Specialized Safire Expert review£1,999.99

Terrain-eating technology in women's suspension bike

BikeRadar score4.5/5

The Stumpjumper’s sister offers rock-solid downhill performance and a great fork but it’s a sluggish climber and there’s not enough stopping power from the 160mm rotors. It’d suit a demon downhiller who likes having a bike that you can fiddle with.

Specialized revamped its women’s models for 2008 with new looks that set them apart from the rest of the range. The Safire is the women’s version of the iconic Stumpjumper. It gets all that’s great about the Stumpie in a trimmed-down and customized female incarnation.

In some ways, the Safire is a bit of a brute though. With its upright riding position and high front end we felt very much as if we were riding in it, rather than on it, which made for awesomely stable downhill fun. However, lifts are rare on British trails, and climbing got to be a drag after a while.

Ride & handling: downhill belter than needs coaxing up climbs

It would be over-flattering to say that the Safire climbed well. Despite offering oodles of traction once the Brain was dialled to our taste, uphill it’s a slow, baggy bike that best suits riders who are happy just to sit and spin their way to the top in no particular hurry. 

Tight singletrack also highlighted the fact that it didn’t play well with any clumsiness.

However, what it lacks in climbing and cross-country performance, the Specialized more than makes up when the gradient is reversed.

The Safire Expert comes to life when you point it downwards. It’s most at home on big, rocky terrain, where it tackled wheel-eating slabs with ease and lofted its way happily down steps and drops as if they weren’t there at all. 

It encourages giggly amounts of big ring action down wide-open rock descents. The relaxed seat angle required some serious weight movement to make the most of the gorgeously supple fork but inspires confidence at high speed.

At a shade under 29lb (13.15kg), the Safire is no heavyweight but it responded sluggishly to racer thuggery on climbs. We improved the wayward front end by dropping the stem to its lowest rise but it still preferred gentle spinning to pedal-mashing ascents.

It took a couple of tarmac spins to figure out the Brain, but we were soon bored and left it wide open on the trail to make the most of the extra grip.

The plush fork and wide-open shock work perfectly together to swallow up the trail and elicit big smiles from the pilot. It’s a tough, capable machine, and is more reminiscent of Specialized’s Enduro than any Stumpjumper of old.

Once we’d tuned the front end in, the Safire made us wonder whether it’s worth pursuing the elusive women’s long travel bike when there are fun, light big day bikes like this on offer.

Chassis: trimmed & tweaked

The frame is M5 alloy, featuring tubing which has been specifically manipulated for lighter riders; both top and down tubes are narrower and lighter than the equivalent Stumpjumper.

Pivots house sealed cartridge bearings, so should stay running smoothly for a long time.

D4W (Designed for Women) geometry is classic short top tube territory. We had to go up a size to get adequate length – the top tube on our 19in test bike was a smidgen under 24in long, but left us short of standover clearance, as we’d usually ride a 17in. 

Obviously fit is personal, but serious riders are likely to find themselves making significant tweaks to the seat post and stem to get away from the excessively upright riding position.

The Safire features Specialized’s Brain technology. This uses the remote Trail Tune inertia valve at the back of the chainstay to control the action of the proprietary rear shock. This is able to isolate pedal input from trail bumps and react to the latter while ignoring the former, cutting out pedal-induced bob and eating up the terrain.

It has a fair degree of adjustability for both rebound and compression so you can choose just how active you’d like the rear suspension to be, although annoyingly you can feel the brass mass within the valve knocking on some settings.

The result is not hardtail-stiff but allows you to run the back end virtually locked out on tarmac or fire-roads before coming to life again on rougher trails.

The forks is the very capable Fox F120RLC 120mm. It’s smooth,supple and it coped with everything we threw it at without fuss. The trade-off with plugging a mid- to long-travel fork into a frame is the raising of the head tube, and thus also the top tube.

A fork that has X inches of travel also has to be 14-and-a-bit plus X inches long to accommodate the tyre, crown and so on., and this is why you may have to compromise on standover height if you’re short but want a 5in travel bike – there is simply no other way to fit the fork into the frame, maintain strength and still retain masses of clearance.

Equipment: value mix

The Safire’s spec reflects the high price tag reasonably well, but you are paying a premium for the involved frame.

The purposeful wheels feature a quality DT Swiss 370 rear hub and X420 rims, and a 28-hole Specialized front hub to trim some weight. It’s shod with the 2.0in tubeless-ready Captains, which took care of rolling duties very well indeed and hooked up faultlessly in conditions from wet mud to dusty rock.

The drivetrain is an eclectic mix of Shimano Deore LX front mech, SRAM X.9 shifters and bling SRAM X.0 rear mech. We’re not a huge fan of X.0 for small hands, as it suffers from a heavy lever action that’s tough on little thumbs, but the tried-and-tested mix worked well enough through some mucky rides thanks to the full-length outers.

The rise-adjustable stem is a nice touch that allows you to change the bar height without changing the part. The full width bar gives proper leverage

The Ariel saddle was comfy enough, but the thick rear end made it tough to shift around on. We couldn’t help wishing that we could transfer some of the padding from the squishy Ariel saddle into the skinny grips to reduce arm pump.

Brakes are Avid Juicy Ultimate 7s, a custom blend of after-market Ultimate and 7. They’re powerful stoppers with reach-adjustable levers, but we did find that the bike easily let us out-run the limits of the 160mm rotors on fast descents.

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