemed to function correctly, but it still failed to impress us like we’d hoped. It’s a shame, as we have certainly had good experiences with the Cane Creek shocks before.

Despite plenty of tuning, resetting the sag, and using the base settings that Specialized suggest, we still didn’t feel any benefit of this shock over say a RockShox Monarch Plus or a FOX Float X. We struggled to find a point where the spring rate was progressive enough to resist blowing through the travel – increasing compression damping just reduced the sensitivity and the disparity between the supple fork and shock was too great. The overall feeling was one of uncertainty, like we were never certain where we were in the rear travel .Maybe we’re just used to a FOX or RockShox shock?

On a more positive note, we appreciate the Climb Switch adjustment (gold lever) and how it puts the shock into a perfect climbing mode. We just wish the other adjustments could also be made so easily.

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The Specialized Henge saddle is nice to sit on, and the new slippery finish is great for pedalling in baggy shorts.
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30mm wide internal, (35mm wide external) rims are a move in the right direction. Try some, you’ll never go back.
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This is ergonomic perfection – the remote lever for the adjustable seatpost.

Whilst we love the new Slaughter tyre used on the rear of this bike (the low profile centre knobs do wonders in boosting the rolling and acceleration speed of the bike) we’d suggest keeping a meatier tyre in your possession for backup if the conditions get rougher or looser. And perhaps a set of tyres with stiffer sidewalls would let you make the most of the wide rims and drop tyre pressure further without squirming on extra heavy sections of trail.

The seatpost is also a Specialized number, with a cable actuated lever that connects to the post internally. The remote lever is absolute ergonomic perfection, and so simple! Hitting the seatpost with your left thumb is so very easy, and it controls the three-stage seatpost height without needing to move your hand position on the bar. It’s just at times we struggled to locate the desired height, even after a few rides we often took longer than we’d liked to lock it into place. A slight amount of knocking developed in the post too, and was noticeable when riding, not a deal breaker for us but still something you’d prefer not to have when with such a high price tag.

The Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels are a seriously good addition to a bike like this. The mega 30mm wide carbon rims give the tyre a massive footing allowing you to run lower tyre pressures, which in turn boosts traction in every situation and there is none of that uncertain squirming that comes with low tyres. There is no foreseeable drawback in our minds with wide carbon rims, it’s the future and the Roval Fatties strike a perfect balance of width, weight and stiffness. Definitely our most favourite wheels in this category right now.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

We took the Enduro everywhere and anywhere we could, which says a lot about a bike with such a big amount of travel. We found it to be the 160mm travel bike that we climbed as easily as we descended. That is not a easy task to get right, no matter how hard bike companies try as it requires a considered balance of key elements, and low weight doesn’t hurt the cause either.

A 12kg bike will never be a drag to climb hills on, but it’s really the combination of the geometry and suspension efficiency that make the Enduro such a snack when you’re settling into a long slog to the top. It’s a short bike overall mated with a slack head angle, so it favours a light steering input on the bars to help keep the front wheel pointing up the trail without wandering about. With the Climb Switch engaged the suspension was as firm as you’d want it, but still allowed the suspension to remain active enough to track up and over loose surfaces.

During our trip to Mt Buller in the big mountains of Victoria, we took the Enduro on The Australian Alpine Epic Trail, a monster of a ride only 40km in length but it’s a real undertaking. We relished in the way the Enduro had the firepower to really let the brakes off and hammer through the turns on the descents, but still never got in the way of climbing all the myriad of steep and tricky pinches and tight uphill corners you find there.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 4

And for a trip to Rotorua it was the biggest travel bike we’d taken over to NZ where the fairly smooth terrain typically favours a 120-150mm travel bike, but the Enduro lapped it up with its well-rounded capability. All day rides were comfortable, and on trips to the bike park with gondola-accessed runs the Enduro tackled all the features with the confidence of a bigger or downhill specific bike, jumping doubles, tall table tops and simply playing about with ease and confidence.

It’s the type of bike you can rely on to save your skin when a trail tries to bite, if you make an error or come too hot into a section of trail where you might reach the limits of traction and suspension capabilities, you’ll be sure not to get bucked off.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 1

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B (1)

The short rear end comes into play in many aspects of the ride character, the most obvious is when the trails are tight. A bike with 160mm of travel should not normally be able to flick around a switchback turn, or make quick direction changes like this. Climbing up a tight corner in the trail requires much less effort than you’d expect, and winding through flatter singletrack is also remarkably easy with far less heavy handed effort to make such a long travel bike go where you want it to.

The reduced length out the back takes a fair bit of getting used to, especially for us when we are jumping around between so many test bikes all the time. In the big bermed corners of Rotorua we struggled to find a position where our weight was evenly distributed over both wheels, and our upper body was in a position to steer effectively. We’re sure a bit more time on the Enduro and experimenting with handlebar height we would find a position we are happy with.

Also the short rear end takes getting used to when climbing up ledges, where your timig to lift the rear wheel is quicker than normal, but again nothing we’d not become more comfortable with over time. You’ll want to be be careful the first few times you go to pull a big manual too, as you’ll may loop out onto your arse like we almost did a number of times!

Overall, the short rear end and shock do mean it’s a bike that will take a little bit of getting used to. But once you’ve got your head in the game, the Enduro lets you charge very hard, it’s stiff and solid beneath you, so you’ll naturally put a lot of confidence in it when you need it the most.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 2

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

Our misgivings over the rear shock couldn’t dampen our love of the Enduro, it’s a seriously capable bike that performs like its name implies, a real enduro bike. The rougher the terrain the better, and the more determined you are to ride everything in front of you, better still.

It’s a lot of dough, but there are models below it in the massive Specialized catalogue that have the same geometry and efficiency just without the super high end bits and a few added grams, but those who want this bike probably already know what they are in for as it says S-Works on it. Enough said.

The Long and Cruel Road to Recovery

The road back to not only riding, but winning after a horrific leg break at Red Bull Joyride has been a long one for Martin Söderström.

His mettle has truly been tested in both his ability to handle pain and the psychological demons that go with a bad injury. The 360 tailwhip is the trick that landed him in hospital and into such a struggle. At FISE Montpelier, Martin’s first contest back on the bike, he has to battle it face-to-face. But fate isn’t finished with Martin just yet and events take a turn for the unexpected, just when he thinks he’s getting back to his best

Shredding The Slush

Never ride in the wet because it destroys your bike right? Unfortunately in many parts of Australia, the sandy conditions in the wet are a recipe for disaster. Fortunately for the Coastal Crew, slashing through slushy singletrack on the Sunshine Coast is almost as good as giving your bike a clean. Wetter is Funner!

This Ride to Recovery is Not For the Faint-Hearted


WARNING – The above video contains material which some may find disturbing

Martin Söderström is a rider who has always oozed class. From the way he can make the most basic of tricks look so stylish. to a résumé of contest wins from all over the world, there’s no doubting his ability.

But just when a victory on the biggest stage of them all, Crankworx’ Red Bull Joyride, seemed his for the taking, he suffered a brutal leg break that would see him staring retirement and a life away from riding right in the face.

Thankfully, it wasn’t to be, however. Söderström called on the same determination he’d used to reach the top of the sport to climb back on to his bike again. We’ll be chronicling in detail the bone-crushing lows and free-wheeling highs of his return to riding in a two-part feature. This week, we follow Söderström as he takes his first steps to getting back on the bike again following a long period of rehabilitation.

Stay tuned to see more on his road to recovery in part two next week.

Don’t forget that you can keep up to date with everything bike on the RedBull.com/Bike Facebook page.

 

Shred-ette: Specialized Rumor Expert Evo 29 Reviewed

The empowerment theme is a big one in women’s cycling at the moment. Done well, the range of women’s riding desires and experiences gain visibility, traction and respect. Done badly, conversations descend into debates about product names, colour choices and whether ‘women’s specific’ products are really necessary.

In comparison to some products that boast divisive graphics or product names, the Rumor Evo simply oozes respect.
In comparison to some products that boast divisive graphics or product names, the Rumor Evo simply oozes respect.

The Specialized Rumor Evo 29 rises above debates about what women’s riding should or shouldn’t be and lets ladies’ actions do the talking instead. Besides, anyone shelling out nearly $6K for a bike is likely to be more interested in how it rides than how it looks. If you were to rank the Rumor’s success on an empowerment scale of 1-10, it sends the measuring system through the roof and into outer space.

For starters, the mysterious black finish prompts conversations that put its owner on the front foot regarding her choices in bikes, equipment and experiences. The ensuing discussions demonstrate she clearly knows a thing or two about bikes, and takes riding just as seriously as anyone else. In the absence of said conversation, the shred-ready spec gives her away otherwise.

Bicknell-Rumor Evo-16

First impressions are important. The Rumor Expert Evo 29 sends a trail loving, singletrack shredding, confident performing message that is loud and clear. Given our experiences on the Rumor Comp, and the parts drizzled all over its big sister, we were always going to be impressed.

[divider]Build[/divider]

The Rumor Evo 29 is a beefed up, higher end model of the Rumor Comp we tested last year. Wheel size is one thing, but frame innovations accommodating this is are where the design gets more exciting.

The standover is low through the range. 707mm in the small size, 711mm in the large.
The standover is low through the range. 707mm in the small size, 711mm in the large.

A combination of aluminium forging techniques allow for the low top tube height. This not only reduces frame weight, it provides an opportunity for shorter riders to experience the ride benefits of 29” wheels. Some riders, who have never had an issue with a standard size bike fitting pretty well, tend to comment negatively on the appearance of this frame. Jump over to our previous review for more detail on why we find it such a winner.  A full size biddon still fits neatly in the cage. We preferred biddons with a shorter, flatter top, as longer designs meant we sometimes knocked the CTD lever on the shock.

While the geometry has been carefully researched to provide an exceptionally balanced ride feel for women, its low fuss appearance also means the bike shells any negative connotations associated with overly ‘girly’ aesthetics that makes some riders groan about women’s specific marketing. In fact, Specialized’s women’s mountain bikes also provide a solid option for smaller framed men.

The new Myth saddle reduces soft tissue pressure by placing this critical depression further forward.
The new Myth saddle reduces soft tissue pressure by placing this critical depression further forward.

The Rumor Expert Evo comes in a higher spec than the rest of the Rumor range, a spec so good it feels like we hand picked it ourselves. Shimano XT brakes offer a crisp and reliable ride feel and, in our opinion are the best performing brakes on the market for the price. SRAM X01 is quiet and classy, with a well-chosen 30T chain ring on the front. A Specialized Command dropper post says, ‘Shit yes, let’s shred!’ The dropper lever replaces the absent left hand shifter making it the easiest to operate of any dropper we’ve used previously. The new Myth saddle fills a gap in the Specialized range for women’s mountain biking too.

 

My what big wheels you have.
My what big wheels you have.

Specialized’s Evo line uses a modified linkage to bump the rear travel up 10mm, without having to produce a separate range of bikes. In this case, the Evo treatment means 120mm Custom Fox Float CTD shock out the back. A 120mm RockShox Pike, a front-runner in this year’s competition for the most lusted over fork, slackens the angles a bit for more stability on the descents.

This grip-brake combo works great with small hands.
This grip-brake combo works great with small hands.
Pike perfection.
Pike perfection.

The componentry was not only well chosen, but we couldn’t fault its performance throughout the test period, something we don’t get to say often. In terms of upgrades, a light carbon wheelset is the most obvious investment. It would add some extra compliance to the alloy frame and help push the bike below the 12kg mark.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

We spent a solid month on the Rumor Evo, and were even more impressed by its versatility after that time than on the day we first laid eyes on it.

Reilly Hurst-RideCairns-Rumor Evo-2
First stop for the Rumor was a round of the Australian Gravity Enduro series in Cairns. Straight into the deep end for this bike!

We didn’t so much as even test ride it before throwing it in a bike bag and taking it to the gnarly jungle trails of Smithfield, Cairns for the final round of the Australian Gravity Enduro Series. Feeling a little apprehensive about riding sections of the World Cup downhill track on an unfamiliar bike, we took things fairly easily. Yet, every time we pushed this rig into a new obstacle or a long technical section, the feedback through the bike kept seeming to say, ‘Is that all you’ve got?’

The stock Butcher/Ground Control tyre combo offered great grip in loam and mud, but still rolled well on the hard stuff.
The stock Butcher/Ground Control tyre combo offered great grip in loam and mud, but still rolled well on the hard stuff.
Bicknell-Rumor Evo-22
A big 2.3″ front tyre added even more forgiveness, making it feel as if the Rumor had more than its 120mm up front.

The combination of big wheels, a long wheelbase, high performing suspension and the 2.3” Butcher front tyre make this bike feel like it has a lot more than 120mm of travel. We were immediately struck by how plush the suspension felt on big drops, a sign of custom tuning making a noticeable difference for light weight riders; riders who often wait until the first service to get full awesomination from their suspension.

Wade Lewis-Rumor Evo-13

The dialled geometry really came into play on steep, loose, rooty descents as well. Our position felt instinctual, rather than forced. We buzzed our bum on the rear tyre once, rather than several times. We took bad lines, thought we were going to hit the ground hard, and yet the bike took care of us again and again. The longer we rode, the more jumps we tried, the more speed we applied, the more we felt like twice the rider we are on a bike that never fits or feels quite right.

 

This is almost as low as we could get the 100m travel Command Post. The small frame is specced with a 75mm post instead. Some riders might want to swap out the stock post for a different length option at the time of purchase.
This is almost as low as we could get the 100m travel Command Post. The small frame is specced with a 75mm post instead. Some riders might want to swap out the stock post for a different length option at the time of purchase.
The Rumor got to see a good chunk of Queensland trails, including Atherton, pictured here.
The Rumor got to see a good chunk of Queensland trails, including Atherton, pictured here.

Then there were the climbs. Most riders in Cairns describe every climb as something you have to walk up. That’s a fair call if you’re more downhill oriented, so we forgave them as we continually cleared sections of trail so steep we weren’t sure how people’s shoes were gripping the ground as they walked.

No flowers or ‘girly’ colours here.
No flowers or ‘girly’ colours here.

A week later riding a 96km stage of the Crocodile Trophy, we were surprised to see a whole lot of cross-country and marathon riders walking their XC bikes up hills as well. The stable handling and excellent suspension of the Rumor meant the steeper and looser the terrain got uphill, the more this rig held traction when other bikes fired their distress beacon. A trail bike wouldn’t normally be our pick for a marathon, but the Rumor Evo’s ‘can do’ attitude saw us make huge gains on the longer, looser climbs and the fast, never-seen-before descents.

The Evo linkage and the red Autosag valve: it's Specialized's way of encouraging riders to get more out of their rear suspension.
The Evo linkage and the red Autosag valve: it’s Specialized’s way of encouraging riders to get more out of their rear suspension.

Our next stop was Rotorua. Once again we found the instinctual handling let us push our skills over the steepest and most playful trails we could find, even in slippery, tree rooty mud. The bike’s all day riding ability made day-long group rides exploring old growth forests equally pleasurable allowing us to tick off a full hit list of mountain bike tourism experiences.

The XO1 drivetrain never missed a beat, whatever the weather.
The XO1 drivetrain never missed a beat, whatever the weather.

In short, you’d be hard pressed to find another bike that is as at home on a downhill track as it is on an all-day mission. If your budget is after one bike for a diverse number of riding experiences, this is a bike that is hard to pass up.

A small Allen Key set is tucked away under the biddon cage. Even the small size frame fits a full size bottle.
A small Allen Key set is tucked away under the biddon cage. Even the small size frame fits a full size bottle.
A spare link is hidden away under the headset cap.
A spare link is hidden away under the headset cap.
Valves, sealant and air: all that was needed to tubleless the Roval Control 29 wheelset.
Valves, sealant and air: all that was needed to tubleless the Roval Control 29 wheelset.

The sticking point for most riders wanting to push the Rumor ride experience to the next level is that a carbon model doesn’t exist yet. While we loved the robust properties of the aluminium when riding really technical terrain, on longer rides we missed the extra softness that a carbon frame provides. In fact, we ended up leaving the rear shock in descend mode in these situations as it softened out bumpy trails more, and was more comfortable for our lower back.

Jumping on the Specialized Camber Expert Carbon Evo, a bike with a near identical spec, but a carbon frame and a geometry more suited to men, the extra lightness and flickability that comes with carbon was apparent. To our surprise though, the biggest difference between to two bikes is best summed up by the inner monologue we experienced on board.

Wade Lewis-Rumor Evo-11

When riding the Camber, even with chick mods such as narrower bars and a women’s seat, we’re constantly reminding ourselves about body position in order to feel in control at speed: “Elbows out and over the bars,” said the voice. “Steer with your hips,” “Look around the corner.” The Camber feels like a lot of bike and if we got complacent we quickly felt like a passenger on board.

 

Where to next? The Rumor Evo is a great ride-all-day machine.
Where to next? The Rumor Evo is a great ride-all-day machine, happy on just about any trails,

This voice went quiet on the Rumor Evo. Slight differences in the angles, tube lengths and the lower standover meant we felt centred, ambitious, ready to respond. The inner monologue became focused on things other than body position. We’d notice different lines more, attempt bigger jumps, hold more speed in and out of corners.

Reilly Hurst-RideCairns-Rumor Evo-4
Instant confidence, on the ups and the downs.

Some riders might gravitate toward a bike at a lower price point to save more cash for holidays and other experiences. Or some might prefer a rig with 650B wheels to trade supreme stability for a little more playfulness or sprightliness. But if it’s the ability to take on several trail types, sight unseen, with gusto, the Rumor Expert Evo is hard to beat. It’s incredibly hard to make this bike feel like it’s losing control. Given it rolls over just about anything, you can ride just about anything on board.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Rumor Expert Evo is one of most capable, versatile women’s bikes we’ve had the pleasure of riding. This is in part due to the spec, but also the dialled geometry and fit, which doesn’t need hundreds of dollars of customisation before leaving the shop. Given the experiences we had on board, we’re biting our nails as we wait to see how long it takes for a carbon edition, or a longer travel women’s trail bike, to complement Specialized’s fast growing range.

Specialized’s systematic research into bikes for women makes the empowering experiences that come with them feel genuine rather than forced. As a result, the Rumor Expert Evo will make you feel controlled, confident and keen to take on a variety of new things. This will come through time and time again in the way you share the experience of riding with others, too. This made us enjoy our time on the Rumor even more as a result.

Living the Enduro Dream: Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B First Impressions

We are bloody excited to have taken delivery of the S-Works Enduro 650B, their appropriately named big mountain gravity enduro bike. The Enduro is available in both 29″ and 650B wheel sizes (29″ with slightly less travel) and of course a few models at lower price points, plus there is also an EVO variant (a coil shock model with gravity focussed components). While we put some quality time in aboard the Enduro to establish our final review, we deliver some initial thoughts on this dreamy ride.

But first let’s just take a moment to recognise any Specialized with the badge ‘S-Works’ is going to be a dream ride by default; you’ll find a froth inducing S-Works badge in most of the high end frame offerings, from hardtails to women’s specific models, right up from cross country Epic to their downhill race bike, the Demo. An S-Works model is simply as good as it gets, Specialized spare nothing in speccing their flagship bikes with the best kit available to them, built onto the lightest frame configurations. Sure a $10499 bike is going to be amazing, but the potential buyer of a bike in this category is a tough crowd to please.

What really stood out about the Enduro, when it first came out in 29″ wheeled version, was the way Specialized focused on making a big travel 29er with a chain stay length of just 430mm, all in an aim to eliminate those preconceptions that big-travel, big-wheeedl bike couldn’t corner like a 26er. Read all about that here.  Specialized have long been quite hard nosed about the 29″ wheel being the optimum wheel for all bikes and all riders. But, in our experience, not everyone wants a 29er! When it comes to this category of bike, many riders prefer a smaller wheel, so we’re very happy that the Enduro know lets us enjoy all those things we love about Specialized bikes, but with 650B wheels. Bravo, Specialized this is the bike we’ve been waiting for.

Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 31
Ahead of the game with that name, the Enduro has been around long before the word became a thing.

There are a few standout components on the Enduro that we really like. It’s easy to forget that aside from the brakes, suspension and gear set it’s a completely Specialized bike, their in-house components are seriously top notch and assimilate into the bike cleanly. The wheels are especially worth a note, the new super-wide 30mm carbon Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels take our appreciation for fat carbon rims to the next level, more on those in the final review. The Command Post scores the SRL, a new incredibly neat and ergonomic lever found where a left hand shifter could be, and the new Slaughter tyre with its low profile centre flanked with aggressive side knobs is sure to aid in acceleration without detracting from cornering control.

From the new slippery finish on the Henge saddle, to the nifty top-mounted chain guard, to the ideal cable routing the whole bike is polished to perfection. The frame finish is gorgeous to see, and also quite resilient, not looking tatty at all despite the muddy riding it’s seen so far.

Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 32

Our first assignment for the Enduro was to Rotorua for five days riding, while we expected it be a little too much bike for the buff and flowing singletrack there, we hoped that the low weight and fast wheels would help keep it rolling fast, and it sure did. Unfortunately for us the Cane Creek DB AIR Inline shock lost most of its rebound damping, and proceeded to get worse during our time in NZ. The replacement shock also seemed to have rebound problems, so it also had to go back to Specialized. We’re currently riding the third shock, and so far so good. Word from Specialized was that our bike was an early release from their Test The Best demo fleet, hence teething problems with the new Cane Creek shock.

First impressions of the bike are mighty positive, we’ve never found a 165mm bike to feel as capable in such a wide variety of trails as this. Usually in this big enduro/all-mountain category we find the bikes to be a real handful, especially to climb on, or to maintain good speed through flatter trails. The Enduro feels like it would happily mix it up with any 130-140mm trail bike but when it comes to higher speeds and steeper, rougher tracks the Enduro rides into its own with real flair.

We’ll delve into the full ride characteristics later, but for now one standout aspect is how the super short chain stays affect the ride:  pulling a manual in the carpark on our first ride we almost flipped right over on to our arses! Stay length is 422mm, compared to the Norco Range we’re currently testing at 426mm in the rear (medium size), or a Santa Cruz Nomad at 433mm.

Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 35
What can be said that hasn’t already about the RockShox Pike? It’s the most welcome addition to any bike, especially at 160mm travel, it’s perfectly capable of tackling the roughest riding you can point it at. A 200mm rotor is a great sight too, burly!
Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 2
Specialized bars, stem and grips. The rise in the bar helps set it apart from the 29er Enduro (with a flat bar) but maybe a bit tall for those who spend most time in flatter terrain, we’ve been running the stem as low as possible.
Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 27
Specialized S-Works carbon cranks with a 34 tooth SRAM ring, we’d take a 32 or 30 tooth ring any day, gearing low makes more sense to us mortal beings. A neat upper guide adds chain security without drag, noise or fuss.
Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 29
What took companies so long to do this? This must go down in the books for the best component of the year, the Command Post’s SRL (Single Ring Lever) remote is perfect.
Enduro 2
The Enduro knee deep in the amazing trail of Rotorua.
Enduro 3
Lapping up the shores of Lake Taupo.
Enduro 1
Tipping into a bowl in the Redwoods Forest, Rotorua.

So we’ll be back shortly with our final review of the Enduro, now we’ve been able to spend some quality time with the rear shock working perfectly. Stay tuned!

 

 

Tested: Specialized Women’s Myth Saddle

In June this year we tested two popular women’s saddles from Specialized, the Jett and the Ariel Comp. In addition to reviewing the saddles themselves, we also looked at the comprehensive in store fitting processes and saddle test program that go hand in hand with the purchase of one of these products.

Our main criticism of the Jett was that we tended to get caught up on the wedge shaped cut out at the rear of the saddle when riding steep, technical terrain. We had to plug it with a saddle bag to stop baggy shorts and hydration pack straps getting wrapped around the back every now and then causing a few heart-in-mouth moments out on the trails.

One glance at the new Body Geometry Myth saddle and we were instantly excited. This saddle doesn’t look anything like other offerings from the big red S, indicating a fresh approach to design. And it’s filled in at the back.

The new design sheds mud easily.

The first thing most riders will notice about the new design is that the cut out in the middle of the saddle has been replaced with a long, wide groove instead. It looks a little odd at first with the widest part of the groove sitting much further forward than we’re used to seeing in women’s saddles.

Listening to the backstory behind the new Myth when we met with the doctors behind the Body Geometry revolution, we learned that previous saddle designs have been accommodating the vagina around a best guess scenario. Yep, you read that right. Despite all the other research that goes into saddle design, no one had actually measured where the vagina sits in relation to the pelvic bones. It turns out its much further forward than people (men?) thought. Shocked and surprised? We were too.

Once we got over the disbelief that women’s hoo-has have been an afterthought in saddle designs we started to look at this new one a little more closely. Placing the foo-foo cut out further forward means ladies are more comfortably cradled (as opposed to squished) when they lean forward into a more aggressive riding position.

Taking the opportunity to jump on a pressure testing mat at the afore mentioned Specialized Doctor Day, we were surprised to see that no pressure registered in this modified area. In fact, you can get the set up completely out of the ball park, and the saddle will still feel pretty good: We mapped the Myth with the seat post too high, the reach to the bars too long, and wearing jeans rather than a chamois, and still failed to produce unwanted pressure in the midsection of the saddle. Instead, pressure showed up on the nose and sides as we compensated for set up by reaching further for the pedals and bars.

The depression in the Myth (left) is much further forward than in the Jett (right).
The depression in the Myth (left) is much further forward than in the Jett (right).

This means that while the Myth excels with a perfect bike set up, it also relieves pressure from the va-jay-jay when your bike set up is way off the mark. We also watched a bunch of blokes test this saddle, also in jeans, and they also failed to register any pressure in the midsection of this saddle.

Jumping back on the Jett we realised that when making the transition from an upright to a more aggressive riding position, we tend to shift our position a little further backwards on the saddle. This places our soft tissue in the wider part of the cut out where it’s more comfortable. This keeps the Jett comfy on the trails, but means if you set up your bike while seated in a more relaxed position, the position of your knees in relation to the pedals and the bottom bracket will shift when using the bike in the wild.

The Myth saddle looks smooth and minimal from this angle.

The Myth is much better suited for other body movements off-road too. The lower friction finish makes it easier to slip off the back when descending. The new design allows the rider to move around on the saddle and remain comfortable: toward the nose on steep climbs, a little further forward for more power, a little further back during longer rides or if you tweak an injury. Three widths (143mm is now the narrowest size on offer with 155mm and 168mm catering for wider sit bones) accommodate different sized pelvic areas too.

Cr-Mo rails and a more recreational level of padding for 2015.

If we were to offer one gripe about the Myth it would be that we’re disappointed that it’s only available as an after market purchase at the comp level, with Cr-Mo rails. (A Ti railed version comes specced on the 2015 women’s S-Works level bikes . The soft padding was very comfortable on shorter rides but once we started using the Myth for rides of 3-5 hours, or multiple days in a row, we found our sit bones started to ache. While this reflects a personal preference for a denser level of padding, we’d expect the majority of its intended users to find the saddle more comfortable as is. In any case, the design principles underlying the development of the Myth will certainly influence a range of future women’s saddle designs from Specialized. We look forward to seeing some slightly firmer and racier options developed as a result.

The Myth represents a solid step forward for women’s saddle designs. It’s a welcome update to the Specialized range for technical trail riding and the versatile riding positions it supports makes it appropriate for a range of mountain biking disciplines. While detailed pressure tests and a medically informed design have led to its development, what we liked most is that, as a rider, you don’t need to know any of this stuff to experience its benefits.

Interview: Thinking Courageously with the Doctors of Body Geometry

Back in 1997, Bicycling magazine in the US published an article that would get half of their staff fired, scare the living hell out of huge numbers of male cyclists and ultimately send a whole new sector of the industry into overdrive. The article in question drew an undeniable connection between bike saddles and problems with your old fella; badly designed saddles were doing riders damage, it was that simple.

Specialized BG (2)
Dr Roger Minkow.

It was this article that spurred Dr Robert Minkow into action; over the course a weekend this ergonomics specialist crafted up a prototype saddle which featured a dropped nose and a deep groove through the centre to alleviate pressure on the nerves and arteries which keep your man parts doing their thing. This Franken-saddle would eventually find its way back to Mike Synyard, founder of Specialized bicycles who backed the concept and employed Minkow. Fast forward 12 months and a staggering 500,000 of the new Romin (Ro-ger Min-kow) saddles had been sold. 500,000. In one year.

Specialized BG 13
Dr Pruitt. Making groping motions.

In the meantime Dr Andy Pruitt, founder of the Boulder Sports Medicine Centre, had been making a name for himself as something of a wizard of bike fitting. While others were either operating off ‘feel’ or simply accepting the status quo of bike fitting (i.e. you had to emulate the position of a European pro!), Pruitt was using hard science to make riders more comfortable, more efficient and injury free. He literally wrote the book on the subject. Amongst his pioneering work, Pruitt began looking at bike fitting from a third dimension – the ‘z-plane’, front-on – as well as from the traditional side-on x and y planes. Pruitt clearly demonstrated the link between the stability of the foot and its effect on the pedal stroke; most importantly he showed that the collapse of the arch and forefoot under pedalling leads to knee instability and consequently potential injury and a loss of power/efficiency. It was this research that lead to the birth of the Body Geometry shoe as we know it, which features customisable arch support and more varus forefoot support. The BG S-Works shoe, Specialized happily point out, is the most popular shoe in the road cycling pro peleton, ridden by 115 riders, of whom only 20 are sponsored or paid to ride the BG shoe.

The universe worked its magic and brought Minkow and Pruitt together under the auspices of Specialized, and Body Geometry was born. It’s hard to overstate the impact that the Body Geometry concept has had in terms of bringing truly ergonomic design to cycling accessories and components and making bike fitting ‘mainstream’. BG shoes, gloves and saddles are now widely acclaimed as the industry standard, and the BG Fit system has launched a massive number of competitors, with a host of the major brands now offering their own bike fit programs.

Specialized BG 11
Dr Kyle Bickell, Dr Andy Pruitt and Dr Roger Minkow.

The BG ethos has been that science must always take primacy, not ‘feel’ or traditional methods. This same ideal applies whether it be developing a new saddle, a pair of gloves, helping Fabien Cancellara achieve the perfect time trial position or ensuring Troy Brosnan gets more power out of the gate. Did you know, for instance, that Specialized test all of their BG saddles for penile blood flow by glueing a transcutaneous oxygen sensor onto the head of the penis of dozens of test riders? It’s true. We saw it happen. We’ll, not the glueing per se, but we did witness live a test that showed the difference in blood flow to the end of Stewart’s knob when we rode his BG saddle and an equivalent competitors saddle. Thus, Specialized BG saddles are proven to ensure adequate blood gets to your old fella to prevent damage.

Specialized BG (1)
The other end of this wire is in Stewart’s pants.

Likewise, when it comes to gloves, Specialized were willing to throw the traditional notions of how a glove should be designed out the window. Over three years of development went into the new Grail glove, which ultimately reversed the common understanding of pad placement; rather than padding the points of contact, the Grail glove puts a supportive pad in hollow in the middle of the palm. The idea is to achieve pressure relief by balancing the distribution of pressure/force across the areas of the hand that would normally be doing none of the work. We’re looking forward to testing them out with a long ride on our rigid singlespeed.

Flow was lucky enough to spend a day with some of Specialized’s leading Body Geometry experts this week and we had a chance to pick their brains on a huge number of subjects (you could write on a post-it note all the things these guys don’t know about the body/bike connection!). We’ve always perceived that many mountain bikers regard ergonomics and bike fitting as not applying to them – that what we do on the trails is so far removed from the precise, controlled environment of a wind tunnel or laboratory, that things learnt there can’t translate to the dirt. This isn’t the case, clearly, but we wanted to hear it from the experts themselves, so we sat down with Dr Roger Minkow (saddles), Dr Kyle Bickell (gloves) and Dr Andy Pruitt (master of the bike fitting universe).

Specialized BG 9
Handyman, Dr Kyle Bickell.

There must be a lot of complication when it comes to bike fitting on a mountain bike, compared to a road bike.

AP: Yes, we do the whole fit with the bike in sag. You’ve got to get the bike to settle into its travel to its riding position, and this effects all the measurements. You certainly can’t take a static saddle height from road across to mountain bikes – you need to work out the saddle height with the bike in sag.

KB: When I got fitted for the first time, I immediately went home and tried out those same numbers on my mountain bike, and pretty quickly I found out that I wasn’t comfortable. I was up too high, I was getting calf cramping. You have to take the sag into consideration.

AP: With cross country, it’s a reasonably direct carry over from the road, sag aside. All the other mountain bike experiences, it’s very different. That said, with the rise of enduro, where guys are having to pedal what is essentially a downhill bike uphill, suddenly things like the pedalling benefits offered by a BG shoe are becoming important in disciplines were fit aspects were’t regarded as important before. Take for instance the 2FO shoe – it’s a gravity shoe, but it uses the exact same BG principles of varus / forefoot support and arch support as the S-Works road shoe. Guys like Troy Brosnan are embracing the concept, Troy swapped out the standard red arch in soles in his 2FO shoes for the blue with more arch support, as he could feel the benefits. I mean, some of those gravity guys might have a tattoo on their neck and their hat turned sideways, but they give their sport a lot of thought.

KB: They’re professionals, just more highly caffeinated.

Specialized BG (1).jpg

We’re starting to see power meters emerge much more in mountain biking. Do you use power meters in fitting?

AP: Yes and no. Power meters are useful for assessing a fit AFTER there has been time for muscular / skeletal adaptation – like a few weeks later. Any changes you see in power at the time of fitting are incidental and not necessarily accurate, and there’s no guarantee those power changes will be sustained in the real world. We use a power meter to ensure that any measurements we take are done at a consistent effort, for example a pressure map of a riders saddle.

We had an interesting conversation with Jess Douglas recently about dropper posts. She’s started using a dropper post on her race bike, not solely to get the saddle out of the way, but to allow her to change her position at times in order to engage different muscles periodically or give her body a rest. Obviously a bike fit is about achieving the ideal position, but she finds varying her position beneficial. Any thoughts on that?

AP: Yeah, do you remember the old Eddy Merckx story that he rode with a 5mm Allen key in his pocket, and he’d change his position during a ride a number of times as he fatigued and it’d help him feel better? Turns out that Eddy had a significant femoral leg length inequality – no position was ever actually right! He was changing for the pure sake of change. So without seeing this woman, I can’t say. But I’d say it’s change for the sake of change, and maybe that’s nice over a 24hr race, but I can’t imagine any performance benefit.

A hand question for you Dr Bickell. We’re seeing a lot of change in mountain bike bar width; can you tell us how wider bars are having an effect on people’s hands?

KB: It changes everything from the axis of the angle of approach, to the angle of your hand on the bar, through to the force application onto your muscles and your joints. There is a comfort position, which people may not feel is their most high-performance position, but it’s important to know where that is so they’re doing less damage over long rides. I think on the mountain bike there may be more opportunity for riders to shift around quite a bit, more so than riders do at the moment. One thing mountain bikers sometimes get, which is less of an issue on the road, is blisters which are a result of friction. Perhaps if more hand positions were used there could be a reduction in friction forces too.

As Dr Minkow and I were discussing just yesterday, a lot of the work I’m doing at Specialized is to compensate for the handlebar. We’ve been stuck with the same non-ergonomic handlebar for, on the road at least, a couple of hundred years now. It’s obviously time for some changes that are based on science. There are other creative solutions, and with what we’re doing with carbon fibre and 3D modelling, marrying those two together with ergonomics is a natural fit.

On the mountain bike, it’s more difficult than the road, as mountain biking isn’t as rigid a discipline as mountain biking, and the demands of mountain biking require more variation in bar shape whether you’re talking cross country, enduro, freeride downhill… it all changes the need of the rider with respect to the handlebar. I’ve actually looked at creating a forward sweep – if you look at what happens with positioning of the joints, a forward sweep is ergonomically very beneficial. Obviously it totally changes control of the bike, so we’re looking at what would have to happen with stem length with regard to the bar sweep. But there’s definitely need for some innovation in this area, because with the exception of rise, there really hasn’t been much change in this area. But that’s something we’ll be looking at.

AP: Body Geometry fit is about neutral joint placement, so with a drop bar we talk about a neutral handshaking placement on the brake hood, but on mountain bike, the way your hand rests on the bar isn’t neutral at all. So how do you correct that?

BK: As soon as you bend your elbows, which you need to do with mountain biking obviously for shock absorption, the only way to get that neutral joint placement is to have forward sweep on the bars.

AP: The idea is to think courageously about obvious things that have been missed in the last 100 years. But because this is a sport that is simultaneously based so much on trends but also on history and tradition, it’s really tough to break the ways that people do and think and about these things. Sometimes you’re even fighting ignorance. And so how do you combat that? How do you make people listen? The way to do it, is with science.

KB: I mean, just take a look at helmets. The pro peleton in road cycling was completely resistant to helmets originally. But then Laurent Fignon lost the Tour in the time trial to Greg Lemond because Lemond was wearing a helmet while Fignon’s ponytail was flapping in the breeze and slowing him down. Science was able to show riders that helmets were both safer and faster. The same goes with what I’m doing with gloves; essentially it’s a safety item, but we’re incorporating elements that will boost performance also.

AP: On the matter of bars, obviously outside of the discipline of cross country, some of the aspects of bike fit become less relevant, and bar width might be one of those. The variables of handling, you want a bar that’s wide enough to give you the leverage to stop the rocks and roots ripping it out of your hands. But some of the bars we’re seeing now are too wide for many riders. If I asked you to do a push-up, you’d self select, you’d determine the hand placement width at which you’re strongest, and it wouldn’t be 800mm apart.

Specialized BG 5

The trend towards riding without gloves tends to come and go in mountain biking. Dr Bickell, as a hand surgeon, you’d have some thoughts on that.

KB: Not just in mountain biking, but on the road too. A lot of riders ride without gloves because they’re looking for more feel – they find that a traditional glove, especially if it’s padded, limits their feel, that tactile feedback. Ultimately there are huge advantages in wearing gloves, but not if feel is sacrificed, and that was one of the major challenges with the Grail glove. We are looking at the friction forces very closely now; we think there are a lot of advances possible in terms of the friction between the bar, to the glove and the glove to the hand.

AP: It’s interesting to note there can be a trend away from wearing gloves. It’s so incredibly dangerous if you fall without gloves – that trend is totally in the wrong direction.

KB: “I’m too good to need protection.” That’s a dangerous trend. But there are a lot of other reasons beside protection. Obviously there’s the sweat element, you’re not slipping so much when you’re gripping so you need to grip less firmly, and there’s obviously an impact on force transfer.

Saddles in mountain biking. Obviously there are more constraints with mountain biking than on the road, in terms of people needing to be able to manoeuvre more and have the saddle pass between their thighs. Does this have an impact on the fit aspects of the saddle? 

AP: You know, we designed road and mountain bike specific saddles for a long time, but what we’re seeing is that people use what they like, wherever they like. It seems that riders are choosing what fits their needs. Of course we know a mountain bike rider has different needs – they move around a lot more, put themselves on the nose, get off the back – but we’re always surprised how many ‘road’ saddles end up on mountain bikes. There are a lot of people riding Romins that are really hard to get the back of, but the benefits in other areas for them outweigh the downsides.

RM: We design products that we think are for a certain group of riders, but then sometimes it gets picked up by a totally different group. So we have to be open minded too. The minute we stop being open-minded, we get behind like everyone else. In order to be innovative, we’ve got to take some chances.

KB: When it comes to design, the best feedback we get is from the riders. They tell us things about the product that we never thought to consider.

AP: That’s why having a large sample for rider feedback is so important. I mean, look at the Shimano Biopace chainring – that concept was launched off the feedback of three people! And look at what flop that was.

KB: I’m definitely the beneficiary of all that experience with the Grail glove project. I mean, we have had the project on the go for three years, and we’ve kept pushing back the launch date as we’ve acquired rider feedback. I’ll give you an example: we’d settled on a pad material which we felt was perfect, but we designed it and testing in the summer. But then it became winter, the temperature dropped by 25 degrees, and what felt great in the summer now felt like a brick in your palm in the winter. So we had to go back to square one with the material. Had we not had that level of patience and experience, we may have launched it and had a product that wasn’t right.

That patience issue is key. There is definitely a lack of patience in the mountain bike industry. 

RM: And that’s because of the money. The longer you take to release a product, the more money you lose. It leads to inadequate testing. I remember a grip we made about 10 years ago that we didn’t do enough testing on; this dealer from Santa Cruz came up to me and said, ‘I really like your grips… but when I park the bikes outside, all the grips melt off like ice cream!’. They were really good up until the time that they melted!

Specialized BG 1

If you had to convince a mountain biker about the benefits of Body Geometry, what one element of the BG system, or which single BG product would you point them towards?

RM: I don’t think it’s about individual products. I think it’s about the Body Geometry system. Once a rider, or a journalist, understands the method and science that goes into everything BG – be it a product or a BG bike fit – then they’ll trust it. They’ll trust it for the science behind and the level of testing that goes into it all.

AP: My advice to mountain bikers would be ‘don’t be afraid of fit’. Mountain bikers tend to be so free thinking and independent that I worry they sometimes think they’ll just work it out, when what bike fit can offer them is huge.

RM: I’d also say to mountain bikers, be careful of illogical trends. Be careful that you’re not so worried about looking a certain way that you’re not making choices that aren’t smart.

 

Cheers, Doctors.

Specialized BG 7

 

Flow’s Freshies – Five New Products We’re Using

Specialized Purgarory 27.5-5

Specialized Purgarory 27.5-4

Specialized Purgatory 650b tyres

www.specialized.com

One of the first indicators that Specialized was succumbing to market (or perhaps industry) demands and dipping a toe in the 650b market, was the release of the popular Purgatory all-mountain treads in a 650b form. This excellent all-rounder rubber is now available for mid-sized hoops, which is a brilliant thing as we happen to think Specialized tyres are some of the best out there (you can read our review of the Purgatory 29″ here) and we welcome the chance to fit them to other 650b bikes. The tubeless ready Purgatory is only available in a 2.3″ width for now, and the 650b version weighs in at 755g. We’re currently riding these on a set of Specialized Fattie SL wheels and the combo is excellent!

 

Pro Mega Bag-4

Pro Mega Bag-20

PRO Mega Bag

www.pro-bikegear.com

If you regularly travel with your bike (or if you’ve just got a bike worth protecting properly!) then you’ll appreciate just how much easier life is when you’re using a proper bike bag, as opposed to a cardboard box. The new Mega Bag from PRO is something of a hybrid between a soft bag and a hard bike case. It has a subframe that you secures your bike’s dropouts, then the wheels simply slip into the pockets on the side. There are numbers zip-up compartments inside too, perfect for stuffing your riding kit into to get the bag right up to that 32kg limit! The bag itself weighs 7.5kg, but it’s very well padded and with four quality wheels, scooting around the airport is easy too.

Bont riot shoes-2

Bont Riot MTB shoes

www.bont.com

Bont are widely known for their high end, immaculately constructed shoes, so the addition of quality shoes at an entry to mid-level price point is very exciting. The Riot shoes incorporate technologies that have trickled down from their higher priced models- for example carbon composite construction to create a sole stiffer than Greg Minnaar’s neck, mesh inserts for ventilation, dual Velcro and ratchet closing system and replaceable sole guards- especially useful for scampering up those unrideable sections of trail.

Bontrager Lithos-3

Bontrager Lithos helmet

www.bontrager.com

The Bontrager Lithos helmet places the seemingly all-encompassing all-mountain/enduro crowd firmly in its sights, with more coverage out back than your average XC lid to assist you when things get a bit rowdy on the trail. Despite this, the Lithos remains quite light for its profile, with the medium coming in at 330 grams. Bontrager also claim to have the answer to one of the biggest problems for any regular rider- smelly helmet syndrome. The AgION Fit pads have moisture-wicking antimicrobial pads which Bontrager claim “completely eliminate odours”. This will be put to the test on an upcoming trip to Alice Springs which is sure to bring about an outpouring of bodily juices in the cranium region.

Speedwolf-2

Speedwolf IV light

www.speedwolf.com.au

Speedwolf are a direct to you lights retailer, allowing them to keep their prices pretty low in comparison with similarly specced lights on the market. The Speedwolf IV is a 1500 lumen light that retails for $179, shipped free of charge straight to your door with a 14 day no questions asked return policy as well as a one year warranty- pretty impressive. Useful mountain biking features include adaptability to be run on both your handlebars and helmet, 5 hours of run time on high and the peace of mind that you can get the light wet as both the light itself and the battery are waterproof.

 

 

 

2015 Highlights from Specialized

Specialized are the boss. With their gap-free range of exemplary bikes, strong and visible marketing, thorough array of parts and accessories and their excellent in-house components, it’s no wonder these guys sit so high in the mountain bike food chain. What’s new for the next season? What can they improve on? For 2015 Specialized release a new Enduro, and do more than just dip a toe into the water with the 650b bikes.

The women’s range makes up for a huge portion of Specialized’s catalogue, with a new Era (29″ wheel race bike modelled around the Epic) and a Rumor EVO all-mountain bike. Our first impressions of the women’s range is here.

We snagged a few quick test rides around the Gold Coast’s fast and zippy singletrack of Nerang, and and in between dirt time we perused the halls of the 2015 dealer show, and picked out our fave new rigs for next year. Here are our thoughts on the new bits and bobs from the bold crew from Morgan Hill, California.

Click on the smaller images for captions and details.

Specialized Vintage FSR 8

 

Highlights from the 2015 mens mountain bike range:

  • New Enduro with 650b wheels.
  • New wide profile Roval Fattie wheels.
  • Stumpjumper EVO with 650b wheels (released a few months ago).
  • New 380g dropper post with a slight 35mm of drop, the SXP, on Epic and Stumpjumper HT.
  • Low-tread aggressive Slaughter tyre on Stumpjumper EVO, Demo and Enduro range.
  • The Camber remains unchanged for 2015, aside from a couple of spec changes.
  • You’ll have to look hard to find SRAM brakes, with more Shimano and Magura on the vast majority of models.
  • There are five fat bikes…jeeeez.

[divider]Enduro[/divider]

Specialized have had a bike named ‘Enduro’ in their lineup for many years, long before it became a trendy buzzword, and the sport blew up on the international scene in a big way. The Enduro comes in two flavours, 650b and 29″, with a couple of carbon models and one aluminium framed versions available in Oz.

The downhill World Cup superstars Aaron Gwin and Troy Brosnan both raced the Enduro 650b at the first two rounds of the 2014 World Cup in Pietermaritzburg and Cairns. If they can whack a dual crown fork on an Enduro and light it up at World Cup level, we have no doubts that it’s up to the hardest riding we can deliver.

When Specialized released the Enduro 29, they focused heavily on keeping the bike’s dimensions short in the rear end, with the chain stay measuring a paltry 430mm thanks to the development of a special front derailleur mount (or by ditching it completely for SRAM 1×11 models). 29″ wheels on a 155mm-travel bike is a tough one to get right, but the end result was amazing, the bike never felt too big or too long.

AQ5A5851
The two Enduro Expert Carbons. 650b and 29″.

Still, a bike with 29″ wheels still has its drawbacks, hence the smaller 650b option. Here at Flow, we ride medium size bikes, we love to jump, pump and let the bike hang out on the trails, slide a bit, pull manuals and hoon around. That’s where a smaller wheeled bike shines. What the 29″ Enduro gains over the 650b Enduro in traction and sheer rolling speed, it loses to its smaller brother in agility and playfulness. It’s your pick! To be completely honest, we often wish we didn’t have to think about wheel sizes so much. Will bikes like the Enduro all be 650b in the future? We hope so.

We took the 650b out for a razz, and holy moly did we love it! Our initial fears that on the fairly flat and buff trails of Nerang would not be enough to fully appreciate such a capable mountain bike, were banished when we let the brakes off and burned around the turns at reckless pace. So much suspension should really suck you of your pedalling energy, but we give this Enduro the thumb up.

Specialized Enduro S-Works 26
Mansfield’s Shannon Raddemaker feels at home going fast on a 29er, but loved the agility of the 650b in the fast turns. Foot out, flat out.
Specialized Enduro S-Works 22
The flagship Enduro S-Works is a total dream. You don’t get much better than this.

Specialized offer the Enduro in the up-for-it EVO format too, with slightly more travel (180mm) and Rockshox BoXXer and an Ohlins coil shock too. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact bike that Gwin and Brosnan raced early in the season!

One of for the bike parks or calmer downhill tracks - the Enduro Expert EVO 650b, $6999.
One of for the bike parks or calmer downhill tracks – the Enduro Expert EVO 650b, $6999.

[divider]Stumpjumper FSR[/divider]

Carrying the same name as the world’s first ever mass-produced mountain bike, the Stumpjumper FSR is a bike that suits the traditional mountain biker, one who favours all-day rides, up and down all types of terrain. The good old Stumpy is a well-loved, comfortable and capable classic.

Starting at $3199 for the Stumpjumper 29, the FSR range is an eight-strong offering of well-specced bikes. There are six 29ers (including two EVO models) and two 650b EVO models as well.

Check out our review of the 2014 Stumpjumper Carbon Expert here.

The Stumpjumper EVO 650b was the first bike that Specialized announced would be rolling on 650b wheels. The news was received with mixed feelings, as we all know how strongly Specialized professed that 29ers were the way forward, and they had 29″ wheels across the overwhelming majority of their mountain bike range. But, hey presto, we have an Enduro, Demo and a Stumpjumper in 650b now. Maybe Specialized didn’t do themselves any favours with their somewhat awkward  media release headlined “Bigger is better, except when its not”. But either way, we welcome 650b bikes to the catalogue.

Giving the purchaser the option of the same bike in two wheel sizes is both a blessing and a curse. Is there too much choice? Or is this the way the whole industry is going?

Specialized Stumpjumper 28
The $7699 Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon EVO 650b.

In the Stumpjumper 29er series, there are no real changes from 2014 aside from spec. The regular Stumpjumper 29 still has 135mm travel, and the two EVO versions (one carbon, one alloy) get a 5mm increase in suspension travel, a long fork, with a few key parts to boost its attitude, like meaty tyres and wider handlebars.

When it comes to the 650b bikes, there are again two options, in carbon or alloy. Instead of making expensive new moulds for the 650b, Specialized have actually added a spacer under the headset of a 29er Stumpy mainframe, to achieve the right geometry for 650b parts to be used, coupled with an entirely different aluminium rear end. Compared to most of the superbly refined range, especially the 650b Enduro, the approach of using a spacer to correct the frame geometry for 650b wheels feels a little underdone.  In Specialized’s defence, we’ve been told that through simply using the spacer, they were able to achieve the right geometry without the costs of constructing a completely new frame. So that’s got to be a good thing for the consumer, as they aren’t cheap in the first place.

Construction aside, how did the 650b Stumpjumper ride? We took out the bright yellow Expert Carbon 650b out for a solid few laps, and we liked it for the most part. The geometry is quite unique though, in classic Specialized form, the bottom bracket is low, but this one had us banging pedals on the ground when climbing up rocky terrain. Too low? We think so. Our cranks were scuffed up after one lap.

The handlebars are fairly tall too, we’d drop them down or swap for a flat bar unless your local terrain is steep. On paper, the tall bars, low bottom bracket and a fairly sharp 68 degree head angle seems like an odd combination, but it rides well. The smoothness off the FSR suspension was a real highlight, and cornering the bike was a blast, with oodles of traction and a very confident and centred position with wide bars holding your body in a good position for any unpredictable terrain ahead.

The trails of Nerang are hard packed, with loose gravel and sand patches to catch you out. A few jumps here and there, and many flat turns. The Stumpjumper really was a hoot to blast about on, we’d love to keep one in our quiver for the long all-day rides. Just watch your pedals on rocks.

Specialized Stumpjumper Expert 5
650b v 29″? You decide, we can’t tell you. Agility and playfulness or massive speed and confidence? Or, are you short, tall, experienced or a beginner? Confusing, isn’t it…

[divider]Stumpjumper HT[/divider]

HT = hardtail. No rear shocks on this one; it’s got an eye for the buffed cross country race tracks.

There are five models in this racy series this year, only one of which is alloy. For 2105, the Stumpy HTs get a SWAT kit (allen key set mounted to bottle cage) and we see a FOX Terralogic fork creep back into the range on the Marathon Carbon. FOX’s Terralogic damping system is not too different to the Specialized Brain damper which many Specialized riders will be familiar with, using an inertia valve to keep the fork firm until you hit a bump.

It’s funny to say, but it’s the seat post on one of the Stumpy HTs that really got us going! The XCP dropper post is found on the Stumpjumper HT and a couple Epics, and with a slight 35mm of drop, it allows the rider just that perfect bit of freedom to move about when the trails are rougher or steeper. It’s a part-carbon post, in 27.2mm diameter, with a neat internally routed cable. Mmm, chapeau Specialized on that one! We think this is just the ticket for cross country racers who don’t need a 100 or 125mm dropper post.

The back end of this bike is gorgeous, with an allen key bolt-up rear hub axle in place of a quick release skewer and a pair of very thin seat stays, offering a bit of give and compliance to the ride quality of the lightweight hardtail.

Specialized Stumpjumper HT 7
The Stumpjumper Marathon Carbon. A race hardtail with a dropper post? YES!

[divider]Epic[/divider]

Specialized Australia bring in a whopping nine models of the Epic in three variations.  The three variants of the Epic differ slightly, but are based around the same FSR suspension with a FOX Brain rear shock. There is the mighty sharp angled and lean Epic 29 World Cup, the generously geared and SWAT equipped Epic 29 Marathon, and the regular Epic 29. It’s no wonder why the Epic is the only dual suspension bike to win a World Championship XCO race, these guys are bred for the race track.

There’s no 650b wheels on any Epic, they 100% lend themselves to the bigger 29″ wheel’s rolling efficiency and generous traction.

The World Cup model uses only 95mm of suspension travel front and back. In a world where 100mm of travel is as lean as you get from almost every other brand out there, the Epic World Cup doesn’t pretend to be anything but a pure cross country race bike. All World Cup models use a single-ring drivetrain, and without a front derailleur to worry about, Specialized can go to town in the name of stiffness, with a wide and remarkably fat chainstay. Behind the chainring the tolerances are tight, all in the name of achieving a stiff, and responsive pedalling bike.

Specialized Epic Expert WC 1
Best looking bike in the showroom? The Epic Expert Carbon World Cup 29. A very orange bike for $7199.

We snuck out on the Specialized S-Works Epic 29, the top of the pile, $12500 bike for a couple laps of the buff Nerang trails. What does a bike that costs this much ride like? Not too bad… Ok, it’s a real delight. The low weight, quick wheels and snappy handling made for a fast feel that you’d expect from the most premium of bikes available. It’s not hard to see what you’re spending these type of dollars on when you’re actually riding it, believe us. The new Shimano 11-speed XTR paired with the RockShox RS-1 fork makes for a jaw droopingly gorgeous parts kit and with a Brain damper in the fork matching the FOX Brain rear shock, you can make it as firm or plush as you like with a twiddle of the dials.

Twisting and winding our way through the open forest, we relished in the momentum and efficiency of the low-weight 29″ wheels. The Epic is a super sharp handling bike, with class-leading efficiency and pure speed.

This was also Flow’s first ride on the wild new inverted fork from RockShox. Sure, it twists when you hold the wheels between your knees and pull and push the handlebars, more than a SID would, but on the trail its another story. The carbon legged RS-1 is so incredibly smooth, supple and quiet on the dirt. The fork really takes a lot of the sting out of the trail with the combination of both a good suspension action, and a little bit of ‘give’ in the chassis, in a good way. We’re still worried about the price and exposed inner legs to trail damage, but we love its look and feel so far.

The Epic would have to be our pick for the cross country races or multi day stage races in the calendar.

Specialized Epic S-Works 12
Flow’s Mick Ross giving the $12500 Epic a little bit of a razz. Is this the first time this bike has seen baggy shorts?!
Specialized Epic S-Works 47
This is what a $12500 bike looks like. Holy sh*t.

[divider]Demo 8[/divider]

Now you can ride the bike that Troy Brosnan piloted to a World Cup win in Fort William this year. A 650b wheeled Demo 8.

Specialized have released a completely new S-Works Demo Carbon that is due early next year, but still honour the masses with two versions of the immensely popular aluminium Demo, tweaked to fit 650b wheels.

Aside from the upsize in wheels, the Demo is now available in a new sizing range called S3 Geometry. No longer are the bikes XS, S, M, L etc, where the length and height increases with each size. Instead, you you choose your length, and you choose your height. This has come about from riders going a size up on their downhill bikes for the stability of a longer wheelbase, and so now you can a long size without the seating position going higher if you don’t wish to.

Specialized Demo 3
The Demo 8 FSR II 650b, for $7499.

[divider]Fatboy[/divider]

FIVE fat bikes in the Specialized range for 2015. Isn’t that nuts? Like a tumour, it’s growing, and this just proves it.

The Fatboy Expert with a RockShox Bluto fork is a bit of a winner, and with decent suspension, the bikes don’t bounce about uncontrollably anymore. We might even test one…

Specialized Fatboy Range 13
The top-tier Fatboy is dripping with carbon. All for a fat $4999.

 

[divider]Body Geometry and the Retül fit system[/divider]

Specialized bought the exclusive rights to the industry leading Retül Müve body fit system. If you see one of these at your local Specialized dealer, sign up for a proper fit. It’s a whole-body experience and will let you get the most out of your bike, in comfort.

Specialized Retul 6
This thing looks like it’s built to torture you. Or power a blender.
Au revior, for now.
Au revior, for now.

 

Specialized Women’s 2015 Range Highlights

Specialized have a history of taking women’s needs seriously. The company’s 2015 range of women’s bikes took up 30% of the floor space at the Australian and New Zealand launch, a firm statement about the variety of bikes on offer for different types of riders.

While some brands offer ladies a modified head tube length, reach and standover in comparison to their men’s line, Specialized bikes sit inbetween the men’s sizes.

That is to say that a medium women’s frame has tube measurements that place it in-between a men’s small and medium. A female rider of average height will sit closer to the middle of the recommended height range for a medium frame, rather than at the top end of a small. Imagine that!

Other features of the women’s range include carbon lay ups better suited to the weight range of their intended users offering a more compliant ride feel. You’ll also notice slightly easier gearing, narrower bars, appropriate stem lengths, a parts selection that’s comfortable at key contact points and aesthetics designed for ladies who want to look fast and get their bikes dirty.

With the exception of two entry-level bikes, the women’s mountain bike range is sticking with the 29” wheel size for 2015. The new women’s XC dual suspension weapon, the Era, was the talk of the show. Racy women will consider selling every expensive possession they own for the experiences this high end, and surprisingly versatile bike, offers on the trails. For us, the biggest highlight was the Rumor Evo trail bike because it’s simply so much fun to ride.

[divider]The Rumor[/divider]

We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the 110mm trail bike, the Rumor last year. This year, the range gets extended at the top end with an Evo model, which sees the travel bump up to 120mm and the angles slacken slightly as a result.

Specialized Rumor EVO 25

We’ve seen a few women reaching for a small sized Camber Carbon Expert Evo, ourselves included, for the longer travel and more serious spec than the 2014  Rumor range allowed. The Rumor Expert Evo sees similar spec to the Camber Expert Evo, but built around an alloy frame: SRAM X01 and a 120mm RockShox Pike fork being the two parts that draw most attention from prospective owners. It’s great to see Shimano XT brakes make their way onto this bike too. We love the smooth ride feel they offer and they’re well suited to smaller hands.

The low standover of the Rumor frame means riders don’t overstretch the tendons of the inner thigh when getting on and off the bike, something that becomes an issue for shorter statured folk when a bike is raised higher off the ground with 29” wheels.  In comparison to our time on the Camber, we were able to squash our weight down further when riding technical descents, making the bike feel much more responsive and in control. Our centre of gravity felt more balanced allowing us to really play on the bike without having to force our riding position.

The rest of the Rumor range remains at 110mm travel and has a refined spec for 2015. Shimano brakes adorn all but the $2299 base model. The range tops out with a new Elite model coming in at $4,399. This one will run a RockShox Revelation fork, a 2×10 drive train, Shimano SLX brakes, a Command dropper post and also comes in a stealthy black.

Specialized Rumor 11
The Rumor Comp comes in fluro yellow for 2015.

There is still no model available in carbon, which is either because engineers are still finding a way to make the frame shape remain strong with this magic material, or because Specialized feel the market isn’t quite there yet. While we’re hanging for the carbon model as much as the next girl, riding the Rumor and a Carbon Camber back-to-back, we’d choose the alloy frame for the performance offered by the more intuitive-feeling fit.

Specialized Rumor EVO 9
The Rumor line elicits an effortless, stable riding position.

[divider]The Era[/divider]

While the Rumor Evo is the bike that grabs our attention for trail riding, the new dual suspension 29er, the Era, is the showstopper. The Era for women is what the Epic is for men: a high performance race bike designed with speed and winning World Championships in mind. In fact, Annika Langvad rode a pre-production Era to her Marathon World Champs victory a month ago causing much internet speculation about this new women’s frame.

Everything about the top of the line S-Works Era takes racing as seriously as the women who will ride it. SRAM XX1 build, light Magura MT8 brakes, RockShox RS1 forks, Roval Control SL carbon wheelset. And with gloss black decals over a matt black finish, it looks the part too. The Era runs 100mm travel at the front (90mm on small models) and 95mm at the back.

Behold, the Black Stallion. Era S-Works.
Behold, the Black Stallion. Era S-Works.

Again, the sizing of the Era sits between the men’s sizes and offers lower standover. The carbon layup reflects a lower weight range of the intended users, which, paired with such a blinged out, carbon build, gives the bike a much softer and more compliant ride feel than we expected. In fact, the finished product is so tight and agile, we wouldn’t be surprised to see riders on the small size choose it over the burlier Rumor.

Specialized Era 1 (1)
A far more compliant and versatile ride than we expected.

Running the Specialized Brain front and rear and weighing in at a reported 10.1kg for the top of the line model, the Era has all the benefits of a racy hardtail buts lets you be less precise in line choice and take on rougher trails at a higher speed. This adds to the versatility of the bike. It’s one we’d love to do a tough stage race on for sure.

Pointing to the high-performance aims of the Era is a high flying price tag. The Black Beauty you see here will sell for $11,499. The Expert model is $7,199 and the base model is a $4,499, once again reflecting a race-ready build.

Specialized Era Expert 1
The Era FSR Expert Carbon.

[divider]The Fate[/divider]

The Fate hasn’t changed a whole lot since we tested the 2013 model. It has undergone some welcome refinements in spec, which point to ever evolving parts selection available for a light and nimble hardtail. The suspension remains at 80mm keeping the front end nice and low.

The S-Works Fate gets the SRAM XX1 treatment, a change from the 2×10 SRAM and Shimano drive train it ran last year. A price tag of $8999 points to the zero comprise parts list Specialized use when assembling their top of the line bikes and the cost of extreme dieting.

Specialized Fate 16
The Fate Expert Carbon 29.

While nine grand for a hardtail will make some riders open their eyes wider than the Great Australian Bite, you have to hand it to Specialized for continually bringing bikes into the women’s market that sit on a level playing field, in terms of spec, design and fit, with the men’s.

The Expert Carbon Fate is the model that attracted us the most. It’s a more modest build than the S-Works model, for a more modest spend ($4,499). That said, the build is everything most riders need: a carbon wheelset, RockShox SID forks (with the Specialized Brain), a 2×10 chainset, and a beautifully designed and fitting carbon frame. The Comp Carbon Fate will sell for $2,999.

[divider]The Jynx[/divider]

Another new model for 2015 is the Jynx. This bike is the only one in the Specialized women’s range built around 650B wheels. The idea here is that this mid-size wheel is less intimidating for riders who are new to the sport.

The robust looking Jynx is designed for people who want to get out and discover what mountain biking is about. It’s more than capable on singletrack and equally comfortable for explorations on fire roads.

Specialized Jinx 12
The Jynx Comp 650B.

Three models are available, ranging from $649 to $899 for the Jynx Comp 650B.

[divider]Shoes[/divider]

Two new sets of shoes hit Australian shores for 2015. The Cadette will appeal to girls who want something that looks like a running shoe, but offers some of the stability of a cycling shoe. It also gives riders the option of running clipless pedals.

Specialized Shoes 3
2FO: Foot Out, Flat Out.

The 2FO Flat Women’s shoe is a bright looking shoe for ladies who like to ride flat pedals. The sole has been carefully developed to offer the right balance of grip and durability. An SPD option isn’t available yet for the ladies, but we’re hoping that’s not the case for long.

Specialized Rumor EVO 7
With a plush build around an alloy frame, the Rumor Evo still felt nice and supple on the trails.
Did we just slip a picture of a road bike in this article? The $8,999 S-Works Amira to roadies is what the Fate is to mountain bikers. Once again, we were very impressed with the out of the box fit.
Did we just slip a picture of a road bike in this article? The $8,999 S-Works Amira to roadies is what the Fate is to mountain bikers. Once again, we were very impressed with the out of the box fit.

Keep an eye on Flow for highlights from the men’s range, including the new 650B Stumpjumper Expert Carbon and S-Works Enduro Carbon.

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Traverse SL Fattie Wheels

Specialized are the latest entrant into the growing market of wide-bodied carbon wheels, rolling a set of the new Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels Flow’s way last week. These extra fat hoops are available in 29 and 27.5″ – we’ve got the smaller size on hard for review.

Specialized Traverse Fattie 2

When it comes to ‘in-house’ wheels, Specialized’s Roval wheel line up is really leading the way (along with Bontrager, who also have a seriously impressive range of in-house wheels for Trek), especially with regard to carbon mountain bike wheels. We’ve had very pleasant experiences with Roval wheels in the past, including the Roval Control 29 Carbon wheels. These new Fatties are the A380 of the Roval range – the biggest, baddest and widest hoops in the line-up, with an internal width of 30mm.

Why so wide? The concept of a wide rim has been growing in popularity steadily over the past few years (in mountain biking and road riding too). A wider rim offers more support to the tyre, allowing lower pressure and consequently more traction, with less of the negative effects of tyre roll that you’d encounter with a narrower rim. Here at Flow we’re also currently testing the Ibis 741 rims, which take this concept even further than the Rovals, with an internal width of 35mm.

Specialized Traverse Fattie 8

It goes without saying that the Traverse SL Fattie wheels are meant for aggressive riding and big rubber – they’re standard fare on Specialized’s S-Works Enduro models for 2015. Even still, the weight of these things is incredibly impressive. Our set, configured with a Shimano freehub body, valve stems and rim tape, weighs in at just 1571g!

Specialized Traverse Fattie 10

Taking a quick look at the other stand out features, the Fatties use a hookless bead construction (the rim does not have a traditional bead hook) which makes for a more impact resistant profile and also gives the tyre more volume. The freehub mechanism uses DT’s Star Ratchet system, while the front hub can be configured for 15mm or 20mm axles. Colour matchers out there will rejoice that the rims are supplied with three different sets of decals, so you can pimp your ride. Of course these wheels are also ready for tubeless use, fitted with a simple tape system to seal up the rim bed. Specialized Traverse Fattie 11

 

As well as coming a 29″ variant, the Fatties are also available in an lower-priced alloy version too which come in at around 160g heavier for the set. We’ll be fitting these rims to a variety of bikes in the coming weeks. We’ve also got a set of the new 27.5″ Specialized Purgatory tyres for review too, so we’ll be wrapping these hoops in Specialized rubber as well.

Specialized Release the Radical New 2015 S-Works Demo Carbon

This weekend at Mont Sainte Anne, Canada, two-time UCI World Cup Series champion Aaron Gwin will compete on an all-new, 200mm travel bike: The 2015 Specialized S-Works Demo.

“I’ve been on the bike for about a month now,” says Gwin about the completely redesigned World Cup bike he and teammate Troy Brosnan will be debuting at Mont Sainte Anne this weekend. “We got on it right after the National Champs because we wanted to get on it right away for comparison to the old bike on the same track.”

Gwin and Brosnan first got a chance to throw a leg over the new 27.5″-wheeled bike immediately following the 2014 USA Cycling Gravity MTB National Championships in Angel Fire, New Mexico, and found it to be a familiar, but faster, Demo.

The asymmetrical shape of the top tub/seat mast junction. One sided!
The asymmetrical shape of the top tub/seat mast junction. One sided!

“The thing I noticed right away was just how fast it was,” says Gwin. “It’s a really playful bike, but it’s a race bike through and through.” Gwin believes this bike “reacts quicker than any bike he’s ridden before.”

Utilising an asymmetrical design — producing the visually-absent seat tube on the non-drive-side — the radically-new approach to carbon frame construction is intended to lower the center of gravity and keep the frame as stiff as it has always been.

“You can plant it and change directions really quick because of how your feet sit on the bike” Aaron Gwin

“It accelerates fast because of the [lack of] weight and the stiffness.” Gwin says. “You can plant it and change directions really quick because of how your feet sit on the bike… there are not a lot of pivots so when you put force into the bike it reacts straight away.”

One of the interesting points Gwin makes about the new Demo is how the single-sided seat tube allows for easy in-and-out access to the rear shock.

“The switch was really easy and setting up suspension was easy,” says Gwin.”It’s something non-racers might not have to deal with very often. But anyone who races seriously knows how often you need to service, set up and remove your shocks. The access on the Demo makes it so easy, plus I just think it looks rad.”

A floating seatstay keeps the pedalling and braking forces separate, while the standard size 12×135 millimeter axle has been engineered to stiffen the rear end with a square design. However, Gwin says any stiffness gained in the rear end has not added weight. “It’s really light in the rear end, which allows the bike to stay agile. I really like a stiff bike so it’s great to not have to sacrifice any rigidity for the added agility.”

Local Video: Joel Willis shreds Lithgow

Sean Anderson brings you another sublime edit with some fast local talent. This time it’s Joel Willis, ripping around the Blue Mountains on his downhill and trail bike.

Says Sean: “My vision with this film was to capture those special days we have when we’re in and amongst the wilderness with nothing but our bicycle.”

trees joel face joel enduro wide

Video: Can shaving your legs shave your race times?

In mountain biking circles, the whole shaved/not-shaved divide is pretty marked – are you a hairy wombat, or a sleek porpoise?

In their excellent ‘Win Tunnel’ series, Specialized take a more scientific look at matter of body hair. Sure, we know that this is focused on road riding, but it’s pretty damn interesting all the same!

 

Inside Specialized Racing: Leogang

“Today was an emotional roller coaster,” says Eric Carter in this great behind-the-scenes video with Specialized Racing as they take on the round 4 of the World Cup DH series at Leogang.

Troy Brosnan backed up his first win at Fort William with an awesome third place, showing that this isn’t just a track for bigger riders. But it’s Aaron Gwin’s run that people are still talking about, for better or for worse, after he tore his rear tyre off and still put in a ripping race run.

 

Video: Port to Port MTB with Drift Bikes, Day 2

Port to Port MTB 2014 – Day 2 – Hunter Valley Lindemans Winery.

The most grueling of this four day stage race. Starting from the picturesque Lindemans Winery in the Hunter Valley NSW, wet conditions over night had left the course holding a huge amount of water. Andrew Blair and Jenny Fay of Swell Specialized battle it out against Australias best marathon racers.

Drift Bikes provided comprehensive mechanical support to all riders bikes participating over the four days of racing.

www.driftbikes.com.au
Supporting cyclists in the Newcastle, Maitland, Port Stephens, Cessnock, Warners Bay, Lake Macquaire and Hunter Valley Areas.

Winning World Cups with Troy Brosnan, The Interview

Rob Warner: “Is there a detective at the finish line, because Brosnan just murdered that course”

Troy Brosnan’s maiden world cup win, at possibly the toughest world cup course on the circuit, Fort William, has been a long time in the making. Two times junior world champion, and a protégé on team Specialized with some of the greatest riders of all time, such as Sam Hill and Aaron Gwin, Brosnan has always been surrounded by the fastest riders on the planet. The 2014 World Cup season has finally seen Troy get up to speed with his superhuman teammates, with top ten results in the first three world cups of the season so far.

Brosnan, in full froth mode.

Flow: You’ve been the last one up the top of the hill with the fastest qualifier in Australia before, but how was it at a World Cup? Spooky, scary, or were you totally in the zone?

Troy: I Felt Normal. I just tried to treat it like a national round and I knew that’s where my riding should be so I wasn’t spooked.

Flow: How did travelling to the BDS round earlier help your World Cup preparation?

Troy: It really helped me get my bike all set up and ready to go for the World Cup, I had all of my bike settings changed and for the World Cup I just had to adjust my rebound slightly and I was ready to go

Flow: What’s the best thing about having team manager Eric Carter around to help?

Troy: Being an ex-racer he’s really helpful when trying to find lines. He also knows what we need as racers and when to give us some space.

Flow: And Aaron Gwin?

Troy: Aaron is very helpful with racing and finding good lines. We do a lot of runs together to help each other go faster and at the end of the day what separates us in the race is who wants it more.

Flow: Could you see the green time update on the finish banner when you dropped into the arena? How was that?

Troy: Yes! Over the last jump I did see a glimpse of green and my eyes lit up. I wasn’t sure who was in the hot seat so I just hoped I could outsprint them to the line!

Flow: First time racing a 650B downhill bike? What made you decide to try it at Fort William?

(NO REPLY)

Flow: Where do you think you won the race? On the power sections, or rougher parts of the track?

Troy: I feel it was the whole track, I just really felt the flow hitting all my lines and was riding super smooth. Despite saying that, I did have a really good sprint at the bottom!

Flow: After qualifying first, how confident were you of winning the final?

Troy: It gave me a lot of confidence going into the final, I knew that I could do it but anything can happen in a race run. I just did my best and pedalled everywhere and it paid off!

Selfie

[divider]Troy’s winning run, dissected[/divider]

Troy trains as hard as anyone, and watching his run at Fort William this becomes plain to see. Some riders look clean, effortless almost as they clear gaps and track straight through the craziest of rock gardens. Troy Brosnan is one of these riders, but not through anything other than sheer hard work and determination. We see this at a few points through his run:

Click to watch his winning run replay here.

  1. Watch the start of Troy’s run 2.01.05. See how quickly he gets up to speed! Troy’s efficient technique on the sprint, working the bars, combined with his near perfect pedal stroke and a high power to weight ratio means that he’s able to get his Demo going real quick, really, really fast. Continuing with the sprinting theme, has anyone else noticed how many riders on the DH circuit don’t actually sprint at every available opportunity, or sit down? If you haven’t noticed this, watch the replay of the Cairns World Cup, and notice just how many riders have poor sprints in the long pedal leading up to the finish. Brosnan however, never misses the opportunity to get even a single pedal stroke in. Have a look at 2.01.22, and how quickly he gets back on the pedals after cornering- unbelievable.
  2. Just after this corner, Troy absolutely blasts through the infamous rock garden section at the top of the track. For a long time the general consensus with downhill has been that the heavier riders are able to monster their way through these sections of track better than smaller riders, however Troy leads to a big questioning of this with the way he is able to flick his bike around the rough stuff to find the right line. When downhill legends like Rob Warner in the commentary box are admitting as much, it’s definitely a theory that’s beginning to gain merit.
  3. Speaking of flicking bikes around, Troy’s handling skills are up there with the Sam Hills and Brendan Faircloughs of the downhill scene. The way he transfers his lightweight figure through the rough stuff 2.02.06 to 2.02.12– amazing ninja skills. This could possibly be attributed to the dirt jumping he does as part of his training, as well as his recently commenced motocross sessions.
  4. Despite the numerous attributes of Brosnan’s riding that put him firmly up there as a contender for the overall world cup title this year, on top of his second to none pedalling and power through pedally sections, Brosnan has the best tuck in the business. With the speeds going too high to pedal through the open, big jump, ‘motorway’ sections of world cup courses, getting aero is no longer something you did on the road bike during training. Troy won by 1.6 seconds, and he might just have just sealed the deal with his far more superior tuck through the bottom section of the course as opposed to Sam Hill. Not buying this aero stuff? Watch from 2.02.23 onwards- you’ll see.

TB Berm

With the Leogang World Cup taking place this week in Austria, what can Troy pull out? Having mixed results there in the past- a crash in 2012 and eighth place there last year, it’s hard to tell, but his confidence will be right up there following his Fort William victory. As it’s another technical and physical track, Troy’s excellent conditioning and technical ability should favour him!

If Troy can keep performing consistently to the end of the World Cup season, could Australia have another World Cup Champion at the end of the 2014 season?

2012 World Champs Leogang Crash video: Second corner in, Troy crashed injuring his shoulder.

At home with Troy Brosnan, back in early 2013 when recovering from the Leogang World Champs crash.

Time Off With Troy Brosnan Interview – Flow Mountain Bike from Flow Mountain Bike on Vimeo.

Tested: Specialized Women’s Riata and Cascade Shoes

I remember my first set of mountain bike shoes. I picked a ‘best guess’ size and special ordered them from my local bike shop. There were a men’s design, fitted well enough, and worked well in the face of no other wildly different options that small or at that price point. I’ve had knee niggles ever since, a likely outcome given over training, under stretching and my feet swimming around in my shoes.

Specialized have developed research, training and design systems that eliminate experiences for female riders like the one above. Like the women’s saddles we tested recently , our women’s shoe test also began by meeting with Lyndell van de Walle at Cyclery Northside, getting fitted for two new offerings from Specialized: The Riata MTB shoes and the Cascade XC shoes.

[divider]Finding your fit[/divider]

The fit process for a pair of Specialized shoes takes into account two important measurements. The first is a rider’s size, the second is the amount of contact their foot has with the sole of the shoe.

A heat sensitive device measures the two in one go. This limits the fussing around with special ordering and multiple shop visits if the first size isn’t right. (Although, due to brand’s reputation for excellent fitting women’s shoes most shops stock a good range of sizes and styles.)

Behold, the arch-o-meter.
Behold, the arch-o-meter.

Our foot contact measurement indicated a high arch. This signalled that extra support inside the shoe would provide additional stability, an improved pedal stroke and better power transfer.

Three different innersoles, or footbeds, are available as an add-on to a shoe purchase for riders who want to address this area of fit and performance. In our case, we were supplied with innersoles that support a higher arch, which stopped our foot collapsing during the pedal stroke.

The underside of the original footbeds (left) and the ones with increased support (right). The green material is designed not to collapse adding to the longevity of this add-on.
The underside of the original footbeds (left) and the ones with increased support (right). The green material is designed not to collapse adding to the longevity of this add-on.
Side view of the different footbeds. You can see the extra support along the midline of the foot.
Side view of the different footbeds. You can see the extra support along the midline of the foot.

The built up footbeds have led to much better tracking of our hips and knees, to the point where knee pain on the bike and was far more responsive to stretching and maintenance off the bike. The difference is so pronounced we want to put these in our regular shoes as well – except that they’re carefully designed for a pedal stroke, not a foot step.

With size and arch support taken care of, what would the shoes offer on top of this?

[divider]Specialized Women’s Riata MTB Shoe[/divider]

The Riata MTB shoe is an entry level mountain bike shoe. At $129.95 it retails at a price you’d expect to pay for a reasonably supportive running shoe.

Like a similar level of running shoe, the Riata is constructed out of well-researched features delivering fit and performance without going over the top with bells and whistles.

We can't say enough good things about the Riatas - especially for riders new to the sport or who don't want to remorgage their home for a new pair of shoes.
We can’t say enough good things about the Riatas – especially for riders new to the sport or who don’t want to remorgage their home for a new pair of shoes.

The sole provides reasonable traction. There are no studs or softer compound materials to add extra grip, but we didn’t miss this. In fact, we preferred the durability of the more basic sole that is less affected by walking on scratchy surfaces.

Specialized shoes are built up a little along the inside middle of the foot. Whether you buy additional inner soles or not, riders will also benefit from the ‘metatarsal button’ which helps to keep the toes feeling relaxed and ‘longitudinal arch’ support. Again, great for the demands of long rides and a cycling pedal stroke.

The sole of the Riata has a ‘stiffness factor’ of six. This means it’s stiff-ish without being so light, hard and power transfer-y that Specialized would want to use similar materials for Tony Martin’s next time trial bike.

The more basic sole provides ample traction.
The more basic sole provides ample traction.

Of the two pairs of shoes we tested we preferred these for trail riding and gravity enduro – ride days where we valued the flexibility of the sole for extra pedal feel and subtle manoeuvres through the feet. We also preferred the Riatas for these rides as we’re more off and on the bike as they’re better suited for walking. Our heel tended to slip a little but not in a deal breaker way.

We were very impressed by the fit, feel and value for money of these shoes. They offer new riders an affordable, stylish and very functional package.

We were blown away by how far they’ve come from heavy, ‘unisex’, box-like designs of the past.

[divider]Specialized Women’s Cascade XC Shoes[/divider]

There aren’t many companies offering a high end women’s specific XC shoe. The carbon soled, fancy-strapped, shiny, pro-looking Cascades are in fact a model down from the even more blinged out Specialized Women’s S-Works race shoes.

We were excited about testing them, but then devastated when they didn’t seem to fit. They’re so snug, stiff and efficient that, at first, matched to our broad feet they just seemed to cause blisters and cramps.

The women's Cascade XCs. Sleek, supportive, fast.
The women’s Cascade XCs. Sleek, supportive, fast.

We were surprised about this given our success with other models in the Specialized range, but soon realised it wasn’t the shoe that was causing the problem, but the shoe combined with our broad, high arched feet and the extra bulk of the add-on green footbeds we’d inserted.

After a month of breaking in the shoe with the original, less built up footbeds we were able to switch back to the support of the green inserts and have blissfully remained blister and cramp free since. In fact, the Cascades now feel akin to a pair of stylish, powerful slippers. Cinderella eat your heart out.

The Cascades do away with some of the extra material that adds room and bulk in the Riatas. Two Velcro straps and a replaceable ‘Boa S2 Snap’ dial pull the top in nice and close.

The Cascade XCs bascially wrap around your foot.
The Cascade XCs bascially wrap around your foot.

Test Specialized WMNS Shoes 3

A carbon sole adds stiffness and shaves weight. The sole also has more traction than earlier women’s shoe designs from Specialized, a welcome addition given they are made for mountain biking after all. Like the Riatas, we were really pleased to see these shoes come in a practical black.

With a stiffness index of 11, five more stiffness-es than the Riatas, these shoes are the pick for transferring power to the pedals. They hold the feet in place well eliminating extra movement and energy loss, but are still as comfortable at the end of an all day ride as they are at the beginning (after that initial breaking in period for our test feet).

A carbon sole positions these shoes at the serious end of the market.
A carbon sole positions these shoes at the serious end of the market.

Like the name suggests, they’re best suited to XC and marathon. We also used them a lot on the road bike during the test period. They’re light, efficient and we prefer the extra float on MTB pedals compared to some road brands. Plus, if we were to spend $350 on a pair of shoes, we’d want to be using them every chance we could!

The Cascades are more than twice the price of the Riatas. In the absence of many competitors on the market, they’re a worthwhile investment for women wanting a high performing, injury reducing, snug fitting pair of kicks.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

We were obviously impressed by these two women’s offerings from Specialized. While some brands still only make a token effort in the women’s shoe department, it’s impressive to see such a comprehensive, innovative and extensive range coming out of this company for female riders at both ends of the sport.

Specialized's womens Riata MTB and Cascade XC shoes.

The fit process reflects the research findings from the design team and adds to the pleasurable ride experience both shoes provide. The impact of a good fitting pair of shoes on injury reduction is something we can’t emphasise enough making either pair a valuable investment if you find yourself riding regularly.

We were surprised by the initial tightness of the Cascades, but it was in fact the fit process that made us think it was worthwhile trying them a little longer – and given how comfortable they became, we’re certainly glad we did.

 

Video: No Fuzz. Full Throttle.

Jon Television – No Fuzz. Full Throttle. from Jon Bokrantz on Vimeo.

You all know the drill: summer is here (in the northern hemisphere, anyhow), and ain’t nobody got time to mess around. The only things that matters are riding, eating, sleeping, repeating. So, sometimes you just got to keep things simple.

No elaborate story, no talk, no B-roll, fillers or scenery. 100% free from time-consuming slow motion, and with entertainment as the sole purpose. No Fuzz. Full Throttle. Here’s to the summer of 2014, let’s make it one to remember!

Produced and Edited by: Jon Bokrantz & Jimmy Svensson (Trail Nine)
Music: Dark Country – Evil Ways (Justice Remix)