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.
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.