Specialized Enduro Elite 650b review£2,800.00

The original ‘Enduro’ bike – and still one of the very best

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Specialized was the first company to use the ‘enduro’ name for a bike 14 years ago – and has been a leading player in the lightweight, long-travel trail/all-mountain game ever since. Does its most expensive metal model deserve the ‘Elite’ tag?

Frame and equipment: short but superbly accomplished

While the 650b wheel size is new for 2015, the ‘X-Wing’ frame design has given the Enduro impressive stiffness-to-weight ratios for years and Specialized adopted the neutral pedalling and braking Horst Link four-bar linkage suspension design as its ‘FSR’ system in the 1990s. Chain guide mounts, a custom shock mount and internal dropper post routing complete the M5 alloy chassis. Our large was sized more like a medium though, and there’s no XL except in 29er format, which rules this brilliant bike out for bigger riders.

SRAM 1x transmission? yep, that floats our boat:
SRAM 1x transmission? yep, that floats our boat:

SRAM 1x transmission? Yep, that floats our boat

Like the Mondraker Dune R, Lapierre Spicy 527 and Devinci Spartan XP we pitted it against in a recent test of aggro, gravity-oriented rides, the Enduro sports a RockShox Pike RC fork, while the Cane Creek rear shock is a bonus for feel fettlers. The SRAM 1x11 transmission is a great fit for flat out, brain out function, light rolling stock boosts responsiveness, and Specialized’s own dropper post is included.

The 75mm stem does give more of a trail than DH feel though – and fitting a stubbier one makes that irritating shortness of the frame more obvious.

Ride and handling: confidence enhancing, truly all-mountain performance

The Cane Creek DBInline shock takes complex tuning. Both rebound and compression damping are high- and low-speed adjustable, and rather than just incrementally increasing low-speed compression damping, the Climb lever also increases low-speed rebound. You can change the air volume and progression rate with spacer rings. Thankfully the shock comes with a ‘start guideline’ card that gives a reasonable setting for most riders and the relevant Allen key for tweaking all four embedded adjusters.

Cane creek’s dbinline shock offers four-way damping tuning, oil-recirculating twin-tube smoothness and a uniquely double damped climb lever:
Cane creek’s dbinline shock offers four-way damping tuning, oil-recirculating twin-tube smoothness and a uniquely double damped climb lever:

Cane Creek’s DBInline shock offers four-way damping tuning, oil-recirculating twin-tube smoothness and a uniquely double damped Climb lever

If you really want to get your money’s worth from this potentially outstanding piece of control enhancing kit, it’s worth spending a few hours and rides sessioning some choice bits of trail to get it just right for you. Get it dialled and the super-sensitive start gives succulent traction that sticks the semi-slick Specialized Slaughter rubber out back to the ground with consistency and climbing grip.

Done right, that easy movement settles into a supportive, hard-carving mid stroke that lets you slingshot through berms as though you’re on a short-travel race bike. The increased, permanently recirculating oil volume of the twin-tube (rather than mono-tube) damper means it sucks up big hits and other blunt force trauma without blinking. Even on long, bouldery, swerving descents where we’re normally hanging on with squeaking sphincter terror, the Enduro stayed on target and in control.

When our puzzlingly calm pulse rates made us determined to go back up and try the descent again even faster, the shock shone again. The climbing lever works really well for adding just the right amount – or lack – of movement for every type of surface, though it takes a while to find the lever consistently and adjust it.

The idea of a gravity-oriented ride being this nimble would have seemed laughable just a few years back:
The idea of a gravity-oriented ride being this nimble would have seemed laughable just a few years back:

The idea of a gravity-oriented ride being this all-round nimble would have seemed laughable just a few years back

We can’t fault the Enduro for injecting the maximum amount of speed and enthusiasm into every riding situation. Not only is it extremely light for a 165mm (6.5in) travel bike (and lighter than most 130mm trail bikes) but the Roval Traverse wheels are also very light for such a wide-rimmed set. Specialized has opted for its ‘trail weight’ Control carcass for the Butcher and Slaughter treads rather than the heavier duty ‘Grid’ version.

This creates a steed that lights up off the line or out of corners like an XC bike and is happy challenging shorter-travel rides for summit or Strava honours on climbs. The super-short rear end makes it a joy to whip and flick around, while the front end stays locked in, from a chassis perspective at least. Even with the relatively long stem the slack head angle gives tons of front end confidence and composure.

The Roval wheels are flexy under pressure, with the back end smearing and stepping out through corners. That keys into the ‘let it rip’ ride character well but if you want a bike that drills through rockeries and corners rather than shimmying and drifting you’ll want stiffer hoops. While tubeless valves make it easy to increase tyre survivability, more aggro riders will want to switch to heavier rubber for big-mountain use.

You may find yourself mystifyingly calm when hammering the Enduro

Verdict

Two rides set themselves head and shoulders above the rest in our recent long-travel trail / enduro / all-mountain / what-d'you-call-it bike test. If full-gas downhills thrill are your bag, you should certainly give Mondraker's Dune R – with its superb suspension and geometry, but some kit flaws – the once-over too.

But ultimately Specialized’s ultra-responsive, state-of-the-art suspended, flat-out fun Enduro Elite just shades the Dune as the standout ripper, in our opinion. Having ridden the equally sorted and entertaining 29er, big riders shouldn’t be too gutted that the 650b wheeled version isn’t an option for them either.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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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