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Hands-on Gear Review
Specialized Camber Comp 29 2017 Review
Cons: Limited technical downhill abilities, lacks a dropper post
Bottom line: An efficient and precise cross-country minded trail bike.
You can thank Specialized's Trail 29 geometry for making the 2017 Camber Comp one of those 29ers that doesn't feel like one. It's a nimble and composed bike, trimming lines on the trail with the precision of a paring knife. It's comfortable, efficient and versatile. But the Camber approaches its limit on technical trail sooner than we'd like, even for its trail-light application. A dropper post would push it into the harder-charging territory, but we'd still classify it on the cross country end of the trail bike spectrum. The Camber's most impressive trait is how consistently good it is on almost every aspect of the trail. It accelerates rapidly, holds speed reasonably, climbs efficiently, handles sharply and gets the job done on the downhills. These performance characteristics pair with solid specifications to make the Camber ready to roll out of the box and onto the trails without a glut of immediate upgrades. As a result, its $2,500 price tag is a decent value.
Best Application — The Camber can take on tougher trails, but it doesn't give you the confidence to challenge your skill set automatically. If you usually crank down cross country trails but occasionally tackle more technical terrain, you'll appreciate the Camber's spritely feel on the mellow rides and the big-wheel steadiness on the rough ones. If you crave more confidence in the rocks, consider the Santa Cruz Tallboy.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Analysis and Test Results
We bought five trail bikes and assembled a team of four test riders to rally them for six weeks — all to help you find your ideal ride. We raced the Specialized Camber Comp 29 against the Trek Fuel Ex 7 29, Santa Cruz Tallboy D 29, Niner Jet 9 1-Star NX1 and Giant Anthem 2, scoring them on fun factor, build quality and climbing and descending abilities. The Camber earns a 73 of 100. Find out all the gritty, greasy details of the process in our How We Tested article.
Frame Design and Suspension
The Camber's geometry is consistent with modern 29er trends. While we measured the bike's head tube angle at 68.5 degrees, the steepest in the test, it's slacker than most 29ers were just a few years ago. A slack angle better aligns the fork for downhill impacts. But it's not an extreme shift, which keeps uphill handling sharp. A low bottom bracket (measured at 324mm) keeps the Camber's center of gravity grounded and places the rider firmly in the bike. Shortened chainstays and a bent seat tube ensure a manageable wheelbase, but that kink limits how far you can drop the rigid seat post into the frame. Another reason droppers seatposts are the way to go. Absent is Boost axle spacing, which adds 10mm up front and 6mm in the back and is increasingly popular in the industry.
The 2017 Camber Comp 29 runs Specialized's Future Shock Rear (FSR), a patented 4-bar linkage, or Horst Link, suspension. FSR is credited with an efficient pedaling platform and reduced brake induced compression, though it relies on its rear shock's lockout to reduce pedal bob. The Camber is a good example of these benefits in action.
The Camber's compact frame geometry works with its 29" wheels to create a snappy, fast rolling ride. This combination of 29er speed and little wheel agility shows you a good time on the trail. Two of our testers loved the Camber's poppy, playful disposition right off the bat. The comfortable cockpit and balanced feel made them forget they were piloting a new bike on their favorite trails, quite the compliment. Our third tester took a little longer to settle in, but he eventually found his balance points and started respecting the bike's performance. This tester is firmly anti-2x and missed a dropper post, but he still thinks the Camber was a reasonably fun bike.
The Camber's well-rounded skill set makes it an intuitive ride whether climbing, descending or navigating tight turns. This kind of all-around trail confidence makes it an easy bike to pull from the testing quiver, but where the Camber really earns its stripes is railing through sweeping turns. If you can get out of the way of the seat post, it makes short work of switchbacks on the climbs and wraps around tight downhill turns. But on sweeping corners, it shines. Its big wheels hold speed while the short wheelbase and responsive handling get you in-and-out of the corner and on your way in a hurry. The Specialized Purgatory and Ground Control tires hook well enough when we lay the Camber over on hardpack, giving us more confidence than we expected for their 2.3" width. Adding a dropper would let the Camber carve it up in a wider array of turns.
What about the ultimate holy grail of fun — downhill? The Camber's balanced suspension and steeper head tube angle makes it a respectable descender with plenty of squish and traction for the cross country side of the trail bike spectrum. Though it's decidedly less capable in technical terrain than the Santa Cruz Tallboy, the Camber's big wheels and responsive handling keep you feeling stable on less treacherous rock gardens and rollovers. This bike feels fast, and feeling fast is fun.
A dropper seatpost would increase the fun factor by at least a whot or two. While the short cockpit makes the saddle relatively easy to get behind, it limits body positioning options on sharp turns and steep descents. Unfun. Bottomline, being on the cross country side of the trail bike category, the Camber is less of a crackup than some of the other rides, but it'll keep you smiling.
These skills put the Camber in the middle of the pack, tying with the Trek Fuel Ex at a 7 of 10. The Santa Cruz Tallboy leads with a 9 out of 10 for a playful disposition that rides like a bigger travel bike on descents. The Giant Anthem comes in second with an 8 out of 10 for its nimble nature and a more forgiving fork than the Camber.
Able to dull the punch of moderate drops and cut a sharp line through mildly technical stretches, the Camber is a respectable descender. The 120mm of balanced suspension does the job on the descents, but it doesn't put in any overtime. The Camber rides more in line with its numbers than the category-defying Santa Cruz Tallboy. The smaller cockpit and lack of dropper don't provide much room to maneuver, but the well-balanced cockpit sets you up to be able to pilot this bike without too much body English. That sharp handling keeps the Camber capable in technical terrain.
The 29-inch wheels hold momentum on the descents, and the 2x (two front chainrings) drivetrain is a blessing and a curse for keeping speed. Gears shift in smaller increments on a 2x than on a 1x system, and the Camber annoyed three testers with its demand for rapid fire shifting on the descent. Another tester liked the extra power provided by the 36-tooth chainring and 11-tooth cog combination when compared to the 30 or 32-tooth chainring to 11-tooth cog combination on the 1x11 setups.
You can be confident that the Camber is going to show up for you on the trail. It's easy to keep the bike on line, and the suspension is predictable, balanced and well-suited to the bike — but it won't do the work for you. The 32mm stanchions on the RockShox Revelation fork mount to a Roval front wheel with only 24 spokes. The combination isn't stiff enough to provide an indomitable feeling on descents. The lack of a dropper post puts riders in a more upright position than we like. A boon to the Camber's confidence is that the FSR suspension and Specialized tires work to keep sufficient traction on descents. That grip allows the Camber's precise and intuitive handling to shine.
The Camber is less capable than the harder charging and equally maneuverable Santa Cruz Tallboy . We rated the Camber a 7 of 10 to the Tallboy's 9. The Specialized can't take the hits quite as well as the straight line craving Trek Fuel Ex or Niner Jet 9, but it turns better than both.
While it's descending skills are middle of the road, the Camber is a stand out climber, among the best in the test. Pedaling feels quick and efficient, and those 29er wheels roll right through technical sections effectively. Meanwhile, the cockpit provides a comfortable seated position to crank up the hills and negotiate tight, steep turns.
The Camber's FSR suspension keeps pedal bob to a minimum while remaining active enough to keep the tires on the trail. Riders experience some feedback when standing and cranking, but it's not soul sucking. The Camber is the second best accelerator in the test, falling just behind the 27.5 inch wheeled Giant Anthem. This bike doesn't quite hold speed quite as well as the other big wheeled bikes. While it's easier to get going after a stall, you'll find yourself pedaling more often to keep your speed up.
Needing to crank often to maintain speed could explain the use of a 2x drivetrain, which is a point of controversy for the climbing as well as descending. The constant shifting annoys those in the 1x camp, while the 2x folks like the easy spinning that the 26-tooth chainring to 36-tooth cog provides. It's not a huge deal, either way, just a gut check to see whether or not you're feeling that front derailleur.
The Camber doesn't provide the illusion of having a motor, but it's comfortable enough for long climbing days in the saddle. Taller riders with longer torsos say the cockpit can feel cramped. The Camber requires too much attention and precision to be ideal for an all-day head-down slog. For that, we would steer you to the Santa Cruz Tallboy or the Trek Fuel EX. Both of these bikes have longer cockpits than the Camber as well.
Specialized's Purgatory Control and Ground Control tires, which both measure to 29 x 2.3", have just enough traction to keep us happy. With pedaling efficiency like this, we would sacrifice some rolling speed and suggest installing more aggressive tires. We caught a few pedal strikes on this bike but not enough to bother us.
The Camber came in fourth on our timed climbing course, which took an average of three minutes to complete. Barely behind the Niner Jet 9 the Camber seemed to suffer from that lack of rolling speed, which the second place Giant Anthem 2 made up for with acceleration. The extra comfy, all-around performing Tallboy took first place, finishing three seconds ahead of the Trek Fuel EX on average.
We rated the Camber an 8 out of 10 for its climbing abilities, just behind the faster rolling and equally pedal-friendly Santa Cruz Tallboy, which scored a 9 out of 10.
Cornering, Handling, and Body Language
Nimble, quick, responsive and confident are all words testers use to describe piloting the Camber. Initiating a corner feels effortless, allowing you to take turns intuitively with confidence that you have room for adjustments on the fly, as long as you can avoid that rigid seat post.
While it excels at switchbacking on the climbs, the lack of a dropper makes it less suave on downhill s-curves. It's certainly capable — it's just harder to get your body into the right position. Keeping the saddle at pedal-ready height makes it impossible to comfortably weight the front tire to engage the tread while getting low enough to lean the bike over. You end up with your chest dipped below the seat post while avoiding it with your rear. Not great. Another reason droppers make everything better. If you can manage it, everything works, with the Specialized tires biting adequately in our slightly sandy hardpack. They could present a painful problem on wet trails with rocks, roots, and leaves.
Long, sweeping turns, where front tire engagement isn't so crucial, work much better aboard this bike. You can get low by shifting back behind the saddle, and lay the bike over. Here, the bike "clings to corners," says one of our testers. The Camber's short cockpit works with you here, making it easy to get off the back.
For the most part, we find ourselves centered on the bike without much body language required. While most testers report that the Camber is easy to manual, one test rider finds it awkward, citing a cramped cockpit. The bike does have the longest chainstays in the test. Measured at 438mm, they are longer than the Trek Fuel Ex and Niner Jet 9, which both feel long and handle more like a traditional 29er.
Fork and Shock — The Camber's 120mm of travel front and rear isn't overly plush, but it works in perfect harmony. The RockShox Revelation RL 120mm travel fork with 32mm stanchions is predictable and suits the bike and its cross country disposition well. When pressed, testers describe it as mediocre. Mostly, we just didn't notice it, and that is a beautiful thing.
We are more impressed with the Fox Float Performance DPS rear shock. With three compression and three rebound settings, it works with the FSR suspension to provide comfortable descents and efficient climbs. The AutoSag feature is a great bonus, taking the guesswork out of properly preloading the shock for your body weight and riding style. The pressures it gave us worked well, though the slightly protruding valve cap grazes legs uncomfortably from time to time.
Wheels and Tires — Specialized rolls the Camber out on Roval Traverse 29 tubeless-ready rims with an inner width of 29mm. Our bike came with tubes installed, and we left them in place. The wheels run 24 spokes in the front, and 28 in the rear. That front wheel feels a little flimsy. The other test bikes are sturdier with 32 front and rear for the Tallboy and the Jet 9, 28 front and rear for the Fuel EX and 28 front and 32 rear for the Anthem.
The hubs, Specialized Disc sealed bearing, engage quickly enough to provide the speedy acceleration that we appreciate. The 29mm rim width lets the Specialized Purgatory Control and Ground Control 29 x 2.3" tires spread out enough to reach their full potential, providing just enough traction for our good-trail-conditions applications. The tires are okay, but we'd prefer more bite.
Groupset — The Camber sports a SRAM X7 front shifter and GX 10-speed rear with corresponding derailleurs. That gives you 26 and 36 tooth chainrings and an 11-42 tooth SRAM PG-1130 cassette. We have no complaints about this drivetrain, other than the typical 1x versus 2x showdown. It's smooth and quiet.
The Shimano M506 Hydraulic brakes grip an 180mm rotor up front and a 160mm in the rear. (Note: rotor sizes increase with bike sizes on this ride.) No one noticed them. Meaning they worked just swell, though Shimano brakes have a much different feel than the SRAM Levels spec'ed on two of the other test bikes. Shimano brakes are less modular than SRAMs.
Handlebars, Seat, and Seatpost — Riding on the rigid Specialized Alloy seatpost put one thought in our minds, time to order a 30.9mm seat tube compatible dropper. Downhill and cornering performance would get a big boost with a seatpost that drops out of the way with the touch of a button. The saddle is fine.
The Specialized Alloy handlebars are 750mm wide with a 31.8mm clamp and a 27mm rise. While the rise number itself seems a little high for a 29er, we didn't notice it in the bike performance. The 31.8mm bar thickness seems paltry when compared to the 35mm Santa Cruz Tallboy D bar and the 60mm stem edges longer than the more aggressive bikes' 50mm, but we don't complain while riding. This more mellow front end likely contributes the bike's less burly feel when compared to the downhill confidence instilled by the Santa Cruz Tallboy.
Notables — It's nice to have an optional water bottle cage inside the triangle.
While the Camber's build comes together to perform well, it doesn't wow us. We rate it a 7 of 10. It tops the six we gave the Tallboy and Jet 9, but it's a sizable step down from the 9 we gave the excellent spec on the Giant Anthem.
The $2,600 Specialized Camber Comp 29 we tested is one of several buildout options available.
The Specialized Camber Comp 27.5 is also $2,600 and also sports a Fox Float Performance DPS rear shock and a RockShox Revelation RL fork, but with 130mm of travel. The suspension is also 130mm, compared to the 29er's 120mm. The frame is based on Specialized's Trail Geometry and has a shorter reach and top tube and a taller bottom bracket than the 29er. Interestingly, it also has Boost spacing. It runs a mixed SRAM 1x drivetrain.
The $1,900 Camber 29 shares a frame with the bike we tested but comes with a lower grade fork, a RockShox Sektor Silver RL, aa custom rear shock, and a mixed Shimano/SRAM 2x drivetrain.
You've got to upgrade to the $3,800 Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 27.5 or 29 to get a standard dropper post. (Only the 27.5 version has Boost spacing.) Both run a mixed SRAM 1x drivetrain. You get the same RockShox Revelation RL fork and Fox Float Performance rear shock on both bikes (also 130mm of travel for the 27.5" and 120mm for the 29er). The bike is a carbon front triangle paired with an alloy rear end and features the SWAT storage system.
One of two truly ready-to-ride bikes in the test, the $2,600 price tag on the Camber is within the realm of bike-world reason. Still, it'd be nice to have a dropper and a more than "mediocre" Rock Shox Revelation RL fork at that price point. The bike's performance as-is gets you rolling while the well-considered frame geometry is a solid base to build a better bike overtime. Still, we'd like it better if it was Boosted, in our experience the wider axles help bikes shine.
The only thing we'd change about the Camber right off the bat is to add a dropper post. Testers agreed that this is one of two bikes in the test to buy if you don't want to upgrade components immediately. If your riding is progressing, or you're already pretty aggressive, you may upgrade the Camber's fork to get one with longer travel and beefier stanchions. A longer travel fork slackens the head tube angle and gives a more comfortable and capable ride.
An all-around ride that never leaves you hanging, the Camber is a great bike for cross country focused trail riding. Zippy enough on the climbs to almost make them fun and fast feeling on the descends, it's a great choice for a dodging and weaving type of rider that likes the rollover capabilities of big wheels. The steeper head tube angle and shortstop fork and shock combination aren't ideal if you're itching to move your skills into harder hitting territory on a regular basis. Sharp handling and just enough travel require constant attention, so this isn't the best choice for long, imprecise slogs or more relaxed riders.
— Clark Tate, Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens, Kurt Gensheimer, Kate Blake
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