The Up Side
The suspension is admirably neutral while remaining active during seated climbing, and standing-induced bob can be canceled with a flip of the compression damping lever when stomping the Enduro uphill. However, competence shouldn't be confused with excellence—this is still a big bike with tons of travel. Don't expect to steal too many KOMs from the XC crowd.
The Enduro features slightly more conservative geometry than the current leading edge of slacked-out head angles, but that does not in any way hinder this bike's ability to plummet downhill with the best of them. Excellent balance and responsive steering are bolstered with ample and well-controlled suspension travel.
Dollar for Dollar
A quality component selection including SRAM GX drivetrain and Code four-piston brakes, along with very well spec'd Fox Float 36 fork and Float DPX2 shock puts the $4,820, carbon-fiber Enduro Elite right in the mix as far as value for money is concerned. For those on tighter budgets there's an all-aluminum Enduro Comp model for $3,200 with a RockShox Yari fork and Monarch shock.
Five years ago, after an initial reluctance to jump fully into the 29-inch-wheeled market, Specialized shocked the world—juking left as everyone was betting solidly on the rising star of 27.5-inch wheels—with the introduction of the Enduro 29: an aggressive all-mountain bike that showed up not only sporting wagon wheels, but also boasting more travel (155 millimeters) than any other previously attempted 'long-travel' 29er. Pundits everywhere attempted to make sense of this seemingly impossible feat, as the realization set in that not only was this a big-wheel, big-travel, big-terrain bike, it was also really easy and fun to ride. As such, the initial Enduro 29 was something of a battering ram to preconceived notions, and was in many ways one of the standard bearers ushering in a whole new big-wheel era.
Rolling forward five years, the Enduro has evolved to stay abreast of changing times. Rear travel has bumped up to 160 millimeters, headtube angle has kicked out to 65.5 degrees, seat tube angle has steepened to 76.5 degrees (both in low setting), with reach and wheelbase numbers reflecting a good balance of modernism and restraint. However, there's a geometry arms race afoot right now, and the long-travel-29-inch market is the red-hot battleground where this is playing out. Compared to the bleeding edge of some other aggressive 29ers, the Enduro is a degree steeper at the headtube, about an inch shorter between the wheels and utilizes a regular old 51-millimeter-offset Fox 36 to suck up bumps and bend around turns. But it still has more travel than almost anyone else.
Stepping away from the numerical posturing, does the biggest big-wheeler of them all still have what it takes to deliver the goods in the dirt? For those looking for the short answer, emphatically, yes. The Enduro presents a very good case for conservatism in design; it is a highly evolved, well-thought-out, very-well-behaved, extremely capable bike. Even as the longest-travel bike—and one of the physically heaviest—in our test, the Enduro 29 climbed with efficient neutrality, presenting a stable, zero-flex platform offering plenty of tractable seated behavior and clean-pedaling characteristics when humping it up ledgy and rocky climbs. A tradeoff for the behavior in the rough was slight bob when standing and muscling up fireroads. Flipping the low-speed-compression-damping lever on the Enduro Elite's Fox Float DPX2 shock counteracted this, but it still bears noting. Bob aside, the 32-plus-pound weight of our test bike should be clear indication that it wasn't designed as a climbing fiend, although it goes uphill with surprising dignity.
Low-speed handling is superb. Light, neutral steering allows confident wheel placement and maneuverability in tight going. It drops intuitively into carved turns without the rider having to force the front wheel to bite. As speeds increase, the big wheels and all that plush suspension travel, along with admirable lateral stiffness from the carbon fiber and aluminum chassis, come into play and the bike exhibits a battleship-calm sense of implacability. The extra travel goes a long way toward calming any theoretical nervousness when comparing warp-speed shenanigans to the current crop of ultra-slack barges out there, but emphasis here should be on "theoretical." In reality, this bike bombs the steeps with the best of them. Overall, the Enduro 29 exhibits a very easy to live with stability-to-agility ratio.
We tested the $4,820 Enduro Elite 29 spec. With a carbon fiber main frame, Fox Rhythm Float 36 fork, Fox Float DPX2 shock, SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain and Code R four-piston brakes, it represents a solid value for money. A thousand dollars more gets you a full-carbon frame, carbon rims and Ohlins suspension, and for $1,600 fewer, you could find your way into an all-aluminum model with a RockShox Yari fork and Monarch shock. Superb manners, gobs of efficient travel, and Great Dane lovability are included on all models.
Q&A With Jason Chamberlain, engineer, and Brad Benedict, product manager
165-millimeter rear travel, 29-inch wheels with room for 2.6-inch tires, there is no mistaking that this bike sits out there at the far end of the bell curve in terms of fitting it all together and making it work. What were some of the greatest challenges faced at the design end when it came to combining big wheels, big travel and all-around rideability?
In 2013 we introduced one of the first long-travel 29 Enduro bikes. It required us to work with SRAM to develop a new front derailleur to make it possible. Luckily, we don't have to worry about front mechs any longer, but it helped us develop the discipline to look at every millimeter of material and optimize it with advanced 3D computer modeling. We now have a library of spatial knowledge—things like the exact size of tires, inflated to different pressures, and after they stretch when used and how frames flex under load. In order to keep the geometry tight and right where you want it, you have to know the precise dimensions of everything involved both dynamically and statically.
This was the longest-travel 29-inch bike we had on test, yet it drew praise from our testers for its maneuverability and good manners. Do you think we are at the limit of what could be considered feasible as far as travel and this wheel size are concerned?
We are approaching the limit. Unless the average human height increases, the mitigating factors are fit. Your handlebar height increases as your fork length grows, and 90-millimeter head tubes and our Hella Flush headset keep things about as low as possible. I don't think the industry will accept clip-on grips like in Moto GP. In the rear, the travel is limited by your saddle and your butt. Shorter riders just can't get low off the back without the tire buzzing their crack. Tall riders have more room to play, and perhaps size-specific travel will become a thing so different people have the option to ride what works best for their body type and riding style.
Speaking of limits, the geometry of the Enduro seems politely restrained amid the current crop of super-long reach, super-slack head angle, super-short fork rake competitors that are currently in vogue. With an eye to the future, in what direction does Specialized see long-travel-trail-bike geometry evolving?
It's been a slow creep since the NORBA standard geometry of 71HT/73ST of the ’80s, and it will continue to creep. We will never be content that where we are today is the limit. There is always something better and the minute you get used to what you have, that is the same minute you start wondering what is next.