Still a rapid, fun bike.
Multiple test winner, across multiple wheel sizes, the Specialized Camber has long been the short-travel trail bike to which all others are measured. And specifically it’s the measurements of the Camber that Specialized has tweaked for 2017.
The chain stay length has shrunk, the front centre stretched, and the reach has grown. It’s a different proposition to previous test winners then.
Part of that transformation has come about because the Camber now shares the same front end as the Stumpjumper. It’s what sets the two bikes apart, however that’s more interesting.
There’s a traditional seat stay bridge too, and a much smaller rocker assembly with a co-pivot design for the shock yoke, which helps saves weight compared to the beefy back end found on the Stumpy.
In that respect the layout of the rear end on the Camber is much more in keeping with Specialized Epic XC race bike, even if the suspension response is very different.
At the opposite end of the Camber the RockShox Revelation pumps out 120mm of travel to match the rear suspension. Again, it’s not Boost, making the Camber a strictly 29in only bike. While the external proportions differ from the Revelation on the Trek, the internals are identical so the action of the suspension fork is supportive and sensitive in equal measures.
The Fox Float rear shock sports Specialized’s signature Autosag feature to help with the initial set-up. It super easy to use but as we’ll get to in a minute, it doesn’t guarantee a perfectly balanced setup on the Camber we’ve with the three on-the-fly compression settings.
It’s in the build kit that the Camber starts to loss ground to its rivals though, the most obvious shortcoming being the lack of a dropper post. Worse still, you don’t even get a quick release seat collar, so you’ll need an Allen key to hand if you want to lower your saddle height before dropping into a technical descent.
Because the Camber gets the Stump front end, the also get the tall head tube, where the height of the front end is exacerbated by the 6deg rise, overly long 75mm stem.
There are some high points in the specification though: the 750mm handlebar has a great profile, the Henge Comp saddle is supportive and comfortable, and the size specific Sip grips are a revelation for riders with bigger hands.
With a 2×11 SRAM drivetrain the Camber has no shortage of gear choice, but the action of the NX shifters felt more laboured than the Shimano set-up on the Trek Fuel EX 7 29 and the 1×11 SRAM gearing on the Norco.
It should come as no surprise that changing the vital stats of the Camber has changed the balance of the bike. It still delivers a fast, fun, dynamic ride, but we struggled to find the optimum set-up that allowed the rear suspension to work in harmony with the fork.
Yes, the super supple action on the Camber offers great small bump sensitivity and grip, but the lack of support from the rear shock meant that the bike feel like it was hinging in the middle of the frame, rather than both wheels tracking the ground independently.
Running the Fox Float shock in the mid-compression setting helped restore balance, but the increased threshold required to get the rear shock to react noticeably increased the transmissibility of bump forces though the frame to the rider.
A better solution then, would be to add a volume reducer to air can of the Fox shock, as this would give the support needed to balance the ride without the harshness.
The Camber never felt as sold as the Trek Fuel EX either, even though both bikes were rocking the same fork. Factor in the less modern geometry, overly long stem and the lack of a dropper, and the Camber was fighting fires on several fronts.
The new Camber looks like it combines aspects of the Stumpjumper with the Epic to give a best of both worlds short-travel ripper. Unfortunately, it also rides like a bike of two halves. The 120mm rear suspension is out of sync with the fork and the long stem robs you of the confidence needed to really attack the descents. Factor in the lack of a dropper post and the non-Boost hub spacing and Specialized has been caught napping. It’s still a rapid, fun bike though, and with tweaks to the specification the Camber Comp 29 could bump it’s rating up a notch. It will need more work though, if it’s going to win back its title from Trek.