Specialized Enduro SL Expert (09) £2447

All-mountain all-rounder

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

The Enduro Expert does a good job of fitting into one of the most demanding bike categories out there – all-mountain. For a 6in travel bike, it climbs extremely well and can be blasted down the trails confidently without flinching at anything in its path.

While the rear shock lacks sensitivity it worked well enough, and the rest of the package gels together well. Intelligent design features like the adjustable geometry and ISCG mounts give the Enduro an edge on some of its competitors.

Ride & handling: Spritely and nimble, but numb-feeling shock lacks small bump sensitivity

Some would argue that it was the original Specialized Enduro that began the wave of 6in travel bikes that could be comfortably pedalled uphill as well as down. Today the Enduro comes in three models, from the basic Comp at just under £2,000 all the way up to the full-carbon S-Works at just under £4,000. The Enduro Expert SL is top of the aluminium range and weighs in at 28.1lb (12.8kg) with pedals.

As far as 6in travel bikes go, this is one of the more spritely and nimble options. Its climbing capabilities are superb and the suspension design and shock work efficiently together.

Slogging up longer climbs, you feel no energy is being wasted through pedal bob and you’re able to simply sit and spin all the way to the summit. On shorter, more aggressive climbs, any wallow in the suspension can easily be taken care of with a few tweaks on the shock and fork adjustments.

The 2.5in (65mm) Specialized stem combined with the length of the cockpit – the top tube is 22.6in (575mm) – make for a good compromise, stretching the rider out enough to create a well-balanced climbing position but short enough to attack the downhills and get the weight over the front wheel in the corners.

The Fox Talas 32 RL fork gives precise and accurate steering, and tracks the ground flawlessly. The lockout is easy to reach, but due to the stability and effective compression of the fork it’s rarely needed, and the travel adjustment is a nice touch – perfect for more cross-country oriented trails.

At the rear, the proprietary AFR shock feels a little numb and struggles to remain active over smaller bumps. The Spike Valve seems to overcompensate too, and it was a struggle to find a setting we were happy with.

Back the compression adjuster off to the softest setting and the bike only feels like it’s doing work on the bigger compressions and hits, needing a solid clout to get things moving and using too much of its travel. Wind the compression adjuster in to the firmer setting and, while it does create a more stable pedalling platform, the shock makes a tinny, clunking sound over square-edged bumps.

The bike carries speed well but it needs to be pushed hard through rougher terrain to get things feeling like they’re working as they should.

For those intent on having a real all-rounder, having the ability to adjust the angles and change the bottom bracket height is great and really adds to the bike’s versatility. In the slacker mode (66.3° head angle, 355mm bottom bracket height), steep terrain is a breeze and nothing seems out of the bike’s capabilities.

Frame: Sleek-looking chassis with adjustable geometry and super-stiff rear end

The Enduro is certainly pleasing to the eye. Its M5 manipulated aluminium tubing couples functional design with sleek, clean lines that hide some of the more interesting features that make this bike so versatile and adaptable.

Generous welds around the head tube and triangulation at the seat tube add to the strength that means the Enduro can be pushed hard without fear of failure. It comes with ISCG (International Standard Chain Guide) mounts, so installing a chain guard should be a doddle.

Located at the lower shock mount are two sets of holes that dictate the head and seat tube angles as well as the bottom bracket height so, dependent upon the terrain, a small adjustment can have the bike dialled in and ready to go.

The forged linkage plates and close proximity of the sealed cartridge bearing pivots make for a super-stiff rear end and keep any lateral flex at bay. With a spike valve, air spring, rebound and low-speed compression adjustment, the AFR shock can be tuned easily but has suffered reliability problems in the past.

The Enduro has considerable standover height thanks to the sweeping top tube, and bottle cage mounts finish the frame off nicely.

Equipment: Fox fork is a great upgrade, and powerful brakes and grippy tyres add confidence

The biggest change to the Enduro for 2009 is Specialized’s use of the Fox Talas 32 RL instead of their own-brand dual-crown fork, which is still found on the top-end S-Works model.

The Talas fork can be set at 150mm, 130mm or 110mm travel, and the added stiffness of the 15mm quick-release through-axle is immediately noticeable. With lockout plus adjustable rebound and compression damping, not to mention the classic Fox feel, it really helps bring the bike to life.

The Avid Elixir R Carbon SL custom brakes (203mm front rotor, 185mm rear) are also a great piece of kit, offering fantastic modulation and mindblowing amounts of power at a low weight (380g).

As always, the bike is littered with Specialized own-brand kit which adds a unique and cohesive feel to the Enduro without compromising on weight or quality.

The custom DT Swiss wheels can stand up to masses of abuse but the baggy pick-up of the rear hub can be frustrating. The dual compound 2.3in tyres contribute to the confident feel the whole setup seems to exude.

Tester’s thoughts

Rob Weaver: "Having tested a lot of all-mountain bikes lately, it was refreshing to have a bike that was lighter and more refined then many of the heavier-hitting 6in models out there, yet could still be pushed just as hard. This is comfortable to ride distances on and can still be thoroughly abused on the descents."

Designer says

We discussed some of the key points of the Enduro with Specialized’s James Chamberlain...

BikeRadar: How important to the ride characteristics is it that the Enduro uses the AFR shock? Could another manufacturer’s shock work as well?

JC: The shock was tuned to work specifically with the Enduro SL and the E150 fork. Other manufacturers' shocks will work in the frame, but our AFR shock provides the optimum damping curve and air spring.

BikeRadar: There have been some reliability issues with AFR shocks in the past. Has anything changed for '09 to improve durability?

JC: Absolutely. Major changes have been made in both design and manufacturing that provide improved damping performance and, most importantly, greatly improved durability. There are really too many to list. Our return rate is so low that we don’t even talk about issues with this shock anymore.

BikeRadar: With fork and shock technology advancing all the time, will the Enduro models gain any extra travel in the future?

JC: That is a reasonable assertion...

BikeRadar: ‘All-mountain' is a fairly broad term and seems to vary from company to company. How do Specialized define this genre?

JC: This is from our website, I really couldn’t say it any better: “All-mountain riding is about attacking the big stuff, the small stuff and everything in between. From the tallest peaks to the fastest descents, the Enduro and Pitch both use FSR suspension and 6in of travel to level the whole mountain with room to spare."

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