Long the underdog of British MTB manufacturers, Claud Butler have been quietly turning out some well specced, well designed hard tails for a few years now. The Spectre is this small British company's entry in the budget full sus trail bike stakes, boasting a good looking spec sheet and a wide range of suspension adjustability.
In an increasingly competitive sub- £1,000 full sus market it's vital to stand out from the crowd. Although the Spectre has a fairly conventional looking design, it offers both adjustable travel at the rear - 75, 100 or 125mm (3, 4 or 5in) - and adjustable travel at the front. The basic suspension design - fixed main pivot, linkage-activated shock - something it shares with similarly priced bike from Trek (the Fuel 70) and Saracen (the Ariel 1)..
Eschewing svelte lines in favour of a fashionably burly look, the front triangle's main tubes boast massive cross-sections, hinting at a very rigid backbone - no bad thing for a bike offering up to 125mm of rear wheel travel. The image of strength is further reinforced by an open-ended gusset at the head tube and another rather superfluous-looking gusset between the top tube and seat tubes. Our only niggle was a tendency for the rear brake hose to jump out of its rear guide.
At the back the designers have opted for a main pivot in line with the small ring and connected to the seatstays via a pivot just ahead of the neatly cantilevered, heavily cut-away rear dropouts. Like Saracen, Claud Butler's UK-only market allows them to neatly sidestep any potential legal issues surrounding this heavily US patented design. Forged rocker plates run on sealed cartridge bearing pivots and drive a KS coil-over shock with adjustable rebound damping. Changing the rear wheel travel is a 30-second job: unscrew the top shock bolt, insert the shock in one of the clearly marked holes and re-tighten the bolt.
The RockShox J4 fork holding up the front comes with all the bells and whistles you could reasonably expect at this price: adjustable travel from 80- 125mm (3-5in), adjustable rebound damping and a lockout lever to cut out bobbing on climbs and sprints. It's a pretty respectable performer for the money, although not quite as reassuring in the rough as the Manitou Splice on the Mongoose.
It's all very well enticing buyers with a tempting price, great-looking specs and the kind of adjustability normally reserved for much more expensive machines, but what about the ride? The Spectre's cockpit is either compact or claustrophobic, depending on whether you're a glass half full or glass half empty kind of a person, and it's this that largely defines its ride character.
Raw beginners will probably like it, because it's the type of upright stance in which they feel most comfortable... to start with. More experienced riders - and those same beginners a few miles into the trail - will probably feel pushed for space. There wasn't enough room on our 19in test bike for an averagely proportioned rider to get comfy for extended periods, let alone make best use of powerful back muscles or feel confident in technical trail situations. A wider bar and a slightly longer stem would both help.
Space considerations aside, the Spectre suffers from a split personality, or perhaps simply indecisiveness. Setting the rear wheel travel to 75mm and winding the fork down to minimum travel suggests cross-country speed but it's simply too heavy to benefit from the reduced bounce. At 100mm things make more sense, but the overall weight and riding position still hinder forward progress. And at 125mm it's simply no match for the implacable, indestructible feel of the Mongoose Teocali Comp or the Saracen Ariel 1's smooth trail manners.
The Saracen and Mongoose match the Spectre on the brake front with the excellent hydraulic Hayes Soles, but a Deore LX-based transmission is better than we would normally expect to see at this level. The Mavic rims and Tioga saddle are good choices, but we're not so convinced about the narrowish Tioga bar. When combined with the stubby 70mm Truvativ stem, it contributes to a cramped feeling that doesn't inspire riding confidence.
There's nothing wrong with the basic design - and a handlebar and stem change would sort some of our handling grumbles - but we can't help feeling that the Spectre doesn't quite hit the mark. In trying to be something to all riders, it ends up not really convincing in any of the roles it's trying to emulate. Although it's good value on paper, the competition is simply too stiff - no pun intended - for the Claud Butler to come out on top.