Flow Nation: Mt Buller, Day 3

Stonefly has been named as Australia’s best trail many times, no wonder why.

This single track loop is the crown in the jewel of the incredible trail network around Mt Buller. World Trail have created a masterpiece, a truly wonderful experience in the form of a single track climb and descent that blurs the line between a scenic tour and a real thrill.

Check out first and second days in Buller here.

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Stonefly takes you through the full range of vegetation that Buller has to offer, from green, fern-filled rainforest, to open woodland and all the way up to alpine above tree line.

It’s quite an undertaking to ride Stonefly, it climbs up alongside the summit of the mighty Mt Stirling, the other big whopping mountain you can see clearly from the Mt Buller village. But although it may sound a bit backwards, we believe the climb is as good – if not better – than the descent back down. It’s not one of those climbs that grinds up, and up and up, it has been lovingly built to take in the best parts of the climb, and provides the rider with many moments to rest and recover.

From the greenest of green ferns, to open gum tree woods dripping with bark and up higher into the ghost-white alpine forests, the trail also crosses bubbling stream and waterfalls with delicious cold water. It’s a trail built to last, with extensive armouring and a great mixture of natural and imported features to help the delicate terrain withstand years of happy tyres humming along.

When you make it to the top, it’s time to make the call – slog the 1.5km diversion to the summit of Mt Stirling – or begin the ball tearing descent down Stonefly straight away. You’d be crazy not to visit the top at least once, the views are gargantuan, so vast, it makes the whole Buller experience a very special one, with views of where you have been, going and where the Epic Trail is under construction. Sit under the lone tree, an old wiry gum that must have made it through the wildest of conditions over hundreds of years.

And when you get back to the post the signals the start of the Stonefly descent, you’ve got a lot to be excited about, so much to look forward to lies ahead!

The descent is fast, and bloody exciting. By the time you get rolling, you don’t really slow down until the bottom. Built by riders who love to shred fast, the flowing singletrack makes the most out of the hard-earned elevation.

Riding behind someone accentuates the flowiness of the trail, when you turn one way, the rider ahead turns the other, and it repeats over and over again. The corners are bliss, and there are plenty of sneaky lines to jump next time, or if you’re a bit reckless, go for it.

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Large parts of the terrain around Buller have been logged, way back in the early 1900s. Many of the original bench cuts put in by the loggers are still visible and sometimes form backbone for the new trails.
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The Mt Stirling summit isn’t actually part of the Stonefly loop, but it’s only a 700-metre diversion. It’s a real grunt of a climb to the peak, but the view is definitely worth it.
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The views from the Stirling summit are incredible.

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That’s the Buller village, way, way in the distance. To ride the full loop of Stonefly from the village is a decent old undertaking, so leave yourself three to four hours.
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The lone tree on the Stirling summit. Who knows how long this fella has been up here fighting the elements.

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It’s a great time of year to be in Buller, with all the wild flowers out the trails look fantastic.
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Letting it all hang out on the Stonefly descent. There’s a reason so many people rate this as the best trail bike descent in the country – you forget the climb pretty damn quickly!

Tested: Specialized S-Works Camber 29

It wasn’t too long ago that we declared our desire to “marry” a Specialized test bike (the Stumpjumper Expert Carbon), so deep was our love. But now, it seems that we’re lusting after another… we’ve had an affair with the lady in red, and it felt good. Ladies and gents, our new love, the Specialized S-Works Camber 29.

The Camber confused us for quite a while. There aren’t many bikes in that 110mm-travel category; in Australia we’re used to seeing 100mm-travel cross-country bikes or 140mm+ trail bikes. With so little apparently separating the Camber from the Epic, we didn’t really understand its place in the world.

But after a few days together on the trails of Atherton in Tropical North Queensland, we’ve definitely got a handle on what this very glamorous bike is all about. We know it’s easy to be wooed by the superb components, immaculate finish and low weight of the S-Works version of the Camber, but the fundamentals that make this bike so great are echoed throughout the Camber range.

Watch the video and learn why the Camber might just be the one you’ve been looking for too.

We tested the Camber up in Atherton, in Tropical North Queensland, where we stayed at a fifth generation farm.
We tested the Camber up in Atherton, in Tropical North Queensland, where we stayed at a fifth generation farm.
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The greasy berms and jumps of the Ricochet track proved just how relaxed the Camber is even when the tyres are sliding about and the landings are harsh.

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Looks nice from this angle too.
Looks nice from this angle too.
The Formula brakes are lovely to look at. Specialized specced a 160mm rear rotor and a 180mm up front.
The Formula brakes are lovely to look at but we feel their performance is not in line with the rest of the componentry. Specialized specced a 160mm rear rotor and a 180mm up front.
Brakes, suspension and drivetrain aside, everything else on the bike is made by Specialized, including the Henge seat and Command IR dropper post.
Brakes, suspension and drivetrain aside, everything else on the bike is made by Specialized, including the Henge seat and Command IR dropper post.
The Camber uses a 15mm axled fork - it's another small difference that gives this bike a very different ride to the Epic, despite the two bikes being quite close in travel and geometry terms.
The Camber uses a 15mm axled fork – it’s another small difference that gives this bike a very different ride to the Epic, despite the two bikes being quite close in travel and geometry terms.
The cockpit setup is key to the Camber's confident and playful ride. The stem is 70mm, the bar 720mm - ideal in our minds. We spent a bit of time adjusting the bar position - it has a lot of backsweep, and so rolling the bars back or forwards it in the stem has a big effect on the ride feel.
The cockpit setup is key to the Camber’s confident and playful ride. The stem is 70mm, the bar 720mm – ideal in our minds. We spent a bit of time adjusting the bar position – it has a lot of backsweep, and so rolling the bars back or forwards it in the stem has a big effect on the ride feel.
The Camber gets Specialized's new SWAT system, which stands for Spares, Water, Air, Tools. Basically it's all about carrying these items on the bike, rather than on your body. There is a multitool mounted to the bottom of the bottle cage. We initially thought it was a bit of a silly idea, but sure enough it came in handy on a few occasions!
The Camber gets Specialized’s new SWAT system, which stands for Storage, Water, Air, Tools. Basically it’s all about carrying these items on the bike, rather than on your body. There is a multitool mounted to the bottom of the bottle cage. We initially thought it was a bit of a silly idea, but sure enough it came in handy on a few occasions!
Unlike the Epic or Stumpjumper, the Camber doesn't use a Brain shock. Instead, it's equipped with a standard FOX CTD Kashima shock. We have to say, as good as the brain is, we prefer this setup.
Unlike the Epic or Stumpjumper, the Camber doesn’t use a Brain shock. Instead, it’s equipped with a standard FOX CTD Kashima shock. We have to say, as good as the brain is, we prefer this setup.
Another element of the SWAT system is a chain breaker, mounted underneath headset cap.
Another element of the SWAT system is a chain breaker, mounted underneath headset cap.
The Control SL carbon wheels are spoked with a radial pattern on the non-disc side up front. They're plenty stiff, and have a lively feel and sound on the trail.
The Control SL carbon wheels are spoked with a radial pattern on the non-disc side up front. They’re plenty stiff, and have a lively feel and sound on the trail.
Wow, that is a truly striking bike.
Wow, that is a truly striking bike.
The DT-made rear axle is as neat as it gets, cinching up the 142x12mm dropouts without tools or fuss.
The DT-made rear axle is as neat as it gets, cinching up the 142x12mm dropouts without tools or fuss.
With a 2.3" up front and a 2.1" out back, the Ground Control tyres are ideal for this bike. We didn't suffer any cuts or tears in the rocky testing terrain (this can't be said for other bikes we were testing on the same trails).
With a 2.3″ up front and a 2.1″ out back, the Ground Control tyres are ideal for this bike. We didn’t suffer any cuts or tears in the rocky testing terrain (this can’t be said for other bikes we were testing on the same trails).
There are Formula brakes on a large swathe of the Specialized range this year. The T1 Racing brakes took quite a long time to bed in - a trait that seems to be common across all Formula brakes. The master cylinder piston works on 'pull', rather than 'push' mechanism. Once they'd bedded in, the power was decent, but not incredible.
There are Formula brakes on a large swathe of the Specialized range this year. The T1 Racing brakes took quite a long time to bed in – a trait that seems to be common across all Formula brakes. The master cylinder piston works on ‘pull’, rather than ‘push’ mechanism. Once they’d bedded in, the power was decent, but not incredible.
Some riders might be concerned that the Camber uses a 32mm fork, not a 34mm-legged fork, but we disagree. The 32mm fork is light, and because the travel is only 110mm, there's less flex than with a longer travel fork.
Some riders might be concerned that the Camber uses a 32mm fork, not a 34mm-legged fork, but we disagree. The 32mm fork is light, and because the travel is only 110mm, there’s less flex than with a longer travel fork.
The cabling is all internal, and we had no problems keeping it all clear of the frame for zero cable rub.
The cabling is all internal, and we had no problems keeping it all clear of the frame for zero cable rub.

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Specialized's Auto-Sag suspension is brilliant! Inflate the shock to 250psi or more, hop on the bike in your riding gear, depress the valve under the red cap. That's it! Perfect suspension sag in seconds.
Specialized’s Auto-Sag suspension is brilliant! Inflate the shock to 250psi or more, hop on the bike in your riding gear, depress the valve under the red cap. That’s it! Perfect suspension sag in seconds.
We were truly impressed by how easily the wheels and tyres sealed up for tubeless use - getting the tyres to bead was simple, even with a standard track pump.
We were truly impressed by how easily the wheels and tyres sealed up for tubeless use – getting the tyres to bead was simple, even with a standard track pump.
Specialized have gone to the trouble of colour matching the gloss black finish of the frame and fork. The shiny black looks fantastic against the gold Kashima fork legs.
Specialized have gone to the trouble of colour matching the gloss black finish of the frame and fork. The shiny black looks fantastic against the gold Kashima fork legs.
The Camber is equipped with the new internal routed Command IR dropper post, with 125mm of adjustment. The small remote lever is integrated oh-so neatly into the grip lock-ring. Compared to the standard Command Blacklite post, the new IR version is far superior.
The Camber is equipped with the new internal routed Command IR dropper post, with 125mm of adjustment. The small remote lever is integrated oh-so neatly into the grip lock-ring. Compared to the standard Command Blacklite post, the new IR version is far superior.
Carbon hoops! The bike comes tubeless ready - just install the supplied valves, add goo and go.
Carbon hoops! The bike comes tubeless ready – just install the supplied valves, add goo and go.
Bike schmike, give me some shit to roll in.
Bike schmike, give me some shit to roll in.

Flow Lounge – 20/11/13

Welcome to the Flow Lounge, brought to you this week from Atherton, Queensland.

Join us this week to learn more about the massive explosion of mountain biking in this tiny tropical town. We also chat about the very luscious Specialized S-Works Camber, some uncharacteristically problematic bugs with our Lapierre Zesty E:i test bike and we road test a few of the most juicy pineapples on the market.

 

Video: 10 Years Of Awesome – Hunter & Claw

Long-term relationships and sports don’t often go hand in hand, but this year marks the 10 year anniversary for both Matt Hunter and Darren Berrecloth with the Specialized family. Hunter and Berrecloth are responsible for some of the most progressive freeriding the sport has seen recently and Specialized has been proud to be there nearly every step of the way.

For the last 10 years both Matt and Darren have traveled the world exploring some of the most incredible terrain there is and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on a mountain bike. Even though the two riders hail from British Columbia, their hectic schedules don’t allow them to ride together as often as they’d like. To celebrate their decade aboard Specialized bikes, Matt and Darren have teamed up with legendary photographer Sterling Lorence to capture more of the iconic imagery which has established them at the top of the freeride world.

“Being a part of the best company in the bike business has been an absolute dream” proclaimed Berrecloth. “Having such an awesome team behind me that takes in my feedback and welcomes collaboration on projects has been unreal” he continued. “It’s pretty crazy to be with a company like Specialized and see the evolution of products over 10 years – it all sort of seems to just fly by, yet when you sit back and think about it, it’s truly nothing short of amazing.”

“Pretty Good for 10-Year Olds” follows the pair as they trek around the freeride playground that is British Columbia. The collaboration between Hunter, Berrecloth and Lorence has accounted for some of the most recognizable imagery in mountain biking and this round is sure to deliver more of the same. The three searched for unique and impressive terrain where Hunter and Berrecloth were able to display the skills they’ve become so well known for.

“It’s really hard to believe it’s been ten years!” exclaimed Hunter. “I think there is an old saying that goes something like ‘Time flies when you’re having fun… riding the best trails in the world… on the best bikes.’ Or at least I think it goes something like that” Hunter joked. “Anyway, a big thanks to everyone at Specialized for such an epic journey.”

Video: 10 Years Of Awesome – Hunter & Claw

Long-term relationships and sports don’t often go hand in hand, but this year marks the 10 year anniversary for both Matt Hunter and Darren Berrecloth with the Specialized family. Hunter and Berrecloth are responsible for some of the most progressive freeriding the sport has seen recently and Specialized has been proud to be there nearly every step of the way.

For the last 10 years both Matt and Darren have traveled the world exploring some of the most incredible terrain there is and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on a mountain bike. Even though the two riders hail from British Columbia, their hectic schedules don’t allow them to ride together as often as they’d like. To celebrate their decade aboard Specialized bikes, Matt and Darren have teamed up with legendary photographer Sterling Lorence to capture more of the iconic imagery which has established them at the top of the freeride world.

“Being a part of the best company in the bike business has been an absolute dream” proclaimed Berrecloth. “Having such an awesome team behind me that takes in my feedback and welcomes collaboration on projects has been unreal” he continued. “It’s pretty crazy to be with a company like Specialized and see the evolution of products over 10 years – it all sort of seems to just fly by, yet when you sit back and think about it, it’s truly nothing short of amazing.”

“Pretty Good for 10-Year Olds” follows the pair as they trek around the freeride playground that is British Columbia. The collaboration between Hunter, Berrecloth and Lorence has accounted for some of the most recognizable imagery in mountain biking and this round is sure to deliver more of the same. The three searched for unique and impressive terrain where Hunter and Berrecloth were able to display the skills they’ve become so well known for.

“It’s really hard to believe it’s been ten years!” exclaimed Hunter. “I think there is an old saying that goes something like ‘Time flies when you’re having fun… riding the best trails in the world… on the best bikes.’ Or at least I think it goes something like that” Hunter joked. “Anyway, a big thanks to everyone at Specialized for such an epic journey.”

Video: Asia Pacific Downhill Challenge

This year we build a new track in Bali. Thanks to United Bike, the people of Bukit Tengah Klungkung, Komang and Eric that made it possible.

The track was design in collaboration of Garry Patterson from Trailscapes Australia, Andre Palmer and Eric Sanjaya.

The combination of big jumps, steep with rocks and dusty topped with a lot of off camber made it one of the hardest but also a fun track we ever ride.

Troy Brosnan finally win the event after his 3rd time racing it.

It was another unforgettable weekend for everyone, hope to see more riders joining the event next time. This event was organized by Orange Sports Communication.

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized S-Works Camber 29

Well, there’s really not too much to say; this bike is exquisite.

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When you spend some time assessing the whole (massive) Specialized mountain bike range, it’s easy to pass over the Camber series. It’s somewhat overshadowed by the whippet-esque racing performance of the Epic line and the legendary versatility of the slightly longer-travel Stumpjumpers.

But ask anyone who has ridden a Camber for their thoughts and they’ll launch into a mushy soliloquy about how the Camber is their perfect ‘one’ bike and they’re in a state of monogamous bliss.

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Quite frankly, if this bike doesn’t blow us away, we’ll be disappointed. At around $10,000, it ought to leave us in a right lather of joy. We’ll be taking the Camber with us when we head north to Atherton next week, and putting it through the wringer on our rocky local trails when we return. Full video review to come!

You can view the full geometry here and the spec here.

Fresh Product – Specialized Butcher DH tyres

Specialized Butcher DH tyres-1

The tread of choice for our World Cup DH Team. The Butcher tyres excel in even the gnarliest terrain with fast rolling, ramped centre knobs and perfectly sized shoulder knobs for bite in the corners.

  • Casing: 60 TPI, Dual Ply
  • Bead: wire
  • Compound: Base 70a / Top 42a
  • Pinch Protection: Butyl Inserts at bead
  • 26″ x 2.3; psi 25-50; approximate weight 1250g
  • 26″ x 2.5; psi 25-50; approximate weight 1290g

Tested: Specialized Purgatory 29 x 2.3 Tyre

Specialized have really done an amazing job with their tyre range. On any Specialized bike we’ve ridden, reviewed, or tested over the past few years, we’ve always been completely happy with the rubber, and we’re normally fussy buggers.

No matter what style of mountain biking you like or what type of terrain you ride, it’s pretty likely Specialized have a tyre to suit. The new Purgatory sits towards the trail/all-mountain end of the spectrum, and we’ve been testing the 29×2.3″ size in the Control guise.

Good braking stability, plenty of room to bite in on looser surfaces, rolls when and supportive in the corners - it's all there!
Good braking stability, plenty of room to bite in on looser surfaces, rolls when and supportive in the corners – it’s all there!

The Control designation simply means it’s a little heavier, but also tougher, than the more expensive S-Works version. It uses the same compounds, tread pattern and is ‘2-Bliss’ tubeless ready as well.

We would easily rate the Purgatory as one of the best all-round trail tyres on the market.

It’s not the lightest tyre, but this far it has proven tough and it holds air very well when set up tubeless. There’s clearly a bit of weight in the tread blocks themselves, as they’re well supported and hardwearing. In rubble or sand, the Purgatory strikes a great balance of floating when you want it to (thanks to a decent footprint) but biting in too.

The Control version is heavier, but cheaper and tougher than the S-Works Purgatory. We're running ours tubeless and the sidewalls haven't leaked or suffered any damage to date.
The Control version is heavier, but cheaper and tougher than the S-Works Purgatory. We’re running ours tubeless and the sidewalls haven’t leaked or suffered any damage to date.

The unique tread pattern rolls well. With a harder compound of rubber (60a) through the centre tread, it’s nice and fast. The side knobs have a durometer of 50a, but they don’t feel as gummy as many similarly rated treads. Still, they hang on tight, even in situations where we’d normally have favoured a softer compound tyre. While we’ve been using this tread on the front, we’ll be looking for another to pair up on the rear.

There are size options for 26 and 29″ riders, but being a Specialized product, 27.5″ riders won’t be catered for. Sorry!

Tested: Specialized Command Post BlackLite Adjustable Seat Post

It always surprises us when we meet someone on the trail who asks us, ‘what’s that?’ while pointing at our adjustable seat post. We guess that’s because once you’ve been using a dropper post for a while, it kind of becomes impossible to imagine riding without one!

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The Specialized Command Post BlackLite (whatever that means – kind of sounds like a commando squadron) comes as a stock item on many Specialized bikes. Specialized are one of only two brands (the other being Giant) to have developed their own in-house dropper post, rather than speccing one of the myriad of options available from FOX, RockShox, KS, crankbrothers and more. So how does the Command Post stack up?

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The Command Post BlackLite uses external cable actuation, rather than an internal cable or hydraulics. It may not look as neat as an internal system, but maintenance and installation is far easier.

Since we began this test, Specialized have unveiled another version of the Command Post, this time with internal cable routing (ala the RockShox Reverb Stealth). However, as most older frames won’t be compatible with the new internally routed post, so we think the standard Command Post will remain very popular. As an aftermarket item, it’s available in two diameters (30.9 and 31.6mm) and three different lengths, offering 125, 100 or 75mm of on-the-fly adjustability.

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Full height, 35mm drop and fully dropped. Our post had 100mm of adjustability, but you can get 125mm or 75mm versions too.

The Command Post, like the FOX DOSS post, uses pre-set drop levels, rather than infinite adjustability. There’s full extension (climbing), fully dropped (getting rowdy) or an intermediate 35mm-drop ‘cruiser’ setting, which gets the saddle out of the way without making seated pedalling too hard.

We hit an early snag with installation; our BH Lynx frame didn’t allow us to insert the seat post far enough to get the seat height right – it was about 25mm too high when the post was at full extension. We sent our 125mm version back and swapped it for the 100mm-drop version, which is about 35mm shorter in overall length. It’s interesting to note that the Command Post is comparatively long for its amount of adjustability. By way of comparison, the RockShox Reverb and KS Lev posts are both about 20mm shorter in overall length while maintaining 125mm of adjustability.

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The small lever takes up very little room on the bar. We’re running a single ring drivetrain on this particular bike too, so the cockpit is nice and clean.
The lever isn't too much of a stretch to reach, and it's quite low profile too.
The lever isn’t too much of a stretch to reach, and it’s quite low profile too.

With that issue sorted, installation went very smoothly. The Command Post uses an air spring; we set the post’s air pressure at about 30psi. There is no rebound damping with the Command Post, meaning it really shoots back to full extension quickly when you hit the button, so it’s important not to run too much air pressure or it’ll spring back like a gonad-seeking missile.

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The cable can be unclipped from the post’s head easily making removal, servicing or packing it all up for travel very simple.

Compared to a hydraulic system, like the Reverb post, the cable actuated system is easy to set up. The lever is petite and comes supplied with a ‘noodle’ to ensure clean routing from the handlebar – keeping the line of cable as smooth as possible is important or you’ll end up with too much friction in the system. There’s also a barrel adjuster, which is useful as the system is quite sensitive to the correct cable tension. The post head uses a single bolt clamp, and like other single bolt systems, you need to do it up super tight. The cable has a quick release mechanism as well, meaning you can detach it from the post in seconds if you need to take the post out of the frame.

The post head uses a single bolt clamp, secured with a 5mm allen key.
The post head uses a single bolt clamp, secured with a 5mm allen key. There’s loads of angle adjustment, so getting your saddle position right is easy.

Performance so far has been consistent and reliable and we’ve got high hopes for the durability of the post too. Unlike many dropper posts, the Command Post isn’t plagued by side-to-side slop, which makes it feel robust and well built.

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One half of the pivot bolt in our lever rattled loose and went bushwalking, never to be seen again. The lever still works, it just is a tad floppy.

The lever isn’t as tough, and we lost one half of the pivot bolt assembly early in the game. It still works fine, but there’s a bit of slop in the lever as a result. That said, there’s still plenty to like about the lever; it takes up little bar real estate, fits neatly with most shifters or brakes, and is easy to position in comfortable reach of your thumb. It can also be integrated with a Specialized lock-on grip, replacing the lock ring, which is pretty tidy. The downside of the small lever is that it doesn’t give you that much leverage – posts like the KS Lev or FOX DOSS have significantly lighter actuation.

Coming off an infinitely adjustable post (the crankbrothers Kronolog… not so good…) it took a while to adapt to the three-position adjustment of the Command Post. Engaging the fully dropped position is easy – there’s very little resistance to lower the post – but finding the intermediate 35mm drop position takes a bit of practice to hit it smoothly. You need to compress the lever, sit on the seat and compress the post past the 35mm point, then release the lever before taking your weight off the seat, allowing it to slot back into the intermediate position. It took half a dozen rides before it became intuitive. The FOX system, where there is a second lever to engage the intermediate position, is easier to operate, but it is significantly more bulky and heavier.

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When the Command Post locks in position, you know it’s secure. The action is reassuringly solid.

We like the reassuringly solid engagement of the Command Post. You can really feel and hear it lock into position with a clunk. The internals of the post are quite simple, using a expanding collet style locking mechanism that sits securely into recesses in post’s inner wall. It’s robust, and feels and sounds positive and tough.

Overall, the Command Post is a solid offering, not entirely without foibles, but then no dropper post seems to be perfect yet. Now that we’ve adapted to the operation of the post and can engage the very useful intermediate position quickly, we’ve become quite fond of the Command Post. The robust post construction is the highlight, and the price is good too, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it’s going in a year’s time as we get the feeling it’ll be trucking along nicely.

 

 

 

 

 

Tested: Specialized S-Works Trail Shoe

More options than ever are available to the widening variety of mountain bikers, gone are the days of just the polar opposites of downhill and cross country apparel.

With more riders seeking a balance of the best out of all genres in a high performance package, it is no wonder Specialized and many other brands are producing gear that hits that sweet spot, with a ‘trail’ oriented shoe.

Subtle, rugged with a race worthy stiffness sole.
Subtle, rugged with a race worthy stiffness sole.

Specialized’s S-Works shoes are spotted on the fit feet of so many elite cross country and marathon riders, and not just because they are sponsored, because they are some of the best. Specialized are in our mind one of the leaders of the footwear and apparel game. Their Body Geometry gear is highly regarded, a Flow favourite, and above all, super comfortable and durable.

Kick a rock, stump or a bucket and your foot digits will be fine.
Kick a rock, stump or a bucket and your feet digits will be fine. Protection where it counts.

We tested the premium level S-Works shoe earlier this year, and loved them. New for next season and replacing the S-Works EVO shoe is the S-Works Trail, subtle in colour in styling and only 60 grams heavier than the S-Works race shoe.

With added toe protection, a high ankle guard and a softer rubberised sole, these shoes are built with a few key things in mind. Protection, durability and walking ability.

A high ankle pad
A high inside pad section will help protect from the swingarm of a full suspension bike whacking your ankle where it really hurts.

We’ve worn these shoes on dozens of rides and love them to bits, but one thing perplexes us. Why would Specialized use their stiffest carbon sole in shoes that are supposed to be good for walking in? The shoes fit great, but pushing our bikes up the trails or walking about makes our heels slip and rub the back of the heel cup, and after a few hours it begins to hurt. Plus, a slightly softer sole may detract from pedal efficiency slightly, but what can be gained in ‘feel’ is what we seek in a trail oriented shoe. Combining a trail style pedal with more support (like a Shimano Trail, or Crank Bros Candy) allows your to feel less isolated and use your feet to steer the bike a little bit more. We would have loved the Trail shoe to have a slightly less stiff sole.

Specialized's highest grade carbon sole, slim, light and as stiff as a board.
Specialized’s highest grade carbon sole, slim, light and as stiff as a board.

The dual BOA dials are a serious highlight, with the snug tension so easily adjusted whilst riding, and fitting and removal of the shoe is quick and easy. The ankle protection was neither here nor there for us in particular, but we know many riders who bang ankles on the seat and chainstays of dual suspension bikes all the time, and it sure can hurt. If this is an issue for you, the ankle protection provided with these will alleviate that worry.

BOA dials, we love their quick and easy adjustments. Plus the way the wires pull tension across the top of the foot makes for a snug fit with less tight spots.
BOA dials, we love their quick and easy adjustments. Plus the way the wires pull tension across the top of the foot makes for a snug fit with less tight spots.

Clambering up rocks, or dabbing your foot down on tricky climbs is great also, the rubber sole doesn’t slip on hard surfaces, where the usual high end shoes will make you do the splits.

Ultimately, we will be wearing these shoes more than anything, but there is the Specialized Rime shoe that is even more flexible for walking in, as a good option.

The Trail shoe fills the gap between a super relaxed skate style shoe like the Teva Pivots and the flashy race ones like our new fluorescent green Scott Premium shoes nicely.

Video: Specialized Racing, Norway World Cup

Donwhill

The gravity-fed guys go way, way north for the penultimate round of the 2013 UCI Downhill World Cup held at Hafjell, Norway. Troy Brosnan and Mitch Ropelato headline for Specialized Racing, while Aaron Gwin is forced to sit out due to a shoulder injury sustained at the World Championships.

In rain-soaked conditions, Mitch’s development continues, cracking the top-20 with a fast run despite a mishap. Troy posts another top-10 but clearly will not be satisfied until he hits the top step of the podium.

Cross Country

Specialized Racing traveled to the far northern latitudes for the conclusion of the 2013 cross-country mountain bike season, where the team posted great results.

Reigning Olympic champion, Jaroslav Kulhavy, seems to have found the groove on his new Epic bike, winning a head-to-head race with defending World Champ, Nino Schurter. Lea Davison said she’d settle for nothing less than a strong podium finish, and she got it. Huge morale boost for the athletes, mechanics, and support staff, as we roll into the off-season and begin preparations for next year.

Thanks to John Lawlor and Victor Lucas for another season of coverage, to Benno for color commentary, to the riders that inspire us, and to all of the fans that cheer them on!

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Ground Control and Purgatory Tyres

Specialized bikes are a little different in that they often come off the showroom floor with different tyres front and rear; a meaty tread up front with slightly faster-rolling rubber out back.

This mixing of tyres is seen more commonly on the bikes of  experienced riders who know exactly what they want out of their rubber, so it’s pretty cool to see Specialized offering this setup from stock. One of the common pairings on their trail bikes is a Purgatory up front and Ground Control out back, so we thought we’d give this selection a try too.

The Purgatory 29x2.3. Big, openly spaced tread blocks give the tyre the ability to bite into loose surfaces.
The Purgatory 29×2.3. Big, openly spaced tread blocks give the tyre the ability to bite into loose surfaces.

We’ve opted for the ‘Control’ version of both treads, rather than the lightweight S-Works version, as we’ve found the S-Works options a little fragile in the past. The Control versions are said to offer 15% more cut resistance, however the hell you measure this!

Both tyres are 2-Bliss Ready (butyl wrapped tyre bead) and sealed up tubeless very easily on SRAM Roam 50 rims. For a 2.3″ tread, the volume of both tyres seems smaller than we’d anticipated, but that’s probably because the Schwalbe rubber we’ve been using is notoriously oversized. Weights are 793g for the Purgatory in a 29×2.3 and 723g for the Ground Control in the same size.

Specialized Purgatory Ground Control-1

Both the Purgatory and Ground Control are 2-Bliss Ready.
Both the Purgatory and Ground Control are 2-Bliss Ready.

We’ve done around 15 hours on the treads to date and we’re completely sold on the Purgatory in particular thus far. We’ve been running pressures in the mid 20s (far lower than the stupidly high 35psi recommended on the sidewall) and while we’ve burped the front tyre once, the grip is excellent. Testing conditions so far have included lots of rock and sand, but also a smattering of dark root trails. The Purgatory has proved both supportive and tacky enough to hold an edge on the rocks, but also sensitive enough to find grip on the roots.

The Ground Control features lower-profile centre tread blocks and runs a faster-rolling and more durable 60a compound across the entire tyre.
The Ground Control features lower-profile centre tread blocks and runs a faster-rolling and more durable 60a compound across the entire tyre.

The Ground Control feels great too, rolling nice and fast with a 60a compound. We’ve pinged the rear rim a few times so far without any damage to the tyre, so that’s a good sign in terms of durability.

We’ll continue to run these treads for the next couple of months to get a better idea of their performance once some wear sets in.

While you’re here, check out some of the other tyres we’ve reviewed recently!

Bontrager XR4
Rubena Scylla
Maxxis Ardent
Bontrager XR2

Racing: Specialized Riders Set Their Sights on MTB Worlds Aboard 2014 Bikes

Go for it. Let it all hang out. For all the marbles. Worlds are the ultimate one-day mountain bike race – the highest achievement in our sport, after all the winner dons the rainbow stripes for life – so you can bet our team will be racing harder than ever.

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We’re dedicated to giving our XC and DH athletes competing this weekend every advantage possible. All will be aboard brand-new 2014 bikes and equipment, adorned with extra special, nationally themed graphics.

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THE BIKES:

XC
The S-Works Epic is the only full-suspension 29er to have won Worlds and with Jaroslav Kulhavy, Todd Wells, and Kohei Yamamoto all in prime form our hopes are high for some great results. Lea Davison will be gunning for the win on the ultra-light women’s-specific Fate carbon hardtail. All riders will be on production spec 2014 bikes custom adorned in the livery of their home nation.

Because the XC course is super tech, we cooked up something special to give our riders an edge when the going gets rough: prototype Command Posts to fit 27.2mm seattubes. Like the sweet paintjobs our riders are sporting, these posts, too, are one-off prototypes that will not be for sale.

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DH
The complete S-Racing Factory Team will be in attendance for this event with Aaron Gwin, Troy Brosnan, and Mitch Ropelato all riding custom-painted bikes bearing the colors of their home countries, and relying on Specialized tires to put the rubber to the trail. Troy and Mitch will both be sporting custom-painted Dissident helmets as well.

Screen shot 2013-08-21 at 2.11.43 PM

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Brosnan Worlds Helmet

THE RIDERS:

XC
Reigning Olympic Champion, Jaroslav Kulhavy
Reigning Pro XCT Champion, Todd Wells
Reigning Pro XCT Champion, Lea Davison

DH
Reigning UCI Overall World Champion, Aaron Gwin
Two-time Junior World Champion, Troy Brosnan
Three-time Pump Track World Champion, Mitch Ropelato

Fresh Product: Specialized Command Post Blacklite

All-new Specialized Command Post BlackLite uses 3 remote-actuated saddle height positions to maximize climbing and descending performance. Modern cross-country riders realize the benefit of the perfect riding position achieved by utilizing the on-the-fly saddle height adjustment for a more fun, safer and hassle-free riding experience.

  • 2nd generation, 100g lighter
  • Bonded head for a lighter and more secure fitting on seatpost
  • Three versions of drop-adjustability for bike and rider size: 125mm, 100mm, and 75mm
  • Quick-release engagement cable on the post head makes setup and removal simple
  • Diameter: 30.9mm / 31.6mm

Tested: Specialized Rumor Comp

When Specialized’s new women’s 29er trail bike arrived at the Flow office, we were so excited we ate lunch sitting on the floor next to it. You can’t ride on an empty stomach and we didn’t want to waste any time getting to know this new machine.

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A Specialized Camber with just the right amount of a female twist – the Rumor.

As we rolled the mid-range Rumor Comp out the door we already had two questions begging to be answered: How would a women’s specific design, in both frame and component choices, add to our trail riding experiences? And in what ways does the design reflect the relationship between research into high level women’s racing equipment and bikes at the entry to mid-level of the market like this one?

Finding out was both a pleasure and a privilege. The size of a set of wheels is one thing, but it’s new technology and manufacturing practices that continually redefine the ride experiences they offer. Lucky our lunch was a big one.

The Design

Specialized found that a lot of their female consumers were gravitating toward their Camber model, so they set about making a women’s specific version of this popular 110mm travel trail bike.

The biggest difference is the standover height and a women’s specific part selection. The geometry and handling characteristics of the rear end are very similar. This what we found when we recently reviewed the S-Works Fate Carbon 29 – a female version of the Stumpjumper 29” hardtail.

Low enough standover height for a bike with 29" wheels is a tall challenge.
Low enough standover height for a bike with 29″ wheels is a tall challenge that Specialized has stepped up to.

The V-shaped top tube, which utilises a combination of aluminium forging techniques, is key in allowing shorter female riders to pilot a 29” dual suspension trail bike. This means the frame can do away with all the extra material we see around the same area of the Camber, saving a good amount of weight.  It also stops the top tube from collapsing like a beer can under your shoe at a party.

Subtle graphics with real style.
The standover is not only low, but low where it counts – where you will be positioned if you have one or both feet on the ground. In fact, the stand over is so low, it only grows a small 3.7mm between all frame sizes (from 707.3mm in the small frame to 711mm in the large).

The technology isn’t available yet to achieve this using carbon fibre, but you can bet people are working on it. In addition to the ride experiences this design affords shorter riders, it’s a powerful example of how women’s frame designs are not just adapting existing technology, but really driving it.

Another area where we can see small frames driving new technology is at the head tube, which is a short 90mm in the small sized frame. In order to fit front suspension with a tapered steerer to a bike with a shorter head tube, Specialized have asked RockShox and Fox to redevelop this part of their forks (it helps to have massive buying power). The end result for users is improved frame geometry, snappy steering and reduced need for stems so bent you can’t read your Garmin.

Aside from a low top tube, a short head tube is imperative for good standover height.
Aside from a low top tube, a short head tube is imperative for good standover height.

Because of the smart engineering discussed above, the bike as a whole fits 29” wheels and 110mm of front and rear suspension without looking compromised or squished. Long chain stays (449mm) and a low bottom bracket height add stability. The minimal looking FSR suspension design and internal cable routing provide a sleek, uncluttered finish.

The Gear

Another area where this bike is exciting in terms of innovation and usability is due to the addition of ‘Autosag’ to Specialized rear suspension for 2014. We talked a little bit about this in our recent review of the Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon. The Rumor also shares the use of a block mount, which integrates the shock to the frame with a simple elegance.

The biggest benefit of Autosag is that it takes the confusion out of suspension set up for riders who haven’t gone to tech school. You can set and forget, and get stuck into the trails. Some riders may want to tweak this based on personal preference, but it isn’t necessary for a great ride feel.

We found the Autosag valve on our RockShox Monarch RL air shock tended to rattle loose while riding, and would dump all the air from the rear shock if we bumped it. Keep an eye out for this on the first few rides and do it up nice and tight.

Specialized proprietary technology here, the Autosag. This make setting up the bike for your weight so very easy.
Autosag (grey coloured valve) is basically a very clever hole. Pump the rear shock up to 275psi (for the Rumor), sit on it in all your riding gear, and depress the Autosag valve. This sets the sag and air pressures for an optimal ride experience based on your weight. The shock simply depresses until it covers this hole. It’s delightfully simple.

The Rumor Comp boasts a incredibly well thought-out part selection for female riders; Women’s Enduro lock-on grips that suit smaller hands, custom tuned RockShox front and rear suspension, a Specialized Body Geometry Jett saddle, narrower bar width and appropriate length cranks and stem. Refer back to our review on the Fate for the impact this has on ride experiences and budget.

The custom-tuned RockShox Monarch RL rear shock was nicely paired with a RockShox Reba RL up front to provide a consistently smooth ride feel. We also appreciated being able to comfortably move through all the travel without having to send them off for post-purchase tweaking.
The custom-tuned RockShox Monarch RL rear shock was nicely paired with a RockShox Reba RL up front to provide a consistently smooth ride feel. We also appreciated being able to comfortably move through all the travel without having to send them off for post-purchase tweaking.

We are also impressed with the high performance of the moving parts given the sub $3000 price point of the Comp. A 2×10 drive chain is specced to provide ample gearing across all terrain types. A SRAM X9 Type 2 rear derailleur keeps the chain silent throughout the ride and provides smooth, snappy shifting. A X7 front derailleur was ample on the front. We never dropped a chain during the test period.

The Avid Elixir 5 SL brakes provide strong stopping power. The reach is easy to adjust to fit any hand shape on the fly allowing quick and simple set up. Paired up with 680mm bars and a stable, manoeuvrable frame geometry, we found the Rumor enabled exceptional error correction skills if we took a bad line or went into a corner a little too fast.

The very popular Jett saddle is standard.
The very popular Specialized Jett saddle is standard, winner!
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We can’t overstate how highly we rate a user-friendly spec for female riders of all types.

The Roval 29 wheelset matched to Specialized Hi Lo hubs is also well-specced for the intended use of our test rig. We found they tended to drift a little wide entering corners but we quickly got used to this after a couple of rides and it was no longer a problem.

This may discourage some women upon test riding the Comp, but our advice would be to stick with it for a few rides, then upgrade to a lighter wheelset if it still doesn’t feel how you want it to. It’s not a reflection of the bike, it’s just a weight thing, or a 29” wheel thing.

A winning combination of playfulness and confidence-inspiring stability allowed us to milk our favourite trail networks as the playgrounds they are.
A winning combination of playfulness and confidence-inspiring stability allowed us to milk our favourite trail networks as the playgrounds they are.

With the addition of a dropper post and a lighter, higher spec all ‘round, the $4199 Rumor Expert is worth the extra cash if these are upgrades you’re considering from the outset.

A small rubber stop under the down tube prevents the forks bumping the frame under load, or the bars twisting and scratching the top tube in a crash. And even the smallest size frame fits a full size drink bottle. Usability is important, and key to this bike’s appeal.
A small rubber stop under the down tube prevents the forks bumping the frame under load, or the bars twisting and scratching the top tube in a crash. And even the smallest size frame fits a full size drink bottle. Usability is important, and key to this bike’s appeal.

On the Trail

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Hitting up some familiar trails, the Rumor felt comfortable and instinctual. The low standover and balanced design of the bike meant we assumed a natural riding position without even thinking about it. We didn’t have to force ourselves to keep our weight where it mattered for maximum traction or stability. It rolls so quickly over moderately rough stuff we were off the brakes a lot more often as well.

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For us, the only drawback to the stable, confidence inspiring build was the Specialized Ground Control 2Bliss Tyres. They’re great on loamy trails and we like that the bike is specced with a fatter 2.3” tyre on the front and a 2.1” on the rear. We found them a little skatey on grainy over hardpack surfaces like Stromlo and Bruce Ridge in the ACT. They also didn’t offer much traction on uphill sandstone obstacles around Sydney.

While playful descents were a highlight of our rides on the Rumor, we were impressed with its climbing characteristics as well. Not only does this mean more confident descending, but you don’t get any sensations of lost energy while climbing.

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At 12.9kgs (with pedals), the Comp is reasonably light for a bike of this spec, but it is always going to be slower up the hill than something more whippety. But it never ‘felt’ slow. The weight was only noticeable on more technical climbs making us more deliberate in the way we muscled the bike around.

As for smaller obstacles like logs and small rocky ‘ups’, the large wheel size of the Rumor rolled over these easily with a bit of leg strength alone. We constantly meet women in skills clinics whose main aim is to clear this type of obstacle on the trails. Not because they want to cameo in the next Danny MacAskill video, but because it’s preventing them from holding on to a group on social rides.

The great thing about the Rumor is it allows these women to enjoy a wider variety of trails with increased enjoyment from the outset. This would be our main reason for encouraging this type of rider to consider the Rumor over a bike with 26” wheels or the mid-size 27.5”.

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Overall

The Rumor puts women on a level playing field with guys who are able to jump on a trail bike and confidently ride it from the shop door to exciting trails without having to tweak a thing.

The stability of this 29” trail bike, combined with the thoughtful, robust spec make it a great value option for new riders. It gives a real boost to the variety of trails these ladies can enjoy, providing a great platform for discovering how much fun mountain biking can be. A base model Rumor has just been realised for $1999 as well.

The other rider type that will enjoy the Rumor are women who just want to cut loose and play. The low standover means you can really throw the bike around and the long wheelbase, wide bars and powerful brakes help to keep you out of trouble if you botch a landing or mis-judge a corner. This bike begs you to have fun whatever ability level you bring to it and is guaranteed to help you lift your skills to the next level as a result.

It’s exciting to think that more girls will discover mountain biking through a rig that caters for them as well as this one does. The mind boggles at the ways future bike designs may also be impacted by this rapidly expanding section of the market as a result.

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THE TEST:
Test rider: Kath Bicknell, our test rider for this review, is 56kg and 164cm tall.
Suspension: 20% rear sag and around 15% up front.
Tyre pressure: 22psi rear, 20psi front.
Test conducted: Locations included Stromlo Forest Park and Bruce Ridge, ACT, Manly Dam and a few secret trails in and around Sydney.
Other notes: Autosag doesn’t set rebound for you. Take your time to wind the rebound dial to each extreme, ride a rocky section of trail to learn what it does, then find a middle ground that suits the ride feel you enjoy.

Specialized Skill Up Women in Retail

Specialized Australia recently ran a women’s tech training session for female shop staff. It was a world first for Specialized, and is a great show of leadership in this area, Hopefully it’s something we see more of from other organisations as well.

 

As a woman working in a bike store, you’re definitely an anomaly. Last time I worked at a bike shop, every now and then, a customer would ask to speak to one of the ‘guys’. ‘Ask me your question, and if I can’t answer it I’ll go and get some help,’ I’d say.

Things usually went pretty well from there. If help was needed, I’d call on our female mechanic, just to make a point.

In a sport that still attracts a lot more men than women, it follows that female staff in the bike retail sector aren’t as common either. This can sometimes lead to the unfortunate assumption that women aren’t as skilled as their male counterparts, or can’t provide the same level of customer service and advice.

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Megan Scott from Berry Mountain Cycles near Nowra.

This unspoken condescension, coupled with the traditional ‘blokeyness’ of bike shops (particularly the workshop) is an ongoing barrier to more women taking up work in bike retail. And it’s to the detriment of our sport.

Less ego, more attention to detail

Specialized Australia’s training expert, (formally titled, a Specialized Bicycle Components University (SBCU) Professor), Adam Nicholson, came up with the idea for the women’s tech course after a shopping experience for his motorbike.

Impressed with the way that, ‘Women are typically able to articulate technical information with less ego and more attention to detail,’ he saw a massive need to help empower female store owners, managers and sales staff in the bike industry and developed three day technical training course for likeminded ladies.

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We all wished every bike workshop was like this.

‘I wanted to develop a platform where Specialized employees are able to use resources we have, digest the technical aspects of our products and deliver second to none customer service for every cyclist. The course allowed us to do it as a group rather than one on one.’

Empowering experiences

The course is one of a series of workshops Specialized run under their Specialized Bicycle Components University arm. We joined the girls on the final day at Specialized’s HQ in Melbourne where an incredibly impressive training facility has been built. There’s a room full of identically equipped workstations, each suitable for the most involved of workshop task. The group spent the morning bleeding brakes and pulling apart front suspension – the kind of workshop skills that women are rarely taught.

Spec Tech-3
Each participant had their own workstation (L-R Margot Rupe, Bella Reynolds, Carolyn Lyon).

Next, a test fleet of Specialized’s new women’s trail bike, the Rumor Expert, were loaded into a van and we drove from Melbourne to the You Yangs for an afternoon ride. This was the perfect environment for the attendees to play with the dropper posts they’d pulled apart the day before, and put into practice the suspension setup knowledge they’d learnt to give customers the ride feel they’re after.

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Specialized know how to make a woman feel special. A fleet of Rumor Experts were lined up ready to ride.

Key to the success of the course is hands on technical training, actual riding experiences and ongoing discussion. It enables participants to build skills, digest theoretical information and actually feel what different product innovations mean for experiences had while riding.

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The hands-on was very important. Some of us gain this experience on our own bike while looking at a old manual and to get it in such a professional and formal manner was priceless.
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Margot Rupe from Mikes Bikes on the Gold Coast gets stuck into a nice set of forks.

For Carolyn Lyon, who manages Red Bike in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand, the course motivated her to help customers get more out of the products they own. ‘I have a confidence I never had before in promoting bike maintenance,’ she said afterward.

For someone like Carolyn, who doesn’t have much contact with other female shop staff, meeting likeminded ladies was another critical element of the trip. ‘The women I met on the course are, to me, an extension of our store. They are an important point of contact when making decisions about issues relating to women who ride. We contact each other to solve all sorts of issues and also to share great ideas that work well within our own cycling communities.’

You can’t buy everything online

The women’s tech training was a first for Specialized, but hopefully the first of many courses like it. In fact, Adam, who developed the curriculum in Australia, is now looking to expand this to a global level through the Specialized headquarters in the United States.

The broader context of the initiative is important too. Globally, bike shops have to find new ways to maintain their edge as online retail grows, integrating additional services and points of difference to the once-familiar sales and repairs model. These might include cafes, indoor turbo studios, weekly social rides, exclusive training and racing activities, support at community-based events; things you can’t buy with the click of a mouse or swipe of a touch screen.

Spec Tech-9
Theory and discussion time were also important aspects of the course. The customer experience is even more important come the online shopping age and any training to re-gain that advantage is critical.

Building the confidence, skills and professional networks of female staff is part and parcel of this; in this day in age, you cannot afford to have staff members who are unable to provide a high level of service across the board. It’s widely recognised that walking into a bike shop can be an intimidating experience too, particularly for women – it’s one of the reasons some people turn to the anonymity of online shopping. Having well-educated female staff who, as mentioned by Adam previously, generally approach sales with less ego helps make bike shops a more welcoming environment.

As the bike industry continues to reinvent itself we look forward to seeing what additional opportunities become available next. Especially if it means better experiences for customers and staff, and helping riders of all types get even more out of their time on the trails.

Meanwhile, the next time you receive help from a staff member of either gender, take a moment to consider the passion for products, servicing and ongoing learning they bring to the shop floor. Working in a bike shop is a lifestyle as much as a job.

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Thanks to companies like Specialized there’s a growing group of women more involved in all aspects of our sport.

 

Flow's First Bite: Specialized's 2014 Range Tested

Trail testing fresh new rides from the big, bold and brilliant; Specialized.

 

Flow joined loads of Aussie and Kiwi dealers to check out what the big, bold and red (and black) bike manufacturer, Specialized, has in store for us next season. Not only was this a great opportunity to test all the bikes out in a short time, it also gave Flow the chance to meet the minds behind them, not just the marketing people, but the engineers. We asked why certain things were done, how and why.

 

Here we pick a few highlights and offer our first impressions on the new 2014 bikes, which we have just finished riding on the trails in and around the high altitudes of Copper Mountain, Colorado.

 

Putting in the hours on a Stumpjumper 29 EVO.
Putting in the hours on a Stumpjumper 29 EVO.

Stocking Specialized in a bike store is a mighty safe bet, no doubt about it. With a bike range so complete and everything to accompany them, the options are plentiful. It is a daunting range with so many models and there’s sure to be a suspension travel amount and attitude style of bike perfectly matched to you. From the hardtails, to a 95mm Epic World Cup, all the way up to the 200mm travel Demo downhill bike, with half a dozen or so in between. The women’s range is also growing with more options in a wider range of price points. Add to this even more Body Geometry apparel, accessories and parts than ever before.

Epic 29

Out of the 2014 range, it was the two Epics and Cambers that really caught our eye, with their completely overhauled frame constructions. The Epics, in carbon and aluminium, receive a new lighter rear shock tune, a racier frame option (Epic 29 World Cup), internal cable routing, SWAT compatibility, and space for two water bottles.

Epic 29, in black. Ohhhhh my.
Epic 29, in black. Ohhhhh my.

Taking a look at the rear suspension, we found that now with a couple clicks on the Brain Fade adjuster, the efficiency is quite simply, perfect. The Mini Brain shock has received a lighter compression tune in the name of increasing sensitivity during repeated impacts, and for us that knocking feedback transferred to the rider as the inertia valve opens and closes is most definitely less prominent than before. The shock is also 25g lighter, helped by the use of a new kevlar hose connecting the shock and damping unit. The range of adjustment has also been improved in the name of user friendliness, with only four clicks, instead of 14 or so, as with the previous versions. If this is confusing check out this video for an explanation on how this proprietary design works.

An all new frame for 2014, for one of Australia and New Zealand's most popular cross country/marathon race bike.
An all new frame for 2014, for one of Australia and New Zealand’s most popular cross country/marathon race bike. Check out the new rear end, with no quick release skewer for less weight, plus the new chainstay protector is so very nice.

With a focus on improving the power transfer of your hard-earned energy through the frame to the rear wheel the engineers have worked on streamlining the shock mounting and pivot bearing housings for a more direct line. Additionally, the chainstays have also been beefed up considerably. To neaten the package, for the first time the Epics score internal cable routing. It has been done so very nicely indeed, with foam liners to eliminate rattling inside the frame and exceptionally neat entry and exit ports that allow for one, two, three of four cables to go internal. Plus the entry and exit point locations just seem perfect. A lot of thought has gone into what can easily go so wrong – as we have seen on many other bikes over the years.

Epic 29 World Cup

If the Epic we have known over the last few years was not racy enough, there will now be a sharper and leaner Epic available, dubbed the Epic 29 World Cup. With shorter chain stays, a sharper head angle, a new single chain ring specific frame (very good to see!), and a slightly firmer rear shock damping-tune, controlling the reduced 95mm of rear travel, this is about as exclusive to the racetrack as one keen racer could ever pull from a cardboard box.

The premium S-Works Epic 29 World Cup, hold on tight, this thing is as fast as it gets.
The premium S-Works Epic 29 World Cup, hold on tight this thing is as fast as it gets. The sharp geometry, low weight and firm suspension tune will please the rider looking for the upmost efficiency, like a hardtail only much better.

Have you ever wondered how Olympic Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy can accelerate his bike so fast? Try this Epic World Cup out. We did and were imaging race situations (vivid hallucinations) as if we were all of a sudden worthy of a World Cup start.

No front derailleur mount, fat chainstays and a big main pivot section is not only the future, but confirms that single ring mountain bikes are here to stay. Does it also mean Shimano will have an answer to SRAM 11 speed soon?
No front derailleur mount, fat chainstays and a big main pivot section is not only the future of better bikes, but also confirms that single chain ring mountain bikes are here to stay. Does it also mean Shimano will have an answer to SRAM 11 speed soon?

We took an S-Works model (pictured) out for a good blast up the famed Colorado Trail, with tight switchback climbs and rocky strewn descents. The previous day we’d taken the Stumpjumper S-Works on the same trail, so the Epic was an interesting comparison, with a keener eye on smoother lines, less mindless ploughing and quick direction changes the Epic WC was lightning fast. Stomping on the pedals in and out of the saddle gave so much forward motion we had to cheer, and the long and low cockpit is exactly what racers need to cut fast laps on the circuit. Dialling in a couple clicks of Brain Fade adjustment, it was so ridiculously efficient it really was easy, there was never even a chance that unwanted suspension motion could rob you of energy. Put four clicks on, and whilst you do feel and hear it knock as the inertia valve opens, the ability to power forward is unrivalled. Love it or hate it, the Brain Shock on the Epic 29 is more supple and smoother than before, and works damn well.

Stumpjumper HT

Designed alongside the Epic, using the same top end carbon material and construction methods, is Specialized’s flagship cross country hardtail for the rider seeking the upmost speed in either short course racing or less aggressive terrain. It’s a sleek number, with visibly slimmer tubing on the rear end, and a feathery 1.05kg frame weight. That is crazy light.

Looks like a road bike frame with a dirty twist, this new hardtail is lighter than your lunch.
Looks like a road bike frame with a dirty twist, this new hardtail frame is lighter than a Colorado burrito.

Crave

The Stumpjumper HT with its aggressive geometry and high level price points also has an aluminium offsider, the Crave. Formerly named the Carve, a copyrighting issue has led to a little name change. But the Crave is a whole new aluminium 29er starting at $1400 AUD. With a lower stand over height, stiffer and more compliant frame and a relaxed geometry this guy will be a sure bet for first time mountain bikers.

Entry level 29er hardtail, handled great on the trails with really low overall weight and comfortable ergonomics.
Entry level 29er hardtail, handled great on the trails with really low overall weight and comfortable ergonomics.
Using what Specialized call 'neutral trail geometry' the Crave will be a perfect step up into the dirty world of mountain biking.
Using what Specialized call ‘neutral trail geometry’ the Crave will be a perfect step up into the dirty world of mountain biking.

 

Camber 29

Take one step up from the Epic 29 and increase rear suspension travel to 110mm and you will find the Camber, and its more aggressive twin the Camber EVO at 120mm. The Camber is a fantastic bike, bringing a more trail friendly attitude with 29” wheels to the rider who wants to race, but also ride. Out of all the bikes we rode, this was one had so many press folk and Specialized dealers excited. Geometry has not changed from previous models, but every part of construction has been slimmed, lightened and streamlined.

Camber29
A slick FOX Float fork, internal cables and an AutoSag adjustable FOX shock.
The S-Works Camber 29, with all the flash bits, it's a real looker. Who doesn't sit back and stare at their bike? We can only imagine staring at this bike as our own, wow.
The S-Works Camber 29 with all the flash bits, it’s a real looker. Who doesn’t sit back and stare at their bike? We can only imagine staring at this gorgeous bike as our own, wow.
IMG_2794
Up high on the Colorado Trail, our mate Morgan from nsmb.com Canada (Beardy) chose the Camber to carry his red haired legs higher than us sea level dwelling bodies should naturally go. No worries, mate.

Along with the Epic 29, the Camber receives a completely new frame in both aluminium and carbon. The range is also expanded with more models, starting at under $2k AUD, and topping out at an S-Works model with all the good stuff for a touch over $10k. Note the sleek and tidy internal cable routing, even for the new internally routed Command Post IR dropper post on many models.

The Camber uses a standard (non-Brain damped) shock, which will appeal to those seeking a nice and plush, yet not too isolating ride of bigger travel 29ers. A 110mm travel bike with 29” wheels really can go a long way in terms of versatility. We feel that it would be very well worth trying one out along side the Epic as it opens up the trails to be very comfortable and stable without losing much in the way of race speed. We would love to see more riders experimenting with a bike like this, with a few races a year and all the trail riding and fun times to be had in between. The Camber is efficient and as light as you need, but a whole lot of fun when all you are racing your mate back to the car on the weekend.

Rumor

The women’s specific version of the Camber; the Rumor is a very fine bike and we’ve been playing on it already for a while now. We will have the full review of the 2013 Rumor Comp coming very soon. No major changes to this already fresh bike, just more models in the range now to make more people happier.

Rumor, women's specific in every way, not just aesthetically.
Rumor, women’s specific in every way, not just aesthetically.

Camber 29 EVO

EVO means more juice, more travel, slacker angles and spec modifications for more aggressive riding. Flow hearts EVO.

With a different shock strut, shock length, longer fork and beefier spec, the Camber EVO is that little bit more ready to shreddy.
With a different shock strut, shock length, longer fork and beefier spec, the Camber EVO is that little bit more ready to shreddy. This model is looking to retail for around $3200 in Aus, good deal.

When Specialized waved the EVO stick at the Camber, suspension travel jumped from 110mm to 120mm, the tyres grew in meatiness, bars widened and the whole bike edges a half size towards the Stumpjumper FSR 29 in shred-ness. The frame is the same as the standard Camber, just a taller fork, and modified shock strut and shock length giving more travel and that extra oomph that an EVO has. We took the impressive Camber EVO 29 for a ride and loved it. With an aluminium frame, Rockshox Reba fork and a mid-range spec for a little over $3k AUD, this thing is our pick for the great all round bike for a rider looking to hit the trails for good times safely, and comfortably without spending too much.

Peter from Munich, very German and very fast on the Camber 29 EVO.
Peter from Munich, very German and very fast on the Camber 29 EVO.

Stumpjumper FSR 29

The Stumpjumper receives only a few spec modifications and a new rear shock for 2014, the frame remains the same, but oh dear, we are a fan of this bike.

Traction galore, lean it over and feel the confidence that the great tyres on 29" can give you.
Traction galore, lean it over and feel the confidence that the great tyres on 29″ wheel can give you.

The Mini Brain found on the Epic from 2013 and 2014 makes its way onto the Stumpjumper FSR 29. The slimmer and lighter shock helps drop 25g from the frame and with the more user friendly range of adjustability with less index settings.

WEB_Firstbite_Specialized 2014_Action0045
‘Oh, is that a burrito store I see at the end of the trail?’

We reviewed the 2013 Stumpjumper 29 this year, and with one of the greatest outcomes ever. For a bike with 29” wheels, this thing rips trails to pieces. 130mm of supple and balanced suspension travel works so hard to keep the tacky tyres in contact with the dirt and when leant right over into a turn, the traction this bike embodies is mighty impressive. When so much traction is at hand, you need to be able to use it. That is when great geometry and ergonomics come into play and being a Specialized it’s all good. We snagged the Stumpy S-Works for the biggest ride of the week, from the village all the way up past where trees can’t grow on the Colorado Trail.

Loving life.
Loving it.

Now this particular Flow member has had a love/less-love relationship with the inertia valved Brain shocks for many years, There is no lack of appreciation for it’s effectiveness and performance, it is just a personal thing, like driving an automatic or manual car. Typically favouring a balanced suspension bike with compression adjustments, like a FOX CTD shock, over one that effectively adjusts itself according to the trail, we actually really enjoyed our time aboard the Brain shocks found on the Epics and Stumpjumper FSR. Specialized say it to us every year that it’s more sensitive when switching from open and closed, but that knocking is again less prominent, whilst retaining perfect efficiency when you push down on the pedals. Chapeau Specialized.

The Stumpjumper FSR S-Works. The ultimate trail bike? Quiver killer? Yep.
The Stumpjumper FSR S-Works. The ultimate trail bike? Quiver killer? Yep.

 Stumpjumper FSR EVO 29

Now this is a highly desirable bike and remains much the same from 2013. Take the Stumpjumper FSR 29, and feed it just a little bit too much raw steak for breakfast and you have the Stumpy EVO. Available in 26” and 29” this bike is going to really appeal to the rider with a gravity fed mind but the desire to go all day long.

Black, matte black. Very black.
Black, matte black. Very black. They say black is the new black. Back in Black.
The Rockshox Pike is a fantastic fork, suiting this bikes hard-charging nature by supporting big hits with amazing composure. A FOX CTD shock controls 135mm of travel, and the new SRAM X0 level 11 speed drivetrain is flawless and black...
The Rockshox Pike is a fantastic fork, suiting this bikes hard-charging nature by supporting big hits with amazing composure. A FOX CTD shock controls 135mm of travel, and the new SRAM X0 level 11 speed drivetrain is flawless and most importantly in this case, black.

The new Rockshox Pike with the new Charger damper and big 35mm diameter legs are found on high end Stumpjumper EVO models, and we simply could not get enough of it. The trails at Copper Mountain were most definitely gravity oriented, but overall we were pumping out of corners, lifting up rocky steps, jumping and accelerating so fast. We were struggling to give it back at the end of the day.

Confidence personified. The stable cockpit ergonomics, supportive fork travel and monumental amount of traction makes for moments like this, all the time.
Confidence personified. The stable cockpit ergonomics, supportive fork travel and monumental amount of traction makes for fun moments like this, all the time.

Enduro 29

The new buzz-word making such a wide variety of riders is ‘enduro’. And lucky for Specialized, they actually have a model of FSR named the Enduro! In both 26” and 29” wheels, their big travel bike for the big mountains is a real pleaser, shed-loads of fun and can easily double the speed of the most timid rider.

Big wheels, big gonads. This is the way to boost confidence on the trail.
Big wheels, big gonads. This is the way to boost confidence on the trail.

On high-end models the Enduro uses the Cane Creek Double Barrel CS shock with the new Climb Switch. In 2013, the Enduro S-Works used a nifty little custom switch to enable slow speed compression damping adjustment on the fly, for next season Cane Creek have developed a switch that not only adds slow speed compression, but also slow speed rebound damping too, and just the right amount. Climbing this bike is not a chore like it should be considering the travel amount and maniac enhancing descending ability.

Big wheels, but tucked in to the centre of the bike to help the large bike corner quicker, Cane Creek release a new shock with a great climbing adjustment, a tight rear end and the new internally routed dropper post.
The big 29″ wheel is tucked in to the centre of the bike to help the large bike corner quicker, Cane Creek release a new Double Barrel air shock with a great climbing adjust lever, and the new internally routed dropper post.

We will see both the 26” and 29” model in Oz for 2014, but we were so impressed with the traction alone on the 29” Enduro that we firmly stand behind its ability to convert the 29er skeptics out there. Front end height management for the shorter rider may be a challenge, but not too hard at all. The new dropper post is not only neater with its internally routed cable, but the actuation is also smoother than before. The improvements make for quick and predictable seat height adjustments when the trails turn up, down, or drop away blindly before you.

26″ 27.5″ or 29″?

The question came up about wheel sizes in the future, and Specialized admitted to not being 650B haters, but simply haven’t felt the need to adopt the in the middle size just yet, even after four years of prototyping 650B bikes. In our opinion we find that Specialized have done a great job integrating 29″ wheel bikes in the tricky ranges like small sizes or big travel. They are not cumbersome, too tall, heavy or flexy. 26″ models are gone from the ranges the hardtails, Epics, Cambers, Rumors etc but Stumpjumpers, Enduros and up from there still have a 26″ option. Did we test one out in Copper Mountain? Nope, we didn’t really feel the need to. For Specialized to keep trimming down the 26″ models there needs to be good reason and that is sales, 26″ bikes are not moving off the floor like they used to, enough said.

SWAT

Storage, Water, Air, Tools is what SWAT is all about. Maybe someone at Specialized has a thing against hydration backpacks but the development of this new method of integrating, rather than carrying everything you need, is really quite cool. More bikes have twin water bottle mounts than ever before, and many models have full SWAT compatibility with tools and water bottle cages specced with the bike on the shop floor. The coolest is the chain breaker tool that is integrated into the top cap of your headset, so clever.

Remove the top cap to reveal a nifty chain breaker, and storage for a spare chain links. Bingo!
Remove the top cap to reveal a nifty chain breaker, and storage for a spare chain links. Bingo!
Storage, Water, Air, Tools. Keep it off your back and never leave the necessities behind. Check out the allen key set that sits under the top tube of some models, the 8mm key is that flat number on the bottom left. Good thinking, guys.
Storage, Water, Air, Tools. Keep it off your back and never leave the necessities behind. Check out the allen key set that sits under the top tube of some models, the 8mm key is that flat number on the bottom left. Good thinking, guys.

Fatboy

For a bit of fun for some, or the only way to go on the most extreme surfaces like snow and sand, a fatbike is a blast. Specialized wanted to make a fat bike that widened its use, not only from snow or sand, but to trails too. This one uses a full carbon tapered steerer fork and a lightweight set of wheels developed by Roval with a 795g, 95mm wide rim, and their hookless rim profile system. Not your average fat bike, this guy is also surprisingly light. Everyone who had a bounce around on one of these couldn’t wipe the grin off their faces. Coming to a dealer near you!

Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized takes the Fatboy out for a 'bounce around'.
Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized takes the Fatboy out for a ‘bounce around’.

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized’s 2014 Range Tested

Trail testing fresh new rides from the big, bold and brilliant; Specialized.

 

Flow joined loads of Aussie and Kiwi dealers to check out what the big, bold and red (and black) bike manufacturer, Specialized, has in store for us next season. Not only was this a great opportunity to test all the bikes out in a short time, it also gave Flow the chance to meet the minds behind them, not just the marketing people, but the engineers. We asked why certain things were done, how and why.

 

Here we pick a few highlights and offer our first impressions on the new 2014 bikes, which we have just finished riding on the trails in and around the high altitudes of Copper Mountain, Colorado.

 

Putting in the hours on a Stumpjumper 29 EVO.
Putting in the hours on a Stumpjumper 29 EVO.

Stocking Specialized in a bike store is a mighty safe bet, no doubt about it. With a bike range so complete and everything to accompany them, the options are plentiful. It is a daunting range with so many models and there’s sure to be a suspension travel amount and attitude style of bike perfectly matched to you. From the hardtails, to a 95mm Epic World Cup, all the way up to the 200mm travel Demo downhill bike, with half a dozen or so in between. The women’s range is also growing with more options in a wider range of price points. Add to this even more Body Geometry apparel, accessories and parts than ever before.

Epic 29

Out of the 2014 range, it was the two Epics and Cambers that really caught our eye, with their completely overhauled frame constructions. The Epics, in carbon and aluminium, receive a new lighter rear shock tune, a racier frame option (Epic 29 World Cup), internal cable routing, SWAT compatibility, and space for two water bottles.

Epic 29, in black. Ohhhhh my.
Epic 29, in black. Ohhhhh my.

Taking a look at the rear suspension, we found that now with a couple clicks on the Brain Fade adjuster, the efficiency is quite simply, perfect. The Mini Brain shock has received a lighter compression tune in the name of increasing sensitivity during repeated impacts, and for us that knocking feedback transferred to the rider as the inertia valve opens and closes is most definitely less prominent than before. The shock is also 25g lighter, helped by the use of a new kevlar hose connecting the shock and damping unit. The range of adjustment has also been improved in the name of user friendliness, with only four clicks, instead of 14 or so, as with the previous versions. If this is confusing check out this video for an explanation on how this proprietary design works.

An all new frame for 2014, for one of Australia and New Zealand's most popular cross country/marathon race bike.
An all new frame for 2014, for one of Australia and New Zealand’s most popular cross country/marathon race bike. Check out the new rear end, with no quick release skewer for less weight, plus the new chainstay protector is so very nice.

With a focus on improving the power transfer of your hard-earned energy through the frame to the rear wheel the engineers have worked on streamlining the shock mounting and pivot bearing housings for a more direct line. Additionally, the chainstays have also been beefed up considerably. To neaten the package, for the first time the Epics score internal cable routing. It has been done so very nicely indeed, with foam liners to eliminate rattling inside the frame and exceptionally neat entry and exit ports that allow for one, two, three of four cables to go internal. Plus the entry and exit point locations just seem perfect. A lot of thought has gone into what can easily go so wrong – as we have seen on many other bikes over the years.

Epic 29 World Cup

If the Epic we have known over the last few years was not racy enough, there will now be a sharper and leaner Epic available, dubbed the Epic 29 World Cup. With shorter chain stays, a sharper head angle, a new single chain ring specific frame (very good to see!), and a slightly firmer rear shock damping-tune, controlling the reduced 95mm of rear travel, this is about as exclusive to the racetrack as one keen racer could ever pull from a cardboard box.

The premium S-Works Epic 29 World Cup, hold on tight, this thing is as fast as it gets.
The premium S-Works Epic 29 World Cup, hold on tight this thing is as fast as it gets. The sharp geometry, low weight and firm suspension tune will please the rider looking for the upmost efficiency, like a hardtail only much better.

Have you ever wondered how Olympic Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy can accelerate his bike so fast? Try this Epic World Cup out. We did and were imaging race situations (vivid hallucinations) as if we were all of a sudden worthy of a World Cup start.

No front derailleur mount, fat chainstays and a big main pivot section is not only the future, but confirms that single ring mountain bikes are here to stay. Does it also mean Shimano will have an answer to SRAM 11 speed soon?
No front derailleur mount, fat chainstays and a big main pivot section is not only the future of better bikes, but also confirms that single chain ring mountain bikes are here to stay. Does it also mean Shimano will have an answer to SRAM 11 speed soon?

We took an S-Works model (pictured) out for a good blast up the famed Colorado Trail, with tight switchback climbs and rocky strewn descents. The previous day we’d taken the Stumpjumper S-Works on the same trail, so the Epic was an interesting comparison, with a keener eye on smoother lines, less mindless ploughing and quick direction changes the Epic WC was lightning fast. Stomping on the pedals in and out of the saddle gave so much forward motion we had to cheer, and the long and low cockpit is exactly what racers need to cut fast laps on the circuit. Dialling in a couple clicks of Brain Fade adjustment, it was so ridiculously efficient it really was easy, there was never even a chance that unwanted suspension motion could rob you of energy. Put four clicks on, and whilst you do feel and hear it knock as the inertia valve opens, the ability to power forward is unrivalled. Love it or hate it, the Brain Shock on the Epic 29 is more supple and smoother than before, and works damn well.

Stumpjumper HT

Designed alongside the Epic, using the same top end carbon material and construction methods, is Specialized’s flagship cross country hardtail for the rider seeking the upmost speed in either short course racing or less aggressive terrain. It’s a sleek number, with visibly slimmer tubing on the rear end, and a feathery 1.05kg frame weight. That is crazy light.

Looks like a road bike frame with a dirty twist, this new hardtail is lighter than your lunch.
Looks like a road bike frame with a dirty twist, this new hardtail frame is lighter than a Colorado burrito.

Crave

The Stumpjumper HT with its aggressive geometry and high level price points also has an aluminium offsider, the Crave. Formerly named the Carve, a copyrighting issue has led to a little name change. But the Crave is a whole new aluminium 29er starting at $1400 AUD. With a lower stand over height, stiffer and more compliant frame and a relaxed geometry this guy will be a sure bet for first time mountain bikers.

Entry level 29er hardtail, handled great on the trails with really low overall weight and comfortable ergonomics.
Entry level 29er hardtail, handled great on the trails with really low overall weight and comfortable ergonomics.
Using what Specialized call 'neutral trail geometry' the Crave will be a perfect step up into the dirty world of mountain biking.
Using what Specialized call ‘neutral trail geometry’ the Crave will be a perfect step up into the dirty world of mountain biking.

 

Camber 29

Take one step up from the Epic 29 and increase rear suspension travel to 110mm and you will find the Camber, and its more aggressive twin the Camber EVO at 120mm. The Camber is a fantastic bike, bringing a more trail friendly attitude with 29” wheels to the rider who wants to race, but also ride. Out of all the bikes we rode, this was one had so many press folk and Specialized dealers excited. Geometry has not changed from previous models, but every part of construction has been slimmed, lightened and streamlined.

Camber29
A slick FOX Float fork, internal cables and an AutoSag adjustable FOX shock.
The S-Works Camber 29, with all the flash bits, it's a real looker. Who doesn't sit back and stare at their bike? We can only imagine staring at this bike as our own, wow.
The S-Works Camber 29 with all the flash bits, it’s a real looker. Who doesn’t sit back and stare at their bike? We can only imagine staring at this gorgeous bike as our own, wow.
IMG_2794
Up high on the Colorado Trail, our mate Morgan from nsmb.com Canada (Beardy) chose the Camber to carry his red haired legs higher than us sea level dwelling bodies should naturally go. No worries, mate.

Along with the Epic 29, the Camber receives a completely new frame in both aluminium and carbon. The range is also expanded with more models, starting at under $2k AUD, and topping out at an S-Works model with all the good stuff for a touch over $10k. Note the sleek and tidy internal cable routing, even for the new internally routed Command Post IR dropper post on many models.

The Camber uses a standard (non-Brain damped) shock, which will appeal to those seeking a nice and plush, yet not too isolating ride of bigger travel 29ers. A 110mm travel bike with 29” wheels really can go a long way in terms of versatility. We feel that it would be very well worth trying one out along side the Epic as it opens up the trails to be very comfortable and stable without losing much in the way of race speed. We would love to see more riders experimenting with a bike like this, with a few races a year and all the trail riding and fun times to be had in between. The Camber is efficient and as light as you need, but a whole lot of fun when all you are racing your mate back to the car on the weekend.

Rumor

The women’s specific version of the Camber; the Rumor is a very fine bike and we’ve been playing on it already for a while now. We will have the full review of the 2013 Rumor Comp coming very soon. No major changes to this already fresh bike, just more models in the range now to make more people happier.

Rumor, women's specific in every way, not just aesthetically.
Rumor, women’s specific in every way, not just aesthetically.

Camber 29 EVO

EVO means more juice, more travel, slacker angles and spec modifications for more aggressive riding. Flow hearts EVO.

With a different shock strut, shock length, longer fork and beefier spec, the Camber EVO is that little bit more ready to shreddy.
With a different shock strut, shock length, longer fork and beefier spec, the Camber EVO is that little bit more ready to shreddy. This model is looking to retail for around $3200 in Aus, good deal.

When Specialized waved the EVO stick at the Camber, suspension travel jumped from 110mm to 120mm, the tyres grew in meatiness, bars widened and the whole bike edges a half size towards the Stumpjumper FSR 29 in shred-ness. The frame is the same as the standard Camber, just a taller fork, and modified shock strut and shock length giving more travel and that extra oomph that an EVO has. We took the impressive Camber EVO 29 for a ride and loved it. With an aluminium frame, Rockshox Reba fork and a mid-range spec for a little over $3k AUD, this thing is our pick for the great all round bike for a rider looking to hit the trails for good times safely, and comfortably without spending too much.

Peter from Munich, very German and very fast on the Camber 29 EVO.
Peter from Munich, very German and very fast on the Camber 29 EVO.

Stumpjumper FSR 29

The Stumpjumper receives only a few spec modifications and a new rear shock for 2014, the frame remains the same, but oh dear, we are a fan of this bike.

Traction galore, lean it over and feel the confidence that the great tyres on 29" can give you.
Traction galore, lean it over and feel the confidence that the great tyres on 29″ wheel can give you.

The Mini Brain found on the Epic from 2013 and 2014 makes its way onto the Stumpjumper FSR 29. The slimmer and lighter shock helps drop 25g from the frame and with the more user friendly range of adjustability with less index settings.

WEB_Firstbite_Specialized 2014_Action0045
‘Oh, is that a burrito store I see at the end of the trail?’

We reviewed the 2013 Stumpjumper 29 this year, and with one of the greatest outcomes ever. For a bike with 29” wheels, this thing rips trails to pieces. 130mm of supple and balanced suspension travel works so hard to keep the tacky tyres in contact with the dirt and when leant right over into a turn, the traction this bike embodies is mighty impressive. When so much traction is at hand, you need to be able to use it. That is when great geometry and ergonomics come into play and being a Specialized it’s all good. We snagged the Stumpy S-Works for the biggest ride of the week, from the village all the way up past where trees can’t grow on the Colorado Trail.

Loving life.
Loving it.

Now this particular Flow member has had a love/less-love relationship with the inertia valved Brain shocks for many years, There is no lack of appreciation for it’s effectiveness and performance, it is just a personal thing, like driving an automatic or manual car. Typically favouring a balanced suspension bike with compression adjustments, like a FOX CTD shock, over one that effectively adjusts itself according to the trail, we actually really enjoyed our time aboard the Brain shocks found on the Epics and Stumpjumper FSR. Specialized say it to us every year that it’s more sensitive when switching from open and closed, but that knocking is again less prominent, whilst retaining perfect efficiency when you push down on the pedals. Chapeau Specialized.

The Stumpjumper FSR S-Works. The ultimate trail bike? Quiver killer? Yep.
The Stumpjumper FSR S-Works. The ultimate trail bike? Quiver killer? Yep.

 Stumpjumper FSR EVO 29

Now this is a highly desirable bike and remains much the same from 2013. Take the Stumpjumper FSR 29, and feed it just a little bit too much raw steak for breakfast and you have the Stumpy EVO. Available in 26” and 29” this bike is going to really appeal to the rider with a gravity fed mind but the desire to go all day long.

Black, matte black. Very black.
Black, matte black. Very black. They say black is the new black. Back in Black.
The Rockshox Pike is a fantastic fork, suiting this bikes hard-charging nature by supporting big hits with amazing composure. A FOX CTD shock controls 135mm of travel, and the new SRAM X0 level 11 speed drivetrain is flawless and black...
The Rockshox Pike is a fantastic fork, suiting this bikes hard-charging nature by supporting big hits with amazing composure. A FOX CTD shock controls 135mm of travel, and the new SRAM X0 level 11 speed drivetrain is flawless and most importantly in this case, black.

The new Rockshox Pike with the new Charger damper and big 35mm diameter legs are found on high end Stumpjumper EVO models, and we simply could not get enough of it. The trails at Copper Mountain were most definitely gravity oriented, but overall we were pumping out of corners, lifting up rocky steps, jumping and accelerating so fast. We were struggling to give it back at the end of the day.

Confidence personified. The stable cockpit ergonomics, supportive fork travel and monumental amount of traction makes for moments like this, all the time.
Confidence personified. The stable cockpit ergonomics, supportive fork travel and monumental amount of traction makes for fun moments like this, all the time.

Enduro 29

The new buzz-word making such a wide variety of riders is ‘enduro’. And lucky for Specialized, they actually have a model of FSR named the Enduro! In both 26” and 29” wheels, their big travel bike for the big mountains is a real pleaser, shed-loads of fun and can easily double the speed of the most timid rider.

Big wheels, big gonads. This is the way to boost confidence on the trail.
Big wheels, big gonads. This is the way to boost confidence on the trail.

On high-end models the Enduro uses the Cane Creek Double Barrel CS shock with the new Climb Switch. In 2013, the Enduro S-Works used a nifty little custom switch to enable slow speed compression damping adjustment on the fly, for next season Cane Creek have developed a switch that not only adds slow speed compression, but also slow speed rebound damping too, and just the right amount. Climbing this bike is not a chore like it should be considering the travel amount and maniac enhancing descending ability.

Big wheels, but tucked in to the centre of the bike to help the large bike corner quicker, Cane Creek release a new shock with a great climbing adjustment, a tight rear end and the new internally routed dropper post.
The big 29″ wheel is tucked in to the centre of the bike to help the large bike corner quicker, Cane Creek release a new Double Barrel air shock with a great climbing adjust lever, and the new internally routed dropper post.

We will see both the 26” and 29” model in Oz for 2014, but we were so impressed with the traction alone on the 29” Enduro that we firmly stand behind its ability to convert the 29er skeptics out there. Front end height management for the shorter rider may be a challenge, but not too hard at all. The new dropper post is not only neater with its internally routed cable, but the actuation is also smoother than before. The improvements make for quick and predictable seat height adjustments when the trails turn up, down, or drop away blindly before you.

26″ 27.5″ or 29″?

The question came up about wheel sizes in the future, and Specialized admitted to not being 650B haters, but simply haven’t felt the need to adopt the in the middle size just yet, even after four years of prototyping 650B bikes. In our opinion we find that Specialized have done a great job integrating 29″ wheel bikes in the tricky ranges like small sizes or big travel. They are not cumbersome, too tall, heavy or flexy. 26″ models are gone from the ranges the hardtails, Epics, Cambers, Rumors etc but Stumpjumpers, Enduros and up from there still have a 26″ option. Did we test one out in Copper Mountain? Nope, we didn’t really feel the need to. For Specialized to keep trimming down the 26″ models there needs to be good reason and that is sales, 26″ bikes are not moving off the floor like they used to, enough said.

SWAT

Storage, Water, Air, Tools is what SWAT is all about. Maybe someone at Specialized has a thing against hydration backpacks but the development of this new method of integrating, rather than carrying everything you need, is really quite cool. More bikes have twin water bottle mounts than ever before, and many models have full SWAT compatibility with tools and water bottle cages specced with the bike on the shop floor. The coolest is the chain breaker tool that is integrated into the top cap of your headset, so clever.

Remove the top cap to reveal a nifty chain breaker, and storage for a spare chain links. Bingo!
Remove the top cap to reveal a nifty chain breaker, and storage for a spare chain links. Bingo!
Storage, Water, Air, Tools. Keep it off your back and never leave the necessities behind. Check out the allen key set that sits under the top tube of some models, the 8mm key is that flat number on the bottom left. Good thinking, guys.
Storage, Water, Air, Tools. Keep it off your back and never leave the necessities behind. Check out the allen key set that sits under the top tube of some models, the 8mm key is that flat number on the bottom left. Good thinking, guys.

Fatboy

For a bit of fun for some, or the only way to go on the most extreme surfaces like snow and sand, a fatbike is a blast. Specialized wanted to make a fat bike that widened its use, not only from snow or sand, but to trails too. This one uses a full carbon tapered steerer fork and a lightweight set of wheels developed by Roval with a 795g, 95mm wide rim, and their hookless rim profile system. Not your average fat bike, this guy is also surprisingly light. Everyone who had a bounce around on one of these couldn’t wipe the grin off their faces. Coming to a dealer near you!

Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized takes the Fatboy out for a 'bounce around'.
Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized takes the Fatboy out for a ‘bounce around’.

Video: Curtis Keene Shreds Some of BC's Best MTB Trails

Mountain bike racer Curtis Keene hits British Columbia to bomb some trails on his 29er.

On a break between Enduro World Series races, Santa Monica-based Curtis Keene took a trip up to western Canada with his Enduro 29 for a sampling of the area’s well-known trails. Watch him rip down some of BC’s mountainous landscape in the video above.

Keene explored the local scenes in Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler, while traveling along the “Sea to Sky Corridor” following highway 99.

Video: Curtis Keene Shreds Some of BC’s Best MTB Trails

Mountain bike racer Curtis Keene hits British Columbia to bomb some trails on his 29er.

On a break between Enduro World Series races, Santa Monica-based Curtis Keene took a trip up to western Canada with his Enduro 29 for a sampling of the area’s well-known trails. Watch him rip down some of BC’s mountainous landscape in the video above.

Keene explored the local scenes in Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler, while traveling along the “Sea to Sky Corridor” following highway 99.

Tested: Specialized Women’s S-Works Fate Carbon 29

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Specialized S-Works Fate Carbon 29

As a female rider, the most frustrating part of the 26” vs 29” debate has nothing to do with the pros and cons of wheel size. It’s the part where people rave about the benefits of 29ers, then conclude with some kind of comment about how they’re not suited to smaller riders. Or women. Then tell you to wait another year or two so you can reap the benefits of the 27.5”/650B wheel instead.

When a bike does hit the market with a female friendly geometry, the spec is all too often mid-range or man-shaped. Tweaking the bike with high performance in mind blows the budget or means compromises are made in areas of weight, fit, performance and sex-appeal. It does feel a little unfair.

Specialized, however, have been ahead of the market in women’s design innovations for a long time. The S-Works Fate 29 we reviewed demonstrates the exceptional ride experiences that are possible when you build a race-ready hardtail around women’s needs at the top of the game. We were curious to learn more about the choices that had been made in femme-ing up the Fate and how these translated to the trails.

The Design and Construction

The key design difference between the Fate and the men’s equivalent – the Stumpjumper – is standover height. Aesthetically we see this with the big dip in the top tube, and the extra triangle near the seat post. This allows for production of the Fate in a size suited to female riders of below average height. The 15” model has a stand over height of 715mm and top tube length of 545mm, which will be music to the ears of riders who find a standard 16” frame devastatingly big.

The big dip in the top tube allows for better standover height.
The big dip in the top tube allows for better standover height.

In most other areas, the geometry of the Fate and the Stumpjumper are not that different. In several places where female riders benefit from a smaller, tighter design to boost bike handling and performance, Specialized see the advantages of this in unisex designs aimed at the cross-county and marathon racing market, too.

Basically, the lower standover has been achieved without compromising the fit and performance of the bike everywhere else. We like that. It keeps the Fate racy and familiar, not relaxed and upright, as is often the trend in recreational women’s rigs.

A low bottom bracket height keeps the centre of gravity low and adds to rider stability on the bike. The chain stays and wheelbase are shorter than average, which adds flickability and snappy handling.

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A low bottom bracket and short chain stays gave the Fate a more playful ride.

The head tube is quite short and coupled with an 80mm-travel RockShox SID World Cup 29 Brain fork to keep the bars nice and low. The fork is an interesting number; it uses Specialized’s Brain damping (developed in conjunction with FOX) bundled into the chassis of a RockShox SID World Cup fork. The shorter fork reduces the need for awkward looking negative rise stems – or increases their impact for riders who want the handlebars closer to the ground.

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The RockShox SID World Cup with BRAINs.
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The short headtube helped get the correct fit without the need for a big negative rise stem.

When we jumped on the Fate it felt instantly ‘right.’ The frame design, as a whole, felt balanced and responsive, and meant we could really throw the bike around the trails as a result. This is not just due to the geometry, but the smart choices made in the build.

The Gear

At a quick scan, the Fate glitters with top of the line bling. It runs a Shimano XTR group with custom SRAM XX chain rings attached to Specialized S-Works OS cranks. This is matched to Roval Control SL 29” Carbon hoops; a higher-end model of the Roval Control 29’s we reviewed recently. We expected to see through-axle skewers here for extra stiffness and were surprised to see Titanium quick releases instead. That said, the Roval hubs use oversized axle end-caps that Specialized claim make the fork just as stiff as a bolt-through setup.

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Straight off the shop floor the S-Works Fate comes with all the bling you’d ever need.
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Roval Control SL 29” Carbon hoops.

Looking closer, everything we’d normally change to adapt a high-end unisex XC rig for female use had been done for us: A light weight women’s Jett Expert Gel saddle (with Ti rails), a slightly shorter Syntace stem (75mm on the Medium frame), and 660mm S-Works Carbon XC flat handlebars that are two centimetres narrower than those specced on the Stumpjumper.

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Syntace 75mm stem and light weight saddle (with Ti rails) are just some of the features that make the S-Works Fate a top-of-the-line model.

The Fate runs slightly easier front gearing than the Stumpy (36/22 compared to 38/24). And we really liked that the crank length changes with each frame size and seem rider appropriate.

We felt very cared for by this build. It does the thinking for riders who don’t know which changes will increase comfort and performance, and, more subtle adjustments aside, takes the pain out of additional ordering for women who do.

On the Trail

You know that feeling when Christmas arrives and Santa has delivered twice as many gifts as you hoped for? That’s what riding the Fate feels like. It’s snappy, playful, lightening fast in response to each pedal stroke and blew our best times up climbs out of the water. We missed rear suspension on some particularly rocky tracks, but it responded so well as we pumped, leant and pushed it through a variety of terrain that it made us fall in love with riding all over again.

Our first adventure was the three-day, 265km Sani2c stage race in South Africa, an event that was sure to put the bike’s racy aspirations to the test: Fast fire roads, buff, twisty, singletrack, floating bridges, long mud bogs, long gentle climbs, steep technical ones, a long run of river stones and fast, furious descents.

The Fate sunning itself in the afternoon glow of South Africa.
The Fate sunning itself in the afternoon glow of South Africa.

The compliant carbon weave, along with thin tubing for the seat stays and directly below the seat post, absorbed the varied terrain exceptionally well. The stiffness-to-weight ratio of the frame, and the fast-rolling, carbon wheelset meant every pedal stroke was rewarded with motivating forward momentum. When competitors booked massages for sore legs and backs between stages, we lubed the chain, checked the tyre pressures and hung out in the food hall.

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Some thinner tubing in the right spots gave the bike a more comfortable compliant feel.

Curious to push the Fate through more technical terrain, our next stop was some popular race loops back in Oz. Instead of really working the bike through corners like we’re accustomed to, this one held its speed effortlessly, exiting familiar corners far quicker than we expected given that this is an area where some 29ers are prone to struggling. In tight, twisty sections of the track, the dialled geometry of the bike really stood out, out-performing the high-end 26” duallie we’ve used on these trails most recently.

The wheelbase on the Fate is in fact shorter than that of the 26” bike we’ve been riding recently, which goes a long way to explaining why we didn’t have to consciously adjust line choices or cornering technique. We found ourselves eagerly looking up the calendar just to see what this bike could do in race conditions and what we could do on it, as a result.

The light weight and soft compound of the S-Works Fast Trak 2Bliss ready rubber made for excellent, grippy traction, and was particularly noticeable as we mowed down technical sandstone climbs. These treads are well suited to typical Australian loose-over-hardpack conditions, although thin sidewalls make them best reserved for special occasions.

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Good rubber makes a big difference to your ride and the Fast Trak’s were spot on for traction and control (just be careful on rides with sharp rocks).

Given that after bike fit, getting suspension dialled is the next difficult issue for female riders, we had high expectations of forks. The 80mm of travel worked well for the Fate’s intended use and we never found ourselves wishing for any more. Unfortunately, our 55kg tester was unable to set it up to provide for a plusher, more responsive ride feel as we’d hoped. They performed well in smooth terrain but were harsher than expected along smaller bumps and braking ruts. This poor small-bump compliance meant we never really engaged the Brain damping, running the fork in its ‘full open’ setting the whole time during our test. If this were our own bike, we’d be investigating some ways to get some internal tweaking done to make the fork more reactive on small bumps.

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If you’re a light person we recommend you spend time with your local bike shop to get the forks dialled perfectly.

The only other negative we experienced was that the enamel was prone to chipping, something that appears to be an anomaly of our test rig. This was aggravated by changing the seat height during transport and by using tape or stickers to attach spare inner tubes or course profiles to the frame. While these reservations are important to mention, neither would be deal breakers if we were looking to buy the Fate.

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We noted some enamel chipping – maybe caused by us, but something to keep your eye on.

Overall

Instead of burning energy constantly playing catch up, the Fate allows its pilot to pick and choose where and when to play her cards. Energy expenditure is rewarded rather than wasted, allowing for smart, strategic racing, better recovery, and the confidence that comes with both.

The biggest market for the Fate is obviously the women’s XC and Marathon racing scene. It is equally suited to riders who enjoy the feel and manoeuvrability that comes with using technology and design innovations that are at the top of the game. If you rely heavily on suspension for confidence on technical trails, it is probably not for you.

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Due to the absolute lack of competition for a women’s specific, race-ready build straight off the shelf, we see the Fate as a being a bike that disrupts brand and shop loyalties as well.

In terms of price, $7999 is what we’d expect for a bike at this level. It’s almost justified by the motivation the Fate adds to your hunger for riding and the hundreds of dollars saved by not having to radically alter the cockpit and contact points. ‘Expert Carbon’ ($3,999) and ‘Comp Carbon’ ($2,999) models are available for women wanting to reap the Fate’s rewards for a more modest spend.

THE TEST:
Test rider: Kath Bicknell, our test rider for this review, is 55kg and 164cm tall.
Suspension: 75psi front
Tyre pressure: 22psi rear, 21psi front.
Test conducted: Locations included Stromlo Forest Park and Bruce Ridge, ACT, Yellowmundee NSW and through the rocky, sandy, thorny and varied terrain of South Africa.
Other notes: The fact that the Fate climbs so blindingly fast and accelerates without hesitation meant we often wished for slightly harder gearing on fire roads and descents. Whether this is a product of years of riding harder gears stocked on unisex bikes is hard to tell.

 

Interview: Shaun Palmer and the Specialized FSR DH

‘Palm brought the moto pants and jersey style to downhill, and a whole different attitude towards mountain bike racing,’ says napalm’s long-time mechanic, Joe Buckley.

‘It’s funny, Palm never actually won that many races, but he was so over the top with the cars, the partying, the bus, that people paid more attention to that than to how many races Nico Voullioz was winning!’

‘Yeah Palm was a riot. He was always “runnin’ it” as we used to say,’ remembers Kirt Voreis, who was Palmer’s team mate from 1997 to 1999.

‘He was constantly talking shit on how bad he was going to beat everyone – and make them look bad in the process – because he had more style. It was crazy to witness. Only Palmer could get away with it because usually it happened, and it came straight from his heart.’

Like man, so too the machine. The Specialized FSR DH bikes that Palmer rode from 1997 to 1999 have attained truly legendary status. So much so that many people still refer to this era of bikes as the ‘Palmer DH’: ‘I think Palmer bikes would have taken off back then just from the fan base, no matter what the bike was,’ says Voreis. ‘Mostly people remember the bike because of Palm being such an icon of that era.’

The era Voreis is talking about is unique in mountain bike history. Joe Buckley recalls: ‘Specialized had a lot of sponsors at the time – Mountain Dew, Speed Stick, Pringles. It was crazy that big companies like that were into mountain bike racing back in the day,’ Joe elaborates. ‘Many teams worked out of huge trailers, and team personnel drove around in cars provided by sponsors. NORBA races got weekly coverage on ESPN, and World Cup races got live coverage on Eurosport! Not only was life good as far as working for the team went, but each event was like a big party. World Cups were even crazier than the US scene since the crowds were absolutely huge! I was tripping out on European girls hiking around the hillside in high heels to watch mountain bike racing. Man, those were some fun times! Having Palmer on Specialized was great for the brand during this time. He was changing the downhill scene and there were plenty of people around to take notice.’

1996 was a pivotal year for Palmer, Buckley says. ‘Jeff (Streber) from Intense was helping Palmer out with bikes, and then he placed second to Nico at the World Champs in Cairns by a fraction of second, and people at Specialized really began to take notice,’ recalls Buckley. What followed was a bit of a battle between the two giants of the mountain bike world at the time, Specialized and Schwinn, to secure Palmer. It seems hard to imagine now, but the ‘Palmer DH’ could have been a Schwinn Straight 8! ‘Palm ended up signing with Specialized that winter, and started the season with them at the inaugural winter X Games at Big Bear with the goofy snow bike racing event they had.’

With Palmer and his powerful raw talent on board, Specialized had a pilot who could truly put the FSR DH to the test. But it turns out Palmer wasn’t always impressed. ‘Specialized was way different back in those days,’ says Buckley, ‘and none of the engineering team that developed that bike are around anymore. There was plenty of work we did to get things changed, like adjusting head tube angles and trying to fix the problem of the bushings binding up in the pivots by replacing them with cartridge bearings. There were some pretty heated discussions between Palm and the engineers at Specialized about needing to get cartridge bearings in there. In the end they came up with a kit that allowed us to get some bearings in there, but it was a bandaid fix. In 1999 Specialized had a new design that used a cartridge-bearing design, and this worked much better.’

Click to make me bigger (so you can read me).

 

Voreis is quick to emphasise the unprecedented amount of influence Palmer had over product development. ‘The worst part about the bikes back then were the tyres. When Palm signed with Specialized in 1997 he had to run their tyres, which were basically cross-country tyres,’ Voreis explains. ‘The previous year he had run Michelins, which were leagues above everything else. During practice at the World Cup in Nevegal, Italy I remember being on the lift and seeing Anne-Caroline Chausson pass Palmer on the infamous marble rock path in the wet like he was standing still. She had Michies and he had sketchies. He was so pissed, he had to run those tyres!’ Voreis laughs. ‘He ended up getting some Michelins on the down-low from Monk Dog, the Yeti mechanic. Specialized was not happy, but it ended up developing tyres Shaun liked. It basically started the trend in tyre development you see today. Problems that Palm had with equipment were always tackled vigorously by the companies involved.

Only people like Shaun could make the whole industry change because he said so.’

In spite of these shortcomings, the bikes were progressive for the time and much tougher than most of their contemporaries. ‘The MAX Backbone frames Palmer rode for the first two seasons were pretty bomber,’ Joe says, ‘darn stiff through the front end, and we never had problems with them cracking.’ Joe laughs as he recalls ‘hacking holes into the seat pod to accommodate the reservoirs on the rear shocks’.

In 1999 the bikes were improved. The new frames gained the characteristic ‘hole’ that ‘looked like a second bottom-bracket shell in the centre of the front triangle,’ and finally got the cartridge-bearing rear end Palmer wanted. It’s interesting to juxtapose the geometry of this bike, regarded as aggressive at the time, with the geometry of the team bikes Specialized makes today. The numbers reveal much longer chain stays, but shorter and taller front ends, although the actual suspension travel was only slightly less, at seven inches.

‘Really, you can’t even compare the FSR DH and the Demos from today aside from the fact they’re both using iterations of the FSR suspension design,’ says Buckley. The drastic improvements that have come about since are due in large part to one man, Brandon Sloan, who has been the product manager for FSR bikes since 2000. ‘Unlike the product managers and engineers that worked on prior projects, he actually raced downhill and cross country, and had a great understanding of how to improve the bikes,’ says Buckley.

Given the rock star image that Palmer cultivated, it’s surprising to learn that his approach to his bike setup was fairly pedantic. Though not ‘super-duper technical,’ Palmer ‘certainly liked his bikes a certain way,’ says Joe. ‘He was always tinkering around with his positions – bar angle, brake or shifter angles, seat height… and he was always wanted his bike super-clean. He was very into the way his Hall of fame 2011 Palmer posted three of his most elaboratley painted race bikes from the ‘96, ‘98 and ‘99 Worlds on eBay. Before the bidding ended, Specialized contacted Palm and snapped two of them up. They now hang in the offices at Morgan Hill in California. bike looked.’

Riding alongside Palmer, Kirt Voreis got a close look at how he approached his equipment too. ‘As far as bike set up goes, Palm was always changing things, and he was very resourceful.

Back in 1996, parts didn’t always fit, and most of the downhill parts were handmade.

Palm had many friends in the moto and auto industries, so he was always using their talents to customise his rigs to further his chances of winning.’

Tyres were another area that came up for special attention, something that became a bane of Joe’s mechanical life. ‘Man, I cut so many tyres back in those days,’ Joe chuckles, ‘snipping some treads, leaving others, cutting grooves or splitting knobs just so. But it was the drivetrain which caused the most contention,’ Joe says with a laugh. ‘The team was sponsored by SRAM, so we had to use Grip Shift, but Palm hated the grip-style shifter, and SRAM had no alternative at the time. He used to always bring me Shimano shifters to put on, pissing the guys at SRAM off. Thankfully SRAM has come a long way since then with their drivetrain products!’

True to the flamboyant persona, Palmer ‘had a tendency to throw things when things didn’t go his way,’ says Buckley. ‘So I had to replace grips, seats and other bent or scratched parts as needed if Palm wasn’t having a good day. I got plenty of wheel- building practice too, as he went through a lot wheels. And chain guides.’

But if there’s one aspects of the ‘Palmer DH’ era that stands out, it’s the amazing custom paint-jobs. Each bike was a Troy Lee work of art – the man himself painted Palmer’s World Championships bike each year.

Most of those bikes now hang proudly in Specialized headquarters. These bikes and Specialized’s groundbreaking pilot truly changed the sport in a way that hasn’t since been repeated. Can someone like Troy Brosnan attain the same kind of presence and leave a mark like Palmer? ‘Not unless Troy starts drinking, partying, wearing gold suits, and becoming a lot more brash!’ quips Buckley. ‘I mean, Sam, Troy, Palmer: they’re all pretty damn hungry to win races, they all have something to prove. But they have very different styles.’

When Palmer left the mountain bike scene, the sport lost a personality with a level of influence that has not been seen since. There’s no doubt Palmer was at the top of the pile, so why did he leave?

‘I think mountain bike companies and sanctioning bodies came up short promoting Palmer,’ says Vories. ‘Back then it felt like he was promoting them and I think he felt a bit betrayed by that. His influence was overflowing, with riders covering their lycra with moto pants and changing from clips to flats. Even riser bars are a Palm fad. Palm wasn’t the first to make these changes, he just did it better. Palm definitely changed the face of racing but the industry was slow to change so Palmer left to pursue bigger things. I was bummed he left.’

It was only three years ago that Palmer ruffled the feathers of the industry with a much-hyped reappearance on the World Cup scene. After ten years off the bike, Napalm was back, and thousands fantasised about the old dog returning and making his mark once again through the sheer force of natural talent and ragged determination. The fairytale didn’t pan out. Palmer did qualify at Mont-Sainte-Anne, but only just, and he hasn’t been seen at a World Cup race since.

‘You know, I don’t think he even tried to contact Specialized to ask for bikes,’ says Joe, surprised. ‘He just showed up at the races, trying to compete.’ But that’s the Palmer appeal, that’s what made him and his bikes part of mountain bike folklore. ‘That’s just his style… the guy is so spun out. He just gets onto something that he wants and goes for it. That’s probably what made him a success at so many different sports.’ And that’s certainly what made him an idol, a hero for thousands of mountain bikers then and since.

Video: Specialized Racing, UCI World Cup DH1 – Fort William

The much anticipated start to the 2013 UCI World Cup Downhill season arrived with round one at Fort William, Scotland. An unusually long break combined with atypical dry conditions on a course known for its difficulty added complexity for riders and support crew alike. Aaron Gwin and Troy Brosnan played it somewhat safe by focusing on regaining their race rhythm and dialing-in bike and equipment setup. Both put in respectable top-20 performances with eyes on the podium in coming weeks.

Tested: Specialized Roval Control 29 Carbon Wheelset

Adaptors for QR or 15/142mm axles are all part of the package, so there wheels will fit most bikes.

We’ve been rolling on these carbon hoops since back in mid-February (read our first impressions here) and can’t say enough good things about them.

They’ve spent the last three months fitted up to our Trek Superfly 100 long-term test bike, have been shod with a few different sets of rubber in that period and have been ridden all over the state.

Even ignoring the very reasonable $1400 price tag, these are a fantastic pair of wheels. The sub-1600g weight puts them into weight range that makes them acceptable for cross-country racing, but the strength and stiffness is awesome and the rim profile lends itself to bigger tyres and harder riding.

Plenty of beef to these rims, just not a lot of weight.

With an internal width of 23mm, these rims offer loads of support for tyres of 2.25″ or larger, giving more stability to when cornering and a broader contact patch. Coming off wheels with a 19mm internal width, the difference is immediately noticeable.

One of the key elements in the rim’s construction is the absence of a bead hook. It makes for a very strong rim wall, as the carbon is a constant width (there’s no weak point where the carbon dips in to form the ‘hook’). This gives you the confidence to push into the rocks even harder, knowing you’re less likely to cause damage to your expensive rims. 29er wheels so often exhibit confidence sapping flex, but these guys hold a line superbly, without feeling overly harsh.

There’s no bead hook to the rim, which makes for a stronger rim profile without extra weight. The rim is made tubeless with a simple tape to seal up the rim bed.

Any reservations we had about the hookless bead rim construction have proved unfounded; these wheels hold onto a tyre just as securely as any other rim we’ve ever used. We tend to run our pressures in the mid-twenties range on a tubeless 29er and we haven’t burped a tyre yet.

We did find that the tubeless rim tape pulled away from the rim bed a bit when changing tyres, allowing sealant to seep into the rim cavity. This is not an uncommon occurrence  with tubeless setups that rely on tape to create an airtight seal; it’s not a huge drama, just a bit messy.

DT Swiss supply the freehub. Needless to say, it’s flawless, precise and easy to service.

To date we haven’t had to take a spoke key to the wheels, and the DT-made Star Ratchet freehub has been characteristically perfect. The freehub sounds brilliant too, as does the resounding ‘clang’ that resonates through the high-tension spokes when you shift under load.

Carbon wheels would ordinarily be the kind of investment that only the serious racer would consider, but at $1400 these wheels move into the realm of upgrades that you can afford without resorting to a diet of lawn clippings and water. For serious cross country racers, there are obviously lighter options, but as the ultimate trail riding 29er wheelset, these most be pretty close to perfect.

Fresh: Specialized Unveils Full Suspension Women’s 29er

Specialized Bicycle Components unveils the much-anticipated Rumor ‐ their first full‐suspension women’s 29er.

Built with Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry, the Rumor is created from the ground up to be one of the lightest weight and best fitting full-­‐suspension 29ers for women.

“We built a full-­‐suspension 29’er because we have seen how much fit and 29’’ wheels enhance confidence and stability for women out on the trails,” said Women’s Product Manager Erin Sprague. “Our product testers are around five feet tall and their trail experiences have improved dramatically on this platform. We believe that this bike is a game changer, and women’s mountain biking is the next big thing,” she added.

The Rumor is available in three model levels and offers the latest available technology for women’s 29er riders. The all-­‐new Women’s M5 Alloy frame features Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry and tube sets, 110mm front and rear travel, a tapered head tube for precision handling, internal cable routing, ultra-­‐low stand over height and unlike its competitors, water bottle clearance on all sizes.

Specialized was able to achieve this by designing the bike from the ground up, with a two‐piece top and shock carriage. This enabled the team to create in­‐line suspension and reach all 29er design targets in terms of stand over, ride quality and bottle clearance. The Rumor offers custom tuned suspension, appropriate for female riders. Extensive field‐testing and research on women’s center of gravity and weight distribution helped to determine the optimal spring rate for female riders. By designing the bike and suspension in tandem, Specialized has been able to achieve completely balanced performance that is appropriate to the female rider.

Specialized Autosag suspension tuning is available on the comp and expert level models. Autosag automatically sets the proper sag and air pressure in the shock, providing a quick and simple adjustment for optimal suspension performance.

To use Autosag, a rider sits in the saddle and pushes a specially designed transfer port on the shock to release air pressure until a set level, which is based on the rider’s weight. This equalizes the positive and negative chambers and achieves ‘perfect sag’. Perfect sag allows for any rider, regardless of mechanical experience, to properly set up the rear suspension of their bike to ensure a comfortable trail experience.

Women’s Body Geometry data was used throughout the development of the Rumor. The Jett saddle, Women’s Enduro grips and size specific components ensure that female riders get the best fit at every contact point. Everything from small diameter grips to size-­‐specific crank lengths are optimized for female riders.

Please visit specialized.com to learn more and experience the Rumor, the most stable and confidence‐inspiring women’s full‐suspension 29er on the trail.

Fresh: Specialized Unveils Full Suspension Women's 29er

Specialized Bicycle Components unveils the much-anticipated Rumor ‐ their first full‐suspension women’s 29er.

Built with Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry, the Rumor is created from the ground up to be one of the lightest weight and best fitting full-­‐suspension 29ers for women.

“We built a full-­‐suspension 29’er because we have seen how much fit and 29’’ wheels enhance confidence and stability for women out on the trails,” said Women’s Product Manager Erin Sprague. “Our product testers are around five feet tall and their trail experiences have improved dramatically on this platform. We believe that this bike is a game changer, and women’s mountain biking is the next big thing,” she added.

The Rumor is available in three model levels and offers the latest available technology for women’s 29er riders. The all-­‐new Women’s M5 Alloy frame features Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry and tube sets, 110mm front and rear travel, a tapered head tube for precision handling, internal cable routing, ultra-­‐low stand over height and unlike its competitors, water bottle clearance on all sizes.

Specialized was able to achieve this by designing the bike from the ground up, with a two‐piece top and shock carriage. This enabled the team to create in­‐line suspension and reach all 29er design targets in terms of stand over, ride quality and bottle clearance. The Rumor offers custom tuned suspension, appropriate for female riders. Extensive field‐testing and research on women’s center of gravity and weight distribution helped to determine the optimal spring rate for female riders. By designing the bike and suspension in tandem, Specialized has been able to achieve completely balanced performance that is appropriate to the female rider.

Specialized Autosag suspension tuning is available on the comp and expert level models. Autosag automatically sets the proper sag and air pressure in the shock, providing a quick and simple adjustment for optimal suspension performance.

To use Autosag, a rider sits in the saddle and pushes a specially designed transfer port on the shock to release air pressure until a set level, which is based on the rider’s weight. This equalizes the positive and negative chambers and achieves ‘perfect sag’. Perfect sag allows for any rider, regardless of mechanical experience, to properly set up the rear suspension of their bike to ensure a comfortable trail experience.

Women’s Body Geometry data was used throughout the development of the Rumor. The Jett saddle, Women’s Enduro grips and size specific components ensure that female riders get the best fit at every contact point. Everything from small diameter grips to size-­‐specific crank lengths are optimized for female riders.

Please visit specialized.com to learn more and experience the Rumor, the most stable and confidence‐inspiring women’s full‐suspension 29er on the trail.

Introducing the Specialized Enduro 29

You may have seen some exciting things around the internet and heard whispers among riders that something big was happening with the Specialized Enduro. We are officially launching the all-new Enduro 29 today and we want to share the information with you.

There are two main reasons we created the Enduro 29.

1. The Enduro scene is growing with many riders wanting the best bike that gives them confidence in the challenging terrain of this All-Mountain experience. Whether this means racing on the emerging Enduro World Series or seeking adventure in the mountains, the Enduro 29 is up to the task.

2. The Specialized way of making a 29er is unrivaled. We make the best 29ers because of our attention to detail & we bring riders what they want. A 29er in the
All-Mountain category was thought to be impossible because of the challenges with fit, geometry, & weight. But we have figured it out and it further propels our 29er story.

Look closely at the Enduro 29. We’ve engineered a production 29er with 155mm of rear wheel travel (and 150mm up front); while also specifically tuning our AUTOSAG-equipped FSR suspension to soak up big hits at speed, yet provide trail bike-like pedaling performance. The “X-Wing” frame features dialed All-Mountain 29 Geometry, chainguide mounts, and internal Command Post cable routing.

Enduro-style racing has grown in popularity across North America and Europe, and for good reason—the events are awesome! To conquer these physically demanding courses a rider needs an agile, mid-travel full-suspension machine that pedals efficiently for out-of-the-saddle sprints and uphill sections of trail, but has spot-on geometry for aggressive descending. Our all-new Enduros are designed to give these riders the ideal machine for these events, while taking the bike-choice guessing game out of the equation. The choice is Enduro—with a wheel size for every riding style.

This is very exciting for all of us at Specialized. We are dedicated to making the best bikes and equipment for riders while continuing to innovate to make that happen. The Enduro 29 embodies these ideas. The notion of a 29er like this was thought impossible but we knew this would benefit the riders and worked to bring this bike to reality.

The all-new Enduro 29 “X-Wing”-frame with dialed All-Mountain Geo, dynamic in-line suspension, internal Command Post routing, tapered head tube, tight wheelbase (only 6mm longer than the 26-inch Enduro), carbon PF30 bottom bracket, and 142+ dropouts.
FSR is the most successful high-performance suspension system, continually refined since 1993. Now
with AUTOSAG, a revolutionary SBC technology that automatically sets the proper sag and air pressure in the shock.  155mm travel at the rear and 150mm on the front.
Remote-activated, three-position mechanical 100mm or 125mm-drop seatpost with new internal cable routing and external air pressure valve.
All-new, hand-crafted Traverse SL 29 carbon wheelset with Zero Bead Hook technology and 142+ compatible rear hub spacing.

Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29 Review

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Can a 29er out-perform a 26er when it comes to technical trail/all-mountain riding?

Specialized certainly think so; they’ve been espousing the virtues of a bigger wheel for many years and have been incredibly active in pushing 29ers into longer travel applications. In fact, Specialized are so convinced the big wheel is the right tool for the job, that in Australia they only offer one 26″ bike with less than 160mm travel. You can read more about the range here.

When we set out to test the beautiful carbon Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29, we had a head full of questions we wanted answered. Would a 29er with 130mm travel feel like ‘too much’ bike? Could this bike be manhandled in techy terrain? How would a 130mm-travel 29er compare the 150mm-travel 26ers we’d usually opt for?

This beautiful machine ended up bring full of surprises and possesses a versatility that few bikes can ever hope to match. Could this one be a quiver killer?

 

Gorgeous lines, and none of that ran-into-the-back-of-a-bus kind of pug nosed look that many 29er have. It’s even sexier in the flesh. Plus you can fit in a full size water bottle.
The finish is just sensational. So glossy, so sleek! Clean cable routing adds to the appeal.
Specialized have incorporated a range of practical and unique features into the Stumpy’s rear suspension. The Brain Fade rear shock allows you to tune the bike’s pedalling efficiency / suspension feel, meaning you can have bob-free pedalling without needing to play with lockouts and the like. The firmer you make it, the firmer the suspension will be on smooth terrain; we only ran it on one click of six and still found the pedalling performance and small bump response to be excellent. The rear shock also features Auto Sag, meaning you’ll always have the perfect rear suspension sag in seconds – simply pump the shock up to 300psi, sit on the bike in your riding gear and depress the red valve! The use of a block mount does away with the rear DU bush too, so that’s one less thing to worry about!
Specialized’s own Command Post is a welcome addition. It has three positions: full extension, one-inch drop and a fully compresses five-inch drop. The lever is nice and small too, but still easy to operate.
The Fox 32 TALAS fork features travel adjustment from 130-105mm, and the CTD damper lets you firm things up for the climbs. In all honesty, we didn’t feel the need to use either the travel or compression damping adjustments.
We’re seeing a lot more Formula lately, particularly on Specialized bikes. These T1 brakes didn’t overwhelm use with their power, but the lever feel is very nice and there is good modulation on offer. They also mate with the shifter clamps neatly to declutter the handlebar.
The attention to detail is exemplary. Check out the neat cable management with the adjustable post and brake lines/gear cables. Specialized’s cool Dangler chain guide keeps the chain under control, though we didn’t feel it was necessary with the new SRAM Type 2 derailleurs and so we removed it.

Specialized 2013 Enduro Racing Team

Specialized is proud to announce its new Enduro team for the 2013 season.

The Specialized Racing Enduro Team is comprised of the North American Enduro Tour Champion Curtis Keene, and current 4X World Champion and native of the Netherlands Anneke Beerten. The team will compete in the Enduro World Series, Big Mountain Enduro events (BME), as well as the North American Enduro Tour.

“I’m really excited to be part of the Specialized Global Enduro Program for 2013 and beyond,” Says Keene. “Specialized has put an amazing program together along with SRAM and Troy Lee Designs to give me the best equipment and support possible. I’m very grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to racing. The season can’t get here fast enough – let’s do this!”

Curtis Keene dominating the Colorado Freeride Festival Enduro.

Defending 4X World Champion Anneke Beerten is also excited about the 2013 Enduro season stating “After a couple of successful seasons in 4-cross and winning the World Championships back-to-back I’m looking forward to defending my rainbow jersey and to change my focus to enduro racing. I am really excited to join the Specialized Racing Factory Enduro team, a team and brand that share the same passion as I do for racing and riding bikes. With Specialized on my side, and the best bikes to ride, I am convinced that it is going to be a great new season!”

Anneke Beerten going over the tire product line with Chris Wyatt and Kevin Drake.

For 2013, Curtis and Anneke will be racing on S-Works Enduro, and S-Works Stumpjumper FSR bicycles. Both riders will also be outfitted with the Specialized Command Post BlackLite, S-Works MTB  shoes, saddles and tires as well as Roval wheels,

For more information please visit www.iamspecialized.com

Specialized 2013 World Cup XC Team

After a highly successful 2012 season, Specialized Racing is well positioned to continue its successes on the Elite UCI World Cup Cross-Country race circuit.

Jaroslav Kulhavy (Olympic Champion) crosses the finish line at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The 2013 team roster includes current Olympic Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy, Kohei Yamamoto (2008-2012 Japanese national champion), Todd Wells (2010–2012 U.S. National Champion), Lea Davison (5-time U.S. National Champion), and newcomer Tereza Hurikova.

Kohei Yamamoto descending on his Epic 29er at the Houffalize World Cup.

Defending Cape Epic champion, and 2011 Marathon World Champion Christoph Sauser is transitioning to a full Marathon World Cup schedule for 2013. When asked about the switch, Christoph stated “It was time for a change! Cross Country racing only got shorter, and I got older… it’s not a good combo! In the past I always enjoyed racing Marathons and now I am ready for the complete switch. Not having the winning results in Cross Country lately also helped me to change my goals. Waiting for days in hotel rooms just for a 1.5k circuit race started to pull on my nerves. Now I am so excited to go for the big laps where I will find more adventure and new places. My focus will be on the ABSA Cape-Epic and World Championships, but also Transalp, 4Peaks and the classics towards the end of the season.”

Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser win the Cape Epic overall.

New to the team is former Junior World Champion and Czech native Tereza Hurikova. “Entering into this great team is a dream come true,” says Hurikova. “I look forward to focusing on the races and am excited to know I’ll have the best bikes and support available on the circuit. This is a step in the right direction, and I believe I can achieve great results with Specialized.”

Tereza Hurikova smiling big after visiting the Specialized Czech office.

David Hyam, Sports Marketing Director for Specialized, had these words to say about the new team “After another highly successful 2012 race season capped off by winning the coveted title of ‘World Cup MTB Team of The Year’, expectations are high for another stellar season!

With the recent tragic loss of one of the sports true Icons as well as a rider who played such an integral part of our Specialized Racing Team, the determination and enthusiasm within our riders burns brighter and stronger than ever before. Emotions are high and I know that each and every team rider will have Burry’s memory foremost in their minds as the season begins in earnest.”

Lea Davison picking her line at the Pietermaritzburg World Cup.

For the 2013 season, the men will be racing aboard S-Works Epic 29ers, and the women aboard S-Works Fate 29ers. The team will also be supported with Specialized Prevail helmets, S-Works MTB shoes, saddles, gloves, and apparel as well as Roval wheels.

Todd Wells leading the pack at US Nationals.

For more information please visit www.iamspecialized.com

Matt Hunter Tours Mont Blanc

Whether it’s in the parking lot or the pub, “How was the ride?” is a loaded question.

Coming back from a multi-day, multi-country adventure with some old friends and a new bike, the question gets asked a lot. Fresh off the trail and filled with post-ride fever, I often find myself pouring a stream of expletives and hyperboles in reply.

I admit that in an effort to describe the best moments of a ride, the truth can take a bit of a holiday. OK, maybe not EVERY corner was bermed, and the drifts weren’t ALL roosting shoulder high. Luckily for me (and for you!) the story of the Tour Mont Blanc has proof.

Please take a moment to explore the evidence behind this truly “epic” ride. Check out the scenery and the trail, and let your imagination put you in the saddle. Then get out on your bike and make your own adventure. –Matt Hunter.

Specialized Debuts New Look Team At Mt Buller

This past weekend saw the debut of Specialized Australia’s newly formed mountainbike team, Swell-Specialized. The 6 member squad fought hard over the weekend to stamp their name on the opening round of the Real Insurance All Mountain and Gravity Cups.

Swell-Specialized MTB Team riders (L-R) David McMillan (Elite DH), Jackson Davis (U/19 DH), Andy Blair (Elite XCO/XCM), Shaun Lewis (Elite XCO/XCM), Jenny Fay (Elite XCM), Rhys Atkinson (Elite DH)

The Black Cockatoo Restaurant hosted the team’s official press introduction, with 25 media and invited guests enjoying drinks on the balcony of Mt Buller’s premium hotel.

Team introductions and a Q&A session entertained the who’s who of the MTB industry, with the Mt Stirling ranges providing a fitting backdrop for the powerhouse team.

Swell-Specialized’s marathon specialist, Jenny Fay made the trip down from Sydney especially for the team launch. “It’s really exciting to finally meet the entire Swell-Specialized team today! We have some super talent across XC, XCM & DH disciplines, I’m so proud to be part of the team for 2013”.

On Saturday it was down to business, with Cross Country athletes, Shaun Lewis and Andy Blair waging a hard fought battle against Chris Jongewaard and Jack Haig to take 3rd and 4th respectively in the Elite Men’s XCO race. The race was a great confidence builder for the Swell-Specialized duo, particularly Lewis whos focus is usually the marathon distance events.

“It’s great to get back onto the podium in these shorter events.” Said Lewis. “In the past few year my results have primarily been in the marathon events, but I still class the XCO as the blue ribbon of cross country, so it’s a great feeling to be back on the podium here at Mt Buller”.

Shaun Lewis and Andy Blair climbing in Saturday’s XCO Elite race

Saturday also saw official seeding runs for the Gravity Cup riders in the downhill event. Rhys Atkinson overcame some mechanical issues earlier in the day, to seed in 5th place in the elite men’s event, with newcomer to the Elite ranks, David McMillan, getting his first top 10 position in 8th on the seeding list against the blown out and rock laden course. 16 year old Jackson Davis who was having his debut in the hotly contested U/19 class seeded a respectable 11th .

With the smoke of the Gippsland bush fires clearing, Sunday’s grueling Point to Point XC race made it’s way down the mountain to tackle the World-Trail designed ‘Stone-Fly’ trail. Once again, Blair and Lewis planned a tactical race and worked together to take out the 3rd and 4th placing’s respectively, behind Jack Haig and eventual series leader, Chris Jongewaard.

Andy Blair (4th from left) and Shaun Lewis (1st from left) had a great start to the season, with a 3rd and 4th place overall finish at Mt Buller

Andy and Shaun now sit in 3rd and 4th overall going into Round 2 in Thredbo in 2 weeks time.

The gravity team had a tough day in their final runs, with Rhys Atkinson suffering 2 small crashes in the treacherous rock sections, but still managing a top 20 finish with 14th place. Jackson Davis made his way down incident free, finishing with a solid 12th place. Standout for the day was David McMillan who was having his first entry into the Elite ranks. David hit all the correct lines he was hoping for to retain his 8th place that was set during seeding. “It was pretty loose out there today!” proclaimed David, “the track was pretty beaten up but I managed to hit all the lines I wanted and am stoked to come away with a top 10 finish in my first Elite race!”.

David McMillan negotiating the rocky Mt Buller terrain in the Elite Men’s DH category

The Swell-Specialized team will move onto Thredbo on the 8th-10th of February for round 2 of the Real Insurance All Mountain and Gravity Cups.

Specialized S-Works MTB Shoes

Take a look around the ranks of the elite National Series cross country field and you’ll see S-Works shoes on an inordinate number of feet. It’s not without reason – these are fantastic shoes, and not just for racing either. We’ve been running these shoes for almost six months now, and in that time they’ve established themselves as our go-to shoe for all kinds of riding.

While there is a tougher EVO version of the S-Works MTB shoe, we’ve been surprised by the versatility of the the standard S-Works shoes – they’re more than just a race item.

The first things you notice about the S-Works shoes is their weight (not much of it, at 340g/shoe) and the fact they use a Boa lacing system for the two upper closures, rather than traditional buckles or straps.

Lightweight is paramount in race shoe, but only if it’s achieved without sacrificing stiffness, and the S-Works shoes delivers here too; the FACT full carbon sole is rock solid.

The Boa laces are brilliant! They’re low-profile, don’t gum up with mud and have very fine adjustment to get the ideal fit.

The Boa laces really are cool; they use a nylon cable, tightened or loosened simply by turning the dials. You can make very fine adjustments to the fit, so it’s easy to get an even fit across the whole shoe, and the dials are low-profile so you’re unlikely to smash them off on a rock as can happen with some larger buckles. If you do happen to damage a dial, they’re replaced easily, and the torn key to remove them is supplied too. The dials seem impervious to mud as well, so you’ll never have that frustrating situation of battling to undo a mud-filled buckle again. We did manage (somehow) to put a nasty crimp in the cable of one lace, which means it doesn’t loosen off entirely smoothly, but it’s a minor issue.

With a rubberised mid-sole it’s not such a drama if you slip a pedal. While the tread blocks on our shoes are starting to show a bit of wear, they are replaceable if need should arise.

We’ve used these shoes for a lot more tramping about the bush than they’re really designed for, and consequently the tread blocks are starting to show a fair bit of wear. Fortunately the tread blocks are all individually replaceable. The carbon sole is scuffed up, but it’s purely aesthetic, and we’ve recently noticed a tiny amount of separation between the upper and the carbon sole. It’s only a millimetre gap at the moment, but we’ll keep an eye on it. Still, given how we’ve trashed these shoes, using them for all-mountain riding on seriously rocky trails, well outside their intended purpose, we’re very impressed with the durability. The materials and construction quality are clearly top notch and worthy of the S-Works tag.

For a full-carbon soled race shoe, these guys are quite forgiving of sloppy pedal entry. If you do happen to miss the cleat when engaging, the tread blocks in the middle of the sole mean you’re not likely to have your foot slip right off the pedal.

We do wish these shoes came in half sizes too, as our foot sits just in between the 42 and 43 Euro sizes. They’re a tiny, tiny bit large, but because the Boa system is so good and secure, it has never been an issue.

While these are an expensive shoe, the pricing is in line with high-end offerings from other brands, and we struggle to think how these shoes can be improved upon. We’ll report back in another six months to tell you if the durability is a good as we expect.

 

Sam Hill Farewell

Sam Hill and Specialized are going their separate ways starting in 2013.

All of us at Specialized would like to send our thanks to Sam. Thanks for the wins, time working on the bikes and equipment, and of course all the fantastic memories! Best of luck to him and his family next year and the years to come.

Not ready to separate? Get your Sam Hill wallpaper here:

Swell-Specialized Mountain Bike Team

Specialized Bicycles sign Australia’s best to launch Swell-Specialized Mountain Bike Team.

Specialized is set to dominate in the upcoming National MTB Series with Swell- Specialized MTB Team. The team will make their debut at the Real Insurance All Mountain and Gravity Cup events from 15-19 of January at Mt Buller.
For 2013, the Swell-Specialized roster will comprise of:

  • –  Andy Blair (Elite Men XC)
  • –  Shaun Lewis (Elite Men XC)
  • –  Jenny Fay (Elite Women XC)
  • –  Rhys Atkinson (Elite Men DH)
  • –  David McMillan (Elite Men DH)
  • –  Jackson Davis (U/19 Men DH)

Reflecting Specialized’s commitment to excel in the Performance Mountain category, rider selection for the Swell-Specialized team was based on finding the best riders on the Australian MTB circuit. “To bring together the caliber of riders we have for 2013, makes the Swell-Specialized MTB Team a formidable force on both the Cross Country and Downhill mountain biking circuits for 2013” said Specialized Consumer Marketing Specialist, Matt O’Connor.

Blair, Lewis and Fay will represent the Swell-Specialized MTB Team at selected XCO and XCM events throughout 2013. Utilizing the Specialized S-Works Epic, S- Works Stumpjumper and S-Works Fate model bicycles, the cross country team members will wear Specialized Prevail Helmets and S-Works MTB Shoes in the quest for National honors.

Marathon Cross Country Champion, Andy Blair said, ”The team they (Specialized) have assembled is awesome and I’m sure we can achieve some great things this year”. Shaun Lewis echoed Andy’s sentiments, “Everyone knows Specialized make great bikes, but for me it is the little things, particularly the shoes. I’ve been a long time user of either the shoes or footbeds, and love them, so I’m looking forward to utilizing the technology in all the products”.

Spotted late December, Andy Blair on a Specialized.

Specialized’s focus on developing superior women’s products and lending support to female athletes, was bolstered with the signing of undefeated Women’s XCM Series Champion, Jenny Fay. “It’s so exciting for us to sign an athlete of Jenny’s caliber. She is the ultimate ambassador for the brand and we have no doubt she’ll be inspiring womens cycling throughout her successes this year”.

The Gravity riders of Swell-Specialized will compete on the 2013 S-Works Demo 8. Returning for 2013 is longtime Specialized Downhill racer, Rhys Atkinson, who is looking to back up his 2011 Overall Series win, along with David McMillan who is entering his first year as an Elite rider. Perth’s U/19 phenom, Jackson Davis, brings a level of skill that riders twice his age have yet to master.

 

Specialized Renegade 2.3″ Tyres

The Renegade tyre has been around for a couple of years now – it’s a fast-rolling, cross country race tread with more grip than its meagre knobbage would suggest. However it was only recently that we clapped eyes on this particular variant of the Renegade in a 29″ size with a whopping big 2.3″ width.

It’s a big, fat tyre and we were excited about the possibilities as soon as we saw it, so we filed it away in the ‘must test ride soon’ drawer.

It definitely looks a little odd at first, having such a big, round tyre on a hardtail like this, but we’re converts.

The perfect opportunity to put this tyre to test came recently at a 100km marathon race. We’d decided to ride a singlespeed hardtail and wanted some rubber that would roll quickly but offer plenty of forgiveness for our back and body. The 2.3″ Renegade fit the bill.

We opted for the ‘Control’ level of the Renegade, which weighed in at 620g . There is an S-Works version available too, a paltry 495g affair, but unless you’re really counting grams or going for the win, we’d encourage you to run the more robust Control tyre. 620g is very light for a 29er tread of this girth anyhow!

As with other Specialized 2-Bliss tubeless ready tyres we’ve used, the tyre sealed up quickly and easily on our Stan’s Crest rims, requiring only minimal amounts of sealant to hold air. How much pressure to run was a big question. After much experimenting we settled on figures that sounds awfully low – 24psi in the rear and 22psi up front.

You can see easily how the big tyre balloons out over the narrow rim profile, but there was less tyre roll than we expected.

The tyres do look big, dwarfing the narrow profile of the lightweight Stan’s rims, and you’ll want to check the rear clearance on some cross country bikes. We expected the huge bag of the tyres to roll around a lot, but it really did not prove to be much of an issue, though bigger riders will definitely want a little more air than this 63kg test rider.

We couldn’t have been happier with the choice of these tyres for the racing conditions in the end. They roll really well (very important on a singlespeed where momentum is key), humming along on hardpack, even with the low pressures, and the huge air volume added a new level of compliance to the ride that we loved.

Cornering performance and climbing traction was great too. There’s a massive contact patch with the trail, providing traction galore in dry conditions. When really pushed hard the tyres slide with predictability that you’d expect from their rounded profile and stout knob shape – they don’t squirm or suddenly let go.

The profile is consistent and rounded. Combine this with stout, supportive knobs and you’ve got a predictable tyre for dry and hardpack conditions.

We were pleasantly surprised when we pinged the front rim so hard on a rock it almost blew our hands off the bars. Surely the tyre would be sliced – but no, all was good, and there was no sign of damage. Impressive stuff!

We’re going to be running these treads for a long time, we think. They’re holding up very well and the way they ride is just ideal for the purpose (even more so now that we’ve gone to a rigid fork on the singlespeed).

Specialized Ditch the Hook

The Specialized Roval wheel program is monumental; there are wheels for every flavour of riding and budget, with alloy and carbon versions available in their Control (cross country), Control Trail (trail riding) and Traverse (all-mountain / gravity) wheels.

It’s in the area of carbon rims that Specialized are leading the pack. No other large scale bike brand has branched out into world of carbon rims in like Specialized. Even their hard hitting S-Works Enduro will come stock with carbon hoops in 2013.

More recently, Specialized have pushed the realms of mountain bike rim technology with the unveiling of a new ‘hookless’ carbon rim. Simply put, the rim does not have the traditional bead hook arrangement, an element that has been assumed as vital in holding the tyre on in the past.

Does the tyre stay put? Apparently so. Specialized claim that even at pressures far below usual operating range (sub 20psi) and under extreme cornering forces, they have had no instances of tyres rolling off the rim.

The unconventional approach of a hookless rim has many benefits: the rim sidewalls can be made stronger (as the rim wall can be kept one thickness throughout), lighter and far more cheaply.

Watch the video below for more, then jump below to hear our thoughts.

Specialized Carve: Ned Overend Edition

 

Limited edition: Specialized will make just 150 of the bikes.

Fully butted, smooth-welded M4SL alloy frame is superlight, stiff and efficient, with 29er XC geometry, integrated headset, tapered head tube for front-end stiffness, plus bridge-less seatstays for compliance over bumps

RockShox Sid 29 Brain fork, Solo Air spring, Brain Fade and rebound adjust, provides premium XC suspension performance

Roval Control Carbon 29 wheelset is built for increased stiffness with durable alloy hubs, oversized 28mm end caps, and DT Swiss Super Comp spokes, gives riders more control to power over demanding terrain

S-Works Fast Trak 29 2.0″, 2Bliss ready front tyre features dual compound rubber delivering exceptional speed and traction, while minimising rotating weight

Custom SRAM carbon, single speed specific XC crankset with 32t chainring and 19t alloy cog is built for strong, yet lightweight performance

Custom Avid X0 World Cup hydraulic brakes with tool-less reach adjust plus alloy-backed, semi-metallic pads for sure-fire stopping and precise modulation

Specialized 2013 Machines

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The trails of Cairns are legendary, steeped in history and a firm part of Australian mountain bike folklore. Some of Australia’s greatest racers and most influential mountain bikers have come out of these steamy trails – think of the likes of Ronning, the Hannahs, Kovarik and luminaries like Glen Jacobs. It’s a special place. [private]

It was even more special recently when Specialized came to town, bringing with them a dealer show of astronomical pizzazz. Specialized have a remarkably strong presence in Cairns. Tie in the fact that the famous Smithfield trails have just been revamped and it’s clear to see why this steamy location was picked as the location for the Big S’s 2013 Australia/New Zealand launch.

Over the course of a solid day on the trails at Smithfield (and during some in-depth sessions in the dealer show) we got the low down on the most exciting bikes in the new range. Here are the standouts.

The new Enduro Expert Carbon is the highlight of the range as far as we’re concerned. It’s one of the few 26″ bikes in the line up (outside of the pure gravity bikes) and it is a world apart from the 2012 version of this bike in many regards.

The Enduro series has been a favourite of ours for a while now. They’re a great all-mountain bike, with amazing descending capabilities. In years past these bikes were, if we’re being honest, a little bit of a slug on the climbs. They had the gears to get you there, but the suspension kinematics left the bike sitting well into its travel. That has all changed for 2013.

Specialized have drastically rework the suspension action of the Enduro and it’s a far superior bike as a result. We spent the bulk of our trail time at Smithfield on the Enduro. Smithfield is definitely an area more suited to shorter travel bikes, but we genuinely didn’t feel out of place on the Enduro. Its climbing performance, especially with the TALAS fork dropped to its shorter travel setting and the ‘Trail’ mode engaged on the CTD rear shock, was excellent. Close your eyes and you’d swear you were piloting an Stumpjumper FSR up the hill.

The sub 13kg weight is amazing (though the sub 12kg weight of the S-Works version is even better!), achieved in part by the switch at Fox 34 fork with a 15mm axle, rather than running a burlier 36mm stanchioned fork as in years past.

There will be some who lament the loss of the 36, but it’s a change we welcome – if you need more fork than this, consider the Enduro Evo. The new 34 series fork is a little shorter than the 36 too, meaning that lower bar heights are possible, again improving climbing performance.

With an increase in rear suspension travel to 165mm, there’s plenty of forgiveness when you want let it rip on the Enduro. The Enduro’s equipped with Specialized’s own Command Post adjustable seat post, as well as the grippy rubber (a Butcher 2.3″ up front and Purgatory out back), clearly communicating this bike’s descending intentions.

For 2013 Specialized have rolled out their AUTOSAG rear shock technology to most of the dual suspension bikes in the range, including the Enduro, making ideal suspension setup a two second job.

If the budget won’t stretch to the Expert Carbon, the Enduro Comp shares all the same key features (ie. improved rear suspension, AUTOSAG, Fox CTD fork and shock) but with an M5 alloy mainframe instead of carbon. If you’ve got money to burn, take a look at the S-Works Enduro; with SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain and a Cane Creek Double Barrel air shock, there is no finer all-mountain bike on the market right now.

The Epic is a proven world beater; World Cups, World Champs, Olympics. For 2013 the range of Epics is massive and highly refined.

With an Olympic gold medal recently added to its trophy cabinet, the venerable Specialized Epic range is on a bit of a high. For 2013, Specialized has a huge array of Epics in carbon with just a solitary alloy option.

The Epic range scores not one, but two S-Works models this year, with SRAM and Shimano XTR options. While the S-Works Epic pictured above is shown with a SRAM XX drivetrain, production versions will in fact come with the revolutionary SRAM XX1 drivetrain, so you can feel just like Kulhavy.

Perhaps the biggest story with the new Epics is the introduction of AUTOSAG rear shocks. Not only does this speed up suspension setup, but way this system automatically balances the rear shock’s positive and negative air pressures finally means that Epics will run the correct negative pressure! This should translate to greatly improved small bump performance.

It’s interesting to see Magura brakes on many of the Epic models; in fact, there is a huge variety of brake manufacturers on display across the whole range (SRAM, Shimano, Formula, Magura and Tektro). It would appear that the inconsistency Specialized and other big brands have experienced with some SRAM offerings in the past few seasons have forced them to cast a wider net.

The Demo line up has grown to four bikes; two carbon, two alloy. We think the sub $4000 Demo 8 I, pictured here, is going to give the pot a good old stir in the budget downhill market.

While Troy Brosnan seems to be doing his best to keep himself out of action (get well soon, mate!), the bikes that he and Sam Hill ride are going from strength to strength. The release of the highly limited team replica Demo 8 Carbon has been well publicised, but it’s the unveiling of a Demo 8 at the opposite end of the price spectrum that has us pumped.

The Demo 8 I, pictured above, comes in at under $4000 and is oozing with well considered spec. Fox and Rockshox suspension, SRAM X9 Type II derailleur, brilliant rubber… there just aren’t any holes in this bike’s armour for the price.

It will interesting to see how the market responds to the regular (non team replica) Demo 8 Carbon; it shares the same frame as the team bike with the exception of the custom 135mm rear end, but comes with a far more modest component spec. Will people pay more for the carbon frame, or will they opt for the gorgeous specced alloy-framed Demo 8 II?

Specialized continue to lead the way with serious women’s mountain bikes. Hardcore female cross country racers now have a bike of unparalleled drool-worthiness to swoon over – the S-Works Fate Carbon. With a weight in the 8kg range, it’s the finest women’s race bike we’ve yet seen.

A big round of applause to Specialized for the Safire – a proper women’s trail bike, complete with Command Post and bash guard.

For women’s trail bikes, it’s awfully hard to go past the 2013 Safire Expert. This is a proper tough nut trail bike; 2×10 drivetrain, big-bagged tyres and a dropper post. It’s a bike that recognises there are women out there who don’t take the B-line on their local loops and who need a bike that is made for technical riding.

The obvious hole in the Specialized women’s lineup is a dual suspension 29er. With a lot hassling we did manage to get an admission that a 29er women’s dual suspension trail bike is next on the agenda. Our best guess is that it’ll be will look an awful lot like the current Camber.

With 150mm front and rear, the Stumpjumper FSR Comp Evo is your classic hard-charging 26er. It’s also the shortest travel 26″ bike Specialized are bringing to Australia in 2013.

If there was one overarching theme of the whole 2013 range, it was the dominance of 29ers. This may come as a shock to some, but the shortest travel 26″ bike available in Australia next year, is the Stumpjumper FSR Evo Comp which packs 150mm travel. If you want less travel than that, you’re on a 29er. The New Zealand market has the option of the S-Works Stumpjumper FSR, with 140mm front and rear.

While some will disagree, we have to give Specialized praise for the courage of their convictions; they have clearly made the call that they feel 29ers are just the better option for all categories of bike with less than 150mm-travel.

The S-Works Stumpy FSR 26, left, is New Zealand only, and it looks exquisite. To the right is a lairy beast we cannot wait to try out – the Stumpy FSR Expert Carbon Evo. It certainly appears to have the potential to change people’s opinions that 29ers are built for pussy footing about.

For aggressive trail riders who want something a little more climb friendly than the Enduro, the most exciting bike in the lineup is the Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon Evo 29 (pheeew, that’s a mouthful!), which looks primed to bust the perception that 29 = cross country. Proudly pushing big wheels in the 140mm range, with big rubber, Command Post, 720mm handlebar and slack geometry, it looks like you could get yourself into a lot of trouble on this machine! We didn’t manage to grab a ride on this bike, but we hope to have a test in the near future.