Review by AJ Barlas and Brandon Turman // Photos by Lear Miller
At the tail end of 2013, Specialized began to make the shift from 26-inch wheels to 650B, also commonly referred to as 27.5. The move, which began within their Stumpjumper FSR series and is now migrating into the rest of their lineup, was one that the 'Big S' held off on for quite a while. Since making its way into the Enduro range, team riders like Curtis Keene have posted some of their best results in the World Enduro Series aboard the updated bike, leaving many wondering just how good it is? We threw a leg over the top end aluminum model to answer this question during the 2015 Vital MTB Test Sessions.
- Aluminum frame
- 27.5-inch wheels
- 165mm (6.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) front
- Tapered head tube
- 65.5-degree head angle
- 74.6-degree effective seat tube angle
- 349mm (13.75-inch) measured bottom bracket height
- 422mm (16.6-inch) chainstays
- Press Fit bottom bracket
- 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
- Measured complete weight (size Large, no pedals): 29-pounds, 7-ounces (13.4kg)
- MSRP: $5,000 USD
The Enduro Elite uses an M5 aluminum alloy frame and Specialized's easy to spot X-Wing design, said to boost front triangle torsional stiffness. Rear suspension duties are taken up by the FSR design, which uses a Horst-link to improve many of its ride qualities. One downside of the design is the need for a unique shock mount, which can limit aftermarket shock option. The Elite model is shipped with the smaller Cane Creek DB Inline shock that provides 165mm of travel with high/low-speed compression and rebound damping with a Climb Switch. While Specialized does provide a base tune, it's interesting to see more bikes coming equipped with something as tuneable as the Cane Creek, essentially resulting in the user being able to get the bike to handle almost any way they want. Up front it features the 160mm travel Rockshox Pike in the RC configuration.
The 650B frame features a new rear triangle, but makes use of the existing 26-inch front triangle. Specialized says they were able to achieve the geometry they were after using this configuration without compromise, and the numbers look good with a 65.5-degree headtube angle, 422mm chainstays, and 352mm bottom bracket height. Sizes Small, Medium, and Large are available.
Additional frame details include a tapered headtube, PF30 bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, a molded chainstay guard, sealed cartridge bearing pivots, and ~1cm of mud clearance at the tightest point on the rear wheel with the stock tires. Cable routing is almost entirely external, save the internal dropper post routing through the seat tube. Cables follow the underside of the downtube, and all cable mounts are very secure with no cable rattle.
Specialized also includes a water bottle cage mounted inside the front triangle, which features a convenient SWAT multi-tool holder. There's a chain tool and place to store a spare SRAM quick-link in the steerer tube as well.
Another interesting component that's worth mentioning early on is the inclusion of Roval's latest wheel offering, the Traverse Fattie. On this model it's the aluminum version of the wheel, but aside from the material the wheels feature all the same specs as their carbon bigger brothers, most notably, a 29mm inner width.
There are several Enduro 650B models ranging from $3,600 to $9,300, in both aluminum and carbon. We tested the $5,000 aluminum Elite version. To step up to a more or less comparably spec'd carbon model, check out the Expert Carbon for $6,600. Carbon frame/shock packages are also available for $4,000 if you'd like to go for a custom build.
On The Trail
We tested the Specialized Enduro Elite on the loose, rocky chunder of West Cuesta Ridge, fast flow of Montana de Oro, and boulder covered Madonna Mountain near San Luis Obispo, California.
On our initial climb we opted to leave the Cane Creek DBInline shock untouched, set to the recommended compression/rebound settings with 16-17mm sag (approximately 30%) and without the Climb Switch engaged. The FSR suspension climbed well, even in this wide open position, and while there was a little suspension movement it was very close to neutral, especially when seated and pedaling smoothly. The shock remained high in its stroke and created a platform that held well off the line thanks to the suspension's anti-squat properties. Where it was let down while sprinting wasn't by the suspension, but by the wheels and overall 29.4-pound weight of the bike.
We did of course do some ascending with the Cane Creek's Climb Switch enabled as well. This is the best shock climb adjustment that has been made in the mountain bike industry to date. Rather than simply cutting down on the amount of oil flow allowed through the compression circuits, engaging the Climb Switch increases both low-speed compression and low-speed rebound. While it lacks a distinct platform feel that some may be accustomed to, this still helps the shock remain firmer under pedaling forces, while drastically improving traction in technical, rough uphill sections of trail. The only downside to the Climb Switch on the Enduro is its position, as it can be somewhat challenging to find and flip, especially when it is most useful on a technical climb.
The stock shock settings are at a point where most riders would be completely happy with the performance of the suspension system. They also serve as a great starting point for those that want to adjust things to personal preferences. The Enduro rides lively and agile, enabling quick line changes and last minute options to pop off features, all while providing control on moderately sized hits and loose terrain. Braking is calm and controlled, with no odd qualities to it.
On sustained rough off-camber sections we found that the rear end skipped around a bit more than ideal, which could be alleviated with some minor adjustments to the stock settings. The bike also found the bottom end of its travel pretty quickly on big hits, partly due to the quite linear nature of the Enduro's suspension design. The bike relies heavily on the progressive nature of the air shock (with volume spacers) for bottom out support. Those riding long descents may want to take note of the relatively high leverage ratio (3.2-3.0), which could put the shock through a good test on long descents.
Overall, through our rides down the rock infested trails we found the rear of the bike outperformed the lower end Pike up front, keeping the back wheel planted and controlled at most times, while the front tended not to track as well. We've had similar experiences with the front end on other bikes that were equipped with the Pike RC, and feel that had the RCT3 been fitted in this situation, the bike would have been more balanced front to rear in the rough.
The geometry is aggressive, which lends itself well to getting rowdy and letting off the brakes, though it doesn't ride as planted and DH-like as some of its closest competitors, instead providing a better all-around feel than encourages playfulness and fun, rather than muting the trail. The short 422mm chainstay length is a good deal less than most bikes in this arena, which helps with tight corners, jumping, and lifting the front end. We did notice that the 650B model lacks the typical "in the bike feel" of most of Specialized's creations, a result of using the existing 26-inch front triangle which makes the bottom bracket a little high for a Specialized at 352mm.
While it can climb well, it was not without its nuances. The 74.5-degree effective seat tube angle helps in this department, though in steeper switchbacks and chunky sections it can be a struggle to keep the front end grounded, especially for tall riders who need more seatpost extension on the 69.5-degree actual seat tube angle. The short chainstays, tall-ish stack height, and a bit of an offset on the Specialized Command IR dropper post also contribute to this. The higher than normal (for Specialized) bottom bracket height makes technical climbs a bit easier thanks to better crank/pedal clearance, and the slack head angle is less of a nuisance than you'd think on the ups.
The size Large frame we tested is the largest frame available, and if a slightly larger size is desired riders are forced to up their wheel size to the 29-inch incarnation. This falls in line with Specialized's "bigger is better" saying when it comes to wheels. It's an interesting move considering that 29-inch wheels are available in size Small of other models, like the Stumpjumper, so it would seem frame size is not the sole rationale behind this sizing preference. One of our testers, standing at 6'3", found the Large Enduro 650b to be a little on the small side, making it a struggle when ascending and less stable when descending with any speed, but has little interest in jumping on a 29-inch trail bike. There will no doubt be other riders that would like the opportunity to ride an XL Enduro 650B. For our 5'10" tester, however, the size Large provided a healthy amount of reach at 443mm and stable handling when combined with a short stem.
The Enduro Elite comes with a range of SRAM and Specialized branded products. Like many all-mountain machines for 2015, it's equipped with SRAM's X01 1x11-speed drivetrain. The bike was fitted with a 34-tooth chainring up front, providing a good range of gear ratios. We were happy to see Specialized's lightweight and compact top chainguide, which adds that little bit of chain security for peace of mind. Despite the clutched X01 derailleur, our bike made a bit of a racket, most notably under successive larger hits. The supplied Specialized chainstay protector appears to cover the area sufficiently, though adding some mastic tape to the inside of the seat stay will help quiet things further.
The braking department was covered by SRAM's new Guide R brake, with a reach adjustment but no pad contact adjustment. The Guide brakes are a vast improvement on previous Avid incarnations. Coupled with 200mm rotor up front and 180mm out back, we had plenty of power to get stopped in a hurry. The larger rotor up front is appreciated.
Specialized's own 125mm travel Command Post IR dropper seatpost comes equipped with a new lever that mounts cleanly under the bar. It's in the perfect position for quick adjustments. The post is very reliable, but is limited to just three positions and rebounds very quickly.
As mentioned, the Pike up front was the RC version, a model that is limited to low-speed compression and rebound adjustments. We found the fork was not able to equal the control granted by the Cane Creek DBInline shock, and feel that the RCT3 would be a better match to balance the bike out. It's worth noting that at this price point on other manufacturer's bikes, the RCT3 is not out of the question.
The tires on our test bike were a little different to what is being spec'd by Specialized. We had the trustworthy Butcher tire up front in the lighter Control casing, and in the rear was a Purgatory. Specialized specs state that the bike will come equipped with the new Slaughter semi-slick tire, which will boost rolling speed while providing some good cornering knobs. The Purgatory in the rear was cleverly fitted with the burlier Grid casing, and while this adds weight, it's nice to have a little more protection in the rear for those bigger hits and sharp sniper rocks. Kudos to Specialized for thinking a little outside the box here, supplying a slightly lighter front casing compared to the rear in order to save a little weight. The Control tires do tend to get squirmy when pushing into fast corners, however, and given the speeds and terrain the bike is capable of tackling we feel that perhaps a Grid front and rear would have been a better choice.
The new tubeless ready Roval Traverse Fattie aluminum wheels have a moderately massive 29mm inner width, which really boosts cornering performance. Set this bike on edge, look through the corner and hang on! It will grip like velcro and give a consistent and confidence inspiring ride through most turns, which ultimately equates to more fun. The aluminum version isn't the most peppy of wheels, despite weighing in at a respectable 1,690g (3.7-pounds). They’re also not the stiffest or snappiest, most likely thanks to the reduced 24/28 spoke count. Combined with the bike's overall weight this resulted in just average acceleration when getting on the gas. The DT Swiss Star Ratchet drive system provides reliable, quick engagement.
Finally, the cockpit was an odd one, especially considering the intended purpose of the bike. The stem on our Large was a Specialized 75mm XC stem with a 6-degree rise - definitely an oversight both in terms of the length and the stem's functionality. Additionally, the 750mm Specialized bars are a bit narrow, especially for the size Large. We swapped out the cockpit for something in the 780x50mm variety, and suggest all other riders do the same.
Long Term Durability
The Enduro is a stout bike with a stiff frame and mostly well thought out spec, and as such we don't see many concerns for durability down the line. We're still big fans of the traditional threaded bottom bracket for durability and noise reasons, and it's likely that at some point there will be an issue with the bottom bracket for some users. The Enduro also retains its cable routing under the downtube, which is cause for concern and could result in a pinched cable or cut hydraulic line. The frame is backed by a lifetime warranty with a five year limit on "suspension attachment points and related equipment."
What's The Bottom Line?
The 2015 Specialized Enduro Elite 650B is a downright fun bike to ride. It's poppy and playful, yet the rear suspension grants the rider confidence when traction and control are required with a predictable feeling. The front end of the bike was a bit of a let down in loose terrain. While the stock rear suspension tune is a good starting point, those that want more out of their bike will likely stray away from these settings given enough time. The great thing thing is that if you are so inclined, you can absolutely do this thanks to the adjustability of the Cane Creek DB Inline shock. For most, the stock setup (with exception to the cockpit), makes for a great ride that loves to be pushed hard. If you're an energetic rider or looking for something that can take the hits while remaining maneuverable, the Enduro 650B is definitely worthy of a test ride.
Visit www.specialized.com for more details.
About The Reviewers
AJ Barlas - In 15 years on the bike AJ has developed a smooth and fluid style. Hailing from Squamish, BC, his preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes.
Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 15 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.
About Test Sessions
Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.