Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer
When Specialized launched the Enduro 29, they did so with a bang. It was clear from the get-go that it wasn't your typical wagon wheeler. Not only is it a 29er with 6.1-inches of travel, but at 16.9-inches the chainstays are surprisingly short - shorter, in fact, than many 26-inch wheeled bikes. Needless to say, we were super curious to know how a bike with big wheels, big travel, and a super short rear end would handle out on the trail. 300+ miles later, it's time to let you guys in on how she rides.
S-Works Carbon Enduro 29 SE Highlights
- FACT IS-X 11m carbon front triangle, M5 aluminum rear triangle
- 29-inch wheels
- 155mm (6.1-inches) of rear wheel travel
- Tapered headtube
- 67.5-degree head angle
- 75-degree effective seat tube angle
- 335mm (13.18-inch) bottom bracket height
- 430mm (16.93-inch) chainstays
- PF30 bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
- 142+ rear hub spacing with 12mm through axle
- Sizes Medium through XL only
- $9,000 MSRP
If you're unfamiliar with the tech behind the Enduro 29 or need a refresher, take a minute to watch our First Look feature:
Our test bike arrived prior to the official launch of the bike, and as a result some minor things were different from the production model. First, that trademark Specialized red color you see in the photos won't be available. Sorry guys. Instead, the S-Works edition will come in the white/black color scheme shown in the slideshow. Second, our ride lacked internal dropper routing and the updated Command Post IR - both of which are welcome upgrades. Finally, Specialized teamed up with Cane Creek to provide riders with a custom low-speed compression quick adjust lever on the DBair shock, something ours was missing.
With the preliminaries out of the way, let's dive into what you came here for. The ride…
On The Trail
We had this bike for nearly three months, and during that time we took it all over the place. From rocky Southern Utah to the steeps of Santa Cruz, the sand paper in SoCal, and the fast fun in Sedona, it saw action on a huge variety of trails. Fast, flowy, high-speed gnar, low-speed tech, big jumps, drops, steep climbs, even steeper descents… you name it. Doing so allowed us to get a really good feel for what the Enduro 29 is capable of, where it excels, and where it can struggle.
The only change we made to the stock build prior to the hitting the dirt was a quick stem and bar swap. The stock 60mm stem and 720mm bars were in the right ballpark, but personal preferences lead us to a 50mm stem and 765mm bars. At 5-foot 10-inches, the fit on our size Medium test bike was spot on, with a comfortable reach and a roomy cockpit in both bar/stem configurations. Looking at the numbers can be a bit deceiving when it comes to the 75-degree effective seat tube angle, as the setback post has the effect of slacking it out a bit. That's a good thing, because in our experience anything much steeper than 73.5-degrees can make it feel as though you're a bit over the front of the bike while pedaling.
One immediately apparent fit quirk was the stack height, which is very tall at 632mm for a Medium frame. For reference, that's 30-40mm taller than most downhill bikes. Even with close to flat bars, the front end seems alarmingly high at first, and it can take some getting used to. Pointed downhill, the added height isn't an issue. It actually feels much like a downhill bike with slammed bars. Going up, however, many riders will find themselves reaching for the FOX Talas CTD fork's travel adjust knob in a hurry.
This bike was born and bred with enduro racing in mind. Heck, it's even called the Enduro. With that in mind we approached much of our testing from the traditional enduro racing approach - going balls to the wall down rough trails we'd never ridden before. We would also frequently ride the same trails on back-to-back days on an equivalent 26-inch bike for the sake of comparison. The results surprised us, big time.
Obviously there are traction gains to be had with a larger wheel, which is especially evident on steep climbs and in turns. Rolling speed also improves greatly, as does the ability to keep that speed through rough terrain. The biggest thing that sets the Enduro 29 apart from other 29ers, though, is that it's every bit as maneuverable as a fun-loving 26-inch bike while maintaining the benefits of the larger wheel. In this respect, it doesn't ride like any other 29er we've ever ridden. The short rear end and low bottom bracket make it incredibly agile, allowing you to pick the front end up into a manual with ease, toss the rear end around corners without hesitation, and yes, even get sideways in the air from time to time. On your typical, fun, flowy trail, if you were to blindfold us we might even have a tough time telling we were on a big wheeler.
The key to this bike's super short rear end is the "Taco Blade" front derailleur mount. While the S-Works model uses a 1X drivetrain, the clever solution to makes sub 17-inch chainstays possible on this long travel 29er.
The only times we found it to be more awkward than a 26-inch bike was in successive tight turns, slow speed tech, and over steep jump lips. The Enduro 29 jumps better than any other 29er we've tried, but it still seems to flatten out lips, somewhat abruptly at times. There's also considerably less pop than a 26-inch bike, and as a result we found ourselves ploughing through many sections rather than picking up and jumping them. Bunny hopping is a bit delayed as well. Now before you toot your horn and say, "See, it's just like every other 29er!" let us once again reassure that it's far from them. It's just that it could be better in those few scenarios.
The combination of that increased maneuverability and big wheels yields a bike that has incredible corner exit speed, which can really take some time off the clock in a hurry. It also creates a bike than can very easily be "monster trucked" over anything and everything in its way, which is perfect when you're full tilt and have no idea of what to expect around the next bend. Add in 6.1-inches of FSR suspension and you can really open it up without fear of the consequences. We hit countless big, hairy sections completely blind and survived at speed. Just pull back and let it roll! It's incredible what the wheels will roll through without getting hung up. The bike also requires much less effort to hang onto or maneuver through rough sections than its 26-inch equivalent, putting less fatigue on the body and leaving you more refreshed for what's to come. As an added bonus, the big wheels provide a sort of Matrix-like sensation of slowing down the speed the trail is coming at you, which in turn lets you go faster and faster without even knowing it.
Going as quickly as we could, the only time the Enduro 29 scared us was on super steep, technical, choppy terrain, especially when we needed to turn at the bottom. We think this was a result of three things:
1 - We were entering sections faster than we were used to, but only realized it when the terrain got really rowdy.
2 - Even though the Avid X0 Trail brakes were bled properly and worked well elsewhere on the trail, they felt underpowered on the steeps.
3 - The wheels were skipping over holes and chatter rather than going in/out of them, making traction seemingly harder to come by.
That said, if you can hold on and let it ride through the chop, holy smokes you're flying!
Now then, who really needs 6.1-inches of travel on a 29er? Heck, even Specialized's top enduro racer Curtis Keene said the shorter travel Stumpjumper EVO 29 was capable of taming the super rough opening round of the Enduro World Series. While that's certainly true, if Curtis had been going in blind we have a hunch he would have chosen this bike instead. The added travel provides a little extra leeway which is crucial when diving into the unknown at Mach 29.
Set to 28-30% sag, the Cane Creek DBair shock gives the Enduro 29 a lively, active feel while descending, with good support throughout. In small bump sections, especially those where the bumps are spaced a bit, the bike feels much like a 26-inch ride with 7-inches of travel. When the bumps are in quick succession, though, you definitely know you're on a 6.1-inch bike as you skip over things. Drops and jumps feel like you're on a smaller bike as well, and sometimes they can be a bit harsh. Square edges hardly phase the bike, though, and it also maintains its composure during big compressions quite well. Given the rear shock's performance and adjustment range, we'd prefer the smoother action of the current FOX 34 Float CTD fork to the Talas while descending, but the loss of the travel adjust might be a deal breaker for those who climb steep pitches often.
Sprinting, we'd equate it to a diesel truck with some gusto - it's moderately fast off the line and requires a little extra initial effort to get up to speed, but once it's there speed is abundant and easy to maintain. When you stand up, get over the bars, put the power down and pump where you can, this bike rewards you in a big way. It absolutely hauls ass.
While climbing, perceived weight of the S-Works Enduro 29 is neither super light nor heavy, and it motors to the top quite well. The short rear end helps in tight switchbacks and when needing to lift the front end over steps and roots. Equipped with a 32-tooth chainring, a firm pedal stroke did reveal a sort of spongy squat feel, leaving some potential room for improvement in the pedaling arena. Specialized's addition of the custom DBair low-speed compression quick adjust lever was a smart one, and we think many people will find it helpful on long, steep climbs.
As it should for a $9,000 bike, the stock build doesn't leave much to be desired. The impressive components spec is highlighted by the SRAM XX1 drivetrain, Avid X0 Trail brakes, Specialized tires, Roval Traverse SL 29 142+ Carbon wheels, Command Post IR seatpost, Cane Creek DBair shock and FOX 34 Talas CTD fork.
Specialized's inclusion of the new Command Post IR seatpost addresses nearly all of our concerns with the original Command Post (pictured), eliminating the moving cable, providing an external pressure adjustment, and requiring less force to activate. We still wish that it didn't extend at light speed, however.
The Specialized Butcher (front) and Purgatory (rear) tires hold their own in every type of terrain, and the traction/rolling speed balance is spot on for a bike of this nature. The 2.3-inch size works well in conjunction with the new wider Roval Traverse SL Carbon wheels, giving some good volume and plenty of tire stability.
To our surprise, the Zero Bead Hook design on the rims never once failed us. It really does work. Wheel stiffness, however, left something to be desired. We could hear and feel the flat blade spokes loosening/tensioning during some turns and off camber compressions. In hindsight, this may have indicated that they were due for a good truing session after all those miles.
As mentioned previously, we felt as though the X0 Trail brakes weren't quite up to the demands generated by the speeds at which this bike can be ridden, and we would've loved a little more braking power. A matching 8-inch rear rotor would help, but even then you might want more from time to time. This is the first time we've ever said this about Avid's top-of-the-line brake, and is a testament to the speeds you can reach on this bike.
SRAM's XX1 system left us with no complaints. Coupled with a 32-tooth chainring, the 11-speed cassette gave a wide enough range for every climb and high-speed descent. Shifts were spot on, we never lost a chain (even without a guide), and the bike was dead silent thanks to the clutch mechanism. XX1 is a great complement to the Enduro 29.
Things That Could Be Improved
Aside from the componentry nuances we've mentioned, our only gripes are with the proprietary shock mount and downtube cable routing.
Beyond not being compatible with many shock options, the design of the mount led to a troublesome experience on the trail when the bolt connecting the shock to the mount came loose. This created a good deal of play in the rear end. With only a handful of multitools on hand and no shock pump, it wasn't something that could be fixed on the trail. We simply couldn't access the bolt, even while compressing the suspension.
For us, downtube routing is always a point of contention, especially when the bike is intended for race use. Rock impacts and the like can easily take out a brake line. What is nice about the routing, however, is when the bike is over a tailgate it offers some added downtube paint protection.
Long Term Durability
No long term concerns presented themselves during the course of our three month test, and the bike was still in top shape when we were done with it. Looking at the finer points of the design, everything is well engineered and easily serviceable. There shouldn't be any issues, and the frame seems bombproof.
What's The Bottom Line?
Specialized found a unique combination of maneuverability and big wheel prowess with the Enduro 29 that make it a very, very fast bike. The benefits of this combo really begin to shine in the enduro race scenario, where you've got to be ready to charge over anything and fractions of a second mean big gains. Those who are active on the bike, get out of the saddle, and charge hard will find it to be an incredibly rewarding ride, especially if they're on the clock. While it's not quite as much fun to ride as a 26-inch Enduro, this is a bike that any racer will absolutely love because of the end result. The Enduro 29 is a bike any serious enduro racer should consider, and you can mark our words that it'll be a guaranteed contender for the top spot on the podium.
For more details, visit www.specialized.com.
About The Reviewer
Brandon Turman 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 to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.