News: Specialized Enduro 29 Unveiled

We raced the new long-travel 29er in Europe's Super Enduro series. Here's what we thought.

By:

CHECK THIS OUT: EXCLUSIVE ENDURO 29er VIDEO

By Kris Keefer

Test Rider: Kris Keefer
Height: 5’11″
Weight: 170 pounds
Profession: Pro Motocross Racer/Test Rider/Editor
Age: 32

The Enduro 29 was top-secret when we went to Italy to race it in the Super Enduro series at Finale. We were intrigued--could you give a 29er more than six inches of travel and still have it be fun, playful and--most importantly--capable in the roughest conditions?

So I was lucky enough to get an invite to Finale, Italy for the Specialized S-works Enduro 29er launch and, while I was at it, race the final round of the Super Enduro series. I jumped at the chance. Who wouldn’t?

While sitting on the bike, I had the distinct sensation that I was riding inside of the bike instead of on top of it, which I wouldn’t have suspected from a 29er—much less one with 155-millimeters of suspension. I did feel like most of my weight bias was towards the rear of the bike, which is weird for me as I ride mostly on the front end of dirtbikes. Quick disclaimer here: I’m a motocross racer at heart.

The medium-sized frame seemed to fit me perfectly and with little adjustments to the levers (yes I reversed them, moto-style, I know I’m lame) I was set to take off up the mountain. I can’t lay claim to having ridden a ton of 29ers to date, but this bike still surprised me in that it allowed me to simply jump in the saddle with no warm up or “break in” time and yet still creatively pick my lines down the mountain. No hesitation.

I didn’t need to ride the Enduro 29er with the sense of caution that I bring to some other bikes. I could actually plow through the bigger roots or rocks, making a straighter line choice that was, dare I say it, more motorcycle-ish. I loved that.

The biggest challenge facing designers of long-travel 29ers is keeping the chain stays short enough to keep handling crisp in tight and twisty conditions without the rear tire devouring the seat tube and front derailleur. Specialized created a unique mounting system for the front derailleur. Bottom line? This bike's chainstays are an amazing 430 millimeters (16.9 inches) long--just 10 millimeters more than the 26er Enduro (and a lot shorter than some XC 29er rear ends). Damn! The S-Works Enduro Carbon 29 SE rocks SRAM's single-ring XX1 group, but the other Enduro 29er models run 2x10 drivetrain systems.

Despite it’s plow-through-the-chunder prowess, the 29er Enduro corners in tight conditions better than I would have suspected possible. There wasn’t a single point during the race when I felt like I needed a more agile or smaller-feeling bike. Well, scratch that thought: I guess the only time that I felt that the bike was a tad too long was in tight, consecutive switchbacks where you really had to turn sharp repeatedly. The gearing also took a bit of time for me to adjust to, as I needed to be in a lower gear than I was used too. I found myself clicking up a couple more times than usual.

The top-of-the-line S-Works model is equipped with Cane Creek's infinitely-tuneable DBAir shock. Note the unique lever on this version that lets you quickly add just the right amount of low-speed compression on those monster climbs. The other 2013 Enduro 29er models are equipped with Fox Racing shocks.

On the suspension side of things, the Enduro 29 felt incredibly plush on small impacts. Braking bumps were hardly transferred to my hands and I could actually loosen my grip, which let me come into corners harder and more confidently than normal. The auto-sag feature is great—it makes it easy for anyone, even those of us who are less mechanically inclined or downright lazy, to dial their suspension perfectly every time.

Getting rowdy. The predominant reaction from both myself and other journalists was surprise--the Enduro 29er re-writes what people think a 29er is capable of and seriously makes you wonder why 650b is the rage. Specialized has blended a 29er's improved angle-of-attack and roll over with the nimble handling of a 26er. Yes, you've probably read that before, but this is a bike with more than six inches of freakin' travel. Truly impressive.

Finally, there’s no missing the fact that the S-Works 29er is incredibly light. Hopping over rocks or setting the bike into a berm was a joy on this bike. I had a great time on this bike and would love to get one of my own. The downside? They aren’t cheap.. Then again, you get what you pay for. In this that happens to be the best-handling bike I have ever ridden.

Imagine races that started in the downtown section of a really cool city and then took you on an all-day adventure filled with big climbs and rowdy descents. Sounds more like a great day or riding than a race, but that's what Enduro racing is all about. Very cool.


THE RACE

When Specialized invited the media to take part in the last round of the Super Enduro series while sampling their still-under-wraps S-Works Enduro 29er, I was stoked to get the chance to race. I have raced Enduros on my dirtbike, so I was familiar with the format, but have never given it a go on a mountain bike.

The course in Finale was unreal. As I was suffering up the climbs on the transfer sections I could look over and see a spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea. This gave me a little more drive when I started bonking.

Yes, this is the race course. In addition to being pretty, however, it was also brutal.

This Enduro was, flat out, one of the hardest things I have done and I’m physically fit. The elevation gains between each stage were gnarly to say the least. I also made the dumb choice of wearing a full-face moto-cross style helmet on the first three stages, so I had to climb with that helmet on the first half of the day. I wasn’t allowed to take the helmet off on the transfer sections, so I found myself overheating a little going up. I figured maybe going down some of these special tests would actually be a break compared to getting up to them. Wrong again. My heart rate monitor confirmed that I was almost red lining on the downhills. I started to get a flow on Stage 3, where I did pretty well.

The combination of long climbs and full-speed descents wears on you. There were times on the special test sections when I was definitely the guy on the trail trying to find a spot to move over and let faster guys blow through. A few of the media guys dropped out, as it was an all-day grind. Six hours in the saddle is no joke. I had some serious monkey butt going on.

The Enduro 29 is perfectly suited to this kind of racing: light enough that you don't kill yourself on the long, grinding climbs, yet capable enough to bomb technical terrain with authority. The big wheels helped smooth over Finale's rough, loose trails.

The overall experience of racing the Super Enduro in Finale, Italy is something I will never forget. It was one of the hardest days I ever had on a bicycle. Climbing 5,000 feet and racing down 5 special tests was taxing. I ate more pizza after the race than I have at any time in my life.

Editor’s Note: Kris Keefer, Associate Editor at Dirt Rider Magazine, exists on Twitter too (@kkeefer120). Follow him.

We've got a long-term review already cooking in the pages of Bike magazine (and the digital flippies of our Ipad version). The June issue goes on sale May 7th.


LOOK FOR A LONG-TERM REVIEW IN BIKE MAGAZINE
Want more information on the new Enduro 29?

You’re in luck.

In addition to our exclusive video on the making of the Enduro 29, we went and put a 29er-hater aboard this thing and made him ride the poop out of the bike (all secretive and Zorro-like) for months now.

So look for a long-term test in the June issue of Bike, which goes on sale May 7th. Are you a vampire and hate leaving your coffin to get magazines in the scorching sun? It’s available on your Ipad too. Get `er done.

Related Posts:

The Connect

Instagrams - @bikemag