Specialized Pitch Sport 650b review£500.00

Budget trail basher from the big S is a bit of a disappointment

BikeRadar score3/5

While most bikes at this price are fitted with larger 29” wheels, Specialized’s entry-level Pitch range rolls on 650b versions. That pays dividends in terms of a much more playful and agile ride feel, but upright-feeling geometry combined with an uncontrolled fork mean that exploiting that isn’t always easy.

Using smaller wheels allows the front end to be much lower than a 29er, meaning it’s easy to hustle the Pitch in the turns, with an agile and direct feel rather than the oft cumbersome sensation of a big wheeler.

A relatively short stem aids that agility, but the narrow bar does you no favours at all when it comes to wrestling the bike once speeds get higher. The riding position is fairly upright, with a relatively short frame.

We’re not huge fans of the ‘ergonomic’ grips either, which have broad sections on them to support your palm. They’re great for comfortable leisure riding, but hamper control on proper off-road trails. 

The low front-end gives agile handling in combination with the relatively short stem
The low front-end gives agile handling in combination with the relatively short stem

We’re also a little disappointed to see an 8-speed cassette at the back paired to Shimano Altus shifters. It’s got a decent overall range thanks to the a 34T big sprocket and a 42/32/22T triple chainset up front, but the jumps between gears are pretty gappy and neither lever-feel nor shifts are particularly crisp.

The Tektro disc brakes may well be proper hydraulic units, but they feel much more wooden than the best budget units out there. They also lack overall power and bite, meaning it’s hard to fully place your confidence in them when you want to haul up in a hurry.

If you get on with the riding position, it’s a good place to start upgrading

The aluminium frame is very nicely made, with shapely hydroformed curves that help give it the impression of being less of a budget machine than it really is, especially when combined with the big brand cachet.

Usefully, it has a full complement of rack and mudguard mounts too. You also get a non-drive side dropout that’s got an attachment point for a trailer, hinting that the true target of this bike is perhaps someone that wants a rugged, do-it-all machine rather than a dedicated off-roader.

A complete weight of 13.8kg means that should you head to the hills, getting to the top won’t be too unpleasant however and if you get on with the riding position it’s a good place to start upgrading.

The Suntour suspension fork is a bit of a disappointment; it's flexy and poorly dampened
The Suntour suspension fork is a bit of a disappointment; it's flexy and poorly dampened

Specialized says that the coil-sprung SR Suntour XCT fork has got custom damping inside it, but hit any sort of extended rough ground and you’ll be wondering where it is. The lack of damping control means it gets rapidly out of shape once you start hitting washboard trails or rooty sections, and combined with the flex from the skinny chassis, keeping the front-end where you want it is more a matter of luck rather than judgment.

Again, being coil-sprung means that if you vary much from what Specialized reckons is the ‘right’ weight for a rider, you’ll be under or over sprung with little recourse to fix that, save from taking it apart and changing the spring. 

The Tektro hydraulic disc brakes lack feel and power
The Tektro hydraulic disc brakes lack feel and power

On a more positive note, the Ground Control tyres do a respectable job of hanging on to grip in all but really slick conditions and they’re not too snappy when traction breaks either. Slightly higher volume rubber and wider rims would definitely help control and also turn down the amount of trail buzz that gets passed back through to you, but at this price we can’t complain too much.

The 650b hoops give a lively ride and the Ground Control tyres are decently grippy
The 650b hoops give a lively ride and the Ground Control tyres are decently grippy

Overall, if you're after a bike from a big-name brand and you're more likely to be riding tow paths than tough trails, the Pitch Sport is a well made and engaging bike, but there are better value options out there.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.

Jon Woodhouse

Technical Editor, UK
Jon's been working with bikes for as long as he can remember, from spanner monkey to product tester. He's always looking out for new kit that'll give an edge when the going gets rough and is happiest experimenting with geometry, rubber and suspension.
  • Age: 32
  • Height: 173cm / 5'8"
  • Weight: 62kg / 137lbs
  • Waist: 79cm / 31in
  • Chest: 92cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: If it involves dirt and bikes, Jon is there, whether big days out in the mountains or steep and technical plummets in the woods. It's all good.
  • Current Bikes: Mondraker Foxy Carbon, BTR Fabrications Custom hardtail, Scott Spark 700 Plus Tuned
  • Dream Bike: Nicolai Ion 16 Longest, made from carbon
  • Beer of Choice: Franziskaner Weissbier
  • Location: Monmouth, South Wales, UK

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