At a glance the Spectre and Merida have a few similarities, the main difference being the Spectre’s single bearing location: the pivot between the main pivot (by the bottom bracket) and the rear hub. This separates the suspension’s movement from braking influence, and reduces the effect that rider movement has on the ride.
Large square-section chain and seatstays keep the rear end stiff, and attach to a very chunky yoke at the lower pivot. Short rocker plates continue the theme, and three shock position options offer 3, 4 or 5in of travel. Full cartridge bearings are fitted throughout to help reduce friction.
To match the adjustable rear, a RockShox J4 fork is fitted, with travel adjustable between 80 and 125mm thanks to the U-Turn adjustment on the coil-sprung fork. No damping is adjustable on the fork, but the KS291 coil shock on the rear has adjustable rebound damping.
Unlike the other two bikes on test, the Spectre has Shimano hubs. They may not be any better quality, but spares are far more readily available. The tyres are another story, however. Although they are fine in the dry, the large — for 2.1in — Tioga Extreme XCs fail miserably when there’s any moisture around.
Bar a Truvativ, rather than an FSA chainset, the Spectre has an identical drivetrain to the Merida, and it performs equally well. Unfortunately, the brakes let the side down. Single-piston Hayes Hydraulic brakes may be fantastically easy to set up for the novice, and are an improvement in the wet over V-brakes, but compared to the Tecktros and Avids they feel wooden and lack power.
Tioga’s name once again makes an appearance on the handlebar. A huge amount of backsweep puts the wrists in an unnatural position and deserve an instant upgrade at your point of purchase.
Small diameter fork tubes make the J4s flexy when set at anything more than 100 or 110mm of travel and, to keep travel balanced, we rarely used the Spectre in the 5in mode. At 3in the bike is a very sprightly pedaller but the suspension has a tendency to quickly blow through the last inch of travel and constantly bottom out. We ran the bike with 110mm front and 100mm (4in) out back, and found it the best overall solution.
The top tube of the Claud Butler is almost an inch shorter than the other bikes and on climbs this has a notable negative effect. It’s difficult to get a good stretch and make the most of your large lower back and buttock muscles.
But the reward comes on the return journey. The wheelbase is as long as the Merida, so stability is not an issue. The low frame and short reach make the bike incredibly manoeuvrable. Backed up with a rock-solidly-stiff rear end, and despite a rear shock never better than average, the Spectre ploughed through the roughest trails with aplomb.
It may not be as versatile as the Commençal, but the Spectre was the preferred machine if we wanted to play in the woods. Thanks to the stiff frame and regardless of the flexy forks and decidedly average shock, Claud Butler has come up with a gem. Take the Spectre to the drop zone and enjoy.
MBR RATING: 9/10