Saturday, July 22, 2006

The TravelMan Cometh

Back when I started riding, Specialized made a full-suspension bike. One. The Sworks line came with full 8-speed XTR and canti brakes, long stems and flat bars. I rode that first Sworks FSR and I liked it.

Things are better.

Brandon Sloan (left) and Specialized are killing it right now. These last few years have been amazing in terms of product. They stole Mike McAndrews out of the jaws of Wisconsin (winter?) and they put him to work. Ho lee cow.

The mtn bike demo stuff was up at Northstar at Tahoe, which is closed for the season, except for us, of course. The trails were in great shape, albeit dry, powdery and REALLY slippery and rocky. Lars dragged me under the rope (don't worry, we got busted) for Dogbone half-way down Karpiel. Luckily I was on the Demo 7. It's good that they closed that trail to the non-armored Spec'd dealer masses. Oof. Big drops, tight turns, waterfall with no water and no warning. Thanks buddy. How about a little warning next time. I won't hold my breath, though...

What can I tell you? I rode the Enduro SL carbon bike (under 27lbs) more than I can tell you without getting in more trouble with certain people. That's the bike that everyone wants to know about so here are some killer details: there is a new aluminum line of Enduro SL bikes that are ALL under 30lbs and have the same 150mm dual crown Spec'd branded fork (Future Shock E150) with 25mm thru axle. The new rocker-arm setup looks different than the previous bikes, for sure, but allows for a waterbottle cage in all sizes (great for 24hr stuff). A waterbottle mount for all bikes was one of the design goals. Check out that sexy, curby downtube. Gone are the 2006 130mm-looking platform that came out in 1999 or so. You can still get the 2005 version in four Enduro models, 2 sx trail bikes and frames. The Enduro SL is still 150mm but WAY cleaner looking and just as strong. It rides like a Stump FSR when you are going up but they handle WAY better going down. When Spec'd breaks down the percentage of climbing to descending the Enduro SL is designed for, they say it's great for 50% climbing and 60% descending... And I get it. They bolted some Magura brakes on the bikes and they work well. I'm not a fan. They are on/off with almost no modulation. I never used more than one finger on the craziest stuff up there. I saw a few fried rotors and had to pump up a few calipers at the lever but no failures. There was a lot of concern floated by various people I talked to regarding the brakes and I won't name names. Let's just say the brakes have a 5 year no-leak warranty and they are light AND I got the Magura guy's card. I told him I'd be calling. We've gotten away from Magura in the past (FAR away) but I'm told that these are pre-production brakes and Magura will stand behind these brakes 100%. Got it. Nervous.

How does the new Enduro ride? How do you think? Well, it's better than that... It could easily replace my carbon stump FSR but NOT my Enduro SX Trail. Think of it as a long travel xc/trail bike. It's not WAY more plush than the Stump FSR stuff, but it's more plush and it pedals EXACTLY like the 120 bikes. The big story is the fork. That thing is amazing. It is so much stiffer than other forks that I'd say it's almost Lefty quality. It's more adjustable and not as light but it rides amazingly well. Oh, and Lefty can't hit 150mm yet. Steering is amazing. They had 2.1" tires on the bikes by mistake on my first few runs but I managed to spend a few runs on the correct 2.3" tires that the bikes will come with. Here are the three colors for the aluminum Enduro SL bikes. I like that orange quite a bit. The brown and silver work as well, but that orange really pops. That tire spec may not be accurate, I didn't look it up.

Rockhoppers now have the M4 aluminum that Stumpys have used for years. The Hardrock lost weight and looks great. The FSR XC bikes ($1k-$2k) are all M4 frames now and lighter than last year. Carbon frames in the Stump, Stump FSR and Epic have all come WAY down in price and shock hole (see pic). It might be hard to see, but the bulb at the bottom of the piece of billet aluminum becomes the bottom bracket shell (with the addition of 25 or so tons of pressure). The out of the Sworks lineup so normal dealers can get 'em now. Stump FSR gets a minor update (new frame!) that includes the largest single forging on a mountain bike ever. It's from the bottom bracket up to the top of the seat-tube piece is solid after the cold forging and the tube is bored out from the bottom braket end. It's pretty amazing. Those new frames are lighter and stiffer than last year. Still at 120, the brain comes down to the comp model. Also, the Sworks stump FSR goes DOWN (?) to 120 to keep it further away from the Enduro SL at 150.

Pictured are the internals of the new Future Shock E150 designed by Mike McAndrews (right). Mr. McAndrews has always been a pioneer in the world of bicycle suspension. His time with off-road moto stuff has been useful, to say the least. He started out with Rock Shox in R&D then started the Fox Forx program and the Spec'd Future Shock stuff from the mid 1990's. He has created some pretty amazing new stuff for Spec'd in the first year. It's hard to imagine this is the end of his talent. I'm sure 2008 will be even more amazing. Just assume lighter, better control and longer travel and you'll be fine.

Other big news includes new rear shocks. The new brain-based shocks now close instantly after compression so there is no 2-3 second lag as in the last few years. Increased efficiency from decreased 'open' time. Ask 1st and 2nd place in the World Cup last month how they feel about it. Ned really likes it.

Ok, so they have new wheels with a funky star hub, Sworks carbon Tricross, Tarmacs look like last year's SL bike, Sworks-level Ruby for the ladies, the ladies epic is back and the new Stump FSR wmns looks great. Redesigned shoes (better all around!), more optics and a few new tire models. The tires look great and are really well thought out. Not too much new tread design, just some good alterations (lower knobs on an Sworks Fastrak that also has a reinforced 2Bliss bead but standard casing!). Look for the Fastrak LK and SLK (low knob and super low knob).

Oh, how could I forget the Demo bikes? Gone is the Demo 9, replaced by new Demo 8 and 7. The 8 is your DH race bike, no problems. The 7 is RAD! New frame. The downtube has a couple extra bends in it and the rear linkage has been slimmed down. How about 1 pound lighter? Single crown Totem fork from RockShox with 40mm stanchions just KILLS it! Stiffer in deflection AND torsion than the Boxer, this 1.5" headtube beauty has high AND low speed compression damping and is the best feeling bike that I rode at Northstar. I like the 8 but there was nothing that the 7 couldn't handle up there. Love.

Oh, this is what happens when you stay up all night and hang out with Shawn (left). Lars in top form (right)... Somebody wake that kid up. So what if you don't sell road bikes, this is the women's session! I think this set the tone for the rest of the week.

Shawn is my 'brother in trouble' and we managed to cause some consternation among our fellow participants and the organizers. So it goes.


At 1:15 PM, Blogger Surly Rider said...

thanks for the review duder. This is an exciting year for c-dale and special-iz-ed.
How are things going down there? check ou for some pics of the new joint!

At 10:16 AM, Blogger gwadzilla said...

tough job!

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Brian said...

You and Shawn in the same room? Oh my, I wouldn't have been able to stop laughing...


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