Specialized weren’t showing much of anything new at this year’s Sea Otter Classic, aside from the elusive Demo Carbon downhill bikes, which were tough to nail down. However, they did have two retro racers from the mid-1990s on their stand which were arguably more interesting.
Ned Overend’s old Specialized S-Works Ultimate was a stunning machine back in its day (and still is), built with custom carbon fiber tubing bonded into titanium lugs TIG-welded by Merlin Metalworks. Barely two inches of travel came courtesy of the Specialized Futureshok – a variant of RockShox’s Mag 21 – and braking power was provided by a set of machined aluminum Avid Tri-Align cantilever brakes. Down below, Shimano’s eight-speed XTR derailleurs and cassette were matched to a pair of Grip Shift shifters.
Shaun Palmer’s Specialized FSR shows how downhill racing has changed since 1996. Back then, all-out speed was often a deciding factor rather than the ability to navigate treacherous and steep terrain. As compared to contemporary downhill rigs, the gearing is inordinately tall and the spindly stanchions on the dual-crown Manitou fork likely wouldn’t even survive a modern World Cup course. Nevertheless, Palmer won a silver medal at the 1996 World Championships on this machine.