We arrived in France just as the clouds were parting on a waterlogged Europe to ride Specialized’s brand-new steeds on some epic French singletrack. Since the Stumpjumper, a model nearly 30 years in the making, has long been one of my favorite bikes, I was excited to see how Specialized had tweaked the Stumpy for 2014. Much to my surprise, it was another model that won my heart this year: the Camber EVO.
Embarrassingly, I had never thrown a leg over a Camber, a model Specialized released about five years ago. You see, the Stumpy has always been the flagship trail bike, and as happens to some who work in the bike industry too long, I can, also embarrassingly, be a bit of a bike snob. I always viewed the Camber as a shorter travel, budget Stumpy, but it’s a totally different beast. My bad. Apparently Specialized needs to adorn an S-Works or EVO logo on a bike for me to notice the thing. My bad again.
So anyway, after whetting our appetites with a brief presentation, we headed outside, grabbed some bikes and loaded up the shuttle vans. I landed on a Camber S-Works.
S-Works Camber 29
Okay, Specialized makes a crap-load of models. It’s easy to get confused as to where each model fits in with the others. I’ll attempt to explain: With its big wheels, the Stumpjumper has become quite a capable bike. It’s big, squishy and a blast to ride, but it has lost some of its XC feel to become the aggressive trail slayer that it is today. Camber falls sort of where Stumpjumper was five years ago, a trail bike with XC race capability. Another way to say it is that the Camber is what you’d get if the Epic (the brand’s cross-country race bike) and Stumpjumper had a baby.
On smooth, flowing terrain, the 110-millimeter travel Camber S-Works is fantastic. If you love the feel of a cross country racing bike, but want something slightly less twitchy, the Camber is right up your alley. I can get on board with a bike like this. It’s fast as hell, but way more fun to ride than an Epic. This bike would be perfect for ultra endurance type events. I had a blast riding the Camber but I was looking for just a bit more shred.
Camber Expert EVO 29
The Camber EVO only has an extra 10 millimeters of suspension travel (120 millimeters), but the thing is much meaner than any of the Camber models that don’t sport those three letters. First off, the EVO model has a RockShox Pike (lowered to 120 millimeters). The super stiff 35-millimeter stanchions and bump eating performance of the Pike beg you to push this bike further. In addition, the head angle is, fittingly, a bit slacker than the normal Camber line.
Since wagon wheelers can be so much more capable through rough stuff, paring down on suspension travel makes a ton of sense, especially for advanced riders. The Camber EVO climbs far better than a Stumpy, and offers more support while cornering, due to the shorter travel. Since there isn’t a whole lot of shock stroke, the rider can feel more feedback from the trail, and you never get that wallowing feeling in the mid range. Rather than riding on a pillowy cloud of six inches of cush, the Camber EVO connected me with the trail, yet still offered enough squish when things got rowdy. This bike rules.
S-Works Stumpjumper EVO
With the popularity of the EVO line, aimed at more aggressive riders, Specialized decided to go full-bling on the the Stumpy EVO. And full-bling they went, with a gloss silver finish, S-Works carbon cranks, Carbon Roval wheels, Sram XX1 Drivetrain and RockShox Pike fork. Having spent almost all my time discovering the Camber, I didn’t spend much time on the Stumpy, although it feels as good as ever. The 29er Stumpy EVO is one hell of a capable bike, edging up on the Enduro.
If you’re like me and still love 26-inch wheels, the pool is shrinking. Normal Stumpys will be 29 only, but EVOs will still be offered in 26– for now at least. Specialized employees seem to have forgotten about the wheel size completely. When asked wheel and tire weights, they’d instantly spout off the answer – in 29. They hadn’t bothered memorizing the weights in 26. Interesting.
SWAT stands for Storage, Water, Air, Tools. It’s pretty cool. The guys in the mountain bike group at Specialized love riding without packs, so they started thinking about how to cleverly hide tools and such, on the bike. The couple SWAT items we saw in France were this ingenious top cap that holds a spare chain link using little magnets, and is a chain tool, and a multi-tool that mounts to the bottom of the bottle cage.