There's likely no way that you've not heard about Specialized's new Demo by now, with loads of coverage from both the most recent World Cup round
and the media feeding frenzy that just went down at Whistler's weeklong bike party otherwise known as Crankworx. In fact, I feel like I've already written a novel about the unmistakable machine from the big red S even though my first ride on it only happened a few days ago. I do, however, also think that I should be forgiven for the too-long essay that I put together earlier this week given that the redesigned bike is a rolling climax-inducing piece of equipment for those who get all hot and bothered by such things. Just look at that new carbon fiber frame and the custom tuned Ohlins TTX shock straight from the land of Vikings and Volvos, and it's also Specialized's first 650B wheeled downhill bike. Oh, and there's that whole one-sided seat mast thing as well. It's all enough to make any true tech dork weak in the knees, or maybe cause a steel hardtail riding Luddite to shake his head and go on about a lack of "soul" and whatnot. Whatever, I have no shame is saying that the 2015 Demo is the most exciting downhill bike in a long time, at least in my mind, but I also admit that, geekery aside, the only thing that truly matters is its on-trail manners.
Want to learn more about the bike before hearing how it compares to its predecessor? Check out our in-depth piece on the 2015 Demo that covers all the tech, from front axle to rear axle
This isn't a bike review, but rather an article that aims to provide a little perspective as to not only how the 2015 Demo performs, but also how it performs relative to its predecessor, the 2014 Demo. It's certainly not a shootout in the classical MBA use of the word, but it does probably makes more sense to tell you how I think the new bike compares to the old machine rather than treat it as a standalone review... there's a good chance that you're going to get your fill of exactly that from other online sources, so lets look at it from a different angle. With that in mind, I spent time jumping between a 2014 Demo 8 II and a 2015 S-Works Demo. Both bikes were 100% stock from front to back, meaning that they were running different tires, a different component group, and different forks, but I was more concerned about handling and rear suspension action than how the bikes' running gear was performing. Most importantly, both bikes were size larges, and both ran an Ohlins TTX shock, although the 2015 Demo's TTX sports a unique tune designed specifically for the bike. To be fair, it would have been more ideal to have a 2014 S-Works Demo, as well as some timing equipment so as to really get scientific about all of this, but this first back-to-back comparison is more about my impressions of the two bikes relative to each other rather than an empirical evaluation. Let's look at how they feel on the trail rather than talk about the boring bits like derailleurs, handlebars, and what kind of bottom bracket bearings each bike has, shall we?
The goal was to ride both bikes on every sort of terrain in the Whistler Bike Park that you'd want to point a downhill bike at, and the trail list should bring back a few memories for anyone's who has spent time at our version of Mecca: the rocky and rooty tech of Original Sin, Afternoon Delight and Tech Noir; the tight turns found in Angry Pirate and the appropriately named Too Tight; the jumps and overhead berms of Dirt Merchant. In other words, one hell of a mix of trails, and also a catalog that probably reads like a 'To Do' list for any park rider. So, how do the two bikes compare? Very similar in some areas, but very different in others, as it turns out. SUSPENSION -
While the difference in handling was noticeable within the first few hundred feet of trail - more on that below - there's a much closer similarity between the two machines when it comes to suspension performance. Considering the massive amounts of vertical available by heading up into the Garbanzo zone, a single day in the Whistler Bike Park is more than enough time to gather a good first impression of what's going on back there, and both bikes felt pretty damn equal to each other in that department. Both Ohlins TTX shocks felt comparable, despite the valving update on the new model, and, to be honest, I'd have a hard time saying that the rear end on the 2015 was better in any way over last year's bike. However, Jason Chamberlain, Senior Design Engineer at Specialized, did tell me that they aimed to keep the new bike's suspension behaviour on par with the 2014 Demo, so it really shouldn't come as a surprise that they feel pretty much identical. That's not to take anything away from what Chamberlain and his team has put together, though, as the Ohlins TTX shock feels subtly different from other dampers on the market in how it takes in a deals with the terrain - more damped would be one way to put it, but a clearer way would be to say that it feels just a touch more controlled.
One aspect where the 2015 bike easily trumps its predecessor is when talking about noise - the new bike is really, really quiet, especially compared to the 2014 Demo. A big reason for this is that its rear end is much simpler, with less frame members for the chain to make contact with, but it's also down to how the chain guide is now able to rotate with the swingarm due to it being mounted on the concentrically pivoting chain stay. This means that chain tension stays more consistent throughout the bike's travel, and the result was less of that annoying metal on metal clanging that can be distracting if you haven't gone to town and wrapped up parts of your frame to keep it quiet. HANDLING -
I'd argue that last year's bike was on par for what I expect from a downhill rig in that it's certainly not going to hold any rider back so long as it suits how they ride, but it's also a machine that is quite "lively" compared to some of the recently released DH bikes with longer wheelbases that seem to stick to the ground better when speeds pick up or it gets really rough. That said, Troy Brosnan and Mitch Ropelato both rode 26" wheeled Demos last season with stock geometry and it surely didn't hold them back, did it? The benefit of the 2014 Demo is that it has an animated personality. (edited: a previous version of this story contained an inappropriate comment) In downhill bike terms, it feels like it's nimble and playful, which is great if that's what you're looking for, but it's in complete contrast to what the 2015 Demo's longer wheelbase and larger wheels offer up.
|Physics proves that the bigger wheels carry momentum better, there's no arguing that fact, but for me, an expert level rider who knows that he has a better chance of becoming an astronaut than ever qualifying for a World Cup, the slivers of time that 650B wheels removes from a race run aren't really relevant.|
A fast bike is one that you feel comfortable and confident on, and while the 2014 Demo is certainly a bike that many downhillers feel at home aboard, I personally felt more at ease on the new bike after only a few minutes of riding it. Does that make it a better bike? I'd wager my big toes that it makes it a faster bike, which is exactly what the re-design was supposed to accomplish, and that's an especially important fact for any expert or sport-level rider who will really benefit from the extra confidence that comes from the longer wheelbase and larger diameter wheels. Let me explain... Riding the 2014 Demo and 2015 Demo back to back on the same section of trail showed that the new machine feels less "on edge" when it's especially rough or fast, enough so as to make last year's bike feel a bit more nervous than we would have said had we not been switching back and forth between the two. Improved stability is pretty much what you'd expect to gain from the slightly slacker head angle and longer rear end, and that's exactly what I felt - it's a sensation that simply had me feeling a bit more at ease and in control than I did when I was on the 2014 Demo. That said, I'm not about to tell you that I was going faster due to the larger diameter wheels, as I'm convinced that it's more down to the new bike's geometry than the switch in wheel size. Physics proves that the bigger wheels carry momentum better, and there's no arguing that fact, but for me, an expert level rider who knows that he has a better chance of becoming an astronaut than ever qualifying for a World Cup, the slivers of time that 650B wheels remove from a race run aren't really relevant.
The 2015 Demo is easier to ride faster than the 2014 Demo, that much was pretty clear to me after only a short amount of time on the new bike, but something else was pretty obvious: the 2015 Demo feels like a lot more bike as well. It has a larger presence, and it's not as willing to be picked up and put somewhere else on the trail without a smidgen more coaxing than its predecessor. This isn't news to anyone who's ridden both a 26" and 650B wheeled bike on the same trail, but the difference between the old and new Demo was a bit more pronounced than what I've experienced from the wheel size up'ing on most trail bikes. I don't think that this is going to be an issue whatsoever once a rider gets used to the new bike, although it does take more turn-in effort to snake it through tight turns.
So, what does it all mean?
Is the new Demo going to shave thirty seconds off of your race time, thereby giving you enough confidence to ask out that smokin' hot podium girl which then leads in living happily ever after in a big house paid for by endorsements that came from dominating the 18 - 34 expert class? Probably not, but I can see how a racer would go faster on the 2015 machine than on last year's bike, and that's exactly the target that Specialized was aiming to hit. The bike is easier to ride faster when the speeds pick up or the ground is choppy, but it isn't the whippy, playful bike that its predecessor was. How much that matters to you will depend on what you're looking to accomplish, but it's clear that the new Demo is much more race-focused than what it was in the past.Photos by Amy McDermid