Ride Impressions: 2013 Specialized Carve Expert 29″er- by Grannygear
The Carve is a bike I know pretty well, but in single speed guise. Since we received the Carve Pro single speed frame last year, I have logged a lot of hours on that bike and I have been very happy with it. It fits me like it was made for me (and I struggle with that Lg vs XL decision, being a bit of a tweener), pedals great, and rides quite well for an aluminum frame. Unfortunately it was not a North America import for 2012. 2013 sees a Carve in single speed mode, but it is not a dedicated single speed, rather it can be converted to 1X use, and it comes as a complete bike with that new carbon Chisel rigid fork.
So it seemed like getting on a geared Carve would be just like old home week, but it was and it was not. The 2013 Specialized Carve Expert 29″er I rode gets the new Carve specific rims and wheels that, together with other refinements in drive train and a better fork, drops nearly 2.5 lbs from the 2012 version. That is quite a lot of weight to lose, especially in the rims and fork. Deore shifters move a Shimano XT rear derailleur and a SRAM X7 front derailleur though the 2×10 gear spread. The Carve Expert stays with Avid brakes where a lot of the upper end bikes are now Magura or Shimano for 2013.
The Reba RL fork with an handle bar mounted remote lock out is pretty sweet and the front hub gets the OS28 interface. The rear is a standard 135mm quick release. The Carves go to 100mm travel forks now, up from 80mm, and the head tubes were shortened to keep the angles the same from last year…71.5 Head/73 Seat . I run a 100mm fork (2010Fox F29) on my Carve single speed and I find the slightly slacker head tube angle to my liking, but the difference is pretty minimal.
On trail, the new wheels spin up pretty quick, all shod with the Ground Control tires F/R, and the bike moves out well, feeling racy enough. 29″ers really suffer if the wheels are heavy and the Carve did not seem at all to be hindered by the rolling stock. The Carve seems like a pretty good budget hard tail if you think you might want to race every so often and the Stumpjumpers are a bit more than you need or want. I do not have firm prices yet…working on that…so I cannot compare spec to spec across models and brands.
In the rocky, dusty trails at Snowbird, it took me a few techy sections to remember I was not on an full suspension. Once I adjusted my expectations a bit, I was very aware I was back on an aluminum hard tail and the Carve was pinging from rock to rock enough to slow me down, 100mm fork and all. I am sure I had more air in the tires than the 26-28 lbs I normally run on the single speed Carve and this trail’s edgy rocks gardens had me thinking 2.3s at a bit less pressure would be nice. As well, I was having trouble trusting the Ground Controls here as they were not quite the tire that the Purgatories were on the last bikes, the Camber and the FSR. The next bike I will report on, another hard tail, was so different here, that I was struck by the contrast. More on that later.
So the changes for 2013 are pretty significant on the Expert model, much more than paint and graphics. The Carve is good looking, has the aggressive angles of the Stumpjumpers but gets slightly shorter top tubes and slightly longer chain stays. Since the Carve goes way down the price point line compared to the Stumpjumpers, it has to be on the list of budget minded buyers that still want something that looks and handles like a grown up 29″er hard tail. It is still a decently compliant frame for an aluminum bike but it does not completely transcend the typical expectations of oversize aluminum tubes and that pays off in direct handling, responsive pedaling, and a bit of trail chatter to the rider.
Next up, the Stumpjumper S Works hard tail where I find myself surprised and impressed, but for different reasons.