Camber Expert Carbon 29: Out Of The Box: by Grannygear

In 2010 I was able to spend a brief time on the trail aboard a Specialized Camber 29″er and came away intrigued. It ended up being my favorite bike of the weekend, not just for its performance, but for what it represented. It was set squarely between the race focused Epic 29″er and the med/heavy trail bike Stumpjumper FSR. It lacked the Mini Brain rear shock and had no tapered head tube and it was priced less than the typical Epic or Stumpy, but it promised to be an all-a-rounder full suspension 29″er and there was not a lot of that in the market right at the time.

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Since then, 2011 saw the rise of what I call the ‘Everybike’ 29″er full suspension bike. If you could buy just one 29″er full suspension bike and it needed to be pretty good at nearly everything, the Everybike is it. The Everybike needs to pedal well, have enough travel and a slacker approach to run difficult trails at speed, and, to keep weight low-ish, the best Everybikes will likely be carbon, although that is really a cost vs. weight/performance thing more than a deal killer. 2012 models like the Yeti SB95 and the Ibis Ripley come to mind right away. They are greater than the typical 100mm of travel (120mm in this case), but still in a package that works for the typical cross country application and not an attempt to be an all mountain 29″er. The Salsa Horsethief is another bike that fits there as well as the Trek/Fisher Rumblefish and the Tomac Diplomat, although they (and the Yeti) will be tipping the scale to the heavy end compared to a carbon bike.

This is great news for the average Joe (and Jill) out there looking for a 29″er full suspension bike. This type of bike is exactly what a HUUUUGE section of the 29″er riding, pie chart statistic is made for….ride it with your buddies during the week (the ones with the 5-6” travel 26″ers) and then do an Epic trail ride on Sat to get ready for the team 12 hour race next weekend.

Specialized has their answer to the Everybike 29″er full suspension bike, and that is the Camber, but the 2012 Cambers are quite a bit further along the evolutionary trail compared to the one I rode in 2010. I had a chance to try a Camber Evo (not a US model) in France during a recent product launch there and I was quite impressed with the bike over that brief ride. So, when talk turned to what bikes that we might focus on coming into 2012 for review, this was one of the bikes I put at the top of the request list and here it is.

camber 2The Camber Expert Carbon 29 I have to sample is priced at $5100.00. Now, when you consider that the Camber Pro 29 is $8300.00, it is obvious that the Camber is not a budget model exclusively, something that I saw it as in 2010. As well, the Expert model is part carbon with a Fact 9M main frame (I call it a ‘half-caff’ approach…apologies to Starbucks) and an M5 aluminum rear triangle. I see this as a two part deal…save some money on manufacturing and put the carbon where it will make the most difference. My take, anyway.

camber 3Components are a mix of SRAM X9 and X0 with an X7 front der. Brakes are custom Formula ‘The One R’ with a 203mm F and 180mm R rotor size. Well, that ought to stop something! There is a Fox Float Performance RL 29 fork with a FIT damper, tapered steerer, lock out (compression damping) and rebound adjust, standard drop-outs, and 110mm travel. Yep. 110mm, front and rear, rear coming from the FSR linkage and a custom Fox Triad II shock with on-the-fly 3-position compression switch 1) Lock out 2) Open 3) ProPedal, and rebound adjustment. Not 100mm…not 120mm. 110mm of travel. Hmmm?

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The custom SRAM carbon S-2200 crank with a 10-speed XC Trail double set up and 22/36T CRs, a PF30 spindle, and a removable spider do the power transmission into a 10 speed 11-36 SRAM cassette.

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Wheels are very nice DT Swiss hub based Roval Control Trail aluminum rims (all ready to go tubeless) and comes with the OS24 front hub end caps, 5mm standard quick release, and a 142+ rear hub (Specialized exclusive/proprietary deal) with a 12mm through axle.

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Another notable feature is the Blacklite Command Post and the accommodating internal routing for the cabling. The cabling is impressive and well protected too. They most likely used the services of a company like Printasleeve to do this.

So, taking a step back, what do we have here? All built up and converted to tubeless use with no pedals, the XL sized bike was 27.5lbs (just under 13KG) on the scale. With SPDs and a cage it was 28.5lbs. That is not terribly light, is it? 27 pounds has been a point for me in the past where the weight seems to tip towards the better on a 29″er full suspension bike, so we shall see. However, it is square between the two pounds lighter (with carbon Rovals and XX parts) Epic Marathon and the two pounds heavier Stumpjumper FSR Project Long Legs.

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There is a tapered head tube now on the FACT 9M frame and that main frame is a serious piece of mold work. Everyone that has seen the bike has commented on the shape and size of that top tube/down tube/head tube juncture. You can do cool shapes with carbon that round tubes can only dream of. But will it make a seat of the pants difference on the trail?

No 15mm QR? Well, we shall see. The OS28 on the Epic Marathon has never even given me a shrug of wobbliness so I have hopes the OS24 (24mm is the max diameter that a Fox dropout will accept for now) will follow suit. Still, it is counter to the marketing forces at large.

No Mini Brain in the rear shock? That has me the most concerned. Will I miss it? Will I get callouses from flipping the Triad’s ProPedal lever back and forth till I go mad in the process? Dunno.

110mms of travel? Really? Not 120mm? I predict the stock angles of 70*HT/74*ST and 447mm
chain stay length will keep the bike agile yet comfy stable, but will 110mm and a slacker head tube angle be enough on trail to set it apart from something like the Epic with 100mm of travel?

Stay tuned as Specialized’s answer to my Everybike category hits the trail. The Camber Expert 29, coming to a dirty place near you with all these questions answered.

Note: Specialized sent over the Camber Pro at no charge for test/review. We are not being bribed, nor paid for this review. We will strive to offer our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.