The Era is Specialized's women's-specific, cross-country whip, sporting 100 millimeters of travel and a carbon-fiber frame built around 29-inch wheels. On Monday at Interbike's annual Outdoor Demo outside of Las Vegas, I had a chance to test the S-Works version, which is the top-of-the-line, $11,000 speed machine.
On the surface, the matte-black frame with matching black RS-1 fork looks rad and fast. The muted color palette is a nice change from the women's bikes that are splashed with loud, bright colors and graphics. Based on looks alone, I was pretty excited to ride the redesigned Era around the rocky singletrack at Bootleg Canyon, the trail network located in Boulder City.
The Era was last seen in the Specialized line back in 2010 as a 26-inch, full-suspension bike. Since that iteration, Specialized introduced the Fate hardtail carbon-fiber 29er, one of many bikes that cemented the company’s big-wheel philosophy.
The popularity of the Fate, and the number of women buying the men's Epic cross-country bike compelled Specialized to take another look at the Era.
The geometry is based on a low standover height–735 millimeters on a size medium–a cross-country-appropriate 70.5-degree head angle, 1,108-millimeter wheelbase and a 545-millimeter toptube. It's amazing how much 29er geometry has improved over the past several years, and the Era is a great example of how much snappier and fun these bigger-wheeled bikes can now be. I was able to get the Era around the tight corners with ease, and the benefits of the increased rollover of the larger wheels was evident as I rolled up and over several chunky rock sections of trail. I'm not a cross-country racer, but the Era certainly made me feel like I could pin on a number plate and line up with the fast, fit, Lycra-clad crowd–and not get left sputtering in their dust.
The S-Works version–there is also an Expert at $6,300 and a Comp at $4,200, both with carbon frames–wears many fancy parts including a full XX1 11-speed drivetrain, shifters and crankset. It also dons the new RockShox RS-1 fork customized with a top-mounted BrainFade adjuster and rebound dial and a 15-millimeter thru-axle. The size small frame comes in a 90-millimeter-travel version, while medium and large have 100 millimeters of front travel. The rear shock is a Fox/Specialized remote Mini-Brain with Autosag for easy set-up with 95 millimeters of travel. Most of the time I set the suspension into its softest mode in both the front and rear, and didn't bother stopping–because of the placement of the Mini-Brain, it's difficult to adjust on the fly–to firm up the rear shock, except for when I was on a long fire-road climb. The flat, carbon bars are a respectable 680 millimeters wide. It also included the SWAT Top Cap Chain Tool, a cool addition.
I did have some trouble with the Magura MT8 disc brakes on the Era, which squealed and howled during my entire ride regardless of whether or not I was actually braking, and when I did brake, the stopping power felt weak. The root of the potential friction problem could have been a contaminated pad, an easy problem to fix by swapping the pads, or possibly the brakes were new and just hadn’t bedded in yet, or they were out of adjustment. Bear in mind that it may take a few rides with heat-generating descents for these pads to wear in.
For more information on the new Era, go to specialized.com.
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