The 2020 riding season has introduced a few “firsts” in terms of review bikes. I threw a short leg over a bike with a frame reach longer than 460mm for the first time, rode a mixed-wheel whip, I’m currently pedaling a bike with coil springs front and rear, and it was the first time I tested bikes while wearing a mask. That last detail is less exciting. The year blew in an unsurmountable pile of oddness and uncertainty, and fortunately a band of great bikes.
The Specialized Enduro rides somewhere near the peak of my review list for 2020, with its familiar ride character on the trail, easy setup, and mistake-saving 170mm of balanced travel. Whether you’re racing enduro or pinning it down rough home trails, this leggy bike offers a frame design and component spec to compete with the best of the modern gravity quiver. Priced at €6,999 for the Expert build, buyer expectations will be rightfully high with this one.
The carbon frame
Like its long-travel colleagues — for example, the Santa Cruz Megatower or Scott Ransom — every angle on the Enduro is cut to go fast downhill at minimum weight. The loungy Adirondack-chair head-tube-angle lays back at 64.3°, resulting in one of the slackest bikes I have tested yet. The steeper 76° seat tube angle is necessary to reign in a 464mm reach on the S3 size, and to give this mini-DH platform a reasonable climbing position. The frame feels well balanced with its 442mm chainstays across the size run, while the average 28mm bottom-bracket drop keeps the ride stable while appropriately balancing pedal-strike considerations. With more brands moving to balance their bikes by adjusting the chainstay lengths to suit the reach, I expect Specialized might be adjusting the rear-to-center methods with the next iteration of the enduro.
The Enduro’s 4-bar Horst link suspension design keeps shock weight low between your feet, and with its relatively progressive leverage ratio riders can mount a coil or air-sprung shock as they prefer. There’s adequate space for any size bottle on the down tube, just ahead of the shock.
Cable and hose routing on the bike is clean and quiet throughout, as should be expected from one of the top brands in our industry. The chainstay protector works well to silence slaps, and the down tube has a sturdy hunk of plastic to deflect stones. If this were my personal bike, with its beautiful pearlescent blood-and-black paint coats, I would add a protection layer to keep things looking good throughout the life of the frame.
Smaller than a breadbox, yet larger than a steaming burrito, the SWAT box is a feature I would love to see on all bikes someday. The down tube storage compartment allows you to cram everything that you would typically carry in a hip pack into the frame instead, freeing up space for a camera in the bag — or the option to ride with nothing strapped to your body. SWAT storage also makes it easy to keep necessary items on the bike at all times. This is a convenient asset for folks like myself who tend to forget a tube or pump occasionally. You could wedge a small first aid kit deep into the frame so you always know it’s there if you need it. Paired with the SWAT multi-tool in the steerer, Enduro riders might experience fewer walks out of the woods with this bike.
2020 Expert build kit
For a contemporary enduro race inspired bike, the carbon Enduro Expert is quite light at 13.46kg or 29.67lbs.
The Specialized Enduro that I tested is an Expert model that came out for the 2020 season, and the build and colors have changed slightly for 2021 bikes. This build kit included a lightweight Fox DPX2 Performance shock and 36 Float Performance fork with a GRIP damper and a 44mm offset. I appreciate that the stock fork includes a Kabolt skewer, replacing the usual 15mm quick-release that I would have swapped immediately. While I might mount a coil for longer tracks, the DPX2 and Float 36 work well to balance this bike at speed. The GRIP damper in the fork requires far more low-speed compression than most of the competition, but once the sweet spot is achieved it feels sufficient. While I naively assumed that the DPX2 with its 60mm stroke was too light or “too trail” for a 170mm bike, I was pleasantly surprised by its overall performance on the Enduro. I didn’t feel the need to add volume spacers for end stroke support and I was happy to keep the weight low on the climbs.
Like grade school swing sets, test bikes often see multiple journalists throughout a season, and this one had certainly been around the continent. Its drivetrain, consisting of an X01 shifter and derailleur paired with a GX cassette and chain, was shifting on the slower and grittier side by the time it was my turn to ride. A fresh cable and housing helped, but this swing is certainly in line for some love. The stock 10-50t cassette and 30t chainring are a perfect pair for steep slopes, both up and down, and the bike’s 170mm cranks kept my feet off the rocks nearly all of the time. Lastly, 10 points go the Specialized designer who gave this bike an external bottom bracket. Thank you.
I lump brakes and tires into the same review space because they are commonly skimped-on components with any gravity build, and because, in similar ways, they both hold colossal clout over how a bike handles. Both of the SRAM Code RSC stoppers and their 180/200mm discs worked flawlessly throughout the test, with more precise power delivery and bite than I have experienced with some other Code brakes. They are definitely an appropriate throttle for this capable little DH bike.
As ever, the tire selection is less appropriate for a 170mm gravity machine. A double snake bite saw me swapping the rear tire on my third outing, and the Schwalbe Magic Mary gravity casing that replaced it has held strong since. The Specialized Butcher Grid Trail casing was a little light in the rear, and I would love to test the bike with the rear DH casing that it deserves. The same tire up front in a 2.6″ width felt fantastic on a variety of terrain, holding the line well and maintaining confident sidewall support through fast turns.
I flop across the fence on carbon-fiber rims, loving and loathing them, and this build comes with a pair. The Roval Traverse Carbon 29 hoops surprised me, with more lateral flex than a lot of similarly shaped fiber circles. They don’t feel as stiff and unforgiving on rocky tread as some deep-section carbon rims, and despite that initial puncture they also have not butter-knifed their way through my tires like some unyielding carbon hoops tend to. The rear wheel did lose tension over time, which was a little concerning. I was riding at La Thuile Bike Park and heard what sounded like the wishy-washy vibration of a broken spoke. I pulled off the trail and checked the spokes to find that they had all become alarmingly loose. After nearly a full rotation of each of the nipples, and a little more for some of the extra-wobbly ones, the rear wheel was back in action.
Specialized Enduro Expert bikes are finished off with a 40mm stem and 800mm alloy handlebar across the size run. Having not ridden with an alloy bar in a while, I appreciated the flex and smooth damping the material can create when it’s engineered properly. Given the speed and send capabilities of this bike, an aluminum handlebar that can be bent back into rideable position seems like a smart call.
While not least important by any means, the last noteworthy piece of kit on the Enduro Expert is an X-Fusion manic dropper post topped with the cozy Specialized Body Geometry Myth saddle. The dropper runs a touch slower than what I’m accustomed to, but after a ride or two my thumb and bum adjusted and I forgot about the small speed difference. If I purchased this bike I would likely swap in one of my favorite droppers and sell this one to a less persnickety friend.
Enduro on the ascent, descent, and everything in between
Yes, downhill bikes can climb well. Steeper seat tube angles like the 76° post on this bike move the rider’s weight forward to keep the front wheel planted and to offset the wandering sensation that slack head tubes create. From a geometry standpoint, the Enduro offers a comfortable balance between the wheels that makes climbing on 170mm of travel enjoyable. I have ridden this bike up some of the trickiest climbs in my area, and it’s proven a fun choice for uphill challenges. A few years ago I would have laughed at anyone who said that a 170mm bike could be fun for climbing technical tracks. In this case, once again, I would have been wrong.
Like the Megatower that I tested on many of the same tracks over the summer, the Enduro remains poised uphill without flipping the low speed compression switch. At roughly 20% sag, the rear end provides plenty of movement to maintain traction without bobbing through the pedal stroke. I would find it hard to vote between the Megatower and the Enduro for “best climber,” since they are both lightweight for their given travel, and both offer an aggressive climbing position and a stable suspension platform. The Megatower did all of that with a smooth coil shock flipped open, so I’m tempted to call it the uphill winner, but I would have to test the Enduro with a coil spring to be sure. Unfortunately, Specialized didn’t have a tuned coil available. If you’ve ridden the Enduro with a coil please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Descending is this bike’s muscle, and it does so with more of a DH-bike-like feel than any single crown forked bike I have tested to date. The Enduro plows whatever line you choose, while its harmonious fore-to-aft footing and low weight create a surprisingly easy ride character. It’s not glued to the trail, but maneuverable and precise. My first descent on the 2020 Enduro felt comfortable and fast, as did the one right before I typed this review. Enduro racing requires more versatility from a bike than any other race genre, and if a bike can deliver all of the right elements in a package that’s comfortable and predictable like this one, winning is all left to the pilot.
The Specialized 4-bar suspension platform includes all of the best elements from their Demo DH bike, and it shows. With a proper setup, the long 170mm of squish makes riding fast on rough trails even more fun, and there’s ample support throughout the stroke to push against when it’s time to pump or hop obstacles. Riding new trails on-sight, or after a single practice run, requires some split second direction changes and emergency bunny hops. The Enduro has a solid platform for maneuvering at speed and saving the day when the line you thought was fast turns out to be a mess.
In the anti-squat and anti-rise department, Specialized found a pure race platform to build this bike around. It has a lively response to direct rider input and holds a sturdy base to sprint against. If you’re pulling with all of your strength across one hand to the opposite pedal, trying to “break the frame in half” as the ol’ sprinter slogan goes, you’ll find the speed you’re searching for in the Enduro. The suspension remains active and fairly smooth under heavy braking, which helps when you need the rear tire to transform into a good rudder on steep and deep trails. I did find the limits of the air shock on a few long descents, where the rear end became notably stiffer as the shock heated beyond its happy place. Outside of a race setting this was no major issue, and can easily be remedied by pulling over for a drink of water. In a race, I might swap out the DPX2 for a coil to eliminate the inconsistency.
Sometimes trails are also flat, and you’re not even sprinting. The Enduro isn’t just a race bike. Unlike some similarly-specced, carbon wonder whips, this is one I would happily take on an all-day adventure with friends. It’s easy to get acquainted with, light enough to hike-a-bike, has a large snack drawer, and might impress your trail companions on the way back down. In a group or solo, it’s a surprisingly adaptable bike that is fun to ride almost anywhere, whether it’s truly appropriate or not.
I would expect greatness from a bike I paid $6,550/€6999 for, and the Specialized Enduro delivers. The frame is dialed in nearly every way for fun adventures and full-on racing, and the build kit needs little-to-no upgrades. I can’t quite split the hairs between this bike and the Santa Cruz Megatower, but I can say that folks who buy this bike with the hopes of fast and fun riding will be stoked on their decision.
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