All you conspiracy theorists are going have a field day with this one. Yep, I’m back on a Specialized for 2007, the new Enduro SL Expert to be precise. There is a legitimate reason for this (and no it doesn’t involve backhanders). Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months, you’ll know that Specialized has made the bold move of (re-)entering the suspension arena. To the casual observer this may not seem like an earth-shattering development, but factor in the cost of R&D, tech support and warranty provision, not to mention the quantity of egg on face for Spesh should the fork under-perform, it really is a big gamble. To lessen the odds, Specialized hired suspension guru Mike McAndrews to head up the project. With a CV that includes R&D work for RockShox, the development of the original Forx line at Fox and Specialized’s own Brain, not to mention many years in the motocross game, he was the obvious choice.
But why bother? Surely the likes of Fox/RockShox/Manitou/Marzocchi do a good enough job? Well yes and no. They all make great products, it’s true, but to build a suspension bike rather than a frame with a load of bits bolted to it, Specialized feels the only way forward is to bring design and manufacture in house. When it comes to fine tuning damping, leverage ratios, spring rates, shock lengths, valve and adjustment dial locations and other such minutiae, being able to do it all yourself makes a huge difference. What excites us, in addition to the trickness of the new components, are the possibilities for future frame and suspension design as this system integration really gathers momentum.
Complementing the new suspension components, an all-new Enduro SL chassis for 2007 widens the split between hardcore SX and all-mountain SL. At £2k the Enduro SL Expert gets both homespun shock and fork bolted to it. There’s a lot going on internally with the new suspension components, but I’ll leave that for next time, instead I’ll give you a quick run down on the external characteristics. Glancing at the dual crown fork, it will probably come as no surprise when I tell you that McAndrews worked for Maverick at one time. Although differing from the DUC32 in having a conventional, right side up configuration, conceptually it shares a similar ethos of lightweight dual crown structure, integrated stem and large diameter (25mm) through axle. Travel is 150mm, with an Attitude Adjustment function that drops the travel and ride height 40mm. Weight is said to be an impressive 4.5lbs. Unfortunately we’re guessing that McAndrews has probably never spent a lot of time in the UK (who can blame him) because mud clearance around the brace looks – OK is – minimal. Rest assured – its first test will be a pair of fat tyres and a big swamp.
The AFR (Active Functional Response) shock is less impressive visually, but it’s bristling with complex damping circuits. Sadly they’ll have to wait until next time because I’m running out of room, and I still haven’t mentioned the frame itself.
The most obvious structural change is a move from interrupted seat tube swing-link design to a rocker link arrangement. It’s interesting to note that a year after Turner drops the Horst Link, Specialized adopts the classic Turner rocker although they reason that the move has been made primarily to allow for a more compact frame design and a full-length seat tube. To give wheel clearance at full travel, the seat tube is kinked, so full post insertion is not possible, but you still get a full five inches of saddle height adjustment – ample for most riders. Additional benefits from the new rocker link include better protection for the shock seals and bushings, a lower centre of gravity and room for a bottle mount. In my view the new design visually sheds weight while still retaining the purposeful stance demanded by its all-mountain tag.
The new Enduro bears all the classic Specialized geometry hallmarks; long wheelbase (45.75in), short chainstays (16.5in), low bottom bracket (13.6in) and slack head angle (66.5°). Ignoring the possibilities offered by crown height adjustment at the fork, an alternative shock position steepens the angles by a degree and raises the bottom bracket by just over half an inch. It all looks pretty good on paper, but having only thrown the bike at a few corners for the camera, I’m a long way off forming any conclusions about the ride.
At 29.8lbs without pedals, the new Enduro definitely deserves its SL tag. Specialized reckon the cheaper Comp model tips the scales only half a pound heavier, and considering both bikes share everything except the brakes, chainset and derailleurs, I’ve little reason to doubt their claim. While not quite the lean stallion being punted round by Tom this year, it’s a far cry from the pack horses being flogged by some companies under the all mountain banner.
Frame: M5 aluminium
Suspension: Specialized Future Shock E150 fork, Specialized AFR shock
Wheels: Specialized Stout hub F/Shimano rear, DT XR 4.2D rims, DT 15g spokes, alloy nipples, Specialized Resolution Pro 2.3in dual compound tyres
Drivetrain: SRAM X9 shifters, SRAM XO rear derailleur, Shimano LX front derailleur, Shimano XT chainset, Avid Juicy 7 brakes
Components: Specialized Enduro bars, Specialized saddle, seatpost, grips
Size tested: Medium
Contact: Specialized UK 020 8391 3500 www.specialized.com