Specialized SX Trail II review£2,799.00

Fresh design from Specialized

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Specialized’s SX Trail was their longest-unchanged bike platform ever. Even at the grand old age of five, it was still winning bike tests in MBUK. The new SX Trail II takes that proven performance and amplifies it – with results that could dominate the hardcore play bike market for the next five years as well.

Ride & handling: long, slack but totally balanced

Updating the SX Trail was a huge responsibility, but thankfully Specialized have resisted the urge to fix what wasn’t broken.

The combination of long front end and really short rear end is more racer than upright freerider, but it leaves plenty of rider room and doesn’t squeeze you high up – even with a super-short stem. The steep seat angle still drives you forward onto the front wheel for natural cornering and traction, and it’s slack enough to avoid jack-knifing if you hit mud/sand too hard mid-corner. There’s no issue with getting off the back end and floating it into space either.

Wonderfully, Spesh have tuned the suspension to the most demanding situations – even with minimal ProPedal on the Horst link rear, you can still stomp super-hard into sections and it’s superbly settled.

The Fox Vanilla RC2 fork’s relatively firm springs keep it tall even when you’re hard on the anchors as well. Out back, the rising rate means even the big stuff never really floors the Fox DHX coil shock, but there’s end-stroke tuning potential if you need it.

The noticeably stiffer frame, direct-bolted shock and semi-oversized fork steerer add excellent lateral feedback into the mix, meaning you stay aware of the traction limits at all times. And whatever you want to do with it, the SX Trail feels pinned and yet so safe that you can’t help pushing harder and harder.

There are some compromises – the firmer springs mean a less succulent ride over small stuff and the short rear means less tail stability when you’re pinning it down a long, loose section – but we’ll happily take the lack of squelch out back as payback.

Specialized sx trail ii: specialized sx trail ii
Specialized sx trail ii: specialized sx trail ii

Frame: radical curves and lots of clever features

The radically curving frame owes a lot to the full-gravity Demo family, but the tapered head tube is a totally up-to-date addition. The new Trail also joins the Specialized club of rocker linkage rigs, but the five-bar link mounts directly onto the horizontal shock, rather than using the vertically mounted units found on short-travel bikes.

Pedal and plummet fans will love the new complete seat tube, which allows full saddle adjustment, even with a long post. A directly mounted front mech tightens up shifting and the complete outer cable routing is a boost for our beautiful British conditions. The underslung tubular seatstay brace leaves ample mudroom and the shock is totally shielded from crap.

The horst link system gives a neutral platform for pulling the most unnatural moves out on the trail: the horst link system gives a neutral platform for pulling the most unnatural moves out on the trail
The horst link system gives a neutral platform for pulling the most unnatural moves out on the trail: the horst link system gives a neutral platform for pulling the most unnatural moves out on the trail

Equipment:

Other companies may be catching Specialized up with pretty, well thought-out kit, but that doesn’t mean Spesh are slacking off.

You know this is a bike designed for playing when it comes with a 35mm stem and skinny grips as standard. The broad custom Mavic rims and own brand Chunder tyres are tough enough to last at low pressures, with a bolted rear axle for extra cornering conviction. Add a top spec Sram X.0 rear mech and a lightweight chain device for keeping the double chainset in check and you’ve got a secure but still reasonably light transmission.

The Fox coil fork and shock work superbly together as well, with springs specced according to frame size, while the Elixir brakes have plenty of poke and masses of feel, without being too lardy.

A Thomson seatpost and lightweight magnesium platform pedals finish things off nicely, although the white bars and grips need TLC to keep them pretty. There’s the potential for fitting a wider bar and a burlier crank, but it all rides fine as is.

Fox 36 rc2 fork is great for fettlers, allowing you to adjust both high and low speed compression damping: fox 36 rc2 fork is great for fettlers, allowing you to adjust both high and low speed compression damping
Fox 36 rc2 fork is great for fettlers, allowing you to adjust both high and low speed compression damping: fox 36 rc2 fork is great for fettlers, allowing you to adjust both high and low speed compression damping

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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