When Specialized rolled out the 150mm travel, 430mm/16.9″ chain stay equipped Enduro 29 this year, it made some waves in the pool of long travel 29er trail bikes. The internet was swarming with opinions, most based on complete speculation, on whether this bike would be any good.
“The death of the 650B enduro bike.”
“A waste of time and engineering.”
“Time to sell the 26er AM bike.”
“A game changer.”
Well after riding a Specialized S Works Enduro 29 here at Copper Mtn Resort, I do agree with at least one of those quotes…it is a game changer depending on what game you are playing. I must preface things a bit with the fact that I am a bit of a skeptic on big travel 29ers. I think that there is a dynamic going on here with that big wheel that is daunting to overcome when you get bikes longer, slacker, and taller in travel.
So it is not so much for me “can it be done?”…Lenzsport has been doing it for some time now, albeit with a slightly longer chain stay…but “should it be done”? As well, I have to admit that I have no expertise in AM or Enduro riding at all. At best I am a trail rider at heart but that describes a lot of riders on 29ers anyway…trail riders…so I will come at things from that viewpoint/experience level and speculate on the rest.
After two back to back runs down the single tracks of the resort’s backyard on a beautiful S Works version of the 29er Enduro, and, speaking as a trail rider, I think it is an absolute blast to ride. I know the FSR 130mm bike well and this longer travel Enduro is a big notch up both in agility and fun. The short back end is a dynamic change to the feel of the bike. Popping up the front wheel is eezy-peezy. It carves tighter corners with quite a bit of agility, and is unlike anything I have ridden in a 130mm+ 29er. Combine that with a stiff and amazing performing fork in that Rockshox Pike and then stick a carbon chassis in the middle with carbon wheels at each end…holy smokes.
Now keep in mind that I was on the S Works version which is pretty darn light, so the lesser spec’d models will be heavier. But even so, if I was a guy looking for a heavy trail bike/play bike 29er and the FSR was on my list…or maybe the FSR Evo…I sure would be tempted to step all the way up to the Enduro and eat the weight. You would lose very little in pedaling efficiency although very steep, techy climbs might be a tad more troublesome (keeping the front wheel weighted well and planted). The Cane Creek Double Barrel Air CS rear shock with that ‘climb switch’ setting kept it very buttoned down, and I would have to guess that the lesser models have some sort of selectable platform shock as well. Sure, it would lose some ground to the FSR on real long climbs and more XC-type rides, but that might be a non issue to many buyers who are interested in 150mm of travel.
It really was a super fun bike to ride and there was nothing in the trails I saw here that would come close to pushing this bike to it’s limits and frankly I am likely not up to that task either. But so what? Sometimes it is all about having a bike that just makes you smile when you ride it…that has enough in reserve to handle anything that comes your way on a trail ride…that smooths out the trail in a blaze of buzzing freewheels and hoots and hollers…that kind of bike WITH big wheels. So, to get back to my earlier question, should it be done? Oh my yes and I am glad Specialized did it.
Now for some perspective: I rode a 26″ Enduro S Works too. I cannot remember the last time I rode a 26er. Especially not on trail and more especially not in the form of something like an Enduro. But with all the buzz about 650B and it being, in reality, a “better 26er” rather than a 29er killer, I wanted to see how the very well received 26″ version compared so up the lift I went.
It was very interesting. I expected to be feeling pretty sketchy and off balance with those itty bitty wheels but actually I was running down the trail with a lot of confidence once I tuned in to the feel. And frankly, what I came to find was what I expected to find. As good as the 29er Enduro is, it is still fighting the bigger wheels. The 26″ version is much easier to change direction on…fast left-right-left stuff…and you can just pin it around a bermed turn. The 26″ version was much more fun to ride than I expected it to be. However, the sections of trail that were the choppiest from all the braking and roots/rocks were making me glad I had a lot of travel as the smaller wheels were having fits on stuff I rolled over on the 29er and barely took notice of.
Turning the Enduro 29er at various speeds around all the tree lined switchbacks and sharp corners here was better than any 29er trail bike I can recall with anywhere near this much travel and if I could get the front wheel around something, the back end of the Enduro 29er was eager to follow. But it took some effort to get that big wheel around things where the 26er would just come off center in a flash and scoot right around. I do not know which bike I was faster on. I bet each of them held advantages here and there.
The score? For me, the 29er Enduro was close enough to the performance of the 26″ version to choose it as I like 29ers and I am willing to trade off some ultimate agility for roll-ability. But I can understand why one would still prefer the smaller wheel in this type of bike and that ties into my thoughts that we will see 650B move into this market and likely be the go-to wheel size at 150mm plus, even if big travel 29ers take their place on the trails of the world.