My Rides

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Winner: Specialized Enduro Elite 29

After a month of demo'ing long(er) travel mountain bikes, I've picked a winner for me.  Highlights for me:  29" wheels, over 6" of travel (155mm rear, 160mm front), 1x11 drivetrain, and giant hydraulic disc brakes (200mm front, 180mm rear).  Speaking of giant, look at the size of this 42T rear  cog - about the same size as the 180mm rear brake rotor.

As you can see it's still brand new looking, with warning stickers, and plastic pedals.  I'm planning a more stealth look, so the stickers will come off the fork, and I may even try to spray the frame with transparent black spray paint.

I had debated carbon vs. aluminum frame - wondering if the carbon would be stronger or stiffer.  When I first took a good look at the aluminum frame, I was impressed with how burly it is around the rear shock.

The metal that links the down-tube and top tube is not present on Specialized's lower travel bikes.  It's reassuring that it's so burly - suggesting it's presence on this bike (versus the shorter travel bikes in the Specialized lineup) is more function than styling.

First Ride:

Before the ride, I removed a few stickers, put my Eggbeater pedals on, and swapped the Specialized lock-on grips for some ESI Chunky Silicone grips.  I've had my Cannondale bars wrapped with tape for a few years, and love it - a little cushion, and better grip with sweaty hands.  I purchased these ESI grips (2 years ago) as a next logical step to try, but never put them on the old bike.  I have to say ESI silicone grips are better than wrapped bars.  Real grippy, even when sweat drips down, cushy and comfy.  

I dropped the pressure in the rear shock to 250 psi (down from 270 where the shop set it).  While climbing up it felt a little stiff on square edge rocks, so I backed off high-speed compression 1/2 a turn noticeably better.  I didn't notice any of the "popping" of the front wheel that I noticed on my (most recent) demo of the Santa Cruz Bronson.  

This bike, with this rear shock, really climbs well with the shock in "descend" mode - part of the reason I chose this bike.  About 1/2 way into my ride, I was tired (ran a 10k yesterday), and reached a steeper fire-road climb - just smooth gravel.  I moved the switch to "climb" for this, and it really stiffened things up.  Cane Creek explains their climb mode is superior to other shocks.  To soon for me to comment, but it felt great.  

Before the ride, I set front fork's high-speed compression damping to full soft, and dialed in a few clicks of low-speed compression damping to settle brake dive  After a short descent I set rebound damping to 1-click short of full-soft.  After a steep rocky, rutted, downhill (Zane Gray cutoff) the shock hadn't reached within an inch of full travel, so I backed off the pressure to 80 psi (down from 95 psi set by the shop).  I definitely feel like it is the best fork I've ridden in this travel (Rock Shox Pike, Fox Float 34), but my old Lefty was more plush on smaller bumps on fast downhills.  

The other thing I noticed is how stiff the back end feels.  Definitely less wiggle and flex than other bikes I demo'ed.  So far I don't miss my hardtail for climbing, even on the smooth fire road.

First 50 miles:

I've ridden mostly on my "usual" trails (Wilder Ranch, Santa Cruz).  I really love the way this bike climbs.  I need to get my hard-tail back together (sent the shock for service) to compare, but the Enduro is really great.  

I've had to tighten the derailleur a little (stretch?).  Sharp edge rocks caused a bit of rear "boing" while climbing, so I reduced compression damping 1/2 a turn, and increased rebound damping 1/4 turn.  

On fast, rocky or washboard downhill there was a "braking feeling" in the front as speeds increased.  I took a stab, and set front rebound damping to it's minimum - this seemed to help.  Upon checking the front pressure, it's set to 75psi (I don't know if I reduced it from 80psi, noted above, or if it leaked 5lb).  

I ridden a few of the highly rated downhill trails in the area - something that wouldn't have been possible on the hard-tail.  Extremely rocky downhills at Skeggs Point, and some crazy drops and jumps on UCSC trails.  After these rides, I notice the travel indicators were at max - so with more of this riding, I probably need to up the pressure on the shocks (but I never felt it bottom).  

On the UCSC trails I finally used my dropper seat-post - I don't like it at the bottom though.  All the way down, and I felt less in control of the bike - I like having the nose of the seat between my knees. I also find that I love having a big responsive brake (and suspension keeping the wheel on the ground) in the rear - I find my self scrubbing speed with the rear brake in most circumstances.  This wasn't practical with the hard-tail, and it's 160mm mechanical disc brake.  

There's a little creaking that seemed to be from the cranks, so I tightened the crank-arm bolt, and the bottom-bracket preload.  I still hear a creaking that seems to be in the rear hub.  I'll try tightening the thru-axle next (or maybe the cassette nut needs to be tightened).

The last complaint is the saddle - a little padding over hard plastic is hard to get used to after 4 years on Brooks saddles.  I'm going to try the Brooks on this bike, but I may go with something else.  The idea of a flexing saddle that breaks in near the sit-bones seems to have caught on.  Ergon has a nice saddle, and Koobi will custom make a saddle based on your weight, riding style, etc.  I had considered Brooks C17 (rubber and fabric), but people say it's "grippy", which wouldn't be good for a  mountain bike.

Overall, I love this bike.  I can't really imagine riding my hard-tail on anything other than a gravel road.

2nd 50 Miles:

I pumped the front shock up to 80 psi, and for a long trail ride it was definitely too stiff - didn't seem to soak up the small stuff.  75 psi is the right setting for me, at least until I send it off to Avalanche Downhill.  I checked the rear shock, and restored it to 250 psi - felt about right.

I felt like the Specialized Henge Comp saddle was a bit too firm under my sit bones.  I'm not wanting to worry about Brooks leather on this bike, and I've had good luck with Ergon products in the past, so I bought an Ergon SME3 Pro saddle.  The first ride on it was a long climb up single-track and fire road, and it felt great.  Didn't "disappear" as much as a broken in Brooks, but was barely noticeable at the end.  This is where the Specialized fell-short - sharp pain in the sit-bones at the end of climbs.

I also changed the grips, again.  The ESI Chunky grips were great, but I saw they now make an Extra Chunky, so I ordered and installed a set of these.  I definitely like them more on this bike - I can squeeze hard on uphills, and I feel like they soak up a bit more on downhills.  The yellow chunkys went on the old hard-tail (which now pulls a single-wheeled trailer).

I've had the tires at 28 psi in the front, and 35 psi in the rear.  The rear feels about right, but I think the front could be softer.  I may try 24 psi next ride.