Specialized’s FSR suspension design has been around, in one form or another, for about 15 years. It’s a sign of the times that the company's mid-range, trail-orientated FSR XC bikes now get 120mm of rear wheel travel. The entry-level Comp boasts a full complement of Specialized kit, a Shimano transmission, and X-Fusion shock and RockShox fork pairing.
Bikes like the FSR XC Comp are the mainstay of Specialized’s business, so it’s no surprise to discover that the 2009 version is as competent an all-rounder as ever. If it weren’t for the limitations of its fork then it would deﬁnitely be in with a shout for top honours. As it is though, it’s a brilliantly executed do-anything machine that represents excellent value.
Ride & handling: Do-it-all performance, but frame needs a better fork to do it justice
It’s hard not to like the XC Comp from the ﬁrst turn of the pedals. Relaxed angles – particularly at the front – hint at handling that’s biased towards higher speeds, but this isn’t the case. The Specialized feels equally at home plodding up a steep, rooty climb at walking pace or carving turns on a high-speed singletrack descent, with weight distribution that feels perfectly ‘planted’ and pleasantly benign steering that does what you ask of it, when you want it to.
With no compression damping – adjustable or otherwise – on the basic rear shock, it pays to take a little time to ﬁne-tune setup. Specialized’s FSR rear end is naturally active, so a shock with too much sag and a choppy pedalling style can easily provoke a fair degree of rear end bounce and wallow.
Pump it up ﬁrmly enough, keep the power smooth and the rear end does what it was designed to do, remaining impressively active and supple over everything from the tiniest trail ripple to the biggest wheel-eater. Flicking the rebound adjust lever to lockout removes any trace of bob and bounce on smooth surfaces, too.
The fork matches the shock bump-for-bump, right up to the point where the hits are bigger, squarer-edged and faster, at which point it blots its copybook with a hint of bushing rattle that acts as a conﬁdence-inhibitor. There’s no doubt that the frame would deﬁnitely warrant a long-term fork upgrade, and that this would unleash its true downhill potential.
Frame: Time-proven FSR design in a good looking package
Specialized take the aesthetics of their bikes extremely seriously, with an entire department devoted to everything from decal design and paint ﬁnishes to ﬁnessing tube curvature. Perhaps that’s why the FSR XC Comp is one of the more elegant 120mm travel bikes out there, with clean lines that ﬂow uninterrupted from the head tube to the rear dropouts. The detail is also impressive, from the bolt-on cable guides under the down tube to the custom rubber chainstay protector.
It’s more than just a pretty face, though. For 2009, Specialized have managed to reduce standover height, giving a bit more space over the top tube for those unscheduled bail-outs. A longer seat tube also gives more scope for dropping the saddle out of the way on steep descents, and the impressively minimalist shock rocker linkage is also new. The patented Horst link (the key to the FSR suspension design) is still there on the chainstay, of course.
Equipment: Sound speccing decisions, with emphasis on quality own-brand kit
Spring duties are carried out by a custom-tuned X-Fusion air shock at the rear and a RockShox Tora SL coil fork up front. The shock is easy to set up and features a lever for adjusting rebound damping on the ﬂy and, if necessary, locking the shock out completely. It’s a neat solution, and far easier to use than the usual dial (though also easier to knock out of position, too).
Our test bike’s Tora fork behaved better than other samples we’ve ridden, with good low-to-medium speed performance and just a trace of bushing looseness on square-edged hits to betray its budget build
There’s barely a component on the XC Comp that hasn’t been tweaked by Specialized’s designers, from the wheelset to the excellent seatpost and saddle.
It all works well, though experience suggests the funky-looking red aluminium spoke nipples may not survive that many clumsy wheel-truing attempts.