While the Rhyme Carbon Comp is described as one of Specialized’s women’s specific trail bike, with it’s 150mm travel front and rear it’s a bike that definitely sits more towards the all-mountain/trail end of the spectrum.
The Specialized Rhyme Carbon Comp 6Fattie/29 is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women’s bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.
Plenty of travel means that the Rhyme will take rolling through rough trails, rocky sections as well as larger drops and hits in its stride, but there is a trade-off with climbing ability.
Designed to take either 29er wheels or 27.5+ / 650b+, you can choose which to go for when you purchase the bike, and switch them around afterwards, though you would need to buy a second set of wheels to do this.
I tested the 650b+ version — or, as Specialized likes to call it, 6Fattie — which comes with a 150mm travel fork and a SRAM GX 1×11 groupset.
The Specialized is based around a carbon frame with an alloy rear triangleMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
Specialized Rhyme Carbon Comp frame
The Rhyme Carbon Comp comes, unsurprisingly given the name, with a carbon frame constructed from Specialized’s FACT 9m carbon in a size-specific layup that’s designed to shave weight where it’s not needed.
It’s been around for a few years now, and the Rhyme’s women’s-specific geometry, which manifests in part as a shorter reach, is looking a little dated. The reach on the size medium is 414mm, whereas for comparison purposes the reach on the Juliana Joplin in a size medium is 430mm.
SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) is Specialized’s on-board storage systemMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
This, along with the smaller sizes on offer (the Rhyme goes down to a size XS) would work well for smaller riders or those towards the lower end of each size range, though as ever it’s worth having a good test ride and getting fitted on the bike to be sure.
Reach, apart from being an element of getting the right fit, also has implications for handling and control of the bike.
Bikes with a shorter reach can feel more manoeuvrable and nimble, able to twist and turn and respond to rapid changes in direction quickly. The trade-off is that they can feel twitchy and nervy, and less planted and stable on steeper terrain.
The SWAT door opens to reveal a space in the down tube with room for tools, snacks or a small jacketMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
Longer bikes tend to feel very stable, able to carve around berms and handle rough or steep technical terrain with a composed and confident feel. And again there is a trade-off where tighter terrain can feel sluggish.
For those who like to ride with minimum encumbrance, the Specialized SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) compartment, which is concealed within the down tube behind the bottle cage, is big enough for a small tool roll, spare inner tubes, ride snacks — whatever you fancy!
Specialized Rhyme Carbon Comp spec
While the groupset is SRAM GX, the crankset is the RaceFace AeffectMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
While not outstanding for the price, the Rhyme does have a decent spec, with a few notable exceptions.
SRAM GX 1×11 groupset with RaceFace Aeffect cranks is a robust choice, though doesn’t have the same wide spread of gears as the GX Eagle 1×12 groupset. The cassette offers a 10-42t range and I did notice harder gearing on climbs, or to be more accurate I missed the easier gear offered by the 50t sprocket on Eagle.
I was also disappointed to see RockShox Revelation RC forks at this price point. For a bike that’s designed for reasonably aggressive riding, these forks are a weak point and I would have expected to see something like RockShox Pike RC or Fox 34s.
Alloy handlebars with a decent 750mm width and 27mm rise form the basis of the cockpitMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
For the money, a Pike or 34 would represent better value for money, certainly when compared to other bikes in this price range. The damping of the more basic Motion Control damper in the Revelation is also below par when compared to the Pike, feeling a touch harsher and less supple on smaller hits.
This is something I’d definitely look to upgrade to get the best out of the bike, though for general trail riding the forks are sufficient.
The wheels are Specialized’s own Roval Traverse tubeless-ready with Boost-width axle spacing, fitted with a 2.8in Specialized Butcher tyre up front and a faster-rolling 2.8in Slaughter at the rear.
An inner rim width of 29mm is pretty skinny for a bike with the 650b+ setup I tested. Something like 35mm would be better for giving the plus-sized tyres a stiffer feeling and a firmer, more secure base in the rim. However, the Grid casing on the Butcher and Slaughter helps stiffen the sidewalls up for slightly more tyre stability in the corners.
Butcher and Slaughter plus-sized tyres come on Roval Traverse wheelsMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
Plus-tyres are notoriously fiddly to set up: too soft and the tyre rolls all over the place, too hard and you’re pinged about the trail, so it’s definitely worth investing in a digital pressure gauge to get the right tyre pressure for the conditions you’re riding.
However, once you do have the pressure right, the reward is incredible grip, which gives you the confidence to go hard into corners, ride through slick mud and power over wet roots. It’s not quite glue-like but the rounded profile and bigger contact patch you get with plus-tyres is a massive plus-point if you ride in wet conditions a lot and traction is your goal.
The downside is, of course, a draggier feeling when riding uphill.
The suspension design combined with the RockShox Monarch RT shock gives a plush feeling that softens hits, complemented by those fat tyres.
SRAM Guide R brakes are a good quality set for a bike with an aggressive trail purposeMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
However, the Specialized autosag feature, which is designed to automatically set up the sag on the shock, was a disappointment. In short, despite several attempts, it didn’t work, so I resorted to the old-school traditional method of just doing it myself.
Both the forks and shock have Specialized’s ‘Women’s RX tune’ which is designed for lighter riders. This is a lighter compression tune — effectively the route that oil is channelled through is more open in the shocks’ damper, freeing up the flow of oil.
The Command dropper post was too short on travel for my likingMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
SRAM Guide R brakes with a four-piston design are powerful, ideal for a bike that’s designed towards more aggressive trail riding, and they worked consistently well for me.
The Rhyme is fitted with Specialized’s own Command Post dropper seatpost with 125mm of travel on the large, 100mm of travel on the small and medium sizes and 75mm on the extra small size. While adequate, this isn’t a whole lot of travel and on the size medium I tested I would have liked to have been able to drop the saddle more on steeper terrain.
Women’s specific design
Specialized is moving away from women’s specific geometry, and the Rhyme will be replaced by the new Stumpjumper in 2019Matt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
The Rhyme is one of a number of bikes in the Specialized lineup with a frame designed for female riders with a geometry distinct from the men’s equivalent bike, the Stumpjumper.
However, Specialized is in the process of refining its approach to bike design. As the owner of the Retul bike fit system, it has access to body dimension and fit data from thousands of riders, male and female, covering all disciplines of cycling. As a result of this ‘rider first’ approach, Specialized has moved away from women’s specific geometry. The data suggests that an updated unisex design, which takes into account female rider data as well as male, performs well for both.
Both fork and shock have a women’s specific ‘Women’s RX’ tuneMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
The upshot of this is that certain models of bikes are being phased out. For example, on the road side of things, the S-Works Amira will be replaced by the new unisex S-Works Tarmac.
In the case of the Rhyme, 2018 is the last year it will be available, with the new Stumpjumper replacing it from the 2019 model year onwards. The Stumpjumper will be available as a women’s model, but this will have a unisex frame with women’s specific contact points, such as the saddle.
Specialized Rhyme Carbon Comp overall impression
Saddles are personal, but I found the Specialized Myth saddle very comfyMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
The set up is fiddly, and does need some time spent on it to make sure the suspension and tyre pressure are right for the trail conditions.
However, once I’d got that dialled in, this bike was a blast. Those plus tyres provide incredible grip, making short work of corners, slick mud and off-camber roots. Combined with the alloy rear triangle and suspension setup, the result is a bike that’s agile and springy, making short work of rocky descents, drops and jumps.
I found the autosag feature not particularly effective in setting the sag pointMatt Wragg / Immediate Media Co
If you want something that carries speed incredibly well, the Rhyme delivers. Those plus-tyres just roll over the top of the surface that would hook up other bikes.
The forks aren’t great for the money and are part of the reason for the score drop, but if you’re more interested in a quality frame with a versatile setup, then the Rhyme Carbon Comp will ride excellently and upgrade even better.
Specialized Rhyme Carbon Comp pricing, sizing and availability
The Rhyme Carbon Comp is available for £3,500 / $3,500. The Carbon Comp isn’t available in Australia, but for AU$3,600 you can get the alloy-framed Rhyme Comp.
It’s available in four sizes, XS, S, M and L, and since it has a women’s specific frame design there isn’t a larger size in a unisex alternative.