by Hannah Dobson
November 7, 2016
The Rhyme FSR Expert Carbon 6Fattie is the top-tier women's plus bike from Specialized. How did the chubby Californian fare on our British trails?
Usually I ride a hardtail, with occasional short term rides on various full sussers that pass through the office. Having already noticed that on the occasions I did ride a full sus bike I was far more able to keep up with the boys from the office, I was ready to give full bounce a proper go. My local trails are steep and technical, and having tackled most of them on a hardtail, I looked forward to being able to go at them with a bit more confidence and speed. With the 150mm Fox 34 up front and 135mm Fox Float at the back, I figured the Rhyme ought to offer me more than enough bounce to take my riding up a notch.
This the first women’s specific bike I’ve really ridden since I was about 14. Being fairly tall, getting a bike to fit has never been a problem, and the only women’s specific cycling products I’ve sought out have been saddles (for my poor beleaguered behind, and what I might politely refer to as my unmentionables), baggy shorts (to fit over my sadly bulging behind), and liner shorts (for my poor beleaguered behind and those poor unmentionables again). The regularity with which I get mistaken for a man (despite my ample arse) would perhaps suggest that a nice pink bike might not be such a bad idea with helping the world identify me as a Girly On A Bike, however that’s not really me, and happily the Specialized Rhyme came in a suitably gender neutral grey with flashes of what I would call red, rather than pink. I approve.
Let’s look at what you get out of the box.
It’s a carbon fibre frame with an alloy rear triangle, and the Medium I’ve been riding weighs in at 13.44kg.
Wheels are a not-terribly-wide 29mm Roval Traverse shod with 3.0inch Purgatory Control (front) and ground Control (rear) tyres. I’ve found that these are not particularly sticky or grippy tyres, and with the industry still playing catch up with plus tyres I think this is an area where upgrades and experimentation are going to be the name of the game. In dry conditions they proved plenty fun though, and when colleague Mark (I told you it wasn’t a girly looking bike) borrowed it to ride the ‘Ard Rock Enduro he had a blast railing round corners.
I set the bike up tubeless (which was no effort at all) and haven’t suffered with either flats or dents to the rims despite running them at low pressures on local rocky terrain when trying to seek out extra grip. I have felt that on some rough descents I’ve found the tyres a little squirmy at lower pressures, but I think that this is a symptom of the not-really-that-wide rims with plus tyres. Ideally I’d like a rim with a 40mm internal width to give a better shape, less bulgy, tyre profile.
Bars are 720mm wide, so 30mm narrower than those that come with the Stumpjumper (the men’s – or unisex? – equivalent, which in all other geometry respects is the same, but the women’s model goes down to an Extra Small, while the men’s goes up to an Extra Large). The stem is 60mm, and the top tube is 590mm on the Medium. Overall, this gives a reach of 413mm – very close to my usual long top tube/short stem hardtail – so the ride position doesn’t feel too small or different while pedalling.
Gearing is a 1x set up with a 28t ring on the front and SRAM 11 speed 10-42t on the back. I’ve found that on flat or downhill road or smoother trail sections I can pretty quickly spin out. However, a hard tail plus bike I tested previously had a 30t front chainring and I did find myself doing a fair amount of standing up to grind on the steeper stuff, so on balance I reckon the gearing is about right on the Rhyme for where I ride, where steep hills are frequent.
Brakes are Shimano Deore XT. These work, they make you stop, and they’re not exactly new to the marketplace so here is not the place to give them an in depth review.
The bike comes equipped with ‘SWAT’ storage. This means that at all times you have a (chain appropriate) quick link and chain breaker, plus multitool stowed on the bike. If you add a tube and pump or gas to the fabric tool rolls provided, these then stow in a hatch behind the bottle cage, so you’ve got most of the things you’d need for a ride stowed about the bike. I find however that I always want to carry my phone, but that stowing it in a short or jersey pocket is rarely comfortable and leaves me worrying about smashing the screen. It would be great if the bottle cage or hatch could accommodate a phone, but they don’t (I have tried).
Still, knowing you’ve got the basics stashed on your bike for every ride is handy – especially if, like me, you find yourself riding a variety of wheel sizes, bikes and tools and can never quite remember which pack has the right combination of equipment in it. One note of caution though: the hatch in the downtube is not watertight. If you want to avoid musty smelling tool rolls, take them out after a wet ride or before a wash. Probably a good thing I can’t fit my phone in there then.
Suspension up front is provided by Fox 34 FLOAT Performance Series 27.5+ forks. With the 34mm chassis and the BOOST 110x15mm thru-axle, these have felt reassuringly solid with no flexing or chatter. The rear Fox shock has the usual three positions, with the most locked out sufficiently eliminating bounce for those occasions when standing up to pedal is the only way. The rear shock comes with the Autosag quick set-up system, and is tuned with ‘Rx Women’s Trail Tune’ (aimed at suiting lighting riders). With its slippery Kashima Coating and light compression tune, it delivers a very supple trail feel that keeps the wheels stuck to the ground.
On chattery loose rocky descents, the bike feels great, the plus tyres rolling over terrain in a manner forgiving of most line choices. I’ve had a heap of fun hurtling over loose rock, scaring myself slightly realising how fast I’m going, then popping out the other side unscathed. Similarly, on tricksy twisty trails the bike feels compact and agile. It’s easy to throw your weight side to side and shift the bike round corners, and that feeling of steering with your hips is noticeable. Even at slow speeds picking my way through rocky turns and rear mech grabbing boulders, I’ve found the bike feels stable.
However, throwing your weight fore and aft is for me a little too light – or maybe short. As I said, the reach is very similar to my hardtail, however my hardtail has a much shorter stem, so almost all the length is in the top tube. On the Rhyme, the length of the top tube is shorter, and the longer stem makes up the difference in reach. This means that on the Rhyme my weight is more forward over the front wheel. To get my weight back on a really steep descent involves throwing the bike forward.
The effect of this has been that while the bike feels fine while pedalling, or riding low and nipping side to side in sections of flow or slow obstacle hopping tech, when it comes to the steeper techy trails where a little speed is needed to clear drops and slippery sections, the bike feels a little more precarious, like the zone between ‘too far forward’ and ‘too far back’ is shorter than on other bikes I’ve ridden.
Given that I have heaps of standover height, I’d suggest that a Large frame in the unisex version (the Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon 6Fattie) might be more appropriate for me and the steep terrain I spend much of my time tackling. The side to side agility is great in swoopy bermy flow, but this isn’t what I ride most of the time – and if I spent most of my time at trail centres I suspect that it would only be on the black trails that I’d have questioned the handling of the bike, since extended sections on steep gradients of 20% or so are pretty rare – but common where I ride. Those considering buying a Rhyme and finding they have the standover height to allow it would do well to try out more than one size of bike – and consider how the handling of each suits where you ride.
The Medium comes equipped with a 100mm travel Command Post IRcc dropper. Shorter riders may find this as much as their legs can accommodate, however I had plenty of the collar exposed above the seat tube and would have welcomed a longer drop in order to really get the saddle down and out the way – especially for side to side swoopy fun. The Large does come with a longer dropper, so at this price point it would perhaps be nice if it could be something for customers to be able to choose as an off the peg variable at point of sale.
Another component which might benefit from being variable at point of sale is the saddle. Specialized do an excellent range of women’s saddles in various widths, but it just so happens that the ‘women’s specific’ saddle that comes with the Rhyme does not specifically fit me. That’s not to say this saddle is terrible – it has a slight cut out for pressure relief at the front, and is much more forgiving than some of the narrow and hard instruments of torture I’ve experienced on ‘unisex’ bike. I just don’t feel it’s quite the right shape for me and I’d be swapping it over for something else were I to be keeping it.
In the interests of experimentation, and struggling somewhat for grip as conditions got wetter, I swapped out the plus tyres for a 2.3in Maxxis Minion on the front and a Schwalbe Nobby Nic for the rear. Since the wheels aren’t terribly wide, these narrower tyres were easily accommodated and gave a pleasing profile to the tyres. I instantly felt more confident on the wet autumn trails with the stickier rubber. I also found that these narrower tyres better suited my riding – or at least what I find fun when riding. Obviously in a narrow trail, the margin for error between ‘the right line’ and ‘the edge of the line’ is smaller, and with larger tyres that margin for error is reduced. Add to that the squirminess I’d experienced when catching rocks with the side of the tyre and it’s predictable that a narrower tyre will reduce these issues when riding on not-much-than-a-sheep-trod trails or pick-your-way-through rocky descents.
I had worried that the narrower tyres would reduce the bottom bracket height and result in pedal strikes, but this is not something that I’ve found to be a problem. The increased agility on the trails I usually ride, and feeling the trail, rather than just riding over it, means that on balance I think I prefer the not-plus set up. However, there’s definitely a place for the plus tyres, and if I rode more trail centres or was heading out for a day of big loose rock descents I’d be reaching for the 3.0inch tyres.
Those who want to just roll and ride may never feel the need for a narrower option, but for me there’s fun in getting that trail feedback and responding to it, rather than just managing to stay balanced while you bump over the top of it – but then maybe that’s partly down to my hardtail roots. Certainly I imagine there’ll be plenty who derive much confidence from the point and shoot ability of the plus tyres, and my experience is that this bike will let you pursue both options without the need for new wheels.
Can’t see the video? Click here.
Even if you don’t go for narrower tyres, I suspect that owners will be seeking out a stickier and grippier plus tyre for the wet months, and potential buyers may be interested to note that for 2017 the price has been reduced to £4,000. That’s a great big chunk off the price and one that leaves plenty of room for something a little more wet weather friendly on the tyre front.
With plus tyres I’ve found myself thinking that trails I previously thought tough are touch tame, and with standard tyres I’ve found myself clearing trails I previously pushed past. In this respect, I think think the Rhyme has delivered to my riding the step up I was hoping to achieve.
Specialized Rhyme FSR Expert Carbon 6Fattie
- Frame // FACT 9m carbon, M5 alloy rear triangle
- Fork // FOX 34 Plus Performance Elite, FIT4, 150mm travel
- Shock // FOX FLOAT Factory DPS, Women’s Rx Trail Tune, 135mm travel
- Hubs // Roval Traverse, 110x15mm front & 148x12mm rear
- Rims // Roval Traverse 650b
- Tyres // Specialized 6Fattie Purgatory Control 3.0in front & Ground Control 3.0in rear
- Chainset // Custom SRAM S-2200, carbon, PF30 spindle, 28T, direct mount
- Front mech // n/a
- Rear mech // SRAM X0-1
- Rear shifter // SRAM X1, 11 speed
- Cassette // SRAM XG-1180, 10-42t, 11-speed
- Brakes // Shimano XT with 180mm rotors front and rear
- Stem // Specialized XC, 3D forged alloy, 4-bolt, 6-degree rise
- Bars // Specialized, 7050 alloy, 8-backsweep, 6-upsweep, 10mm rise, 720mm
- Seatpost // Command Post IRcc, remote adjust SRL lever, 30.9mm, XS/S: 75mm travel, M: 100mm travel
- Saddle // Specialized Body Geometry Women’s Myth Comp, hollow Cr-Mo rails, 155mm
- Size tested // Medium
- Sizes available // X-Small, Small, Medium
- Weight // 29.56lbs/13.44kg