The fact that Specialized's 29er slots into its 2008 Stumpjumper hardtail range is proof that big wheelers have become mainstream.
The M5 frame material is a metal matrix of aluminium alloyed not just with the more familiar copper, manganese, magnesium and zinc but also hard particles of silicon. It's tougher to work with but improves strength and fatigue resistance. Weight is good too: discount the 2lb difference in the forks and overall weight is the same as the On-One Scandal. Rather than a gusset the top of the down tube is strengthened with Specialized's established ORE curve, while the rear triangle gets a bracing strut for the disc brake.
As it's a 17in bike rather than an 18in like some of its competitors it's slightly shorter than them. With UK 8 (Euro 42) feet there's no toe overlap but there's not a lot of room. At 12in, bottom bracket height is 0.5 to 0.75in lower than the GT Peace 29er and Haro Mary XC. It is the same height as the rigid-forked On-One Scandal but the On-One's rigid fork won't compress and dip the bottom bracket further. Having ridden them all it was the Specialized that bore the brunt of any pedal clouts.
The Reba fork/ big wheel combination lets you wind up the pace on choppy singletrack. It climbs and descends very quickly too. The limiting factor is the old-school narrow XC bar, which makes technical descents nervous - and sometimes face-plantingly painful... The tyres, as their name suggests, are best on dry, fast tracks. Like the bars, they feel a bit Lycra racer boy.
Scrubbing off race speeds isn't an issue: Avid Juicy 5s are great stoppers. At this price the drivetrain is functional rather than fantastic.