The Specialized Camber is a swift climber that feels energized and light on the ascent. This bike is an option for folks who prefer cross-country style terrain and don't feel the need to push their limits on the descent. Its capabilities are within the range of new riders. Dedicated riders will quickly outgrow this bike's skill set. We always appreciate the SWAT storage system in the downtube. The Camber is reasonably competent downhill, but the Juliana Furtado is a far steadier hand and the Liv Pique SX has more personality. Both bikes climb nicely as well.
Specialized Women's Camber Comp Carbon 650b 2018 Review
Cons: Uncomfortable cockpit, awkward descending positioning
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Women's Camberis outfitted with women's specific components such as shorter crankarms and handlebars. For six weeks four women testers rode the Specialized Women's Camber Comp Carbon 650b alongside the Juliana Furtado R and the Liv Pique SX 1 to discover their relative strengths and weaknesses.
The Specialized Women's Camber is perfunctory fun. It's a dependable, well-built bike that will get you out on the trails. The low-end builds are quite the bargain, and that's nothing to sniff at. It just doesn't have a lot of personality. The Furtado and Pique SX are both more lively and capable.
The Camber is at its best on flowy terrain. It excels in situations where it's less than plush suspension is lightly employed. Easy and efficient pedaling works to your advantage on such trails. The Camber climbs well and it has exact steering thanks to its steep head tube angle, allowing you to pick your way through technical terrain. The front wheel is easy to get off the ground and over obstacles. This bike would benefit from more aggressive tread than the rear 2.3-inch Specialized Ground Control provides.
The cockpit is not comfortable. None of the testers are inspired to take this bike out for longer rides. On descents, the upright rider position forces you to get low behind the saddle to balance the bike. The challenge of keeping the bike calm also keeps us from bouncing or tossing Camber around. This limits fun.
The Camber earned a 5 of 10 in fun, as shown in the chart above. The Juliana won the metric with a 9.
The Camber's abilities narrow when heading downhill. It is simply not a confident descender on anything above a green, or mellow blue, terrain. While the bike can and did handle black diamond level trails during the test, it requires a more experienced rider. The problem is, experienced riders don't want this bike. The other two bikes hit their upper limits in black diamond terrain as well, but they are much more confident occupying that zone.
This bike feels twitchier than the other two bikes. It provides the sensation that you're more on the bike than in it. As a result, you have to work harder to keep your weight balanced. On descents, this means actively getting your weight back and down over the rear wheel. Riders are forced to shift around constantly to account for changes in the trail. The 720mm bars are uncomfortably narrow and don't offer much leverage to control the bike. They do let you pin it through tight trees though.
The 32mm stanchions on the RockShox Reba, in combination with the 24 spokes on the front wheel, hurt performance. The front end can't hold up to higher speeds on rough descents. As a result, line choice in technical terrain is crucial due to fear of a deflected front end. The rear end works better, with the Fox Performance DPS shock pairing reliably with the suspension design. Hitting well-spaced rocks or drops, even big ones feels solid. Rapid fire impacts, however, quickly overwhelm the rear suspension, resulting in a harsh feel and making it hard to maintain balance, confidence, and control.
While the Camber soars straight off rock outcrops with little convincing, isn't the type of bike you tend to pop all over the trail. Our testers didn't feel inspired to play around, leave the ground, or take anything at speed aboard the Camber. The 28-tooth chainring doesn't give you much leverage to crank additional speed on the flats or mellow descents anyway.
The short wheelbase and responsive steering make quick work of smooth switchbacks. In faster corners and berms the Specialized seems to want to stand up in corners. More aggressive tires could only help.
The Women's Camber is an easy pedaler with a firm platform while seated or standing. The 28-tooth chainring makes for easy spinning on the way up. The cockpit is not comfortable, setting you up in a stiff and tight position that does not encourage long days in the saddle.
The handling is responsive, but the narrow 720mm bars feel awkward after riding the other two bikes. The Furtado has 760mm bars and the Pique SX's 750mm. We prefer slightly wider 780mm bars. This is a matter of preference. Still, it's easy to cut bars if they are too wide. It's impossible to stretch them if they are too narrow. Perhaps as a result of our general lack of comfort, the bike has an unsettled feeling. The Camber and doesn't track as well uphill like the other two test bikes.
Frame Design and Suspension Overview
Specialized offer's women's bikes with shocks tuned for lighter riders, known as the Women's Rx Tune. This can involve adjusting the speed of the shocks' internal oil flow or adjusting the number of spacers that control how much air the shock can hold. In the case of the Women's Camber, Specialized simply left out the volume spacers it supplies for the Men's Camber.
Specialized's women's bikes use the same Future Shock Rear (FSR) suspension. FSR is a 4-bar linkage design, a.k.a. Horst Link. This system has a reputation for reducing braking compression and for providing efficient pedaling. The pedaling platform is indeed pleasant aboard the 120mm travel Camber. The frame includes Specialized's SWAT storage system, a handy place to store tools and snacks.
Our small Specialized Women's Camber Comp Carbon comes with a carbon front triangle and an aluminum rear end. The 2018 Women's Camber's geometry is steep, with a 68.1-degree head tube and a 75.5-degree seat tube. This sets you up in an upright position that is okay for climbing but tends to produce a confidence-sucking stance on the descent. While the measured 401mm reach isn't extremely short, the 567mm top tube is, the shortest in the test by a wide margin. As a result, the cockpit is the least comfortable in the test. The 1091mm wheelbase is kept compact thanks to its super short 432mm chainstays and steep geometry. The bike has the lowest bottom bracket in the test with 326mm of clearance and weighs 28 pounds and 15 ounces.
Due to the size of the company, Specialized can produce in-house components to cut costs. This frees up the budget to offer impressive specifications on occasion. At $3,800, this build kit is okay.
Fork and Shock — The 130mm RockShox Reba RL fork is the least exciting of the test. With 32mm over a 24 spoked front tire, the front end is noticeably less supportive than the other forks in the test. Specialized's Women's Rx Tune removes the volume spacers that come in the fork found on men's version. This creates a less progressive, or more linear, suspension curve. It works for our testers in this instance, allowing them to utilize the fork's full travel.
The Fox Performance DPS rear shock does its job when paired with Specialized's FSR rear suspension. It's just not a comfortable ride. The Women's Rx Tune also removes the volume spacers found on the unisex model's rear shock. Suspension setup was straightforward with the DPS. The AutoSag feature set up the shock too stiff for our riders.
Wheels and Tires — The Roval Traverse rims were the widest in the test at 29mm. This is greatly appreciated as traction is everyone's friend. The 24 and 28 spokes front and rear could be sturdier, however. Hub activation is less than ideal, with the pedal slamming forward into engagement every time you pick up the pedals.
The 27.5 x 2.3" Specialized Purgatory and Ground Control tires aren't the most aggressive. We would like more traction, especially in the turns.
Groupset — The SRAM GX 11-speed drivetrain is a decent spec at this price point. It shifts serviceably and offers a comfortable climbing gear with 28:42-gearing. The 28-tooth chainring doesn't provide steady power on flat or downhill stretches. It's also so small that the chain lays on top of the chainstay in lower gears.
Handlebars, Seat, and Seatpost — Uninspiring at 720mm, the Specialized Low-rise handlebars don't detract from the bike's responsive steering. They don't have us revving our engines either. We prefer the 760mm bars found on the Juliana Furtado and would rather go up to 780mm.
The Women's Body Geometry Myth Comp saddle is fine for a stock seat. Some found it comfortable. Some didn't. The Command Post IRcc was one aggressive dropper post when we received it, coming up like a punch. Taking some air pressure out mitigates the issue. It does its job. The 10 to 12 position micro-height adjustment is odd but works in a variety of situations. The 100mm of travel is too short for us, forcing us to run a lot of exposed post to achieve an effective pedaling height. This almost defeats the purpose of a dropper post on a bike with such low standover. The extra-small bike gets only 75mm and the large gets 125mm of travel.
Build Differences from Unisex Version
There is also a Camber Comp Carbon 29 among the unisex offerings. We tested the $2,500 Camber Comp 29 in our short-travel trail review. It fared well as a solid climber with limited climbing abilities that favors cross-country trails.
There are two less expensive Women's Camber's available, a $2400 Women's Camber Comp 27.5 and a $1650 Women's Camber 650b. Both are aluminum and both have 10mm more travel, listed as 130mm.
The $2400 Women's Camber Comp 27.5 has the same fork and shock as the Women's Camber Comp Carbon with a mixed SRAM NX/GX drivetrain and a rigid dropper post. Since you can get a dropper for under $1,000 and you are only sacrificing carbon on the front triangle, this is a better value than the bike we tested. It does not come with a SWAT compartment, however.
What Makes This a Women's Bike?
According to Katie Sue Sloan, Specialized's Global Public Relations Manager, the company uses data they collected through their Body Geometry and Retül bike fitting systems to inform their women's specific bike decisions. These programs offer weight and fit information from thousands of participants across the globe, and show that female riders are statistically lighter weight than male riders. This informs the custom Women's Rx Tune that Specialized provides on their women's bikes. It is meant to allow lighter riders to "use the full travel of their bike," according to Sloan.
Joe Buckley, the MTB Product Manager at Specialized, explains that the Women's Rx Tune is achieved by adjusting the rate of oil flow through the shock or by removing air volume spacers, both actions can make the shocks easier for a lighter rider to activate. In the case of the Women's Camber, they removed the volume spacers that come with the men's version.
Otherwise, the frame of the Women's Camber and Men's Camber are similar, though the men's version and the other two women's builds provide 10mm more travel. Sloan notes that the women's version includes touch point differences such as narrower bars, shorter cranks, and smaller grips. It also features the Myth saddle, which takes into account women's anatomy and "pressure point mapping" conducted in Specialized's Body Geometry program.
The value is not awesome for the performance. The other two test bikes are far better options, as are many of the full-suspension trail rides we reviewed. Less expensive hardtails are also an excellent budget option. We don't recommend this bike if you encounter rocky terrain frequently.
More aggressive tires would go a long way in improving ride characteristics. A burlier fork and a front wheel with more spokes could help stiffen up the front end.
The Camber does its work dutifully and then heads back to the shed.
— Clark Tate, Tasha Thomas, Brie Hyslop, Sally Hunter, Pat Donahue