Specialized SX Trail 1 review£1,799.00

Still one of the best play/trail bikes

BikeRadar score4.5/5

The SX Trail was born as the badass coil-equipped version of Specialized’s lightweight Enduro bike several years ago. While the Enduro has now been replaced, its burly little brother has proven to be a proper enduring classic.

The SX Trail boasts superbly smooth coil-shock suspension for sucking up big stuff, coupled to impeccable handling balance with usefully adjustable geometry. An excellent component package for the money rounds out a terrific rig.

Downsides are few. Experience says that Truvativ cranks have a habit of coming loose, so they’ll need close attention and for some riders we’d maybe fit a wider bar. Doddy would have colour-matched the saddle better.

Ride & handling: smooth, ultra-confident yet reactive

A few minutes into our first run it was obvious the other bikes we tested alongside the SX Trail were just scrapping for second place in terms of overall ride performance.

The ultra-confident yet reactive handling immediately makes you feel like you could follow Bearclaw through the opening section of Roam. No matter how far you tweak it, it sits flawlessly balanced until you bring it back in again.

Whatever corner we went into it came out wondering what all the fuss was about, and despite being one of the heavier bikes in its class it changes lines with ease. On open flowing trails, downhill runs or random rock gardens it outclasses the rest in terms of overall smoothness throughout the bump range too.

The long, low frame launches beautifully and only the Norco Six comes close in the way it lands big drops. During testing we rolled out of the most awkward landings without complaint.

If there’s a downside it’s that the bike can grovel and wallow if you try and jam the power down hard out of corners. You can easily firm it up via the easy-to-reach ProPedal dial on the shock without any ill effects when you clatter down the next set of steps or drops.

The ProPedal dial also makes it easy to wind out any wallow or bob before a long climb. While we ran it slack and low, the changeable shock chuck means you can jack it up for faster steering and pedal clearance for a more cross-country ride. Again, the overall reach and full seat-height potential also helps keep you breathing relatively easy on the way back up.

Frame: no need to mess with a classic

The chassis might be relatively old, but nothing significant has been changed – Specialized got it right first time. Cold forged keystone sections – the wrapped Cobra head tube, the bottom bracket/ main pivot and the rear subframe – mean maximum strength where all the dots join up.

Most manufacturers are now fitting air shocks to bikes in this category as an easy way to knock anything up to a pound off overall weight.

But even the best set-up and leveraged air shocks still can’t hope to match the smoothness of a coil shock right through the bump range. With many of these bikes well over 30lb (14kg), another pound or so each way is far less noticeable than the coil/air ride difference.

Carefully hydroformed and curved tubes spread stress without adding weight, and the seatmast is extended enough to allow the saddle to stretch to proper pedalling height but still drop out of the way for downhill runs.

The back of the Fox DHX shock sits on four cartridge bearings, while two different shock chucks also give significantly different ride heights and angles.

Typically for Specialized, the detailing is absolutely spot on. Full torque information is engraved wherever it matters, cable routing is kept stable by little plastic outriggers and the rear mech gets a hanger banger that even comes with a spare pin in the care kit. The abstract forest skyline paintjob was universally declared the best on test.

Equipment: value package

The SX I’s spec bears comparison with bikes costing quite a bit more. Stand it against £2,000 and it still looks pretty damn good; more so when you consider the bare frame costs £1,099.

The coil shock is a big bonus in terms of big-hit absorption and overall smoothness. While the Marzocchi fork has a clunky top out when you’re playing with it in the workshop, we rarely noticed it on the trail, making it a decent match up front. The compression lockout lever comes in handy on longer climbs too.

The custom painted Specialized/DT Swiss rims, bolted rear hub and soft compound Chunder tyres underline the overall stability of the ride, however sketchy the trail.

The Juicy brakes are also powerfully confident, although we’d recommend re-bleeding them with DOT5.1 fluid to stand the heat on foreign mountains.

The mixed SRAM/Shimano transmission feels positive with good chainring ratios for all-round riding tucked behind the bashguard and Black Spire roller.

Make sure you keep checking the crankarms – Truvativs have a habit of falling off.

The mixed Truvativ/Specialized cockpit only uses a mid-width bar but balance is fine, with a light touch that makes steering super secure.

The brown Specialized saddle is impressively comfy too.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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