Geometry, sizing and travel all remain unchanged, but this year’s Camber Expert frame sports a zero stack tapered head tube up front, a massively oversized PressFit 30BB down below and 142 x 12mm bolt-through dropouts at the rear. Not only do these modifications at the extremities of the frame increase the overall solidity of the bike, they bring the Camber bang up-to-date with all the latest component standards.
In fact, all that’s missing from the package is a chain stay mounted ‘Dangler’ – like the one fitted to the Stumpjumper – to help keep the chain on. Especially when the frame doesn’t have ISCG tabs and you can’t mount a lower chain guide to a PressFit 30BB (the same is also true of the three other test bikes with Shimano PressFit BBs).
Specialized has taken a gamble fitting the 120mm RockShox Reba, over the basic Fox Float RL, but it seems to have paid off. The action of the Reba is noticeably smoother on rough terrain, with no reduction in grip or control compared to the Fox. An added bonus, is that it doesn’t suffer from the annoying hydraulic tap the plagues many open bath Fox forks.
Granted, the Reba doesn’t yield the same level of front-end support as the Fox when pointing the bike down the steepest trails – even if you change the balance of positive and negative spring pressures – but for the other 95 per cent of your riding it’s a better performing fork.
On the rear the Fox Triad II shock offers three compression settings at the flick of a lever: full open, ProPedal and lock out.
Butted spokes and alloy nipples give the Camber a lightweight, fast rolling wheelset. While build quality of the wheels is second to none, the Specialized Hi Lo hubs aren’t particularly well sealed, so it is worth keeping them clean and lubed. And if we’re really nit-picking we like to see a slightly wider rim on the rear; not for strength, just to offer the tyre more support when cornering hard.
The custom SRAM 2×10 chainset, with its oversized 30mm spindle, looks super trick compared to the lower end Shimano offerings on the Trek and Giant. And, more importantly, it feels solid under foot. With the dedicated 2×10 front mech, shifting on the 24/38t chain ring combo is crisp; while the 11-36t cassette on the rear means you can still tackle the steepest terrain.
With a 720mm wide riser bar and 75mm stem, Specialized is streets ahead of the competition in terms of cockpit layout. Factor in the comfy saddle, slender lock-on grips and lay back seat post (that complements the frame sizing), and the Camber simply fits like a glove.
With its longer than average down tube measurement, on what is effectively a 17.5in frame size, there’s ample standover clearance and plenty of room to manoeuvre, in or out of the saddle. Hardly surprising then, that the Camber Expert felt right from the get go.
The pairing of Fox shock and RockShox fork gives a balanced suspension response front and rear, and with all of the improvements to frames stiffness the 2012 Camber Expert is everything we wanted from last year’s bike and more. The changes should also guarantee that the frame won’t be out-of-date come July, when the new models are unveiled.
All that’s missing really, are bolt-through lowers on the Reba fork, but they are not a deal breaker.
The 2012 Camber Expert is agile, stiff, capable, and has the most progressive sizing and spec in test. It also helps that it’s incredibly easy on the eye, but its defining trait is that it is a total blast to ride. First to the top of every climb, ahead of the pack on the descents and lighting fast on tight, twisty single track, the 2012 Camber Expert pretty much defines the 120mm category.
In fact, you couldn’t really ask for more. Actually we can. How about a QR seat collar that still works after one wet, muddy ride?
MBR rating: 10
- Love: all of the frame upgrades for 2012
- Hate: that the 26in Camber range stops here
1: 2012 sees the top end Camber Expert get 142 x 12mm bolt-through rear dropouts
2: With a 38/24t custom SRAM chainset and 11-36 cassette, you definitely won’t be missing your old triple ring set-up.
3: Tapered head tube now as standard, but not on the cheaper Camber models
4: Adding strength where it is need most: the Camber gets a 32h rim on the rear and lighter 28h rim up front.
Frame: M5 Alloy, 120mm FSR design
Suspension: Fox Triad II shock, RockShox Reba RL 120mm fork
Wheels: Specialized Hi Lo hubs, DT Swiss 445D rims
Drivetrain: SRAM S1250 chainset and X7 f-mech, Shimano XT r-mech and SLX shifters
Brakes: Avid Elixir 5SL