The new version of Specialized’s ever popular Camber is claimed to be stiffer at the rear thanks to a new linkage, and it’s a little longer at the front too. Will it prove a worthy successor?
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This review was updated on 22 June 2017 to include our video review, which you'll find below.
The alloy rear end uses Spesh’s tried-and-true ‘FSR’ four-bar Horst Link suspension system to provide 120mm of travel. This is mated to a carbon front triangle which, excitingly, has a secret hidden door in it!
Lift up the SWAT (Storage, Water, Air and Tools) hatch under the bottle cage and there’s enough room to store a tube, pump and snacks.
A mix of SRAM’s GX and NX makes up a solid 11-speed drivetrain, while non-series Shimano brakes with massive rotors provide powerful stopping. Specialized’s Command IRcc dropper has proven reliable, its saddle and grips are testers’ favourites, and the Purgatory and Ground Control tyres are relatively grippy and fast-rolling.
The Performance series Fox Float DPS shock uses Specialized’s ‘Autosag’ system for super-easy set-up, making the RockShox Revelation fork this bike’s Achilles heel.
Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 29 ride impression
Pump the shock up to 300psi, sit on the saddle, press the red Autosag button and you’re ready to go. That’s the theory, but we found a little more fettling fruitful. More on that later...
The Camber’s 76-degree effective seat angle is steep compared to bikes such as the Norco Optic C9.2. This puts you in a comfy position for tackling steep, technical climbs.
The FSR layout keeps pedal bob in check, delivering an efficient ride without the need to lock out the shock.
The Spesh was performed well when it came to climbing comfort. It sprints along flat ground and trail centre terrain nicely, is stable under pedalling, and feels stiff and responsive, too. But with a 28t chainring and 11t smallest sprocket (as opposed to the 10t found on posher SRAM drivetrains), it runs out of steam easily as speeds pick up.
The 90mm stem fitted to XL Cambers is as welcome as a fart in a space suit. It makes the bike feel nervous and precarious, especially on steep terrain or in tight bends. To avoid the bike running wide or tucking under, a shorter tiller is a must. (Specialized do spec slightly shorter stems on the smaller sizes.)
Fortunately, the frame is relatively roomy. With a long 478mm reach (claimed) there’s room to fit a shorter stem without putting the bar in your lap. I went for a 50mm number. This took the handling from ‘wayward shopping trolley’ to ‘housefly’ and enabled the low bottom bracket to come to the fore, helping the Camber to whizz through tight trail sections with addictive agility.
The steep 69-degree head angle is a little twitchy at speed. It’s a lively, agile ride, if not the most stable and confidence inspiring.
Running the Autosag-prescribed 25 percent sag, the shock wasn’t as sensitive off the top as I’d have liked and the Camber didn’t feel as ‘stuck to the ground’ as bikes such as the Trek Fuel EX 9 29.
Upping sag towards 30 percent and adding a volume spacer to stop it crashing through its travel helped to improve traction and stabilise the handling enormously.
Sadly, I wasn't able to work similar wonders with the RockShox Revelation fork. It binds and sticks on braking bumps, causing jarring through the bar. Along with the flexy (non Boost, low spoke count) wheels, this makes for a slightly vague feel when cornering hard too. Alongside the steep head angle, this made the Camber feel unwilling to be ridden overly aggressively.
After fitting a shorter stem and indulging in some simple suspension fettling, I was able to tackle swoopy singletrack and punchy climbs with aplomb aboard the Camber. But it still gets out of its depth when the going gets gnarly.