by Mark Alker
January 24, 2014
Californian bicycle powerhouse Specialized has been focusing attention on its big wheelers for a little longer than many...
Californian bicycle powerhouse Specialized has been focusing attention on its big wheelers for a little longer than many other mainstream brands. It shows. While the Crave Comp isn’t as well-equipped in componentry terms as many other bikes at this price, it more than makes up for that in its trail manners. In short, over a three-week relatively muddy test period it was almost impossible for us to fault anything of significance.
The M4 butted aluminium frame is designed with a curved seat tube to allow the back wheel to tuck in without sacrificing mud clearance: with no seat stay or chain stay bridges there’s loads of mud drop-through room around the rear tyre. The top and down tubes are both radically biaxially ovalised in order to achieve maximum weld contact areas at the head tube, bottom bracket and seat tube junctures, with the down tube curve also allowing plenty of fork swing clearance and a very short tapered head tube that helps prevent the front end from looking and feeling lanky. Standover clearance is generous, and the slim long extension of seatpost gives an extra little boost to comfort. There are two sets of bottle bosses and the cable routing is zip-tied underneath the top tube. The colour scheme is a deep gloss black with subtle satin black graphics and red detailing on the componentry.
Talking of componentry, the majority of it is Specialized branded. Cynics will say it’s just a way of Specialized boosting profits. And it is. But it happens to be very good too. Specialized has been a specialist in designing tyres and parts since early in its history. The Ground Control/Fast Track tread mix on the Crave offers a great mix of speed, traction and low weight that’s good for all but the muddiest trail conditions, where the fast rolling rear tyre blocks and slips on climbs. The Specialized rims, hubs, seatpost, saddle, bar, stem and sculpted grips are all very much at home on a bike at this price. The drivetrain is not as classy as many other £1,200 bikes but a mix of a Shimano SLX rear mech, SRAM X5 front, Deore 10×2 shifters and a SRAM 36/22t crankset all works flawlessly and offers a great range of gears for any terrain.
We’ll mention one small gripe first. When standing and powering up climbs in the big ring (well, with 36 teeth it’s not exactly big) a rhythmic front mech rub made us notice that there’s noticeable lateral flex between the front and back of the frame. A small amount of cable tension adjustment stopped the rub but it made us wonder about the pros and cons of having no bridge struts on the seat and chain stays. We probably wouldn’t have noticed the flex if chain rub hadn’t brought it to our attention and if you opt to see it as a downside then you also need to put it in context with the generous mud room and noticeable comfort of the back end. There’s usually an upside to flex.
That was the only marginally negative thing anyone commented on. The ride of the Crave was generally superb, whatever we threw it at: up, down, along, dodgy moves in rock and root-strewn singletrack, even hammering down hills with the sort of abandon that usually challenges 100mm forks (the Crave has 80mm forks on small sized frames). The RockShox Recon fork is fat enough and well controlled enough to take a lot of punishment when you’ve got your body weight biased over the front end, leaving the rear wheel to skip through with barely a whimper. The big hoops, fat treads, Body Geometry saddle and shapely bar grips mean that comfort is always a highlight when you’re simply bowling along looking at the scenery, and we didn’t encounter any situations where handling was a challenge. We’d go as far as describing the handling as tame, or subdued, in the best possible way. The reasonable weight (25.8lb), the fast easy roll of the big wheels and the small gearing (we rarely used the little ring) makes climbing a relative breeze and the 180mm front brake rotor adds extra ease of stopping power to the already excellent Shimano brakes. Of the three bikes on test here the Crave was the one that always had volunteers for extra outings, despite the fact that it’s superficially not as well specced as the other two. It won over another big wheeler cynic too.
- Frame // M4 Premium Butted Aluminium
- Fork // RockShox Recon Gold TK SA. Poplock Lockout. 100mm travel
- Hubs // Specialized 28/32
- Rims // Specialized Stout SL
- Tyres // Specialized Ground Control 2.1in Front, Fast Track 2in Rear
- Chainset // SRAM 36/22t
- Front Mech // SRAM X5
- Rear Mech // Shimano SLX Shadow Plus
- Shifters // Shimano Deore 10 x 2
- Brakes // Shimano Deore Hydraulic Disc 180/160mm Rotors
- Stem // Specialized 3D Forged
- Bars // Specialized Low Rise 700mm
- Grips // Specialized Body Geometry Bolt-On
- Seatpost // Specialized Twin Bolt
- Saddle // Specialized Body Geometry Henge
- Size Tested // 19in
- Sizes Available // 15.5, 17.5, 19, 21, 23in
- Weight // 25.8lb without pedals