Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow
Specialized has been making a bike named “Enduro” since well before the term got adopted by the internet as the next big thing. Throughout the years, each generation of the Enduro brought something new to the table, but the core concept always remained the same: these were bikes designed both for pedaling efficiency and for having fun. Proper fun, that is. For 2014, there are several different versions of the Enduro to choose from, featuring aluminum or carbon frames available with 26- or 29-inch wheels. At the rowdiest end of the scale we find the new Enduro Expert EVO, a 180-mm travel, 26-inch bike equipped with coil spring suspension and sturdy parts. We were curious to see if this is simply a DH bike in disguise, or if it is still capable of taking you there and back as well.
2014 Specialized Enduro Expert EVO Highlights
- 180mm travel M5 alloy FSR frame with ORE tubing; featuring sealed cartridge bearing pivots, 142+ dropouts, ISCG '05 mount, internal dropper post routing, and replaceable derailleur hanger
- External shifter and brake cable routing, internal routing available for optional front derailleur
- Öhlins TTX22M shock featuring twin-tube design that separates compression from rebound
- FOX 36 Van RC2 Kashima 180mm coil-sprung fork with 20mm thru-axle, tapered alloy steerer, compression and preload and rebound adjust
- Roval Traverse tubeless-ready wheelset with DT Swiss spokes, 20mm thru-axle, and 142+ rear hub spacing
- Specialized Butcher SX 2.3" dual compound tires
- Custom SRAM S-2200 carbon crankset, 34T single chainring
- New SRAM Type 2 X0 mid cage 11-speed rear derailleur, 10-42 cassette
- Custom Avid Elixir 7 Trail brakes, 4-piston caliper, steel backed metallic pad, 200/180mm rotors (F/R)
- All-new Specialized Command Post IR with internal cable routing
Initial Observations and First Impressions
There is a huge category of bikes designed to “climb easily and handle any descent”. Within this category, you’ll find anything from 120mm travel 29ers to long travel 26ers, so you’d be forgiven if you find the definition vague at best, or confusing at worst. Another concept commonly found in this category of bikes is “the downhiller’s trailbike”. Most often, this expression refers to a bike that can be pedaled around but offers playful geometry and is robust enough to be properly rallied on the downs. Well, with 180mm of coil-sprung travel on tap, a 65 degree headangle, and parts that would not look out of place on a DH bike, we had another question when we saw the new Enduro EVO: is this a downhiller’s trailbike, or is it simply a downhiller’s bike?
Right out of the box, the Enduro EVO is impressive. The finish of the frame is impeccable, the welds are tidy, the hardware of high standard, and everything appears to have been assembled with care. The parts spec is fully inline with what you would expect on a bike at this price, with no apparent short-comings or areas of concern. From the press-fit BB to the X01 drivetrain, there is a lot of exciting new technology here, which we will cover in more detail in the Build Kit section later on.
Not just because of the eye-popping yellow, the standout feature on Enduro Expert EVO is the new Ohlins TTX rear shock. Developed specifically for Specialized by Swedish moto suspension specialists Ohlins, and available exclusively on the Demo and the Enduro, our initial impressions of this shock when we first tested one were overwhelmingly positive. That test took place on a Demo, and we were very curious to see how that performance would translate to a bike that needs to pedal and climb well in addition to tearing it up on the descent.
The TTX shock innovates with regards to how it manages oil flow during suspension events. The twin tube design is said to isolate compression and rebound events, which in turn creates a more responsive shock that is always ready to deal with events of any type. Developed primarily for descending, the shock lacks any kind of specific climbing assist platform or lockout mode switch (although you can of course add low speed compression to achieve a somewhat similar effect – but not at the flick of a switch).
Time then to find out exactly what kind of a beast this bike is. After adjusting the cockpit and crudely setting up the suspension for optimum parking lot performance, we headed to the trails…
On The Trail
Curious to test every aspect of life with the Enduro EVO, we made this our only bike for about 2 and a half months. During that time, the bike saw Enduro riding (aka riding your bike up and down), XC excursions, desert epics, steep and rough DH trails, and freeride play sessions with the buddies. Due to a very dry beginning of winter, pretty much the only conditions we were unable to properly test it in were outright mud.
In terms of the stock set-up, Specialized didn’t hide their intentions with this bike. A super-short 40mm stem mated to wide handlebars, sturdy and aggressive tires, and heavy-duty wheels meant we had no qualms about riding anything that was in front of us without thinking about swapping out any parts. The bike shipped with thin inner tubes that we made quick work of destroying, but after adding proper inner tubes with a bit of sealant for thorn protection the tires proved up for a lot of abuse (we did not test them tubeless, but note that both the tires and the wheels delivered stock are tubeless ready). Incidentally, after replacing the inner tubes, the bike weighed in at 16.5kgs (~36lbs), fairly respectable for a bike that is supposed to be able to take pretty much anything.
Moving out, the bike is surprisingly easy to get going. It’s no whippet, but at the same time, it responds really well to pedal input. There is no discernible pedal bob in the rear suspension, and it quickly became apparent that the shock’s lack of pedal or climb mode was not an issue at all. Put it down to the FSR suspension system which has here been configured with some climbing in mind – it works really well to separate rider-induced forces from the trail-induced ones.
The geometry of the bike also works well enough for long climbs and epic days in the saddle, with a centered and neutral position. At 1m84 or about 6 feet, I hesitated between a medium and a large. In the end, I went with the more playful medium, mainly because the large has a 623mm top tube and a full 460mm of reach which seemed too much for a bike like this to me, even with a short stem. A choice I am still happy with today. Racking up kilometers and climbing this bike have both proven to be perfectly manageable. The only issue we did notice comes from the combination of a smooth, coil-sprung fork and the laid-back geometry – together these two aspects cause the front to bob under pedal input on steep, seated climbs. Note that we are not talking about standing and hammering here, but simply sitting down and grinding up a steep hill. The bike settles on the rear a bit too much in this scenario, which causes the front to unweight, at which point the fork starts to pump a bit with every pedal stroke. Not a surprise and not something we hold against a bike of this nature, especially given how much fun it delivers once you crest that climb and point it down the hill…
Once you start heading in the right direction, the Specialized geo is instantly recognizable. Long in the front, short in the rear, with a relatively low BB, the bike really comes alive as the fun factor of the trail increases. The stays aren’t super-short, and the BB isn’t super low, and we found the bike to be perfectly balanced. Never too skittish, never too sluggish, it is simply confidence inspiring and very rewarding on all types of trails. The more you attack, the better it works. Rail the turns and pump those lips, and plow through anything in between if you like.
When it comes to the suspension, the Ohlins TTX rear shock confirmed all the potential we found in it during our initial testing. Perhaps the single most impressive aspect of the shock is just how easy it is to tune, and just how easy it is to then forget about it. The adjustments on offer include high and low-speed compression, as well as a single rebound adjustment. Each adjustment is easy to use, with well-defined (but not very audible) clicks.
The adjustment range is narrower than on most shocks, because this shock has been built and tuned specifically for the bike it is mounted on. The valving and base tune were developed over a year of testing with a couple of seriously pinned Specialized riders, and the adjustments simply provide a way to further fine tune the suspension around the base settings they developed. In the parking lot, you might feel like there is not enough range, especially when it comes to the rebound adjuster, but all that goes away as soon as you hit the trail. The shock simply works, and it works wonderfully well. It holds you up at sag point with lots of small bump compliance and traction, and then ramps up to take on the big hits without any drama whatsoever. We found it kept our feet on the pedals significantly better than many other shocks we have ridden, and after a minimum amount of initial adjustment to find our marks, we never felt much need to adjust any of the settings any further. For reference, we settled on the middle of 3 settings for high-speed compression, about 8 clicks from fully open (out of 18) for low-speed compression, and 5 out of 6 clicks on rebound (one click from the slowest setting available). We needed a couple of turns of preload on the spring to arrive at the correct sagpoint for a 200-pound rider on the medium as it was shipped to us – but note that springs are available in 24-pound increments so you should be able to fine tune this aspect with your dealer.
The Fox Van 36 180mm did an admirable job of keeping up with the rear throughout the test. We found it smooth and supple, and generally very well behaved. It was perhaps a touch harsh when cranking up the low speed compression for steeper trails, but overall, we did not find it slowed this bike down at all. 1 turn of preload (4 clicks), about 10 clicks from fully open on both low and high speed compression (out of 25 and 30, respectively), and a few clicks of rebound to taste, and we were good to go. The number of clicks seems excessive, but once you find your base setting, a few clicks on either side are fairly noticeable. On one particular section of trail we often struggle with, an off camber turn over a rocky and chattery surface, we were impressed with how well the front tracked (with the rear on rails, any shortcomings in the fork would have been very apparent here).
Getting airborne with the Enduro EVO is easy, and it felt like a very neutral jumper throughout the test. It’s especially impressive on landings, using its travel well and inspiring a lot of confidence. Bigger maneuvers were smooth and devoid of drama, even when we pushed the bike to bottom out (we never managed to make it feel harsh, not even when fully bottomed out). And if you are worried about how much the Enduro EVO can take, rest assured – Mike Montgomery rode one in this year’s Rampage, so chances are, the rest of us have a lot of margin for error still…
Overall, the Enduro EVO is a bike that isolates you from the trail without feeling dead. Small bump compliance is excellent, and it manages square hits really well too. Taking on smaller hits like rock ledges and roots while pedaling sometimes left us wondering if we didn't actually have a flat, especially in the rear. The bike rolls over the obstacle, absorbs the hit without transmitting any force to the rider or to the pedals via the chain at all, which felt almost weird at times. Incidentally, this makes technical climbing very comfortable, should that be your game. Additionally, it is one of the quieter bikes we have ever tested. More than one of our riding buddies made the same comment after standing trailside when we rode by – the Enduro EVO doesn't make much noise even over rough ground, thanks to X01 chain management and a solid build.
To sum up our impressions on the trail, we found the Enduro EVO to be an eminently capable and fun bike. The kind of bike you keep reaching for, no matter what the day’s ride has in store. And when it comes to the question we asked in the introduction, it is as close to a DH bike as you can get while still retaining trail bike traits. Of course it is not a DH bike properly speaking, so if you race DH or spend the majority of your time plowing rock gardens at high speed, a full-on downhill bike should still be your jam. For any other gravity rider who is looking to get the most out of a bike that can withstand practically any level of abuse, while still being perfectly capable of going out on an XC ride, the Enduro EVO is your ticket. One final observation: it may be called the Enduro, but we don’t expect to find many Enduro EVOs actually doing duty as Enduro race bikes. In a game where mere seconds and subtle differences in climb-ability make all the difference at the end of the day, riders will undoubtedly continue to favor slightly shorter travel and lighter bikes.
Our Enduro Expert EVO was shipped in stock form, possibly with the exception of the handlebars. Specialized say this bike should ship with a 780mm bar, while ours arrived with a 750mm. Whatever the case may be, 780 seems to be the ticket for this DH-oriented bike. For the rest, here are the highlights:
- The X01 drivetrain was flawless for the duration of the test. The shifter comes mounted to Avid’s MatchMaker clamp which keeps the handlebars nice and tidy, and the Jagwire cable helps make the shifting even crisper. Although we are used to seeing trailbikes with no chainguides these days, THAT question always lingers. Well, in this case, the answer is 0. No chains dropped during the whole test, and that includes a lot of rough trail.
- The custom Avid Trail 4-pot calipers are mated to simpler Trail levers, which only offer reach adjust (no bite-point adjustment). The brakes worked very well throughout the test, with ample power, good modulation, and no signs of excessive brake fade. If anything, they are perhaps slightly “woody” feeling, something that might be down to the pads (since this doesn’t fully match previous experiences with the same brakes).
- The fork and the rear drop-outs both feature tool-less quick release systems, and they were both perfect during the test. The fork has a 20mm axle which threads into the lowers and is then secured with a QR-style clamp on either side of the axle. The rear features a DT-Swiss made 12mm through-axle that screws directly into the dropout, and which offers a nifty adjustment to the angle at which the lever is held (irrespective of where it ends up when you tighten it down). The rear axle was solid through the test, only rattling itself lose on one occasion.
- The Butcher SX tire is a slightly lighter, folding bead version of the Butcher DH tire. It is an excellent all-round tire that worked very well in the hardpack, loose over hardpack and outright loose conditions we mostly rode in. At 900grams it rolls fairly well, although the aggressive tread pattern made itself felt on the climbs for sure. You can’t really have your cake and eat it when it comes to tires, and we fully agree with the choice made here. We were unable to test it in proper mud due to failure of winter to appear, but previous experience with this tire in the wet proved it to be functional there too.
- The Roval DH rims laced to DT Swiss hubs have been solid. We put a proper dent in one of them following a somewhat stupid encounter with a large and particularly inert object, and we were surprised to find the wheel still true. We were half expecting the ride to be over, at minimum a broken spoke or two would not have seemed out of place at all, but after 2 minutes with the spoke key and replacing the (DH) tube we were good to go again. These wheels don’t look very bling but they are up for it!
- Specialized’s new internally routed Command Post has been outstanding. With super-smooth actuation that is very easy to use, this iteration of the post has laid to rest any issues that were present on the first generation. It works with lower internal pressure and feels great in action. There is a very small amount of lateral play at the saddle as in almost any dropper post, but this is not something you feel while riding. After 2.5 months of heavy use, the post shows no signs of acting up, and ergonomically, it is right up there with the very best we have tested to date – definitely a contender! It is also one of the lighter dropper posts on the market today.
- In typical Specialized fashion, the cables are routed under the BB. It is not always the most popular of choices on the internet, but in real life, incidents are rare. Note the trick chainstay guard which also houses the rear shifter cable – a neat touch that also provide extra protection.
- The custom SRAM carbon cranks have been solid during the test, and did not require any adjustment at all. Under foot they feel great while riding, although we would perhaps have specced a 170mm arm instead of the 175 for this type of bike, especially one with a relatively low BB. Note that the tips of the crank arms are fairly fragile, ours have started to chip quite a bit already. Crank arm tip protectors would probably be a worthwhile investment here.
- The Enduro EVO is finished off with Specialized’s own bars, stem, grips, and saddle. The bars feature a slightly unusual 6 degrees up/8 degrees back shape, which Specialized says helps keep the bars in the proper position, especially for riders who tend to roll their bars too far forward usually (thus ending up with part of the backsweep as upsweep). The grips were comfortable if on the thin side (there are 3 diameters available, so make sure you get the ones you prefer from your dealer), but more importantly, they feel dead solid and have remained in place with no signs of slippage. This is important to point out, as they only feature a single clamp per grip which may initially appear to be cause for concern. Not so, it turns out. Also note that the left hand side clamp is actually the Command Post lever.
- The saddle is on the firmer side, but comfortable enough for all-day rides. It also appears to be very well put-together and resistant, ours still looks new and is to date free of any creaking.
Things That Could Be Improved
There is very little to complain about on the Enduro Expert EVO. The parts spec is in line with similarly priced bikes on the market, perhaps with the exception of the brakes. For $5800 or so, it would not be too much to ask for to have full bite point adjustment available, especially for riders who are picky with how they set up their brakes.
The graphics on the wheels are applied externally, and they have already started to come off after impacts with rocks etc. Similarly, there is a protective clear sticker applied under the drive side seat stay to protect it from the chain, and this sticker has begun to self-destruct as well. At this price point, you could expect graphics under clearcoat on the wheels at least.
Long Term Durability
Apart from the aforementioned issue with the graphics on the wheels, the Enduro EVO shows no signs of tiring. We’ve done our best to ride it hard, and perhaps most tellingly, it is still every bit as quiet and as smooth under the rider as on day one. Admittedly we have not put it through a few proper mudbaths, but other than that, it has seen a lot of grit and dust, not to mention loose rocks. The suspension is still buttery smooth, the shifting is crisp, and the cranks spin freely. The dropper post works like a charm, and the saddle still looks new. All signs point to a lot of fun still left in the tank.
What’s The Bottom Line?
The 2014 Enduro Expert EVO is an impressive package. It is eminently capable of near full-on DH while retaining a crisp and punchy feel on the trail. It is solid, quiet, and a lot of fun to ride. The component spec is bang-on, and more importantly, all the parts work well together. The Ohlins TTX shock really sets this bike apart with its hassle-free set-up and superb performance, in and of itself a fairly compelling reason to choose this bike over another one. If you race or ride full-on DH, this is obviously not going to be your only bike, but for everybody else, this is one-bike-does-it-all nirvana.
More information at: Specialized
About The Reviewer
Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.