A single glance will often be enough to tell you whether the bike you’re looking at is a blunt instrument or delicate scalpel, but Specialized’s Enduro 29 is different. The paired 155mm of rear travel and 160mm front suggest that it’s about hacking through stuff rather than delicately dissecting corners, but the big wheels and light carbon frame suggest a more nuanced approach. It’s neither a butcher nor a surgeon. It’s probably a serial killer.
Frame and equipment: moving with the times
The Enduro has been one of the Big S’s longest running models and it’s always been a pretty accurate mirror of the times when it comes to current trail riding preferences. Over time, travel has headed upwards in the same way as the titular ‘enduro’ used to mean a big long ride and now means flat-out downhills and cruised uphills. It’s also sprouted plenty of wheel options, with the current model being available as either this 29er model or as a 650b bike in both alloy and carbon frame options.
The carbon front triangle is a beautiful bit of work
The Expert Carbon is just a single step below the top dog S-Works model and, as the name suggests, it uses a carbon front triangle and chainstays with alloy linkages and seatstays.
Squeezing in so much rear travel while keeping the chainstays an impressively short, sharp handling 430mm is no simple trick, even with the broadly vertical axle path of the four-bar Horst linkage. In normal designs front deralleur clearance would be an issue, but Specialized’s managed to sidestep this by using a highly offset seat tube and a removable bottom bracket mount, though this model comes with a SRAM X01 single ring drivetrain as standard. Many riders will appreciate having the option to retrofit, however, as others such as Whyte’s SCR bikes are 1x only.
SRAM chain and ring security is boosted by a neat top guide
Geometrically, the rest of the bike is fairly conservative, with a 67.5-degree head angle and 617mm effective top tube for the large frame. We’d recommend sizing up if you prefer more reach, though our 172cm test rider was running the 125mm drop Specialized Command Post as low as it would go. Talking of sizing, smaller riders are excluded from the big wheel party as frames only range from M to XL. The frame construction is excellent however, with the seatmast and top tube bisecting to form a neat shell into which the shock sits. A shock shuttle helps reduce side loading on the Cane Creek Double Barrel Air shock and cornering stiffness from the frame is very impressive.
Ride and handling: a Jekyll and Hyde experience
Jumping onto the Enduro and heading upwards gives no indication of anything untoward. The 13.3kg mass is very respectable for a 29er with such long travel and it heads upwards with enthusiasm, especially on stuttery singletrack climbs, where the big wheels mute chatter and the own brand pairing of tubeless ready semi-slick rear Slaughter and more aggressive Butcher is a well thought out combination. Running them tubeless is no bad plan either, as they don’t have the tougher Grid sidewalls, though the 2.3in volume is decent enough, especially on the broad 29mm Roval Traverse Fattie wheels.
Own brand Specialized rubber is plenty grippy
With so much travel, it’s hard not to notice the overall height of the front end, though Specialized has thankfully fitted a flat top cap on the integrated headset, which, along with the low-rise bars, allows you to drop it all the way. Our bike came fitted with a 60mm stem, which is definitely preferable to the 75mm item the Large frame is supposed to come equipped with.
Along with the not-overly wide 750mm bars, for such a seemingly imposing bike the handling is really rather inoffensive uphill. It’ll gladly sniff its way around tight switchbacks and threading through rolling singletrack is a joy. Some of that benign performance comes from the Cane Creek shock. With the compression and rebound damping adjustable for both high and low speed response plus the on-off Climb Switch, it’s possible to fine tune it to your exact preference, though expect to spend your first few rides doing that and nothing else. Get it tweaked and it’s bang on, as is the RockShox Pike in plain RC damper cartridge format. You can adjust the rebound and low speed compression and we didn’t miss anything else thanks to the superb balance of the Charger damper.
At the top of our first descent, we couldn’t help worrying that we’d be slightly underwhelmed by the downhill performance. Surely so well mannered a machine uphill would quickly get out of its depth when things got nasty on the return. We needn’t have worried. Think less about wolf in sheep’s clothing and more about a Tyrannosaurus rex. Within a few pedal turns of the crisp 11-speed transmission we already had to compensate for the additional speed we were heading into corners.
Point it downhill and the Enduro 29 changes character completely
The way the bike carries speed over rough ground is a revelation and while the extremely long-legged Pike has a noticeable amount more flex than 650b versions, it’s only really an issue on super-tight switchbacks, where that and the low spoke count of the front wheel can get the bike wanting to push outwards to the edge of the turn rather than tracking round it. We had more hand fatigue on extended chop too, possibly due to the increased leverage between the legs and lowers of the stretched chassis causing slight binding.
We were left wanting a little bit more leverage from the bars for rough line wrestling duties too, but the own brand grips don’t have end caps, so it’s easy to run your hands slightly off the edge. The Guide R brakes offer up plenty of stopping gusto too. With careful tweaking of the shock, it’s also possible to balance playful pop-off lips with deep stroke control, putting paid to the idea that big travel 29ers can’t be fun, aided again by those short chainstays. Admittedly, trying to weave it through super-tight sections will leave you feeling that you’re slightly out of tune with the music the trail is playing, but give it time and plenty of explicit and deliberate bike lean rather than bar and body input and you’ll soon find the rhythm.
The Enduro's well-mannered climbing ability contrasts with its downhill grunt to create a true all-mountain ride
Summary: an all-mountain bike in the truest sense
We’ve no doubt that the bike could be even more brutally effective downhill if it was even slacker, lower and longer, but we would kind of miss the balanced all-rounder that it currently is. As it stands, on the more open and rough sections of our testing tracks, it tore gaping holes into previous times and didn’t suffer too much in the tight stuff either.
So, to come back to our slightly mixed metaphor, the Enduro 29 is a sociopathic killer, but only of trails. It’s all mild manners and smart answers when you’re playing nicely uphill or along, but it’s a ruthless predator when given the chance. It’s surprising, scary and shockingly good fun.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.