Specialized's Big Hit bikes has won over numerous Freeride/DH fans over the years. Does an even lower price point and style friendly single crown fork mean that it's going keep riding high?
The Big Hit's frame layout is certainly familiar, in true 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' fashion. The head tube is conventional enough at 1 1/8in, but squared-off tubing throughout the mainframe gives the whole thing a boxy monocoque feel. All the fixtures - from the shock mounts to the bolted dropouts - are smoothly cold forged for maximum strength. Two different shock positions on the linkage also give different ride heights and geometry settings. ISCG mounts are built into the bottom bracket and there's masses of tyre room.
One drawback is that there's no way to fit a front mech for a double chainset, and there's limited seat height adjustment from the short seat stub, which
is a major pain. At least there's a stop inside the tube to stop you twatting the shock, and tidy cable routing complements the neat overall look.
Considering the £1,500 price tag, Specialized have put together an excellent kit package, which compares very well with the other bikes here. The RockShox Domain fork is the upmarket 318 version with compression and rebound adjustment on the Motion Control damping. Most experienced riders were also pleased to see the simpler, but utterly reliable Fox Van shock at the back, and Spesh fit different springs for each bike size (400lb on Small, 450lb on Medium and 500lb on Large).
The red anodized Specialized hubs clash with the otherwise understated bike, but they roll fine and the custom logo'd Mavic EX325 rims proved plenty tough. A bolt-through rear axle gives extra security for the conventional 135mm (5.3in) back end and Specialized's soft Chunder tyres are also excellent.
The 34t single ring gives suitable gears most of the time, but you'll have to stomp and strain any climbs, which doesn't suit the suspension. Chain security is good - the classy X-9 rear mech gets a hanger banger for extra protection. The Avid Juicy 3 hydraulic disc brakes have loads of feel and power, although they can suddenly fade if you really cook them in the mountains. The excellent wide-sweep Big Hit handlebar is a highlight of the finishing kit, but the fixed-length seat tube further compromises bomb-down, twiddle-up versatility.
With its mix of hydroformed tubes and cold-forged nuggets, the Big Hit still has all the super stiff, tightly meshed feel that we've loved before. Specialized's patented Horst Link four-bar setup sucks down on to the trail with superb neutrality. After an initial rebound tweak, we never touched it because it took the big drops and square-edged hits with total composure and confidence, and flowed through braking bumps. While the fork is slightly stubborn and stiff over small stuff, it smoothes out mid-size and bigger knocks, with enough adjustment to tackle serious hucking, too.
With the shock in the lower position, it's super stable, despite still having plenty of pedalling clearance under the cranks. This adds up to a bike that just feels better and better the faster you go. Whenever we hit an open section or a sequence of fast corners, it would leave the other bikes eating dust with its mix of surefooted stability and precision.
It doesn't do so well in freeride terms though. In the slacker setting, it felt cumbersome and lacking in manoeuvrability on the skinnies. In the steeper geometry setting, it put its wheels in the right place but the sky-high bottom bracket made it feel really nervous. Obviously, you'll adapt over time but the end result was that it was always the last bike to clean a Shore section, no matter who was riding it.
It's no fun getting it back to the start of the run, either. The high single-ring ratios accentuate its bobby, wallowy back end when you're climbing. Chopping the seatpost down for more mobility means even less climbing extension - we were soon pushing even on shallow road climbs. This isn't a big issue if you're in ski-lift-rich Canada or the Alps, or you're racing where there's an uplift, but it is for muck-about freeriding over here.
Tight and surefooted with superb high-speed manners, the Big Hit is a great ebtry level DH race or Alpine-run bike with impressive kit value if you play to its strengths. It feels tight, stable and excels at speed, but its awkwardness on tighter sections and poor 'transfer' pedalling performance really restricts its freeride versatility. The single ring and lack of seat adjustment really cut into its versatility for general freeriding.