Specialized Camber Expert 29er review

I’m going to start this review by giving you my conclusion on the Specialized Camber straight away: It’s one of the most fun bikes I’ve ridden. It’s also seriously capable, light, fast and well specified for the money.

Specialized Camber Expert 29er.
Specialized Camber Expert 29er.

Okay, so £3,500 is a load of money, but you do get a full carbon fibre frame that produces an all-up weight comfortably under 28lbs. It’s thoughtfully specced with equipment that you won’t need to change when you roll it out of the shop, including a wide handlebar/short stem combo, quality tyres, a decent dropper post, 2×10 drivetrain and Fox’s latest CTD fork and AutoSag shock.

Frame

The carbon fibre frame is where a lot of the £3,500 goes. The Camber range does start at a more affordable £1,500 though and aside from the material switch to aluminium, it’s virtually the same bike. The Expert here is the top of a four model range.

Full carbon frame and internal cable routing for the dropper post. Tapered head tube up front.
Full carbon frame and internal cable routing for the dropper post. Tapered head tube up front.

Specialized really know how to do carbon these days and it certainly shows on the Camber Expert; this is one well designed and constructed frame. Their own FACT 9m carbon fibre is used and has a tapered head tube, PressFit 30mm bottom bracket, direct mount front mech and internal dropper cable routing. Move further back and there’s an M5 aluminium swingarm with a 142mm bolt-thru axle, post disc mounts and replaceable mech hanger. Chainstays are reasonably short at 447mm, with a 1147mm wheelbase.

Clearance around the back wheel is a tad limited, a result of cramming the big wheels into a frame with 110mm travel and short-ish chainstays. Having said that, I had no problems with clogging through the winter months though with the supplied tyres.

The Camber sits in Specialized’s ‘trail’ range of bikes, and this plays out when you check out the geometry chart for this bike. It has a 71° head angle (on the medium tested) which keeps the steering nimble and involving. We might have expected a slightly slacker head angle, but any concerns soon vanished out on the trail. This bike handles well.

Specialized bikes usually sit in the ‘long and low’ category of bike shapes, and the Camber followed this design rule. The geometry certainly bears this out. The seat angle is quite steep at 71°, and the overall result is a relatively long front centre. It didn’t feel like a long bike to ride though, and it’s stable at speed and planted through the corners, thanks to the low centre of gravity that the low bottom bracket creates.

Suspension

Setting the suspension up couldn’t be any easier. The new Fox shock has the latest Autosag technology. It’s really simple to use, simply load up the shock with 300psi, remove shock pump, sit on the bike (best done with your riding gear on) and then release the excess air via the red Autosag valve. I found the resulting pressure spot on for my weight and riding style. There’s nothing to stop you adding or releasing a bit of air if you need in the usual way.

FSR's excellent four bar suspension design, compact and efficient.
FSR’s excellent four bar suspension design, compact and efficient.

The shock and the Fox Float Performance Series 29 fork feature the new-for-2013 CTD damping control dials. These letters stand for Climb, Trail, Descend, and replace the old numbering system. With this new system it’s certainly easier to dial the suspension in than it used to be, and gives a good range of adjustable low-speed compression damping. I found my favourite setting to be leaving the fork in descend mode the whole time and alternating the shock between trail and descend, for typical trail rides with plenty of climbing and descending.

The rear suspension is Specialized’s long-running FSR. It’s changed appearance a fair bit over the years, but it’s still a four-bar design at heart. And it’s one of the best suspension designs out there, with a fabulous feel no matter what terrain you take it over, or how hard you treat it. It’s lively and responsive, doesn’t bog down under pedalling nor does it bob excessively, even with the lowest level of damping.

On paper 110mm of travel at both ends may sound a bit short, but bombing around local trails and a few trips to Wales and other places in between, it showed no shortcomings. There was the odd occasion on longer rocky/steppy descent that I found the limits of the fork, but rarely did I long for more travel. The bigger wheels go some way to compensating for the small lack of travel compared to an equivalent 120mm 26in-wheeled bike.

I was impressed with how stiff the fork proved to be at the same time, though you can certainly detect a hint of vagueness when really giving it some beans. It would be nice if Specialized just adopted the 15mm thru-axle standard that most other manufacturers are doing these days, for the added security and stiffness.

Equipment

The groupset is a mix of SRAM X7 and X9, with a custom carbon SRAM S-2200 crankset, complete with a neat carbon bash-guard and 36/22 chainrings. Brakes are Formula T1 S with MatchMaker mounts (which saves space on the bars) and 180/160mm rotors. Aside from the rear brake pads vanishing into dust after the first couple of rides, the brakes were flawless, with loads of modulated power. The rear mech is a Type 2 with a roller bearing clutch to eliminate the chain slapping about over rough terrain. It really makes a difference, and keeps the chain from derailing even when the going gets rough.

SRAM XO Type-2 rear mech stops the chain flapping in the wind.
SRAM XO Type-2 rear mech stops the chain flapping in the wind.

Finishing kit all carries the Specialized logo. Nice to see a 720mm wide handlebar and 75mm stem to give a short and wide cockpit. The stem length is size specific, so there’s a 60mm stem on the small Camber and a 105mm on the XL and XXL. Saddle is a Body Geometry Henge Comp and is as comfortable as saddles get.

You get a Specialized Command Post Blacklite dropper post on this Expert model. It has 125mm drop and perhaps its best feature is three-step drop. Dropping it down just halfway is incredibly useful a lot of the time, on the trails that don’t demand the saddle be slammed to allow you to hang off the back of the bike. It’s operated by a cable actuated remote handlebar lever.

The performance and reliability has impressed a lot, and it’s been one of the most dependable mechanical dropper posts I’ve tried in the past couple of months. You can buy it separately for £250 and I’d recommend it if you’re in the market for a dropper post.

Wheels are Roval Control Trail 29 and they’re fitted with the excellent Ground Control 2Bliss tyres: a 2.3in up front and 2.1in out back. These proved seriously capable tyres. Even in the brunt of the winter they managed to hook up well in the mud and they offer a predictable and easily tameable slide when the limit of traction is breached. You get all the valves and bits you need to go tubeless as well, should you wish. Specialized really do think about the details.

I didn’t feel compelled to change anything on the bike, but I did switch to a 50mm stem (that’s just my personal preference, even for trail bikes leaning towards cross-country).

Ride

So, the important part of this review, how does it ride? Very well is the simple and honest answer. What I’ve really taken away from riding the Camber is just how much fun it has been. It’s a fantastically capable all-round trail bike, as happy on all-day epics as it is hitting up your favourite singletrack and cruising back up to the top.

It’s light enough, and the suspension is so well balanced, that you can easily aim it towards any marathons or other epic rides you have planned. But if it’s just a bike for thrashing around your local trails that you’re looking for, the Camber is happy doing that too. Don’t be mistaken into thinking it’s a cross-country bike, it’s right up there with the best trail bikes.

The Camber just feels good too. The length of the bike, the geometry and the low bottom bracket give it predictable handling, and it sits down well through corners when pushed hard. Throwing it through the turns reveals it has a neutral and balanced handling. It may have big wheels, but this is no barge. It’s easy to pick the line you want, and to hold onto it as the tyres scrabble for traction. Specialized really have nailed the 29er geometry.

The big wheels give the Camber great stability at speed, it feels comfortable launching off drops and over jumps. And it makes a mockery of rooty and rocky climbs too, it just scrambles up and over them with no fuss. The composed suspension certainly helps in these situations.

I had fun every single time I’ve ridden the Camber. It’s a complete package that ticks every single box a trail/all-mountain bike should.

Verdict

Fun, fast, agile, light, capable; the Camber is a seriously impressive bit of kit. If you’re in the market for short travel 29er, give the Camber some consideration.

Pros

Fun
Fast
Light
Well equipped

Cons

Pricey

Web: Specialized Camber Expert 29er
Price: £3,500
Weight: 26.5lbs

Geometry (medium size tested)

  • Head: 70°
  • Seat: 71°
  • Chainstays: 447mm
  • Wheelbase: 1147mm
  • Bottom Bracket Height: 336mm
  • Stack: 601mm
  • Reach: 418mm
  1. Matt D

    I totally agree with the review. Had this bike since early december and its superb.
    Just got back from a week in and around the Forest of Dean/S Wales and it was amazing at the trail centres.
    The momentum and speed it carries compared to my previous Five and Foxy before that, is the riding highlight.
    It looks great too.
    Highly recommended.

  2. chris-m

    There’s not much negativity in this article, David. I would like to see you be a little more picky and give some information on overall design, including bearing design and quality, please. Are the frames guaranteed for life? Are the bearings guaranteed for life? Etc.
    .
    It would be nice to know about fiddly things like cable routing and is it designed well enough so that there is little chance of cable contamination (as far as a bike can be, that is). Bikes like Lapierre have very poor cable routing, as do Cube bikes, so it’d be nice to know how these things on other bikes are designed, please. Thanks.

  3. The butcher

    I’m in complete agreement with dave on the spesh. It’s one of, if the most balanced bikes I’ve ever ridden. It manuals, jumps, rips around turns and is mega fun (for a 29er)! Ha ha. Who gives two hoots about the cable routing.

  4. Heihei

    I’ll give you a negative – I hated the command post and have switched it out for a Lev. Other than that, the review is spot-on. Since getting this bike in October, I’ve not ridden my Mojo HD and sold my On One 456. I’ve added some carbon wheels, an XX cassette, and wider carbon bars, which takes the weight under 26lbs. Set up like this, it’s a rocket both up and down!

  5. Matt D

    I also don’t rate the Command post having had a Reverb previously. Asked for it to be swapped over when I bought the Camber and was told the cable at 5mm wouldn’t fit through the internal routing. Assume the Lev has 4mm cable?

  6. chris-m

    It is a great review as always. Dave makes his reviews sound like it’s your Buddy telling you about his bike, which is very personable.
    .
    However, Butcher, there are so many badly designed bikes out there, which have incredibly bad details such as their cable routing. It may ride nice, but if its a pain in the rear to look after then, to me, how it rides is only 70% of the equation. If you spend a lot of time replacing cables, replacing bearings, etc, then it does definitely matter.
    .
    Technology had advanced so much, that details like these should be a thing of the past, IMHO.

  7. andy g

    I have the comp 2012 version – covered around 2400 miles so far and it has only every let me down once – had to upgrade the BB to a ceramic version.. awesome bike though

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