One of the minor trends you might have noticed in the mountain bike world at the moment is that of the short travel trail ripper. In truth this kind of bike has been around for a while, with riders building up full suspension four-cross (RIP) bikes like the Santa Cruz Blur 4X, Kona Howler and Foes 4X to be all-round trail bikes.
The success of this genre of bike in the UK probably has a lot to do with trail centres, the noble pursuit of razzing round the woods with your mates and the evolution of that seemingly UK-specific phenomenon, the hardcore hardtail. With enough travel to take the sting out of cased jumps and rooty corners but not so much that the trails feel dull, these kinds of bikes place the emphasis on fun over all else.
They believe a bigger wheel is the most elegant solution to the problem
As is the way with trends, manufacturers cotton on to what riders are doing and produce off-the-shelf versions. What’s interesting to see is that within this niche of a niche many manufacturers are choosing to fit 29in wheels – not necessarily the wheel size traditionally associated with bikes designed for general hooliganism.
Despite the recent 27.5in wheel size explosion, the likes of Kona, Transition, Whyte, Orange, Evil and Specialized are all offering short travel, relaxed angle trail bikes with big wheels. This isn’t because they’ve been caught out by the near-wholesale shift to 27.5, but because they believe a bigger wheel is the most elegant solution to the problem; by using a 29in wheel to smooth out trail chatter, it leaves the limited amount of suspension to deal with larger obstacles.
The Camber has been in Specialized’s model range for a number of years now, starting out in 26in guise before hitting puberty and getting a growth spurt to 29in wheels.
Specialized uses the Evo moniker to denote models with what is often termed ‘progressive features’; a bit more travel, slacker angles, a bit more focus on making the most of the fun bits. The Camber Evo differs from the standard Camber in terms of geometry, by having 120mm of travel as opposed to 110mm, a 5mm lower bottom bracket height (330mm), and a degree and a bit slacker head angle (68.8º), as well as a few choice component differences.
At first glance the Specialized-only AutoTune Fox shock seems needlessly complicated, but actually it’s the reverse. Pressurise the shock to 300psi through the black valve, sit on the bike in your riding gear, fully depress the red valve and the shock has been adjusted to the correct amount of sag. This makes set-up quick, easy and uncomplicated; fantastic if you’re not entirely confident of suspension setup. Bravo Specialized.
The only trouble I had was actually pumping 300psi into the shock – it takes a lot of forearm effort to get that much air into that small a space. Of course you’re free to ignore the red valve altogether and set up the shock how you like but it’s good to have that base setting easily available.
With its trail-ripping intentions I consider a dropper post for the Camber to be essential.
The 120mm RockShox Reba fork may seem a little disappointing if you’ve ridden a similar travel Pike, but in its own right it’s a decent performer. At first the fork felt a little overwhelmed, especially on steeper descents but adding some RockShox volume adjust spacers helped to make it more progressive and sit higher in its travel.
Wheels on bikes at this price point are often a bit of a let down, so it’s good to see that effort has been made to equip the Camber Evo with rolling stock that’s worthy of the frame. The Specialized Hi-Lo hubs aren’t anything to shout about but the alloy Roval Fattie rims are. With a 29mm internal width, they are properly wide. We were fans of the carbon Roval Fatties that we reviewed in issue 95’s wide wheel grouptest and a lot of what we liked in the carbon versions can be found here, albeit with a weight penalty.
The Specialized Butcher (front) and Ground Control (rear) tyres are a good pairing, offering impressive performance in the majority of conditions and are tubeless ready – just add gunk. This is recommended as both tyres have reasonably thin sidewalls, great for keeping the weight down but prone to pinch punctures when run at lower pressures.
While the SRAM X9/X7 2×10 drivetrain won’t win you any #enduro points, it does give you plenty of options and a wide enough gear range that riding uphill doesn’t feel too much of a chore. While nothing went wrong in the testing period, shifts often felt muted, possibly a victim of the full length cable routing. The rather neat chain device did its job with silent efficiency.
Shimano Deore brakes were flawless and felt more controllable than the more expensive XT models, which can feel overly grabby. A tip of the hat to Spesh for fitting a 200mm rotor on the front and a 180mm on the rear, it’s always good to see details like this.
The one notable omission from the spec is a dropper post. With its trail-ripping intentions I consider a dropper post for the Camber to be essential. Obviously to hit that £2,000 price point Specialized has had to make some sacrifices; this is one of them, and here’s where there’s a black mark on the Camber Evo’s scorecard.
Specialized claims that the frame has “internal Command Post BlackLite routing”, which isn’t exactly what you think it is. While this sounds like you can fit a neat internally routed dropper post what it actually means is that the dropper cable is only partially internally routed; the cable enters the frame near the headtube and exits just above the shock mount on the top tube.
While workable it’s a bit of a let down – in 2015, routing for a true internal dropper post is pretty much mandatory. No one wants a loop of cable drooping around their gusset and wearing away at the paint. To get true internal routing you’ll have to step up to one of the Camber carbon models, but as the Camber EVO carbon is £4,500 it’s quite a large step up.
First of all, at 5ft 11in the medium size tested was a little too small for my tastes. Having sat on a large I would definitely go for the bigger size to better position myself within the bike. As ever, try before you buy.
Well done to whoever it was at Specialized HQ who got this bike signed off. You can’t imagine it was necessarily easy – after all short travel and 29in wheels are hardly the market’s fave at the moment and are more generally associated with XC riding than trail riding. So what’s this bike for?
If you dismiss this bike purely on the fact it has 29in wheels, you’re missing out.
This is a bike built around and for fun. Some bikes make you think about going on long epic rides, scaling mountain passes or going racing. This bike isn’t about those things, although it would have no problem doing any of them either. The Camber Evo is primarily about going up the woods and having a good time razzing about. You look for excuses to go out with it for an hour and see how loose you can get round a corner or how fast you can wiggle down a bit of trail.
And that makes it quite a wonderful thing.
The fact that it has 29in wheels is kind of neither here nor there, it’s just part of the overall formula. Specialized is a true believer in 29in and has used its know-how to minimise the negatives and emphasise the positives of a big wheel. If you dismiss this bike purely on the fact it has 29in wheels, you’re missing out.
The rear suspension has been tuned to offer a great deal of grip and initial suppleness, ramping up to stop all the travel being used too quickly. With the shock in Trail mode, on climbs it can feel like the shock is cycling a little more than is desirable but at the same time it’s providing more grip than expected. On techy, loose climbs this really does help add to its flighty feel as it almost scurries up sections without losing traction.
Downhill is all about pop and flow. If you like to charge into rock sections and let the bike do the work, then the Camber will kick you off. If you work your lines, look for where to jump sections and generally think about riding smooth and light, the Camber will reward you with a fast and engaging ride.
With such a capable and well-damped rear, the limitations of the Reba fork are unfortunately more apparent. It’s not overly flexy or poorly damped by any measure but it lacks the composure of the rear, making the bike feel slightly unbalanced. Fitting a more expensive RockShox Pike would go some way to getting a better balance between front and rear but obviously drive up the price. For the price point the Camber Evo sits at the Reba is very much par for the course.
The Camber Evo is a bike that’s as complicated as it needs to be, and it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than having fun. It reminds you why you started riding a bike. You can get out there, explore and go over hill and dale but at the same time you can just go down the woods and throw it about a bit. It’s versatile like that; it doesn’t try to do one thing well, it just aims to put a smile on your face while you’re on it.
If your riding mostly consists of ragging round the woods and trail centre hooning, with occasional big days out in the hills, then it’s hard to think of a better kind of bike than one of these new breed of short travel 29ers. If that sounds like your kind of thing, the Specialized Camber Evo – with its lairy paintjob, can-do attitude and sensible price tag – should be at the top of your test list.