The not-so-minor details
Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B
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Climbing ability matches downhill confidence.
Category leading frame geometry.
Cane Creek shock.
You won’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that any S-Works is going to an absolute pleasure to ride, Specialized stop at nothing when dressing their flagship model bikes in the most ridiculously fine components money can buy. But when you wave the S-Works wand at a big travel Enduro, we found you end up with a bike that hides its brawn like magic, but knows exactly when to show its cards when you need it the most.
Click below to watch our video review.
The Enduro sits proudly in the increasingly competitive category of its namesake – enduro. That buzz word has grown rapidly in popularity all over the world, and is responsible for the birth of a new and fashionable way of riding. In short, going enduro riding is what we’ve always done, hitting the descents as hard as you can and riding back up the other side again. But going enduro racing is about getting every possible inch of performance out of your body and bike, when both climbing and descending. It’s tough, so ideally you need a lightweight downhill bike with lots of gears and efficient pedalling performance. Simple, right?
As a side note, the Enduro is now available in both 29″ and 650B wheels (Specialized prefer the measurement 650B rather than 27.5″, as the exact measurement is not 27.5″), giving riders a choice that we don’t usually see in this long travel and high end category. Hopefully we can line up a review on the 29er version soon too.
This Enduro uses a carbon front end mated with an aluminium rear end, and it’s Specialized’s finest FACT 11m carbon material that allows the impressive lack of mass. Sitting on the Enduro you look down at a very burly frame, all the tubing and shapes are huge, giving you the confidence that this bike ain’t mucking around. The cables run externally down the underside of the down tube in a remarkably neat and easily accessible way, Specialized know how to route cables that’s for sure. Another neat touch is at the chainstay with a tidy and effective rubberised guard to silence the ride from the slapping chain. No downtube protector though like we’ve seen a lot of lately on carbon mountain bikes, perhaps the three cables will provide the frame with enough protection from debris impacts.
In classic Specialized style, this is a boldly finished bike. Making no secret that it’s an S-Works there is big red lettering and a beautifully detailed matte and gloss hybrid paint job and all the colours match up to perfection, even the custom stickers on the RockShox fork look just so neat, it’s a real head turner.
Specialized’s suspension bikes use variants of the long-standing FSR design, it’s their own design and a very popular one indeed with anyone who appreciates a supple and grounded feeling suspension bike. The suspension pivot that sits just below and in front of the rear wheel axle allows the FSR system to benefit from a certain amount of vertical wheel travel as it compresses. The FSR is a suspension design that doesn’t give the rider too much feedback through the pedals, and also remains active enough when the rear brake is actuated.
An FSR suspension bike is a winner in just about every area, but in more recent times with the advent of bigger wheels used in longer travel bikes the compact configuration of the FSR has fortunately allowed Specialized bikes to keep the rear ends of their bikes super short in the name of enhancing the bike’s on-trail agility.
When the Enduro 29er was first announced there was a whole lot of hype around the promise of a big wheeled bike that would reap the benefits of a bigger wheel, but maintain quicker handling that a we’re used to with 26″ and 650B bikes.
In the case of this 650B Enduro, the chainstay length is an astounding 422mm (and 430mm in the 29er). We’ll elaborate on what a short chainstay does to a bike’s handling later.
Yes, it’s a very high end bike. For $10500 you’d want to expect really, really #*%$*@! great parts, but don’t worry the S-Works Enduro won’t disappoint. Interestingly it’s only the fork, shock, shifter, cassette, chain, derailleur, brakes and stem that isn’t a Specialized branded component. Even the cranks and wheels are from Specialized’s catalogue and we stand by all their gear as some of the best available. Tyres are a particularly hard one to get right, and they succeed with flying colours with the tacky and lightweight combo of the Slaughter and Butcher.
The SRAM XX1 drivetrain is flawless in its operation, and we especially appreciate the small 32 tooth chainring giving the Enduro a nice and low gear range. Give us a lower range of gears any day! If you’re spinning out of a 32 tooth chainring, you’re probably on a road so just chill out and enjoy the fresh air. We never felt the gear range was too low, this test bike travelled with us to Roturoa, Mt Buller and all over Sydney’s Northern Beaches, it’s fair to say that it had a solid and varied amount of terrain to be tested against.
A whopping 200mm rotor up the front gives the SRAM Guide RC brakes with its silky smooth carbon lever a powerful amount of braking bite, and keeping in theme of real enduro a RockShox Pike with 160mm of buttery smooth handles the ugliest of trails with its trademark composure.
Out the back the Cane Creek DB Inline shock has a lot more adjustability than a typical RockShox or FOX shock, and you’d hope the type of rider who’d be interested in buying such a high end bike to be at least a bit savvy with shock tuning. There’s lots to fiddle with: you have air pressure, high and low speed rebound, high and low speed compression and a Climb Switch. Cane Creek make it simple and clear to understand what adjustment does what and their website is excellent, and to simplify the setup even further Specialized supply their recommended ‘base setting’ to help get you in the right ball park to get started. Only the Climb Switch is adjustable on the fly, the other four adjustments require a small Allen key. Air volume is also adjustable via a simple process of fitting spacers inside the air can to achieve a more linear or progressive spring rate. It’s a highly tuneable shock, so to get the most out of it the trial and error testing period is imperative.
It’s the Cane Creek shock that we didn’t exactly get along with though. Our first ride became a frustrating one, with the shock losing all its rebound control making the bike ride like a noisy pogo stick. A replacement shock was swiftly sent and we headed out for round two, but disappointingly we never got to a point where we felt comfortable with the rebound control. Although better than the first shock, it still wasn’t right.
Specialized assured us this was only a teething issue with a batch of shocks on the early release pre-production bike that we had (previously used in the Test The Best demo fleet) but in truth we’d heard whisperings around the place that we were certainly not the only ones having issues with this new shock. Third time lucky and we were running a shock which seemed to function correctly, but it still failed to impress us like we’d hoped. It’s a shame, as we have certainly had good experiences with the Cane Creek shocks before.
Despite plenty of tuning, resetting the sag, and using the base settings that Specialized suggest, we still didn’t feel any benefit of this shock over say a RockShox Monarch Plus or a FOX Float X. We struggled to find a point where the spring rate was progressive enough to resist blowing through the travel – increasing compression damping just reduced the sensitivity and the disparity between the supple fork and shock was too great. The overall feeling was one of uncertainty, like we were never certain where we were in the rear travel .Maybe we’re just used to a FOX or RockShox shock?
On a more positive note, we appreciate the Climb Switch adjustment (gold lever) and how it puts the shock into a perfect climbing mode. We just wish the other adjustments could also be made so easily.
Whilst we love the new Slaughter tyre used on the rear of this bike (the low profile centre knobs do wonders in boosting the rolling and acceleration speed of the bike) we’d suggest keeping a meatier tyre in your possession for backup if the conditions get rougher or looser. And perhaps a set of tyres with stiffer sidewalls would let you make the most of the wide rims and drop tyre pressure further without squirming on extra heavy sections of trail.
The seatpost is also a Specialized number, with a cable actuated lever that connects to the post internally. The remote lever is absolute ergonomic perfection, and so simple! Hitting the seatpost with your left thumb is so very easy, and it controls the three-stage seatpost height without needing to move your hand position on the bar. It’s just at times we struggled to locate the desired height, even after a few rides we often took longer than we’d liked to lock it into place. A slight amount of knocking developed in the post too, and was noticeable when riding, not a deal breaker for us but still something you’d prefer not to have when with such a high price tag.
The Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels are a seriously good addition to a bike like this. The mega 30mm wide carbon rims give the tyre a massive footing allowing you to run lower tyre pressures, which in turn boosts traction in every situation and there is none of that uncertain squirming that comes with low tyres. There is no foreseeable drawback in our minds with wide carbon rims, it’s the future and the Roval Fatties strike a perfect balance of width, weight and stiffness. Definitely our most favourite wheels in this category right now.
We took the Enduro everywhere and anywhere we could, which says a lot about a bike with such a big amount of travel. We found it to be the 160mm travel bike that we climbed as easily as we descended. That is not a easy task to get right, no matter how hard bike companies try as it requires a considered balance of key elements, and low weight doesn’t hurt the cause either.
A 12kg bike will never be a drag to climb hills on, but it’s really the combination of the geometry and suspension efficiency that make the Enduro such a snack when you’re settling into a long slog to the top. It’s a short bike overall mated with a slack head angle, so it favours a light steering input on the bars to help keep the front wheel pointing up the trail without wandering about. With the Climb Switch engaged the suspension was as firm as you’d want it, but still allowed the suspension to remain active enough to track up and over loose surfaces.
During our trip to Mt Buller in the big mountains of Victoria, we took the Enduro on The Australian Alpine Epic Trail, a monster of a ride only 40km in length but it’s a real undertaking. We relished in the way the Enduro had the firepower to really let the brakes off and hammer through the turns on the descents, but still never got in the way of climbing all the myriad of steep and tricky pinches and tight uphill corners you find there.
And for a trip to Rotorua it was the biggest travel bike we’d taken over to NZ where the fairly smooth terrain typically favours a 120-150mm travel bike, but the Enduro lapped it up with its well-rounded capability. All day rides were comfortable, and on trips to the bike park with gondola-accessed runs the Enduro tackled all the features with the confidence of a bigger or downhill specific bike, jumping doubles, tall table tops and simply playing about with ease and confidence.
It’s the type of bike you can rely on to save your skin when a trail tries to bite, if you make an error or come too hot into a section of trail where you might reach the limits of traction and suspension capabilities, you’ll be sure not to get bucked off.
The short rear end comes into play in many aspects of the ride character, the most obvious is when the trails are tight. A bike with 160mm of travel should not normally be able to flick around a switchback turn, or make quick direction changes like this. Climbing up a tight corner in the trail requires much less effort than you’d expect, and winding through flatter singletrack is also remarkably easy with far less heavy handed effort to make such a long travel bike go where you want it to.
The reduced length out the back takes a fair bit of getting used to, especially for us when we are jumping around between so many test bikes all the time. In the big bermed corners of Rotorua we struggled to find a position where our weight was evenly distributed over both wheels, and our upper body was in a position to steer effectively. We’re sure a bit more time on the Enduro and experimenting with handlebar height we would find a position we are happy with.
Also the short rear end takes getting used to when climbing up ledges, where your timig to lift the rear wheel is quicker than normal, but again nothing we’d not become more comfortable with over time. You’ll want to be be careful the first few times you go to pull a big manual too, as you’ll may loop out onto your arse like we almost did a number of times!
Overall, the short rear end and shock do mean it’s a bike that will take a little bit of getting used to. But once you’ve got your head in the game, the Enduro lets you charge very hard, it’s stiff and solid beneath you, so you’ll naturally put a lot of confidence in it when you need it the most.
Our misgivings over the rear shock couldn’t dampen our love of the Enduro, it’s a seriously capable bike that performs like its name implies, a real enduro bike. The rougher the terrain the better, and the more determined you are to ride everything in front of you, better still.
It’s a lot of dough, but there are models below it in the massive Specialized catalogue that have the same geometry and efficiency just without the super high end bits and a few added grams, but those who want this bike probably already know what they are in for as it says S-Works on it. Enough said.