Specialized certainly push the boat out when it comes to value for money, and the Big Hit III – the top model in this three-bike range – will help put them back on the more gravity orientated map.
Ride & handling: Superb handling and agility, but not the most efficient pedaller
This may be called the Big Hit, and it can certainly cope with the bigger hits, but the most noticeable thing about this bike is its sheer agility. Weighing in at 17.2kg (38lb), the Specialized is one of the lighter bikes in its class.
The weight, gearing and quick-release seatpost mean this could be ridden for more than just downhill or freeride, but the Big Hit III seems to love punishment. The bike can be launched from bar scraping turn to bar scraping turn with ease and eats up technical terrain without a problem.
The RockShox Domain fork and Fox DHX 4.0 rear shock work in unison, giving a well balanced and controlled ride. The compliance of the suspension enables you to dial them in to fit your requirements perfectly.
The FSR suspension system keeps things nice and active at the rear even under braking, getting the most from the Fox coil shock and keeping the rear wheel firmly planted in the turns. Throw the Big Hit III into soft loamy root riddle turns and it takes all of this in its stride.
The Big Hit has a lively feel to it and carries speed well. It’s a little twitchier than a full-on race rig, but the slack 65.5-degree head angle and 185mm wheelbase go some way to calming things down when up to speed.
The well thought out spec and great Specialized tyres make this a bike for gutsy and confident riding, which you may not have expected for this sort of price.
Frame: New curves and shock position, same great performance
For 2009, the Big Hit has had quite the makeover. Gone are the sharp angles and boxy tubing, replaced by gracefully curved hydroformed tubes and smooth, clean lines.
The suspension setup differs slightly in terms of shock position (now fixed to the down tube) but still uses Specialized's patented FSR system which has proved itself time and time again. The two-piece forged linkage improves lateral stiffness and the cartridge bearings ensure everything runs stiction free.
Specialized have focused on maintaining the burly reputation associated with the Big Hit by integrating strength into the aesthetics. Up front, the almost tear drop shaped head tube uses a 1in bearing up top and a 1.5in bearing down at the bottom to help keep weight to a minimum and strength to the max. Strength ensuring welds join down, top and head tubes together with no need for any extra gusseting.
Other nice touches include the ISCG mounts and the 12mm bolt-up rear axle along with the quirky graphics that seem to set Specialized apart from the pack. The only downside to the frame is the cable routing to the mech and rear brake – running under the bottom bracket makes this susceptible to stray rocks.
Equipment: Well priced with a great spec
This bike is jam packed with high-end kit. The RockShox Domain 318 fork is supple, well damped and stiff thanks to the 20mm Maxle through-axle. Things out back are taken care of by the Fox DHX 4.0 which is not only super tuneable but ultra reliable too.
Specialized seem to have it pretty much spot-on with their own wide bar and short stem combo, along with the Specialized Chunder 2.3in tyres, which are fantastic in a range of conditions. The paint scheme spills over onto the custom DT Swiss F550 rims, which are light and strong, and nicely finished off with anodised Specialized hubs.
Avid Elixir R disc brakes weigh in at around the 400g mark, offering plenty of reliable power and modulation with a lever adjust facility at your finger tips. The Specialized lock-on grips are slim and grippy in the wet, although the white sparkle soon fades.