Spotted: Prototype ‘Project Black’ 27.5/29 Specialized DH Bike - Crankworx Rotorua 2019

Mar 19, 2019
by Daniel Sapp  
Crankworx Rotorua is one of the places that a good bit of new tech comes out for the season. Teams are always refining and testing products but with not a lot of races throughout the winter, it seems that there's a bit more going on at the first big coming out here at the start of spring. One of our photographers spotted these bikes in the Specialized pits today. One is clearly Loic Bruni's, given his name on the hub and we'd imagine the other belongs to Finn Iles.

That's a 27.5" rear wheel and a 29" front along with some interesting stuff in the linkage going on.

We weren't allowed to get close and it seems that the bikes are still in the prototype stages, as they're mostly aluminum and not all that refined but we can always speculate as to what's going on.

There's obviously a 27.5" rear wheel and a 29" front wheel on the bike. UCI rules changed this past year to allow different sized wheels in competition and we've seen others, including Neko Mulally, testing this idea out. I'd bet that there are a few different versions of this bike floating around for testing both wheel sizes and the mix-matched version as well.

There is some sort of a rubber or plastic wrap on the stays and there's also something pretty interesting going on with the linkage of the bike.

Other details we noticed that may or may not matter? There's a Specialized Butcher on the back and what looks like a Maxxis Minion without a hot patch up front.

Lots of sensors and telemetry acquisition rigged up.

Ohlins suspension.


So, about that suspension? We can only speculate because there aren't enough details visible to confirm. The swingarm appears to drive a rocker link that pivots on a separate axis between the chainstays that drives the Ohlins shock. A second link which swings from the seat stay/upper rocker pivot would most probably be employed to moderate the shock's leverage rate. Why the complication? Well, the ability to separate the shock's kinematics and obtain a smooth rising rate, while maintaining proper anti-squat curves would be a good place to start.

I reached out to Specialized and the only details I received were, "Specialized relies on feedback from professional athletes in developing and testing advanced pre-production products in real-world applications. Thanks to this top-level feedback some of these products, or elements of their designs, eventually show up in future retail product offerings. We call this Project Black."

Whether or not we'll see Finn Iles and Loic Bruni racing the bikes this weekend in Rotorua is yet to be seen but I wouldn't be surprised to see them on the clock sometime soon as far along as these bikes look to be.




145 Comments

  • + 130
 A bit of nostalgia with the old Demos...dig it!
  • + 3
 Old deko still relevant
  • + 72
 I'm still holding out for the ultimate 26"/27.5"/29er where a third wheel is attached under the bottom bracket for unlimited rolling power! FUTURE!
  • + 20
 Where's Protour?
  • + 1
 I was just thinking that. Specialized went from one of, if not the most complicated rear suspension designs to one of the simplist. I guess this is a return to form? Personally it looks heavy and unnecessarially complicated.
  • + 7
 @cwatt: The previous Demo 8 that had dual seat stays wasn't more complicated than the current Demo 8 on the market- it had the same number of pivots and moving parts. The shock was driven off the lower seat stay rather than the rocker link. Despite looking busier, the suspension itself actually wasn't any more complicated.
  • + 1
 reminds me of my pinkbike namesake. considered getting another just cause. ugh love
  • + 1
 @radman13: have a 24" one for a counterweight in the front triangle
  • + 1
 @chyu: LOL! I'm sure he's sitting somewhere with a smug grin on his face.
  • + 60
 79er isn't as cool as 69er.
  • + 17
 97er more biggerer
  • + 2
 The Brodie 69er is out there somewhere still. Would love to know who has it.
  • + 1
 @Tmackstab: this. one of the first gearbox bikes. kinda clunky, but damn, I'd love that on my wall.
  • + 1
 @xy9ine: I was yacking with Paul Brodie at the bike show about it. He's on the hunt too.
  • + 1
 @Tmackstab: that is a cool bit of history
  • + 3
 Trek had a 69er too before 27.5 was a thing.
  • + 1
 What about the classic 6-4 big hit?
  • + 2
 @da-gooner: Actually, the same goes for my 2006 Specialized P1 (dirtjumper). It wasn't just the BigHit that had this combination. It was quite common. The Banshee Scream (Mythic instead of Banshee for the Brits) usually had the same lay-out. Not sure if it was the Trek Session 10, the Session 7 or another model but I think they also had dropouts that could be adjusted for a 24" or 26" rear wheel. Maybe the Scott Voltage too?
  • + 1
 @Tmackstab: yup, keeping an eye out myself as wellSmile
  • + 2
 @vinay: Waaaaaay back in the day, (Early 80s,) Cannondale had 24 rear 26 front mtbs.
  • + 57
 Bigger Hit?
  • + 24
 Wait a minute, shouldn't the pics look like it had a bunch of filters applied to it with some kind of headless corpse with it's arms flailing about in the trunk of a car with a soccer ball watching over it all...

I mean I thought that's how new DH bikes were being released 2019! Smile
  • + 8
 They ran out of condoms.
  • + 24
 Banshee Legend LOL
  • + 12
 Why are always prototype projects called something with black? Black Box, Project Black, Black Inc. etc.
Why not another colour or random like Pink, Polka Dot or unicorn? Pink Box, Project Polka Dot and Project Unicorn sounds a lot more interesting.
  • + 13
 Because black is stealthy, and, well, pink polka dot unicorn is about as macho stealthy as my little sister on a sugar high lol
  • + 4
 Orange already uses their name for their regular bikes. The prototypes are called Strange Smile .
  • + 6
 @mtbikeaddict: Exactly my point. Why does it have to be macho stealthy?
  • + 16
 I like the sound of a pink box
  • - 9
flag jaame (Mar 19, 2019 at 2:50) (Below Threshold)
 Black privilege. Anything cool, it's black. Subconscious bias because from an early age we're programmed to believe black people are the coolest.
  • + 7
 The term black box is typically used for a component you don't know how it works. Something goes in, something goes out, it works but you don't know how. So I think that's how the RockShox name blackbox came about. To point out that these forks weren't production models but instead something that they were still working on so not ready to reveal the exact workings. Not sure if that also goes for the other black names you mentioned. Absolute Black is just regular oval chainrings for instance, nothing prototypey about them.
  • + 4
 @megatryn: more about flying under the radar, keeping it under wraps. That's why it's the colour of choice for burglars- they don't want people to know what they're up to.
  • + 1
 Coming to think of it: Black boxes in aeroplanes (data logging) used for post-aero-hydraulic-lift-dysfunction, are generally bright orange.
  • + 1
 Why not both and go Black Pink instead?
  • + 1
 @rifu: I suggest Vantablack. Or Black 3.0 at the very least.
  • + 2
 @megatryn: Why does it have to be stealthy? Because it's secret, in prototype, and they don't want people knowing about it...
  • + 1
 @rifu: mulai bikin rusuh, we called it black item legem
  • + 1
 @vinay: I think there is now a commercial equivalent available (of Vantablack) - or if not equivalent, pretty good.

Would be a pretty sweet finish for a bike!
  • + 2
 @alexhyland: Yeah, I thought that was the Black 3.0, wasn't it? Yeah I think if you want to make it hard for people to figure out what the bike looks like in the pits, paint everything (bike, workstand, pits even) Black 3.0. Stupid thing is, if you drop a tool or bike part, you just can't see it. Same with lining up bike parts etc. Must get annoying at some point.
  • + 1
 Project Unicorn is taken.
  • + 13
 From the easiest shock to remove, back to the hardest. And it looks wicked, like the old demos
  • + 5
 For me, only guessing where some of the exact linkage locations are, it looks like classic horst link link design in an iteration with tons of anti rise, lots of anti squat, a horst link that is there only for aesthetics (and little for function) with a sperated shock linkage to fine tune the progression without messing with the anti squat and anti rise properties, also keeping the weight low and centered in the bike.

First guess, waiting for a better picture to draw a model from Wink
  • + 5
 I've been rocking the mullet bike for a while now. Chromag Stylus 27.5 with 140 29er front. And Knolly Delirium with 160 x 29 DVO instead of 180 x 27.5. never going back! Business in the front and party in the back!
  • + 1
 How's that Stylus then? Asking for a friend...
  • + 7
 Cool, can we have a new enduro now? and some well priced framesets or frame/fork/shock combos would be nice.
  • + 4
 Am I the only one who thinks this is just the 29er prototype (at least the front triangle) that specialized used last year at Fort William?
m.pinkbike.com/news/miranda-millers-prototype-29-specialized-dh-bike-fort-william-dh-world-cup-2018.html
  • + 2
 Think ongoing development, otherwise they would not bother with the AIM telemetry system.
  • + 2
 @Helmchentuned: Of course, your absolutely right. Specialized know what they're doing. They are the best in this stuff. My point is that in this article the suspension layout is described as a novelty while we have already seen it last year.
  • + 6
 my nuts liked "27.5 rear"
  • + 5
 Looks like it could hold a bottle cage.
  • + 5
 So finally it looks like a Banshee
  • + 1
 Wild guess but could there be sockets of some sort just after the welds under those black sections that allow plates of different lengths to be swapped in and out to make minor adjustments to the seatstay and chainstay lengths without the hassle of welding up/carbon laying an entire new section? The wraps existing to hide this new geometry fine tuning ability, keep mud out, help a bit with stiffness and still give it a clean appearance? Something like this would certainly help for testing different wheel combos.
  • + 1
 So the thing that looks like a rear mud guard is actually a link that pulls up on the link the rear shock is attached to. It separates the leverage rate on the shock from the IC path. It functions completely differently than the Felt six bar linkage because it doesn't alter the IC path and rear axle path like the Felt system does. Aside from the linkage driving the shock, it's a conventional Horst Link. It looks a little different because the chain stay pivot location on the front triangle is fairly far forward, similar to the Haro Shift bikes.
  • + 2
 I would suspect that the reason for the Maxxis front tire is that Specialized don't yet have a DH casing 29er tire, meanwhile they do have the DH casing butcher in a 27.5 for the rear...
  • + 3
 Ι used to run a 29-27.5 setup but other than further slackening the bike (which was the reason) I didn't find any other benefits versus a full 29er setup.
  • + 1
 That looks really good so far. I did prefer the older backend on the Demo anyway. I am guessing it will weigh more than the current model though if it ever does make it into production.
  • + 2
 Sickkk i hope they come something like this, bin ridiing my 2013 team demo replica because its just to sick to sell and start over losing money, not a fan of the latest demo
  • + 2
 I wonder who will be the first manufacturer to build the transducer into the fork and shock?
Even if just a hall effect device and change the shaft material.
  • + 5
 DH fantasy league edited
  • + 38
 To remove Specialized riders?
  • + 3
 That looks rad!!! Hopefully the sell them aluminum like the current demo 8, that thing looks amazing raw.
  • + 4
 Demo9!!!!!!! With 29 wheels!!!!
  • + 1
 This needs to be the top comment
  • + 0
 @D-Sapp. CG and I saw the mule that SBC had been testing for quite some time. It was the same version that was floating around the internet. Some really cool stuff going on with the linkage in regards to kinematics. Looking forward to throwing my leg over one soon for sure!
  • + 4
 Much better picture than Cannondales new DH bike.
  • + 3
 Veo una Banshee Legend con nombre de specialized en carbon
  • - 1
 Se parece mucho! Y bueno, a mi las 79ers se me hacen perfectas.
  • + 1
 Why the complication? There are not many alternatives to make a pull-shock FSR, one was the old Demo.
Others end up in the zone of VPPs.
  • + 3
 2019 and still on 25mm internal.
  • + 11
 I believe Bruni rides them by choice, with 2.4 butcher tires... and won world champs... #InternetBroken
  • + 6
 This isn't enduro. Super wide rims aren't the norm in dh and 25mm are totally normal.
  • + 3
 I remember a bike check of enduro Cube riders from last year where they said (Callhagan and an other) they rode 25i mm too because of the better grip feeling they had. Rounder tire profile = more prediction on loosing traction!
  • + 1
 Goes to show how "progressive" most pros are, eh?
  • + 2
 I am not a fan of the reverse mullet look (Ned's atomic dustbin anyone?) but if it works then so be it.
  • + 2
 Grey cell green! Couple of my friends had that doo back in the day Big Grin
  • + 1
 Does anybody understand the choice of rims for a dh ? I mean they use an enduro model, the EX471 on a DH instead of FR 1560.
  • + 2
 Aaron Gwin... EX471... hmmm... Big Grin
  • + 6
 Ex471s are the greatest rims of all time!
  • + 5
 Because they can. 471s work perfectly fine for most dh-riders and these guys get a new rim once it's trashed. Saving weight on wheels is obviously always a good idea,so there's that.
  • + 2
 They try to save weight because they can always run fresh rims throughout the weekend. Average joe is better served with a strong rim that is more durable.
  • + 2
 If one rim has demonstrated itself as worthy for the punishment of World Cups, it is the EX471. This one had to give Gwin a giggle
  • + 3
 the biggest hit
  • + 1
 i saw one of those bikes at the nz nationals and it had Specialized stickers on it but not the modal name
  • + 1
 This is the news from last year....?
Why adding that heavy and useless links?

I don't really understand
  • + 1
 Looks like the proto at Fort William. Cool design but looks like a pain in the a$$ to clean if mud got in there Eek
  • + 2
 Old wine in new bottles. Cheers to that.
  • + 1
 Thanks linkage looks like the old Felt design with the extra bar connecting the top and bottom linkages.
  • + 2
 Nah this is still 4-bar, as opposed to the 6-bar that felt uses
  • + 1
 Yeah still looks like a 4bar fsr linkage with a 4bar driven shock as well.
  • + 2
 Horst link with Canyon type moto shock linkage to separate the shock curves.
  • + 2
 Oh, the story repeats. Back to the past. Looks like a demo 9
  • + 1
 exactly what I tought......
  • + 1
 Personally, this looks better than good design the previous model, which is asymmetric.
  • + 1
 Just bring back the Big Hit already...
  • + 1
 Hey look, it's my old Demo 9 !!!. (One of the best bikes ever!)
  • + 1
 Best looking specialized since 2005.
  • + 0
 wow throw back to the old demos! man in 2005-07 they were some GREAT looking bikes comming back strong!
  • + 0
 Looks like that's some sanded and bonded carbon rear triangle, not a wrap. Maybe getting layup /flexibility right.
  • + 0
 You're 55 mins late Wink
  • + 0
 Or they cut/split it to change length/geometry and are just reinforcing with carbon just in case. But you are the carbon guy. That finish doesn’t look like a layup schedule to me. More of a bodge job I would do. And I am a expert at bodge jobs.
  • - 1
 Looks like a carbon wrap if you look at the disc brake mount area.
  • + 1
 @bogey: maybe the aluminum wasn’t strong enough on its own so they laid some carbon over it for stiffness
  • + 4
 @bogey: yeah agreed looks like a wrap to me as well. The OML surface looks pretty rough from the bag side. Can see all the welds still as well. Wonder if the riders found the rear end to soft laterally and pretty easy to add some carbon wrap to help increase its stiffness with out making a whole new rear end.
  • - 5
flag sriracha (Mar 18, 2019 at 21:27) (Below Threshold)
 The seat and chain stays are painted in Plastidip. It's not carbon wrap.
  • + 2
 @sriracha: You might be right but plastidip is generally a much cleaner look. I could be wrong but to me it looks like your prototypical over wrap composite with wrinkles from the vacuum bag that was then sanded down to make it cleaner. If it was plastidip id think they would just do the drive side but they did both drive and non drive sides.
  • - 1
 @pinkbike-engineer: Its either impact protection, vibration damping, or lateral flex increase.

It's ain't paint.
  • + 0
 @pinkbike-engineer: you can buy plastidip in a can and lather it on. I did this on my DH bike and it looks exactly the same as this bike. Look at the top of the drive side seat stay. You can see how the plastidip was scraped away by something.
  • + 2
 Looks like an Atherton
  • + 1
 @Protour, I believe this is your cue? Big Grin
  • + 1
 WHAT ABT BOTTLE CAGE THO
  • + 1
 looks sick!
  • - 2
 Jesus Christ , a new “next best thing” in the bike industry. I really hope this doesn’t take off my OCD couldn’t handle it.
  • + 1
 Looks like a 36er!
  • + 0
 Congratulations spesh... that bike is officially f-ugly!
  • + 0
 Raw carbon with raw aluminum = for the win aesthetically... Looks sweet!
  • + 1
 Call it the bighit II
  • + 1
 Fnck it! 26" rear
  • + 0
 This is clearly the new Big Hit!
  • + 0
 @lognar this is clearly dumb right ? Lol
  • + 1
 Never said mixed wheels were dumb. Will this last? Will it make Bruni faster? Or will he be full 9er or back to 7.5?
  • + 1
 Looks like a balfa
  • + 0
 still with the 135mm axle sucks ?
  • + 2
 You mean 135mm hub width? If they can make a 7speed freehub then the dish will be the same and thus the rear wheel will be just as strong as a 150mm hub. All with the added advantage of less chance of ripping off the rear deraileur!
  • + 1
 'cause Maxxis
  • + 0
 Plastidip'd stays! I did that on my DH bike. works.
  • + 1
 What for ?
  • + 1
 @Balgaroth: I painted three layers of plastidip on the areas that my chain slapped. It’s a great DIY chain slap protector. Keeps things quite. I didn’t paint the outer part, to maximize seeing my ano-orange aluminum Driver8 frame, instead of using a lizard skin wrap.
I suspect they are using plastidip as a vibration damper to mimic the feel of a carbon rear triangle.
  • + 1
 @sriracha: you need to look up mastic tape. Blows plastidip out of the water. Scotch 2228.
  • + 1
 @krashDH85: I switched from plastidip to 3m mastic tape a few years ago. I agree, it’s way better.
  • + 1
 @sriracha: What about heel rub ? I always have pretty bad heel rub on the disc side of my stays and only tube+cable ties seems to last for me. I tried transparent tape but usually I go through in a few sessions.
  • + 1
 @Balgaroth: I’ve never really had a problem with heal rub. Possibly some light scuffing, but I don’t really notice it when riding. I’m also running 165mm Canfield Brothers cranks, so maybe that helps with heal rub.
  • + 0
 Why not go all the way? 24" rear 29" front.
  • + 1
 Nonsense, 20" x 1.5" rear 36" x 5" front. #nohalfsteppin
  • + 1
 looks like demo 7.
  • - 3
 The composite stays provide lateral flex and more grip.
  • + 0
 The stays aren't composite dude, read it again.
  • + 2
 @stumpymidget: Yeah I don't think it's "plastic wrap" lol
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