Amazing suspension but let down by limited sizing
With a carbon front end that has been recycled from the old 26in Enduro, and a new 650b aluminium rear end, Specialized’s Enduro Expert Carbon 650b is very much a bike of two halves.
Sounds a bit like a cut and shut, doesn’t it? To be fair to Specialized though, all of the numbers add up. While morphing the old Enduro into the new 650b version, the head angle got slacker, the bottom bracket got lower and the wheelbase got longer, all the while retaining 165mm of bump munching travel at the rear.
In fact, the only telltale sign that the front end is from the old 26in bike, is that it still sports redundant cable guides that predate the introduction of stealth dropper post routing.
Woven from FACT 11m carbon, the front end on the Expert Carbon is bomber solid. There’s no obvious weight penalty either, because at 13.1kg the Enduro Expert Carbon is super light.
A new addition to the Enduro Expert is the Öhlins STX22 shock. It gets the exact same adjustments as Öhlins’ TTX coil shock, but uses an air spring and a single-tube damper design to save weight. Three low-speed compression settings are available at the flick of a lever, the third of which is a ‘Stability’ mode for climbing.
It’s no lockout though, and it’s not really firm enough to make a massive difference on the climbs. With the shock in full open mode, the rear suspension on the Enduro felt too active, forcing us to compensate for the constantly changing dynamic geometry by shifting our weight a lot. Flicking the shock to the mid compression setting instantly cured it.
Less easy to fix was the incessant knocking in the 160mm travel Pike RC fork. Initially we thought it was due to the less sophisticated damper, but we’ve had good experiences with these in the past, so we started to dig a little deeper. Opening up the Solo Air spring revealed that too much grease had been used when assembling the air piston, so the negative spring wasn’t getting charged properly. A quick strip and rebuild was all it needed.
We’ve been banging on about Specialized bikes coming with overly long stems for a couple of years now, and the 650b Enduro is no exception. In this instance, however, the 60mm ‘XC’ stem is probably there to make the size large bike feel a little longer than it really is.
In fact, when combined with the massive amount of lay-back on the Command post, the seated riding position on the Enduro feels pretty stretched, even though the reach measurement is the second shortest in the test.
The 780mm Demo bar has a touch too much backsweep for our liking, but at least it helps kill off some of the stem length. We love the XL Sip Grips though.
With a 50mm stem fitted, the excess grease stripped out of the fork, and the Öhlins STX22 shock in the mid-compression setting, the Enduro Expert Carbon no longer felt like a limping rocking horse. Pumping out close to 170mm of rear travel, it relished hard-packed, fast trails where the Öhlins rear shock took on all comers, big or small. It’s helps, too, that the super-stiff carbon frame was unflinching while railing berms or slamming drops.
Make no mistake though; the Enduro isn’t just a one trick pony. It’s agile too, and can be danced through a rock garden or popped over roots by simply dropping your heels and preloading the suspension.
Get the Enduro on softer ground, however, and the stiffness of the frame appeared to work against it. It doesn’t seem to yield as readily as the Giant, so it’s easier to get bounced off line by sniper roots and rocks. Still, for high-adrenaline fall line bombing, you’d be hard pushed to find a better companion than the Enduro Expert Carbon.
There are very few brands that could use a six-year-old frame design and get away with it. And while this highlights just how far ahead of the sizing curve Specialized was, the Enduro is starting to look a little long in the tooth, or maybe that should be short in the top tube. If you’re under 6ft tall, it’s still a great option though. The FSR rear suspension feels sublime partnered up with the Öhlins shock, it’s competitively priced, given how light it is, and you know it’s going to be reliable.