Since my first report longtermer report on the Enduro SL, we’ve been inundated with emails and phone calls requesting some kind of update. So for those three guys, here’s my midterm report.
A lot’s happened since the first bike was delivered back in January. I’m now aboard my second rig, the pre-production model I originally received making a scheduled return to the warehouse about a month after it arrived. Fresh from the docks, Enduro number two was slotted into the mbr rack only a few days later and scanning the bike over, the little details like the clip securing the front brake hose to the fork brace, the upper and lower limit marks on the stanchions and the frame saver pads combined to make the bike feel a lot more polished than the pre-prod version I sent back.
Before I get onto how the bike actually performed, last time I promised to give the low-down on what’s actually inside the shock and fork. So sit down and pay attention; here comes the science bit. Both the fork and the shock incorporate a three-stage compression system dubbed Active Functional Response (AFR). Phase one of the damping acts on minor forces, such as rider movement and braking, and is handled by a bypass port system user-tuneable via the blue dial on top of the right leg. Turning the dial clockwise restricts the port to resist bobbing and hard braking. Hit something on the trail though – a root for instance – and the oil flows into a shim stack. So far so good, but with any two-stage system, the problem comes on a really big impact – such as a cross-rut or baby-head rock. This will cause so much oil flow that the port and shim stack can’t cope, restricting the flow and causing a harsh point in the stroke. As a counter-measure the Spike Valve has been fitted. This blow-off valve is pressurised so as not to be overcome by low-speed forces, but pile into something large and it will pop open to allow unrestricted oil flow. In cahoots with the AFR damping system, Large Volume Air Springs (L-VAS) are claimed to promote coil-like performance on small and mid-size bumps, with the light weight and bottom out resistance of an air-spring.
Aboard the Enduro SL, my first outings were, how shall I put it, underwhelming. Which is strange because statically, everything sits where it should be. Reach your hands out and the bars are just there. It’s an upright position, but one that suits it’s purpose. The head angle rakes away lazily and the bottom bracket hangs low, putting you in a great stance for bombing. But dynamically, the bike didn’t deliver. Climbing wasn’t the problem, in fact, the Enduro is one of the best technical climbers I’ve ridden in a long time. The short chainstays put the bulk of your weight over the rear wheel for traction, while the long front-centre prevents the front wheel from lifting off the ground. When you throw the Attitude Adjuster into the mix and drop the fork height by 40mm, the result is a mountain goat that completely belies its build. The only downside is a propensity to ground pedals on rocky or rutted climbs if you don’t take special care choosing your line or timing your pedal strokes.
Originally the pedal-platform adjustment on my shock had no effect on the low-speed compression damping, but after a new unit was fitted, I’ve found rough technical ascents are best tackled in the saddle with the little blue lever set to soft (S), which gives the rear wheel somewhere to go when it hits an obstacle. Long, smooth climbs on fireroads are perfect fodder for flipping the dial 180° until the ‘H’ faces upwards.
Sadly it’s just as the trail starts getting fun that the Enduro has been falling short of expectations. And it’s not the geometry that’s at fault, so what gives? In what’s probably the worst possible scenario for Specialized, it’s the fork that has been creating most of the problems on my longtermer. Overlooking the black oil rings left on the stanchions – a product of over-filled internals – and the creaking top crown – cured by removing the bolts, stripping away the Loctite and reassembling with grease – from the outset the fork just didn’t feel right. Even at moderate speeds over fairly innocuous terrain it wasn’t giving the feedback I was looking for. It was overdamped on rebound and excessively glued to the ground. Every time I preloaded the fork to pop the bike over a large obstacle, the front wheel would barely leave the deck, and when it did, nosedives would usually follow. Worse than that, as the terrain got gnarlier, it would sit deeper and deeper into its stroke, leaving little travel left for further bumps while jacking the head angle ever steeper. It was one of the worst cases of suspension packing-down that I had experienced for some time.
In an effort to cure it, I reduced the rebound damping to a minimum and began letting more and more air out of the rear shock to try and balance the dynamic ride height. Neither fix was more than a sticking plaster and the more I rode the bike the worse the problem became. Eventually, after a quick fiddle with the dials, the problem became obvious. Turning the Attitude Adjust off, the fork took several seconds to return to full travel. It had to be a problem with the main air-spring. We made the call to Spesh and a few days later the old fork was whisked away and a new one bolted on. The technical diagnosis came soon after – the official verdict a pinched O-ring within the Attitude Adjust system.
The bike was up and running again just in time to stretch its legs around the Peaks for the 10 Best feature from last month. During the early part of the day the new fork felt tight and sticky. Again, the rebound damping was too slow, sucking the front wheel to the ground. There are only six clicks of damping adjustment on the fork and eight on the shock, which is a sensible number that gives enough scope for tuning, but doesn’t leave you endlessly spinning dials and getting lost in the mid-range.
As the day wore on, and the rocks got bigger, the fork loosened up considerably. By the bottom of the last descent it was rebounding about as quickly as I could ever want it to. In fact, it became necessary to dial in two clicks from fully open to reign in the front end. Yet, although the rebound damping was now co-operating, I became aware of another issue.
I didn’t get the chance to diagnose the problem until we left for Scotland on our World Championship roadtrip. If there’s anywhere in the UK that should really allow the Enduro SL to shine, it’s up here among the rugged natural trails with their extensive climbs and un-sanitised descents. However, I was repeatedly blowing through the travel and the fork still exhibited an unwillingness to pop over obstacles. With both the rebound damping and the Attitude Adjust operating perfectly, I was at a loss as to what could be causing the problem. Upon return to base, I called Specialized and after a bit of head scratching it was suggested that I check the pressure of the Spike valve. It comes factory-set at 50-60psi, but there was a possibility that mine had lost pressure, thus reducing compression damping. This would give little resistance to my preload efforts and blow through its travel at the merest sniff of a bump. As it happens, they were right. The Spike valve was running on only 40psi. Topped-up to 60psi I could finally blow through a rock garden without running on the bump stops and preload the fork to help loft the front wheel over large obstacles. At that pressure though, the sacrifice to small-bump sensitivity was too great. Gradually lowering the pressures I settled on 50psi in the Spike valve as an optimum compromise between big-hit capability and small-bump sensitivity.
The final piece of the tuning jigsaw was revealed to me when I chatted to the fork’s designer, Mike McAndrews, about the problems. He quickly pointed out that my weight (70kg) was at the lower limit that the fork was designed to accommodate. As a result, the negative spring would equalise with the positive spring at my correct pressure of 70psi. He suggested raising the pressure to help the positive spring overpower the negative and keep the fork from sitting too deeply in the stroke. After a bit of fiddling, I settled on 80psi in the main chamber. McAndrews explained that a series of lighter negative springs are being produced, and I’ll be getting one of the first batch to try out, but until then I’ll rarely be achieving the full 150mm of travel.
On a more positive note, the fork is an undeniably stiff chassis, particularly when you consider its low weight, and while the tyre clearance around the brace has been much-maligned, in use it’ll take the most Somme-like conditions to bring you grinding to a halt. When it’s that bad, I’d suggest staying at home anyway. I’ve also exchanged the stock 80mm integrated stem/top crown for a 60mm model, which has improved the steering considerably by increasing stability and moving the rider weight bias rearwards.
Elsewhere there’s still much to talk about. I’ll start with the tyres, for no other reason than that’s what’s just popped into my head. As anyone who’s ridden a Specialized in the passed couple of years will know, it has a tendency to fit the lightest tyres and tubes they can get away with. Although the Resolution Pro 2.3inchers on the Enduro have a pretty good tread – rounded with small, sharp knobs making it a fast-rolling tyre that works well on hard-packed terrain – the sidewalls are wafer thin, and combined with condom tubes mean pinch plats are only a rock-garden away. Within the first ride I’d double flatted and torn a neat hole in the rear tyre. Residing on the DT X430 rims now are a pair of Michelin Mountain Dry 2.3in with reinforced sidewalls. Although definitely not a mud tyre, they coped brilliantly on the wet rock and hardpack conditions we encountered during our Scottish roadtrip, and have reduced the frequency of pinch flats.
With a few notable exceptions, the remaining componentry has functioned faultlessly. The Avid Juicy 7 brakes come stock with organic pads. These are great stoppers, but show them a drop of moisture and they grind away like a South London R&B night. For prolonged life, we’d swap them out for sintered versions. Moving along, the seatpost quick release may seem like a trivial part, but on a bike like this – designed to climb as well as tackle the most technical descents – it gets used a lot. Sadly the Specialized own-brand jobbie has its cam in the wrong place, so if it’s loose enough to clamp by hand, the seatpost moves, yet when the seatpost is clamped tight, the lever is practically impossible to operate. Finally, the triple chainset is fitted predominantly as a marketing exercise – intended to distance the bike from the raft of overweight all-mountain rigs that litter the market. But in use, the big ring is unnecessary and provokes more dropped chains (because of the chainline) than an equivalent double and bash.
As it stands, as the Enduro approaches its midway point in my hands, I’m feeling quite the beta tester. When I began writing this update, the Enduro SL was heading for a lowly 6 on its report card. After a lot of phone calls, emails, head-scratching and spannnering and it’s a completely different proposition. The handling is sure-footed, the bike climbs brilliantly, it’s light and lively and although the fork is no class leader, it’s finally beginning to perform at a respectable level. If your riding mainly consists of big fireroad climbs, followed by big, burly descents, the Enduro SL is one of the most complete options on the market. Unfortunately, while the potential’s been there all along, it’s turned into a long slow process releasing it. That’s all well and good when you work for a magazine, but I’m sure I wouldn’t feel the same if spent my own invested my own time and money into one.
MBR rating: 8