Specialized takes its XC racing very seriously, and while its new Epic full-suspension bike has grabbed the headlines, the Chisel is a crazy-quick addition to the quiver.
Interestingly, that speed comes from using cutting-edge construction techniques to produce a really old-school, whip-fast ride.
Specialized Chisel Expert 1X frame and kit
It’s striking just how skinny and minimal the frame is. The top-tube tapers back and goes from square to rounded in a shallow curve, while the round down-tube heads straight to the threaded bottom bracket (which should last longer than a press-fit unit) from a braced and hooked top end.
Unbraced chainstays curve out from the base of the seat tube, then kink to reach the Boost dropouts. The seatstays take a broad path up past the tyre before curving into the seat tube without a brace.
Tiny bullet hole ports on the down tube swallow the gear cable and brake hose (with two more left open). Bolted axles secure the wheels for minimal weight.
The Chisel accelerates with shocking speed as each power phase coils it up and then releases whatever energy you feed into it Steve Behr / Immediate Media
Spesh has kitted out the Chisel Expert with 1×11 SRAM GX. Weight watchers will probably want to swap the PG-1130 cassette for a lighter Shimano or SunRace one, but the bike is otherwise stripped out.
The 2018 Reba fork gets a leg-top lockout rather than a heavier remote, the RaceFace crankset uses a direct-mount chainring and there are only 24 spokes in the front wheel.
I’m glad Spesh hasn’t saved weight by fitting narrow rims, because the healthy 25mm internal width of the own-brand hoops gives noticeable tyre float. The extra money also buys you SRAM Level TL brakes.
There’s an old-school feel to the flat bar, 100mm stem and long, skinny 27.2mm seatpost. With Spesh’s new ‘GRIPTON’ rubber compound and a super-supple carcass, the Fast Trak tyres are much grippier than you might expect from a look at their low-profile tread.
Specialized Chisel Expert 1X ride impressions
Supple is a word that characterises the whole Chisel character too. Not in a soft and ductile way, but with the kind of whip-spring feel we’d normally associate with old-school super-slim steel and titanium.
That means you can feel the whole bike distort underneath you as soon as you push the power down through the pedals. And not just through the bottom bracket and rear end — the whole front end twists around, if you really get your shoulders involved.
SRAM’s oversized ‘Torque Caps’ are used on the Chisel’s front hub to increase the contact area of the fork and wheel, and thus boost stiffness Steve Behr / Immediate Media
At this point, many power-meter-obsessed racers will be wondering why on earth you’d want a race bike so flexy that you can see it twist out of shape when following from behind. Let alone feel it turn almost liquid through the bar and notice the equally flexy wheels take different lines as you dump your sprint through it…
However, the Chisel accelerates with shocking speed as each power phase coils it up and then releases whatever energy you feed into it. The compliance of the chassis, tyres and wheels also means fantastic levels of traction as the bike keys into tiny surface irregularities in a way stiffer machines just can’t replicate.
That applies through corners too, and the frame and wheel flex and long stem/narrow bar cockpit mean you’re less likely to overload the tyres. If you’re into the whole whip vibe, then the fact you can start the next corner on flat-out fast singletrack before you’ve even finished the last one adds a whole new level of thrill and involvement.
The way the Chisel soaks up ground shock, from tiny rattles to serious rock swipes, means it flows across rough terrain with an almost e-bike/plus-tyred level of speed sustain. That makes it blissfully comfortable on longer rides too, so the longer I rode it, the more I fell in love with it.