Specialized shifts all-mountain goalposts for 2007 - Bike Magic

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Specialized shifts all-mountain goalposts for 2007

It’s hard work being a major bicycle manufacturer. Not only do you have to keep coming up with new stuff, but you have to cater for an ever-wider array of riding styles and hence end up with a bunch of different models that constantly need tweaking to keep them appealing to the people for whom they were originally designed.

All of which brings us to Specialized, and more specifically the Enduro. As the name suggests, the Enduro was first conceived as a ride all day, do it all kind of bike. But what with being pretty stoutly built and packing a fair bit of travel for the time, it was inevitable that people would start doing things with them that lay somewhat outside the original design parameters.

Naturally enough, Specialized responded, and each iteration of the Enduro got a bit more travel and a bit more strength until by the 2006 model year it was less “all-mountain” and more pedallable freeride bike. Which was all well and good, but seemed to leave a lightweight, long-travel, do-it-all hole in the range.

So for 2007 the current Enduro platform lives on only in a range of SX Trail light freeride bikes, all with coil shocks and burly specs but without having the word “Enduro” on them. And slotting in next door is the all-new Enduro SL, which at first glance appears to be occupying the same sort of space as the Scott Ransom and Santa Cruz Nomad but upon closer inspection looks like it could be about to move the all-mountain goalposts clear off the field. The new bike was revealed recently at Specialized’s European marketing office in Bavaria, which has some rather handy nearby mountains…

The Enduro SL is noteworthy in all sorts of ways, so much so that it’s difficult to know where to start. But one particular aspect of the bike is likely to have far-reaching consequences throughout the industry – rather than buying in suspension components, Specialized has opted to design and manufacture its own forks and shocks.

This isn’t a completely unprecedented move. Cannondale has been making its own forks for as long as it’s been doing suspension bikes, Scott is well-known for making its own rear shocks and Specialized itself dabbled with forks under the Future Shock banner in the early 90s. But its new suspension strategy is of remarkable scope. Specialized is far and away the biggest company to start doing its own suspension, and it’s not just dabbling – Specialized shocks will be found on bikes across the 2007 range, and the Enduro SL features an all-new Specialized fork too.

It’s a bold move, but Specialized clearly believes that it’s the right one. The idea is that if it designs frames, shocks and forks together, the combined elements will work better together. Clearly it’ll have a lot more control over how its suspension components work than if it continued to buy them in. And of course it means more unique selling points on the bikes.

Boingy boffin

The man behind Specialized’s new suspension projects is Mike McAndrews. He’s been working in two-wheeled suspension approximately for ever, from tuning bikes for pro MX racers, through being head of R&D at RockShox for six years to heading up Fox’s fork development. He also did a stint at Maverick, and the FutureShock E150 fork is conceptually not dissimilar to Maverick’s DUC32 – it’s a long-travel trail fork that uses dual crowns to cut weight and an oversized axle to add stiffness.

Despite occupying a similar sort of place in the fork firmament, the E150 is a very different beast to the DUC, though. Starting at the bottom, the through-axle is a huge 25mm diameter – the biggest that’ll fit through a standard brake rotor. With the big axle doing most of the work in keeping the legs moving together, the brake arch can be made super-slim. 35mm stanchions are held in the two crowns, which again can be made lighter as they’re sharing the load between them. The dual-crown design also means that the steerer tube has less to do, so that can be lighter too. The top crown also incorporates the stem (which will be available in a various lengths and rises). The upshot of all this is a 150mm travel fork that weighs a claimed 4.5lb, or a whisker over 2kg.

Inside there’s a large-volume air spring in one leg and a stack of damping circuits in the other. The compression damping combines a low-speed port, a conventional shim stack and a blow-off valve called the “Spike Valve”. The idea is to allow the fork to remain still under the kinds of forces generated by the rider moving his or her weight while still allowing it to pass lots of oil quickly when a big impact comes along.

The Spike Valve and large volume air spring is also found in the AFR rear shock. One of the key benefits of designing the shock and bike together is that you can ideally match the rate curve of the suspension geometry to the spring curve of the shock to end up with the overall feel that you want.

Specialized shocks will also be found on 2007’s Stumpjumper FSR and Epic models, of which more shortly…

With Specialized suspension front and rear, the Enduro SL is the best example of this new direction. But it’s not just the suspension that’s innovative. The SL is a ground-up reinterpretation of the Enduro concept, and the needs of the all day, all-mountain rider have led to the designers doing a bunch of things differently.

The main frame is FACT carbon fibre for stiffness and light weight – the frame is claimed to weigh just 2.2kg (4.8lb). That’s without a shock, but even adding 300g (an educated and mildly pessimistic guess) for the AFR shock still gives an all-up weight of 2.5kg (5.5lb) – mightily impressive for a 150mm travel frame.

In a first for Specialized, the rear shock is driven by a rocker-style linkage – rather than the traditional FSR arrangement of a link fixed to the seatstay at one end, the main frame at the other and the shock being driven from somewhere between the two, the Enduro link is attached to the frame in the middle and has the seatstay and shock at opposite ends. This has been done for a few reasons. For a start, it allows a vertical shock position, which gets the weight of the shock nearer the middle of the bike. It considerably simplifies the structure of the frame, allows a continuous seat tube for more saddle-lowering scope (although on the Enduro that’s limited by the cranked seat tube) and makes space inside the frame for a traditionally-positioned bottle mount.

The bottom end of the shock is attached to one of two mounting holes down near the bottom bracket, giving you a choice of a steeper, taller setup or a more relaxed and low-slung one. Also in the bottom bracket area is a unique front mech mount. This is a traditionally tricky problem for full suspension designs, with manufacturers typically resorting to stub tubes or, as a last resort, E-type BB-mount derailleurs. The Enduro uses an E-type mech but without the BB plate – instead the mech bolts directly to bosses on the frame.

The whole thing is very clean-looking, and once the FutureShock E150 fork and S-Works component spec (XTR cranks, X.0 transmission, Magura brakes) have been added you end up with a remarkably light bike – it’s claimed to weigh 12.2kg (27lb), and rumour had it that the bikes at the launch were actually under 12kg on account of having 2.1in tyres rather than the 2.3in items that production bikes will have.

The ride

At the time of writing it’s July, and these bikes won’t be available until the autumn, so inevitably all sorts of things weren’t quite as they should be. Mostly this was suspension-related stuff – the AFR shock’s compression lever featured some completely bewildering labelling that no-one could understand (but the function of the lever was fortunately easily explained), the rebound clicker on the forks was excessively hard to adjust, the pre-production fork internals on a couple of the bikes started to exhibit a few odd top/bottom-out behaviours and we’re not convinced that the shock was yielding full travel. So our riding impressions are very much just a flavour of what the Enduro should ultimately have to offer.

And a very sweet flavour it is too. The main test loop that we took the Enduro round was almost exactly the sort of thing that an all-mountain bike ought to excel at – an hour-plus, not particularly technical but very steep climb followed by a descent that featured a bit of everything. Singletrack, high-speed rock gardens, boulders, ruts, drops – it certainly demanded attention.

On the way up, the E150 fork’s lockdown feature helped the bike plot a straight course. We still found ourselves having to shuffle forward on the saddle and hunker down over the bars on the steep pitches, but we’re talking properly 22/34 steep and we were running the slacker geometry setup too. The light weight and handy low-speed compression lever on the rear shock paid dividends too – we didn’t feel like we were having to work substantially harder than riders on Stumpjumper FSRs and even reeled in a few Epics…

Then we had a great deal of fun on the descent, although bigger tyres would certainly have been welcome. While we’re on the subject, the clearance below the fork brace wasn’t over-generous even with the 2.1in tyres fitted. Only time will tell if that’s likely to be an issue, but some tyre manufacturers’ offerings are somewhat bigger for a given stated size than Specialized’s.

Tyres notwithstanding, the front end of the Enduro felt great. The 25mm axle, dual crowns and direct-mount stem all combine to give great steering accuracy. This isn’t a bike that’s readily knocked off line, but when you want to head off in a new direction it’s there with an alacrity that belies the relatively relaxed angles.

The rest of the bike felt suitably solid too, and despite the not-quite-finished nature of the fork and shock it was impressively composed once we’d spent a bit of time fiddling with the various knobs. It’s certainly every bit as balanced from front to rear as you’d hope for a bike designed as one coherent package, and once we’d got into the trail a bit if proved to be a trustworthy ally.

We’ll have to wait for production bikes to know for sure, but on this showing the Enduro looks likely to become something of an instant classic. It’s certainly the lightest of all the bikes that you’d consider to be rivals, the performance is as good as any and the super-stiff fork really makes a difference. One thing’s for sure – we’re looking forward to autumn, and it’s not often that we say that…


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