Most of Bike’s core testers have spent ample time on Specialized's proven Camber model, and we've raved about its strengths in previous reviews. In fact, during our 2014 Bible of Bike Tests in Sedona, Arizona, I picked the Camber Expert Carbon EVO 29 as my favorite of all 34 bikes in that year's test issue.
So why sing all the same praises in this year's Bible? For starters, because the 2016 Camber is an altogether different bike, with multiple changes from the previous model. And after kidnapping the new version and spending several days pushing its limits in a variety of conditions, I can confidently claim it to be even more maneuverable than its covet-worthy predecessor.
How has the Camber changed? To begin with, Specialized revamped both its venerable Stumpjumper and Camber models this year, giving them an identical front triangle–which the company is now calling its 'trail chassis.' Specialized did this with the goal of designing two new front ends–29er and 650b– that could be used to update both the Stumpy and the Camber with geometries drawn from the popular EVO models. Bottom-bracket height, head angle and suspension travel for both new models are achieved through different links and seatstays.Lovers of the previous non-EVO Camber 29 will notice a slackened head angle–from 70 to 68.5 degrees–providing a palpably more aggressive disposition when descending through steep, chunky terrain. This, coupled with the adoption of the 120 millimeters of rear-wheel travel from the Camber 29's previous EVO model, instills confidence in technical sections of trail.
And by clipping a half-inch off the Camber 29's chainstays, which now stand at a stubby 17.2 inches, the designers injected an addictive dose of pure playfulness into the bike. Over and over, I found myself smashing the Camber 29 into corners and popping off every little kicker in sight.
Our test model costs $3,800–a great value for a carbon front triangle, a Fox Float Performance DPS rear shock (non-Brain) with Autosag and a 125-mil Command Post IRcc dropper. Some testers insisted that the Camber begged for a beefier fork than the RockShox Revelation RC3 29, but this didn't stop them from grappling to ride the bike.
Q&A with Sean Estes
Before this year's test bikes rolled into our barn, we had questions about them–some of the same questions that you might be asking yourself when you start poking around at a new bike. Here's what Sean Estes, Global Public Relations Manager at Specialized, had to say about the latest version of Specialized's popular trail bike. –Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator
Vernon Felton: So, who's the ideal rider for this bike?
Sean Estes: The Camber is built for XC and Trail riders who crave speed. The Comp Carbon model, in particular, represents perhaps the best value in the Camber family, giving riders much of the performance of the top-of-the-line S-Works at about half the price; it's made specifically for the value-conscious performance trail rider.
VF: Are there conditions in which you feel this bike really excels and, if so, what specific design attributes of the bike make that so?
SE: Camber offers the perfect balance of XC and Trail DNA, combining the best elements of Epic and Stumpjumper FSR to create an unrivaled all-around XC Trail weapon.
VF: Why is Specialized producing both 29er and 650b versions of this bike?
SE: in the past we offered Camber in 29-only but with two geo options (EVO and standard), we found that EVO was what the vast majority of riders wanted, but some riders wanted 650 wheels, so we went to one geo and two wheel sizes, instead of one wheel size and two geos. Our aim is to give riders what they want, some riders want 650 and some want 29, both wheels sizes have their benefits depending on the rider and the terrain. Which one is best for the rider is their call, which is why we offer both.
VF: What makes the bikes (29er and 650b) different (handling-wise) and who would be the ideal rider for each bike?
SE: We believe 650 is more nimble and 29 is faster, but every rider is different and terrain varies, so ultimately what makes one better than the other will be up to the rider to decide.
VF: There are a lot of good bikes in this basic category–what sets this model apart from some similar trail bikes people are looking at right now?
SE: Camber's FSR suspension with trail-tuned Mini Brain, combined with dialed geometry that perfectly splits the difference between XC and Trail, sets is apart from the competition. A lot of companies are jumping on the shorter-travel bandwagon. Camber defined the category.
VF: Is there anything particularly noteworthy (such as the SWAT door on the downtube) that sets the 2016 model apart from the equivalent 2015 model?
SE: The SWAT door storage compartment inside the downtube is, hands-down, the coolest and most unique feature. You can fit a tube, a pump and some snacks in there, keeping the weight down low and off your back and making for easy access when you need it. Factor in the EMT micro tool stashed in the upper shock mount and the chain tool tucked away in the top cap, and room for a full-size water bottle inside the front triangle and you can leave the pack at home for all but the longest of rides.
VF: Are there any aspects of the frame design that you guys are particularly proud of? If so, what are they and why?
SE: the SWAT door was quite the engineering challenge, taking a few years to pull off. The fully-enclosed, internal cable routing is also a super nice touch, making for hassle-free maintenance. The concentric FSR link pivot is also a nice touch that simplifies and lightens the chassis.
VF: What were you guys aiming for with the spec on this model and how did you achieve it?
SE: on anything less than S-Works, we are always trying to strike a balance between cost and performance. The Comp Carbon does a particularly great job by offering a good percentage of the performance of the S-Works, while greatly reducing cost via smart component spec, such as the same carbon front triangle used on the S-Works except with an alloy rear triangle. The same Roval Traverse wheels, except alloy instead of carbon. It's a tough package to beat for the price.
VF: Are there any details/features on this bike that you think are particularly critical to its performance that might be easily overlooked by consumers at first glance?
SE: The trail-tuned Mini Brain [not specced on the model reviewed here] is something riders need to ride to believe. This is not the same Brain we use on Epic, it is much more trail-specific and gives riders a bike the flies uphill and crushes downhill. And of course the SWAT door is easy to overlook if you don't know it's there.