Bike Test: Specialized SX Trail 1

Specialized went back to the drawing board in 2009 and heaped a whole lot of engineering love on the already venerable SX Trail. Highlights include a tapered headtube, chainstay-mounted front derailleur, a jungle of reconfigured tubes and all manner of bombproof,
forged frame pieces, including the headtube, rear dropouts, bottom-bracket shell and chainstay yoke.

The SX Trail 1 is the second-tier bike in the two-model SX line and comes with a smart mix of components. A RockShox Domain 318 fork and Fox DHX 4.0 rear shock handle suspension duties, while Avid Elixir R hydraulic discs (210-millimeter rotor up front; 185 in back) provide plenty of braking bite. The whole rig rolls on custom DT Swiss 550 wheels.

Out on the dirt, the SX allows for an insane margin of operator error: I lost count of the times I was certain I'd break myself in half, and yet managed to sail smoothly through bungled drops and sorely miscalculated line choices. Part of the credit here goes to the bike's very neutral handling. The 66-degree headtube angle feels perfect on steep terrain. The stiff chassis tracks like a train through even the roughest corners, and the coil-sprung four-bar suspension manages to be silky smooth on small trail chatter while still delivering that bottomless feel on big landings.

Of course, all those massive tubes, oversized axles, and coil-sprung squishy things should lend a sort of fear-no-evil ride quality to a bike. What is surprising is that the SX is also a freakishly capable trail bike.

With its outstanding crotch clearance (standover is 27.5 inches on our medium-sized test bike), low bottom bracket (13 inches) and short chainstays (16.5 inches), the SX is one of the few "big bikes" that begs to be flicked and finessed on tight trails. It hugs the terrain like Satan's very own go-kart, threads a mean needle and never wallows about in the middle of its travel: all very good things.

What could be improved? Both the derailleur cables and the rear brake line are routed in a bundle underneath the bottom bracket. While I never snagged the massive wiring harness on anything, I still have reservations about dangling that critical hydraulic line down there. Likewise, the SX's low bottom bracket is a sort of love-it-or-hate-it proposition. Me? I'm a fan. Those who consistently pedal through rough stuff, however, might not feel the same way.

If you're looking for a flyweight machine, this ain't your bike. The SX's burly frame, downhill-oriented com- ponents and steel-coil-spring suspension ratchet its weight up to almost 36 pounds, all making for a serious grudge with gravity. On the other hand, if you're looking for one bike that excels at both the bike park and aggressive trails, the SX deserves a long, hard look. In fact, this might just be the perfect weapon.