It’s a bit thin on oxygen for a Yorkshire amphibian at Snowbird ski resort in
Okay that’s a cheesier intro than a face full of fondue, but to a cynical old sod like me it’s not often something as consistently impressive as their new trail bike line rolls under your nose.
As usual the devil is in the detail, but the key things to remember for the end-of-feature test are:
- New lighter, longer-travel Stumpjumper
- Much lighter and entirely new Enduro
- Biggest range of women's bike ever, including two truly top-end S-Works models
- Big-wheeled bikes – several of them – that are totally sorted
- A return to Fox-produced Brain shocks that are a genuine bonus not a headache
Stumping it up
The most significant news for most riders is that Specialized's trail flagship – the Stumpjumper – gets a complete reworking for 2010. Travel increases to 140mm front and rear, but weights drop across the board.
The S-Works flagship gets a totally new FACT IS carbon frame that’s 80g (50g in the mainframe, 30g in the seatstays) lighter than last year's 120mm bike.
Specialized's mountain bike engineers have unashamedly poached the latest ideas on layup and carbon knowledge from the road bike division. This includes a broad top tube and deliberate creases and curves in the wider sections to stop the ‘oil can-ing’ effect evident on some slab-sided bikes.
The front end is moulded in two pieces (front end and seat tube/bottom bracket) using post-layup stretching to remove any wrinkles or weak spots. The build system also makes the tubes much smoother internally with less overwrap at the junctions.
The Stumpjumper loses its short-lived rocker link layout in favour of a kicker link like the Specialized Epic. This means a healthy amount of seatpost drop before you bottom out on the curved tube.
The seatstay yoke attaches directly to the rear of the shock slider, with ball bearing pivots at all points for smoother actuation. The single-piece seatstays get a direct mount for the Brain chamber.
Thank Fox for that
One of the most significant – and welcome - pieces of news from the launch is that Specialized are no longer using X-Fusion to make their Brain rear shocks. Instead all Brain – and Triad – shocks will now be made by long-time collaborators Fox. Not only should this eradicate the reliability issues of the past few years, but the performance is dramatically improved too.
The way the Brain activates has changed dramatically. It still uses a brass mass inertia valve, but now the shock link hose feeds in from the top, not the bottom, for a much faster reacting and more compact setup.
Rather than isolating oil flow from the Brain actuation, the compression circuit is now capable of opening the shock and keeping it open. There’s no spring delay on closing either so it opens and shuts immediately in response to the terrain.
After years of “no, it really works this year” assurances we’ll admit to being a bit jaded about the Brain concept, but this year it really does work. Dial the Brain Fade knob to your chosen opening threshold early in the first ride and then just forget about it.
There’s still a clunky feel in more static settings, but move towards the free flow end of the dial and there’s genuinely no trace of the inertia valve. Sprint into a rocky step-up with the rear end locked, pop the front wheel and the back end will swallow the impact completely, firing you up and over the crux.
It sucks up even the sharpest rock edges without pinch flats and you can squat and drive it through corners as well as any conventional shock, before firing out bob-free.
The new 140/115mm travel S140TA fork with its carbon crown and tapered steerer is equally impressive. New internals put damping in one leg and an air cartridge with single-stage travel-adjust in the other. That means it gains some weight over the previous 120mm fork but it’s still the lightest travel-adjust fork around at 1,602g (3.53lb).
According to Specialized, the 28mm axle end-cap design is stiffer with a conventional quick-release than 15QR forks. You can certainly rip the nose of the bike inside the natural line on corners and it holds a great line through lattice roots and random rock sections. With the Brain Fade turned to minimum it’s as fluid as any other fork we’ve tried and even with some auto lockout it triggers seamlessly when it needs too.
The only issue we had with the forks and shocks was the very light rebound damping, but talking to shock specialist Mick McAndrew, they’ll be changing that for production.
S for spoilt
If your banker's bonus means you can afford the S-Works version you also get Specialized’s own FACT carbon cranks (97g lighter than Shimano XTR) driving a hybrid SRAM XX group. This puts non-pedal weight for a medium bike at a shockingly low 10.6kg (23.4lb), which only Scott’s Genius and the Ibis Mojo SL can compete with in the same travel category.
More frugal or financially restricted riders don’t lose out much either. The carbon Pro frame is only 100g heavier than the S-Works and the M5 alloy frame 200g heavier. The hydroformed tubes get the same stiffening crease lines as the carbon model too, along with cold-forged keystones including a hollow driveside dropout. All bikes get the oversize axle ends too (although Fox fork bikes use a smaller 26mm-diameter cap).
It’s not just the impressive vital statistics of the Stumpjumper that impress either, it’s the visceral, high velocity and insatiable chuckable ride that really sell the bike.
Typically for Spesh it’s based around “a roomy top tube, short chainstays, a low bottom bracket and relatively slack angles”. Actually their "relatively slack" is radically slack by most manufacturers' standards, with a 68.5-degree head angle in the short (115mm) fork setting and 67.5 in the long (140mm) travel setting. Add a short stem and this bike just loves to stir up trouble in tight singletrack or lean back and blast more open, rocky descents.
While Specialized haven’t said they’ve changed the makeup of their tyres, they seem a lot stickier before. This makes the bike a total rip-and-roost hooligan on
The tyres give it even more grip as it flexes its silly-light, locked-shock climbing prowess. The fact the locked rear naturally sits at the top of its stroke offsets the tendency of the slack angles to wander off line too. The fact it managed to blow us away with its trail scaling abilities is even more remarkable considering we were blowing out of our arse at 8,000ft.
The only real weak link in the mix is the very obvious slew and flex from the superlight Roval Control SL rear wheel. Then again, it’s all part of the headline-grabbing low weight, and the Germans will love it!
We’d also have liked a wider riser bar. Say that to any brand manager and they launch into a tortured speech about how it’s only the Brits who like big bars and the Europeans already think they’re too wide.
If you're thinking of engaging in a major race campaign in Europe, Specialized’s 2010 Epic is a better bike than it’s ever been before. The changes seem fairly small, but they make a big difference.
The chassis is unchanged, but the Fox version of the Brain-actuated micro shock is in a different league to the previous Specialized unit. It’s still pretty pert in action, but it’ll swallow decent sized landings without stumbling. The genuinely immediate shock actuation in lower Brain Fade levels means it doubles as a very fast and fluid short-travel trail bike.
Its credentials here are also improved by the same riser bar as the Stumpjumper, which actually feels wide enough on the skinnier, twitchier Epic. The same twangy Roval SL wheels also feel more in tune with the Epic than they do on the Stumpy.
It was my first time on a near-complete SRAM XX bike (it uses an S-Works oversized crank with Truvativ twin spider). Suffice to say the speed of shifting, powerful integrated mount brakes and sensible spread of off-road gears made a favourable impression. At just over 22lb for our large sample it’s proper race-light too.
Another platform where Specialized have worked from the ground up to save kilograms rather than just grams is the new Enduro.
Looking at the top S-Works model you’re getting a totally new carbon fibre frameset with an innovative ‘X Wing’ central crossover. The layout has been a real fight to make work, involving three separate bladders and internal walls to provide the proper compression. However, linking top tube and down tube has immediately tripled the number of cycles to fatigue failure and increased overall stiffness by 30 percent over the last Enduro frame.
The frame also uses impact resistant ‘high strength’ fibre rather than the more usual high stiffness but impact-vulnerable ‘high modulus’ fibre.
The previous rocker link layout has been replaced with the kicker link and horizontal shock mount first seen on the Epic. The rear eye of the Fox RP23BV shock is also slotted for direct attachment of two forged seatstay extensions onto the rear of the shock. Super-thick hollow dropouts give the same stiffness as a Maxle rear but with more versatility in terms of wheel choice.
The problem of putting ISCG mounts on a carbon frame has been dealt with very neatly too. A forged, keyed insert is fixed into the bottom bracket shell which an optional alloy ‘ISCGotron’ can be mounted directly onto. It only weighs 12g, can be replaced if it gets damaged or stripped and it’s Truvativ Hammerschmidt crank compliant too. The mainframes are all sized to take a standard water bottle too, and mud clearance is okay if not outstanding with a big 2.35in tyre.
Specialized have worked hard to continue trail ride practicality through all the components too. Every bike from the Expert upwards gets a Command Post adjustable seatpost with guides for the remote cable. This even includes a notch on the seatpost quick-release lever to tuck it in close when the lever is closed.
All models also get some sort of custom Shimano chainset running 36/22 rings and a Gamut double chainguide. Neat details like red anodised X.0 mech cage, shifter clamps and shifter levers all add to the bling appeal of the S-Works too.
Roval’s superlight Traversee wheelset keeps overall weight low and responsiveness high. From experience they’re properly tough rolling stock, although unsurprisingly you can feel them getting stressed through big sweepers.
The 160mm of rear travel is matched with a new 160mm fork. The previous bespoke triple crown unit has thankfully been dropped in favour of a new 34mm-legged fork using a tapered carbon steerer and crown with Maxle Lite 20mm axle. Like the Stumpjumper fork it can drop 25mm of travel via the top-cap switch and again it’s the lightest in its category by a huge margin at 1,774g (3.9;b). this brings complete S-Works Enduro bike weights to a startlingly light (for the travel) 26.8lb, and even the heaviest alloy bike weighs under 31lb with RockShox Lyrik forks.
Despite the lack of weight it’s certainly no fragile long-travel cross-country bike. The 66-degree head angle, low belly and tight rear end make this bike feel almost as straightline secure and shock sucking as the legendarily planted SX Trail. It certainly sits far lower into the trail than the previous Enduro, making it a blast to pump, slide and carve despite noticeable flex from the wheels.
The performance of the fork is particularly impressive, with a plush stroke once you’ve passed the initial ‘Spike Valve’ compression damping. Its ability to keep a level-headed and controlled response to rock-and-drop sections is clear when switching between the S-Works and the more clumsy feeling Lyrik equipped alloy bikes.
With 18 women’s bikes across the various families Specialized are rightly proud that they have the widest range of female-specific bikes available. To quote program leader Rachel Lambert: “Nobody in the world takes female riders as seriously as we do. Nobody else creates bikes at as high a level as the S-Works and across more platforms.”
The new Safire is their designated all-rounder designed to cover 90 percent of riding situations. Travel is 140-115mm front and 120mm rear with 68.5 to 67.5-degree head angles. The S-Works version uses a women-specific narrower diameter tubeset and lighter layups. Standover is also 10-15mm better than the leading competitors for increased confidence. Sizes cover riders from 4ft 10in to 6ft and there are four models, the 23.6lb S-Works, Expert carbon, Expert alloy and a Comp alloy version.
Whatever the price, positive and negative springs are softened for lighter riders, and Brain units get lower thresholds. Smaller brake rotors, levers and specific saddles/grips, etc. give appropriate fit and performance.
The Era is essentially the female-specific Epic with Flow Control Brains and the same fit and standover attributes as the Safire. S-Works version highlights include the 3.1lb E100 fork, FACT 10M carbon frame and FACT cranks. There are also Expert carbon, Expert alloy and Comp alloy versions.
Myka deploys the same thinking but at an entry-level price. Both the hardtail and 100mm-travel full-suspension bike use an M4 frame plus custom tuned suspension from X-Fusion and Fox rather than just off-the-shelf units.
Specialized are also extending their links to the Susan G Komen for the Cure breast cancer awareness program. Limited edition bike and kit sales include a 10 percent donation to the cause and they’re supporting a series of events in the
Specialized have massively expanded their 29er programme too. There are carbon S-Works and M5 alloy geared and singlespeed hardtails, plus M5 Epic and 130mm travel Stumpjumper 29er versions.
All are based around a very short chainstay, offset trail and an inch-and-a-half lower bottom bracket, and they feel ‘right’ on the trail straight away. The S-Works hardtail certainly makes big wheels more competitive than they’ve been before, with a 1,150g (2.54lb) frame that’s as light as last year's 26in bike.
The 90mm travel RockShox Reba S29 fork uses a Specialized carbon crown mated to a Reba Team bottom end to deliver a 1,625g (100g lighter than Reba) front end. A tapered headtube keeps stiffness high and cockpit low, while a curved seat tube gives correct front mech positioning.
Dedicated single- and multi-speed frames both use a curved top-to-seat tube flow which increases compliance and comfort. A super-stiff down tube, oversize bottom bracket and offside alloy dropout areas maximise power delivery from the S-Works crank enhanced SRAM XX groupset. Full bike weight is a minimal 21lb/9.2kg complete with Roval 29 wheels and Specialized’s new 3.8g top cap.
The big bikes
Finally, there’s not much news on the big bikes yet for 2010. The SX Trail gets a slight tube straightening to better fit the latest Fox shocks, while the Demo 8 gets slacker, Sam Hill inspired geometry. Specialized hinted that something more interesting will be debuted at Crankworks in August.