After a five-year absence, Specialized brought back the cross-country Era for 2015, redesigned with 29-inch wheels, women's-specific geometry, top-shelf components and an all-carbon frame.

The Era is the sister to the men's Epic, but with a lower standover, shorter wheelbase, shorter toptube, a slightly lower bottom bracket and suspension tuned with spring rates for lighter riders.

Specialized spared nothing when it came to the S-Works model, resulting in a heart-attack-inducing price of $11,000. The frame is built around carbon Roval SL 29 142 wheels, creating a light, stiff and responsive core. Add SRAM's XX1 drivetrain and a 30-tooth front chainring and this things hauls uphill.

Front suspension is handled by the inverted RockShox RS-1 Brain fork, customized with a top-mounted BrainFade dial and tuned with 90 millimeters of travel on size small and 100 millimeters on sizes medium and large. Fox and Specialized teamed up on the 95-millimeter-travel Mini-Brain rear shock with the set-it- and-forget-it Autosag. Autosag can be daunting at first–you quickly realize why Specialized sells a floor pump-style shock pump as you attempt to cram 300 PSI into the shock–however once it was set up, the shock delivered on its promise of a smooth and efficient ride. Adjusting the sensitivity of the Brain is a bit of a pain because the knob is located on the rear triangle, but you don't need to fiddle with it much. We left the shock open for the entire ride and it felt firm on the steeps and plush when it was time to shred.

We expected the Era to be fast going up, but had lower expectations on the descents–it's a pinner XC bike with a 70.5-degree headtube angle, afterall. But, its descending prowess turned out to be one of the best surprises of the week. The sub-100 millimeters of travel felt much deeper, and it gobbled up the drops and rock gardens on our test loop. The Era performed so well that we gladly would've taken a weight penalty in exchange for a dropper post.

The Era was the most expensive bike we tested in the entire Bible, so sticker-shock is to be expected. It is available, however, in two lower-cost versions, both with carbon frames. – Petie Thom

Specialized S-Works Era 29

The S-Works ERA 29 is a beautiful cross-country speed queen that will make you faster, just be prepared to refinance your house.

Q & A with Sean Estes, global public relations manager – Specialized

We had questions about the new bikes before we even got our test rigs, so we sent out a few queries—the kind of things we thought you might be asking yourself when you're looking at this bike. Then we sent out another round of asks if any major questions or issues came up during testing. Here's the feedback we received from Specialized Bicycles' global public relations manager, Sean Estes.

Consider this a bonus feature—just a little something extra to chew on if you're still hungry for information after you've watched our video reviews and flipped through the Bible of Bike Tests. – Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator

VERNON FELTON: Some companies don't feel that a woman's-specific bike requires different geometry. Specialized, obviously, feels the opposite. Why is that the case? How is the Women's Performance XC 29 geometry better suited to women than men?

SEAN ESTES: We believe in investing the resources into research and development for women's products that ensures a data-driven optimized fit and top-level performance. Taking into consideration the rider experience and riding style, this often includes lower standover, less stack, and optimized reach, all of which are key to the bike's performance and to making our women's bikes the most out-of-the-box ready for female riders.

Our relationships with Body Geometry® and Retul® are industry leading, and provides our product and engineering teams with data from over 20,000+ fits worldwide ensuring that these geometries and specs are purposeful and optimized for rider performance. In the case of our Performance XC 29 geo, this allows us to fit a wider range of riders and factor in key differences in female riders including their unique stack, reach, and center of gravity needs.

VF: Does the Era also receive a different fork and rear shock tune than a comparable Epic?

SE: Yes. All of our women’s mountain bikes (from low-end to high-end) receive specific suspension tunes based on lighter rider weight. On average, women are 20% lighter than a man of the same height. When you put these lighter female rider on the stock suspension on an Epic, for example, she will typically have a hard time using all of the suspension, even when sag is set properly. To combat this, we work with our in-house suspension team to create lighter tunes and optimize the kinematics, which allow lighter riders to use the full amount of travel because it requires a lower amount of force to fully compress the shock. All of our women's bikes fork and rear shock tunes are tested and approved by women.

VF: Something that strikes me about the women's-specific Era line is how high up it goes. Most companies don't offer female-friendly bikes at this high of a price point (that is, up to $11,000).

SE: There are plenty of women out there who want a no-holds-barred, fully decked-out bike, just like the guys have access to. Our mission is to provide them with the same set of high performance tools the guys have, but in a version optimized for their needs. This is the only way to ensure women’s cycling remains healthy and continues to grow. Specialized Women embodies the "Your Ride. Your Rules." philosophy, whether you are hitting the trail for the first time, or vying for the podium in an XC race.

Bible of Bike reviews of other womens’ models:
Norco Sight Carbon Forma

Scott Contessa Spark

Liv Intrigue