With 29ers now the new normal, it’s no wonder there are so many great ones out there. Gone are the days of awkward handling and compromises. Specialized has been rocking the big hoops at the front of the pack for several seasons, so it’s no wonder the new Camber Expert 29er is winning me over with its refined ride and versatility, but not all is perfect for the Big S on this one.
Specialized Camber Expert 29 Features:
- FACT 9m carbon FSR frame and M5 alloy rear triangle with 110mm travel
- Built-in dropper seatpost routing
- Specialized Command Post BlackLite seatpost (125mm)
- 142+ rear dropouts create a lightweight and responsive trail weapon
- Custom Fox Triad II rear shock
- Fox Performance Series 29 RL Float fork with FIT damper, tapered steerer tube
- Roval Control Trail 29 wheelset, purpose built for trail riding with butted DT Swiss Super Comp spokes
- Custom carbon SRAM crankset with 10-speed XC Trail drivetrain
- Custom Formula The One R hydraulic disc brakes
- MSRP: $5100
Specialized Camber Expert 29 Review
Word on the street is that 650B may be the new hotness, but I’m saying not so fast, my friends. If you take one lap on the Camber Expert 29, you’ll understand why the big hoops have been rolling out of local bike shops in droves. Specialized introduced the Camber line last year and I lauded the 2011 Camber Pro 29. So, this year, I’ve doubled-down on the Camber line with the Expert 29.
New-for-2012, the Camber Expert features a lightweight Specialized FACT carbon front triangle mated to an M5 alloy rear triangle with a 142+ thru axle. The 110mm travel front and rear sort of puts this in a category by itself as it sits between the XC racing steeds and it’s all-mountain cohorts. Most sit at 100 or 120 front/rear, but the Camber sits between them.
The frame improvements and component choices are solid, durable and reliable. This bike does certainly have a lot to offer from the Roval Control Trail 29 wheelset ($700) to the Command Post Blacklite ($275) adjustable seat post and rounded out by a full SRAM drivetrain (mostly X0 and X9). But, for the money, I’m feeling disappointed with the Fox Float Performance RL 29 fork and the lack of a carbon fiber handlebar. While there are certainly more expensive bikes out there, when you spend $5100, the expectation would be that this would be almost as good-as-it-gets. While I don’t want to throw a wet towel on this rig, I am feeling like there must have been some discord between the product managers and the accountants on this bike.
I’d trade the adjustable seatpost for a Fox Factory Float fork and a carbon bar if it were up to me.
Enough about the build kit… it’s solid, but could be better. With the bleak Utah Winter this year, the trails have been prime for quite some time. As a result, I’ve gotten in three solid months of riding on the Camber and on the trail, this bike just sings. I’ve mentioned this before, but will do so again… Specialized has the wagon wheels nailed. I’ve been extremely impressed with the trail manners of the Camber Expert and can confidently say that this bike has minimal, if any compromises against its 26-inch brethren.
What I immediately noticed was its climbing manners. Even with the stem in positive rise position, the front end does little in the way of wandering and moves up, up, up as efficiently as you’d expect. It feels extremely-composed and collected as I’ve pushed it up steep, technical grades and long, drawn-out ascents alike. It has no tendency to wander. I’ve found the traction on the Camber Expert to be superb as well. The tire combination and the FSR suspension design work together to keep your rear wheel connected with the terrain.
I have appreciated the Specialized Command Post… this has been my most extensive stint on an adjustable seatpost. The three-position design gives you climbing, quick-descending and full-on slammed modes. I was able to quickly toggle between the full and dropped positions to maximize climbing and descending fun. Without a dropper post, you end up sitting too tall for those intermittent downhill sections. The Command Post gives you the luxury of having your cake and eating it too. It also went on a 100 gram diet this year to make it more reasonable compared to a standard post.
The cockpit is graced with a Specialized 720mm wide 7050 aluminum “Mini-Riser” bar. This bar is the perfect shape for a 29er with just enough rise and backsweep to make it feel instantly comfortable. I love the extra width too. But, at this price point, I’m disappointed that it’s not carbon. As such, the bars transferred much of the trail chatter directly to my hands on long descents.
When talking about descending, you can’t not talk about the brakes. Braking duty is performed by a set of Formula The One R brakes. I was anxious to get aboard a set of these and test them out against the best brakes on the market. I found the Formula’s pads to be a bit finicky to center. The usual tricks didn’t work, so I had to basically hand-center the front calipers to avoid rubbing. I love the easy reach adjustments and overall power provided by these brakes, but they had too much of an on/off feel with little modulation. And, at this price, I’d expect carbon blades (am I asking too much?) and best-in-class modulation.
Continuing on the descending theme, the Camber Expert is right at home in twisty, turny singletrack. From the first ride to the last, I’ve been super-comfortable on this steed. It loves to rail corners and be pushed hard through all conditions. At 110mm travel, you are going to get bounced around in the extremely-rough stuff, but once the suspension was adjusted, I was met with predictable FSR travel in the rear and enough squish up front to keep things lively (though still lacking the smoothness of the Factory series forks). Yeah, I do miss my Fox Factory Float 32 Kashima fork.
I’ve got no complaints in the performance of the drivetrain and wheelset. While some may knock the Roval wheels and say they aren’t as good as the competition. I’m here to call their bluff. Every pair of Roval wheels I’ve tested has endured months of abuse without a squawk. They roll well and always stay perfectly true.
Good Camber Expert:
- Carves up singletrack with the best trail bikes on the market
- Smooth, efficient climber that stays firmly planted to the trails
- Carbon front triangle refines the ride
- Tapered steerer stiffens things up
- Roval Trail SL wheelset shines on this bike
- Excellent tire combination for all-terrain prowess
- Squawk-free drivetrain for miles of smiles
- Burly built-in chainstay protector reduces chain slap noise and damage
Bad Camber Expert:
- Fox Performance Series fork lacks the smoothness of the Factory Series
- 9mm QR up front seems odd in this bike, but did make for easy roof rack mounting
- I’d fully expect a carbon bar at this price point
- Formula brakes lack modulation found on today’s best stoppers
Bottom Line: Specialized Camber Expert 29
The carbon front triangle stiffens this bike up considerably while reducing trail chatter. To get the carbon goodness at this price point, you do have to settle for a less-capable fork, but the overall package is still hard to beat — especially considering the lack of full-suspension carbon 29ers on the market. If you are down with lesser-grade components, the Camber Comp 29 gets you out the door with enough leftover for some strategic upgrades.
More Info: Visit Specialized.com
6/26/2012 UPDATE: How do carbon bars improve the ride?
I talk to people everyday who balk at the idea of carbon bars. Well, I’m hear to tell you that a pair of carbon bars can make all the difference. I decided to see how much of a difference they could make on this bike by slapping a Truvativ Noir T30 flat bar on this rig. While it is 20mm narrower (I did miss the extra width), the Noir T30 bars make this bike significantly better.
I felt the front end was much more stable and smooth on descents. The vibration-induced numbness disappeared and the overall feel of the bike was markedly improved. If you can upgrade something on this bike, swapping to a good carbon flat bar would be money well spent.