The most impressive long-travel 29er we’ve ridden
With 29in wheels and 170mm travel the latest Specialized Enduro S-Works 29 is a scaled down version of the new Specialized Demo 29 DH bike.
Specialized didn’t invent enduro, but it was fortunate enough to bag the name long before the race format became the dominant force in mountain biking design that it is today.
Credit where credit is due though; when Specialized launched the original Enduro 29 back in 2013, that took foresight. And while that X-wing Enduro frame has served Specialized well — going under the knife several times along the way — the fundamental design has remained the same until now.
Specialized Enduro S-Works 29 review
For 2020, the Enduro takes its design cues from the Demo 29 downhill bike. Travel has been pumped up to 170mm and there’s no creative accounting going on this time, well, at least not with the suspension, as we measured its vertical wheel travel at 176mm. To put that into perspective, it’s 14mm less than most 29er downhill bikes.
There are four models in the new Enduro 29 range and all share the same carbon frame construction. What sets the S-Works frame apart is the addition of carbon shock links that reduce the frame weight by 250g.
And while the layout of the latest FSR suspension is unrecognisable from the old Enduro, it still shares all of the fundamental components that make it a true four-bar design, including the all-important pivot on the chainstay. It’s how Specialized has manipulated the pivots to modify the characteristics of the suspension that’s really of interest, though.
The fundamental issue with long-travel 29ers is that you tend to buzz your butt on the rear tyre when getting off the back on steep descents. Specialized’s solution is to increase the amount of anti-rise, so the bike sits into the rear suspension more readily when the rear brake is applied. This way the rider doesn’t have to shift their weight as far back. The result is less tyre buzz. And, it works.
Specialized has also made a big deal about how the revised axle path on the new Enduro is more rearward than its predecessor, and thus better at absorbing square-edge hits. And while it’s a compelling narrative, when you see both axle paths overlaid, it’s clear that there’s less than 1mm separating them at sag.
More accurately, the new axle path is much less forward deep in the travel, so when that big square-edge hit is trying to rip the rear end off the bike, snap your ankles and blow the rear wheel to pieces, at least the axle path isn’t assisting it. In fact, one of the most noticeable improvements on the new Enduro is its ability to maintain speed on square-edge hits.
The rear suspension also has more anti-squat and it’s more progressive too, both of which improve pedalling efficiency and make it the best climbing bike in this test.
When we first noticed the variable bite point on the new Shimano XTR brakes, we chalked it up to us Brits running our brakes backwards, causing a dodgy bleed. Having bled the brakes several times since, we’re now convinced it’s an on-going issue, not a one-off. We don’t know if it’s a timing port problem in the master cylinder or simply the rotors resetting the pistons in the caliper when you corner hard. We know for sure though, that it’s unacceptable on any bike, and not just one costing £9k.
Which leads us nicely onto the price. We just couldn’t see how the S-Works Enduro 29 could cost so much. Not least because it costs almost as much as the Levo S-Works e-bike, but you don’t get a battery or motor. Something didn’t add up, so we totted up how much it would cost to buy all of the parts individually. Without shopping around for the best deals, the grand total came to £7,872. That’s the best part of £1,200 less than the asking price for the complete bike. Yes, you’d have to build it, but that would give you the option to fit better tyres, the correct stem length, your favourite saddle, and most importantly, brakes that actually work. You’d also have a fully custom bike for less cash.
Pricing aside, the Enduro 29 is the best performing bike in this test. It’s also the most impressive long-travel 29er we’ve ridden. With a 35mm stem swapped in, and the flip-chip in the high geometry setting, the Enduro 29 is an absolute weapon. It’s no monster truck though. This bike is every bit as agile as it is capable. Sure, when you have upwards of 170mm travel and a 1,274mm wheelbase stretched out beneath your feet, speed is definitely your friend; the Enduro simply devours rocky, ridgeline trails.
It may surprise you then, that even in a tight spot in the middle of the forest, the Enduro can also be ridden with pinpoint accuracy. For a big bike it has a playful character too, so it’s every bit as confident in the air as it is smashing rock gardens. And it’s amidst the chaos when you really notice the Specialized has also nailed the flex of the entire bike, from the wheels through the frame to the grips, the Enduro 29 never feels overly harsh or unforgiving.
Most surprising of all in this test though, is that you could build the S-Works Enduro from the ground up with the exact same components and still have change to spare. A quick calculation revealed that Specialized’s £8,999 asking price is ambitious, to say the least. Especially when you factor in the additional cost of new brakes, better tyres and a shorter stem. At £7,999 we’d have given the S-works Enduro a 9 rating, as the overall performance is truly outstanding. Specialized was one the first brands to have a race ready 29er enduro bike, and the latest version combines years of experience from enduro and downhill racing into a big hitting 29er that blasts every descent, but can still hang with lighter, shorter travel bikes on the climbs.
But why settle for second-rate brakes on a first-rate chassis? In fact, Shimano appears to have the price/quality relationship inverted. Its entry-level brakes are by far the best, and not just the best Shimano brakes either, but best in class. Sure, they don’t carry the prestige of being top-of-the-range like XTR, but at least when you pull the lever they repeatedly perform the task they were designed for.
Ultimately, custom builds are definitely the way to go. And the S-Works Enduro 29 is the perfect place to start.
It took time to get to grips with the latest Enduro 29. Initially we couldn’t get centred on the bike, and no amount of suspension tweaking seemed to improve matters. Once we fitted a shorter stem and flipped the geometry to the high setting though, we instantly hit it off. This bike is rapid, and the rougher the trail, the better it is. It rides light too, but most impressive is that this 170mm beast climbs more efficiently than many trail bikes with considerably less travel. Yes, the XTR brakes can't be trusted, and the price should be £7,999 not £8,999, but there's no disputing the ride quality of the Enduro 29. It’s simply amazing.