Specialized were in on the full-suspension revolution at the start, but unlike many of their contemporaries, their first full-sussers actually worked. That's why, a decade and a half later, the latest incarnation of the FSR XC Comp uses exactly the same suspension design.
Currency fluctuations have nudged it a bit over the magic £1,000 price point, although it remains one of the most affordable full-sussers out there and is a great introduction to the world of full suspension.
Ride & handling: 120mm trail bike on a ridiculously low budget — and it works well
The short stem and an all-in weight that’s not going to excite gram-watchers don’t exactly hint at a bike that’ll fly up the climbs. Sure enough, the FSR XC Comp’s heft and tendency to bob under hard pedalling mark it out as a plodder rather than a sprinter on smooth surfaces.
Did we mention the bobbing? Yes, despite Specialized’s claims that the X-Fusion shock is custom tuned, the lack of adjustable compression damping means it’s easy to provoke a kind of harmonic bounce on the climbs. More annoyingly, the indents on the rebound adjuster aren’t strong enough to prevent it from rattling into the fully open position.
We found this so annoying that we puzzled out a solution – unscrew the tiny bolt holding the lever and end stop on the adjuster shaft, reposition the end stop by a couple of splines, then retighten – so until X-Fusion gets its act in gear, there’s at least a workable bodge.
It’s also hard to persuade air and coil springs to play nicely together – the X-Fusion air shock is coupled up with a RockShox Tora coil fork – and this means the FSR XC Comp doesn't feel as balanced as some competitors.
Having said that, point this bike down a fast, rocky descent and it’ll live up to the promise of 120mm at both ends, delivering the rider at the bottom of the trail with a big grin and all fillings still intact. Which, for the money, can’t be bad.
Frame: Good looking chassis with proven suspension design
Specialized were one of the first bike companies to ditch welded reinforcing gussets at the junction between head and down tubes in favour of a gently radiused down tube, which disperses stresses away from this vulnerable area and looks good to boot. The FSR XC Comp adds a reverse curve at the bottom bracket for good measure.
The company have an entire department devoted to tweaking the look of their bikes. See the way the top tube’s line continues uninterrupted through the seatstays to the rear dropouts? That’s no accident. It certainly looks the part, although the effect is spoilt slightly by the hollow (and sharp-edged) seat tube brace, which makes for an uncomfortable carrying handle.
Specialized recognised the potential of Horst Leitner’s chainstay pivot design back in the ’90s, bought it and patented it. The independent rear axle is less affected by braking and pedalling forces, although there are newer systems that work at least as well.
Equipment: Decent own brand kit, but shock doesn’t have enough compression damping
Own-brand components are typically well designed and finished, and adorn all of the FSR XC Comp’s rider contact points. Big volume, open-treaded and grippy own-brand tyres dish out stacks of grip, and wide bars with lock-on grips thread through a short stem for plenty of conidence in the rough.
A Shimano SLX-based transmission and Avid hydraulic discs work predictably well, with only the relatively low-rent chainset giving the bike’s budget roots away. That, and the basic shocks – although the Specialized’s basic RockShox Tora coil fork acquits itself pretty well.