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Requiem for the Specialized Camber

Apr 17, 2018 at 3:23
by caltife  
2013 Specialized

Specialized has culled the humble Camber from its 2019 lineup, replacing it with a short travel version of the Stumpjumper. It’s no great surprise for an industry that’s always craving more: longer suspension, wider hubs, roomier cockpits. In an era where long and slack are gospel for all but the sharpest of XC bikes, the Camber’s 120mm travel and 68.5 degree head angle aren’t marketing bullet points anymore - they’re ammunition for a firing squad.

The Camber has always occupied a weird place in the Specialized lineup. It shares the front triangle of its bigger sibling, the venerable Stumpjumper; yet it also draws on the XC racehorse pedigree of the Epic, and the lithe geometry that helped Samuel Gaze to a spectacular World Cup victory at Stellenbosch. The result is a five inch identity crisis, a bike that’s neither light enough for pure XC, nor burly enough for real punishment.

But at the time of its debut in 2011, the Camber made a lot of sense. The Stumpjumper had extended to 140mm, so Specialized wanted to plug the widening gap between their flagship model and their Epic whippets. Enter the Camber, which Specialized project manager Joe Buckley described as “a bike that takes the lightweight characteristics from a cross country race bike, and pairs it with trail geometry...for somebody who wants to go fast pedalling up and down.” Playing off the Camber’s hybrid DNA, Specialized marketing declared the new model to be “Everything you need, nothing you don’t.”

The Camber arrived in time to ride a new wave of industry tech: 2x10 drivetrains, 142mm thru-axles, and 29” wheels. While early Cambers also rolled in 26” form, Specialized designed the line with a strong focus on the increasingly popular 29” wheel standard. The bike’s lively handling was a strong showcase for 29ers, proving big hoops could rival their smaller-wheeled cousins in agility. MTB media outlets praised the Camber’s planted but nimble nature, with one reviewer saying the compact geometry made it “a naturally trail-happy bike, farting in and out of traction between corners with child-like enthusiasm.”

2011 Specialized Camber Pro 29er

The Camber continued to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the industry for awhile: shorter stems, longer reach, wider bars, 650b and plus tyres. Yet through all these revisions, it clung doggedly to its 68.5 head angle and modest squish, while competitors like the Trek Fuel EX were adding suspension travel, slackening out, and stiffening up with Boost. Even as its Stumpy sibling continued to elongate, the Camber’s growth was stunted.

The 2018 model’s spec sheet was the writing on the wall: no Boost spacing on the 29er, no geometry tweaks, a rigid seatpost for the lower-specced models. It was as though Specialized had rolled out the 2018 Camber like the farewell tour of a once-great band, robotically playing their old hits to half-empty stadiums. Sensibly enough, this was the point I decided to buy in.

I picked up a brand new 2018 Camber Comp 29 via Facebook, priced at almost half its retail value. The seller had made a creative insurance claim to score two fresh bikes, and was offloading the Camber for some easy cash. My plan was to immediately on-sell the bike for a decent profit - but as it sat in my living room, I caught myself staring at its clean lines and subtle, satin blue-on-black paint job. Curiosity got the better of me, and I took it for a test ride.

As much as I tried to resist it, the Camber blew me away. It was agile, responsive, and hilariously fast. Despite the clunky front derailleur and flexy Reba fork, I started falling in love with this Specialized afterthought. When the Reba eventually blew a seal, I decided to fully embrace the romance. Swapped in a 130mm Fox 34 Float Factory, ditched the front derailleur, added XT brakes, trimmed the stem, widened the bars. Sure, none of this makes for great bike porn, but it's enhanced the Camber’s fun and capable nature, helping it slice through flow and shrug off the rough stuff better than ever.

My beloved Camber still bearing its vestigial front derailleur mount

I’ll confess here that I’m not a very good rider. Competent, yes, but not spectacular. I enjoy grinding uphill when it’s not brutally technical, I like picking rather than ploughing through lines, and I’m happy getting enough air to squeeze a Big Mac between my tyres and the dirt. In short, the Camber is everything I need (touché, Specialized marketing team). So while it’s disappointing to see the Camber line go, I’m also stoked to be a latter-day convert to this truly excellent trail bike.

The demise of the Camber isn’t absolute, mind you. Its spirit lives on through the 120mm Stumpjumper ST, so the Camber has arguably evolved after all - just under a different name. Meanwhile, several brands have banked on XC-biased trail rippers (“down country” bikes, as Mike Levy terms it), with the Intense Sniper, Santa Cruz Blur and Yeti SB100 all riffing on the 100mm travel theme, albeit with modern geometry and beefier parts. If this wave of aggressive short travel bikes is well received, perhaps the Camber will be reincarnated by Specialized some day. In the meantime, I’m perfectly content noodling around on my outmoded bike - and scanning the Facebook marketplace for a nice set of non-Boost wheels.

Author Info:
caltife avatar

Member since Dec 15, 2017
1 articles

1 Comment
  • 1 0
 Still have my 2011 Camber comp and I love it, sure it doesn't have the latest features but when I ride it I smile and maybe it's my lack of skill but it is still a better bike than I am a rider







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