Once the Stumpy 650 was announced earlier this year (check our review here) it became clear a 650b Enduro wasn’t far behind. The 26″ Enduro platform has been a hit since its arrival – and it’s one of my personal favourites. It’s the archetype; one of the best examples of a bike that combines excellent downhill performance with capable climbing. Short stays deliver responsive handling and the low bottom bracket helps it rail corners. Add in a slack head angle and you have a light machine that does a fantastic DH bike impersonation. In short it was a killer bike. May it rest in peace. I’ll be hanging on to my 26 inch version even after 31ers become all the rage.
The 29″ version continued that tradition, shutting down the doubters who said long travel wouldn’t fly with big wheels. Specialized managed to keep the stays short (430mm 16.9″) and preserve much of the handling of the small-wheeled version. I first rode one during Crankworx last year on a Whistler trail called Bush Doctor. The line is a barrage of steep rock faces with nasty holes at the bottoms, and I had a harder time setting up for drop ins than I was used to. Some of the low speed stability of the 26 was missing. Lower down I had my best ride ever down Danimal because of the speed I was able to carry. The bike destroyed rooty sections and seemed to accelerate over chunder of any kind. I wasn’t about to trade in the lively feel of my 26, but the bike’s performance was beyond reproach.
Back in June I rode the 29er version again before I got to the fresh 650b model. If you’ve been following along you’ll know that Specialized opted to use the 29″ front triangle for the Stumpy 650b to get the bike to market ASAP. They took a similar approach with the Enduro 650b but opted for the 26″ version’s front end to go with a brand new swingarm. Of course that will raise eyebrows once again. The conventional logic seems to be that there must be a compromise, that this bandaid solution can’t deliver the performance of a bespoke 650b front end.
The numbers tell a different story. The bottom bracket height is 1mm higher than the 26″ model from 2014 and the chainstays are a mere 3mm longer despite the larger wheel. A surprise is the headtube angle which loses a full degree over the 26er to 65.5, two degrees slacker than the 29. As Specialized engineer Jason Chamberlain told me “nobody ever complains about the bikes being too slack.”
I specifically asked Jason about what might have been different if they hadn’t been under the gun. While conceding the goal was to get the product to market without delay, Jason felt they hit the sweet spot: “There really are no compromises. The geo ended up exactly where we wanted. If it didn’t we would have taken a different route get there.”
On the first day in Hood River I was on the 29er Enduro. We descended the Dog River trail a couple of times; six and a half miles in length with one mile of climbing mid way. Much of the ride was high speed bench cut but there were some steep and bony sections as well. It was a great trail for the long-legged Enduro 29er. On the second run my confidence had grown and the bike was right there with me. I was impressed with the SRAM Guide brakes and everything about the bike felt right. Perhaps not lively and flickable but fast and capable.
On the second day we did long descents at Post Canyon. The riding was a blast with everything from deep swoopy berms to pucker-inducing chutes. There were some small air opportunities and large helpings of fun on each section. Post Canyon on its own is a worthy destination for a riding road trip and it’s a small fraction of the riding near Hood River. Things were a little dusty but the trails were in great shape and traction, for the most part, was good.
Alan Muldoon from the UK’s MBR magazine agreed to switch bikes with me for the last descent. Thanks Alan! Having a second look at these trails surely helped my mojo, but not enough to explain the widening grin on my face. The biggest difference with the smaller hoops was that the bike began to dance. Once I figured some things out and got off the brakes I could let the bike move freely beneath me at a decent clip, a feeling that eluded me on the big wheeler. After about ten minutes I felt like I’d been riding it for months.
There will be four spec choices from S Works down to Comp with the top two models featuring carbon frames. We’re waiting for pricing information and hope to be able to updated you shortly.
The internet has been quick to criticize the co-opting of existing front triangles to get the Specialized 650b models to market. The conventional argument is that there must be compromises with this approach. Certainly much of this backlash has to do with Specialized’s previous reluctance to the get into the mid-wheel market, along with their public claims that performance gains of 650b over 26 were too small to justify implementing the size in their line. Despite the popular line my brief experience on the 650b left me with no such misgivings. The numbers of the bike are great and they add up to a bike I’d be happy to find under my Xmas tree. Sizes in the 650b model are small, medium and large. In 29 you can get a medium, large and extra large.
Is this the Enduro you’ve been looking for?