Sitting at the heart of Specialized's range are their trail bikes. As we said when we tested the Stumpjumper FSR 29 recently, they are the bikes we'd tend to drop into the niche marked "mountain bikes." There are four factors that Specialized say they look at when designing these bikes: Control, fun, speed and options. First and foremost they believe riders want a bike that is easy to live with, so control is vital. Fun and speed are self-explanatory (but we like that they put fun first), then options is about offering a range big enough to suit your riding style and budget. That is why within these two models there are five distinct styles of bikes to choose from. We attended their launch at the Specialized office in Charmes, France, to put the bikes through their paces and have a close look at the entire range.
Most of the attention this year has gone on the 110-millimeter-travel Camber 29er, with a complete re-design of the frame. Sitting at the top of the range, is the drop-dead gorgeous carbon S-Works version. The tube profile is completely new and far more elegant than anything we have seen in their trail range before. The frame looks thin in places, and when we pushed Specialized about how strong it was, they refused to reveal precise numbers. They did, however, admit that the Camber doesn't give up much strength in comparison to the Stumpjumper, as their carbon know-how has progressed in the last three years.
The S-Works Carbon Camber, $9,250.
At this shorter-travel end of their range, Specialized engineers were able to simplify the Camber’s suspension linkage by using a single, concentric pivot to mate the shock to the chainstays. In the previous version, the linkage was attached to the shock and the stays separately. What you can't see from the outside is that the metal inserts that Specialized once used for the headset and bottom bracket are no more and those areas are molded carbon inside. To keep things clean and tidy, they also added internal cable and seatpost routing. What hasn't changed is the geometry. Specialized stated that they experimented with different options, but decided the numbers of last year’s Camber were already where they wanted it.
The carbon Camber Comp, $3,800.
The entry-level Camber, $1,850.
Working down the range; there is the $3,800 regular carbon Camber, which loses the carbon rear-end of the S-Works model, and if you keep going you reach the base model, which will retail at less than $2,000. With the exception of that base model they will all have 15mm through-axles on the fork, Formula brakes down to the Comp-level and, the best news of all, carbon wheels have made it down to the Expert-level bikes this year. All bikes in the Camber range will be available in sizes from small up to X Large and, as before, there is no 26"-wheeled version of the Camber.
For us, this was the most exciting bike Specialized showed us in Charmes. Here at Pinkbike we like Specialized’s Evo bikes a lot, they don't always make sense in conventional terms, but they are always a lot of fun. The Camber Evo Expert takes the standard carbon Camber frame (without the S-Works carbon rear end, in other words) and adds in the Evo link, which slackens the head angle, lowers the bottom bracket and boosts the travel up to 120mm. To go with the more aggressive geometry is a burlier build kit; out front is a 35mm-stanchioned Rock Shox Pike, the wheels are the tougher, wider Roval Traverse carbon rims and the bar and stem are wider and shorter.
The Camber Expert Carbon Evo, $6,000.
With the tweaks, the Camber Evo feels very close to the new Stumpjumper geometry-wise, so if you're asking "what's the point of this bike?" the answer goes back to the first two of the factors Specialized considered when designing these bikes: control and fun. If you are an active rider who likes to play with both the bike and the trail and would take a livelier bike over extra suspension, then this is the ticket for you. We'd have to admit that at the launch this was the bike we made a bee-line for as often as possible...
If the carbon version is out of your budget, there will also be a more affordable base-level Camber Evo with an M5 aluminium frame, Rockshox Reba fork and a mixture of SRAM's X7 and X9 drivetrain components to keep it moving.
The headline for the Stumpjumper FSR for 2014 is no more 26" wheels, except in the Evo version. While we were surprised to hear the news, once we started to dig deeper we had to admit it simply makes sense. Last year the Stumpjumper FSR 29 outsold the Stumpjumper FSR 26 at a rate of seven to one. You can talk about big-wheeled bandwagons, fashions and propaganda all day, but in the end, it was their customers who made the decision for them. As the attention for development has been focused on the Camber, the updates to the Stumpjumper are subtle. Internal routing for a dropper post has been added and the linkage hardware has been slightly revised to keep it quieter.
The carbon S-Works Stumpjumper. $9,500.
In our recent test of the S-Works version we were wondering how the bike would be with a larger fork like a 34 out front. It seems like Specialized were thinking along the same lines and all of the upper-end bikes now come with the larger Fox 34 instead of the 32 they came with for previous years. For the models that come with Specialized’s proprietary Brain inertia-valve shock system, it has had a few updates. The size of the reservoir has been decreased to save some weight, the adjustment range has been simplified and there is a new trail tune for riders who prefer less input from the system. Like with the Camber, carbon wheels have now trickled down to Expert-level bikes.
The Stumpjumper Evo bikes have, of course, benefited from the updates to the regular Stumpjumper. After that there is little to report other than the sexy, silver paintjobs on the Expert versions and that here they are keeping 26" wheels as an option. This is a clear message that Specialized see the value of smaller wheels for riders who are more focused on bike handling and tackling technical terrain. Although we would have to admit that after a few days riding only 29-inch-wheeled bikes, we found that the smaller-wheeled Stumpjumper Evo looked a bit, well, weird by comparison.
The carbon S-Works Stumpjumper Evo, $9,000.
The 26 inch-wheeled version of the carbon S-Works Stumpjumper Evo, $9,000.