While they’ve already early-introduced some ‘2015’ 650b bikes, Specialized’s official 2014 range is all about 29ers. Is the Crave Comp a good advert for better quality big-wheeled bikes rather than budget full-suspension?
Frame and equipment: up to scratch
As well as a name change (it was the Carve) the Crave gets a new triple-butted frameset for 2014 that cuts over 200g from the 19in size. Thinner-walled tubes have enabled Specialized to achieve this weight loss while also making the top tube wider (and slightly lower) and upping the size of the chainstays for increased drive stiffness. The seatstays are flattened to give a smoother ride feel – something often missing in alloy frames – while the conventional BB makes replacement easy compared to a press-fit set-up.
Specialized has clearly invested a lot of cash in the new frame, and a little more or less cash at this price can create a big difference in spec, especially when it comes to forks. The Comp 29 gets a 32mm-legged RockShox Recon rather than one of the 30mm forks found on lower specced bikes, and this makes a big difference to steering and braking stiffness. There’s no point complaining about the obvious flex that gets in via the quick-release rather than bolt-through axle because every other bike in this price range has a QR front end too.
Specialized’s oversized front hub and broad-rimmed Stout SL wheels do a decent job of creating an obedient front end anyway. Own-brand kit dominates the rest of the Crave’s spec too, but again that’s no bad thing.
Ride and handling: nimble – and a bit scary
At under 12kg, the ‘basic’ Crave is light for a big wheeled, metal framed machine. The semi-slick rear tyre rolls well too, and the fork remote control is right under your thumb for instant sprinting lockout. Like all mid-weight 29ers, trying to get it moving out of corners or up climbs takes a bit of poking though, and it’s definitely better at sustaining momentum than gaining it compared with smaller-wheeled bikes.
The Crave handles nippily for a 29er – though this can make for hairy moments when the going gets rocky
Despite the inherent stability of the big wheels, the handling is every bit as fast as on a 26er. The short stem, 700mm bar and 71.5-degree head angle mean the front wheel tucks in quickly to get round corners at slow speeds. That does make it a lot less stable than most 29ers at speed though, and it’s easy to ‘trip up’ over the fork when braking, cornering or both. While the clutch rear mech keeps the chain quiet, our nerves were often more rattled on faster, rockier descents.
The wide rims and tyres, manipulated frame tubes, generally smooth fork and the quality own-brand Henge saddle and flanged grips keep things comfortable (for a hardtail at least) on longer rides though, so if the handling suits, then it’s a good spend for overall speed.