Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mountain Bike Test Ride: Specialized S-Works Enduro 29 vs Santa Cruz Tallboy

How Old Am I?

I love to mountain bike. Always have, always will.
Riding Bauline Line, Newfoundland, 1999

About 17 years ago, boy I am old, I bought my hardtail XC Giant ATX 860. What does the XC stand for? It means Cross Country and at the time it was rated as one of the top XC bikes for the price point. Suspiciously, the price was about $860 as well.

That bike served me well for years as I rode trails in Newfoundland and Ontario. It was great for what I stuck too back then. But, here in the Northwest, it is not up to snuff. There are too many awesome trails calling out to me and for that I need more suspension.

Having ridden the trails out here, I have shied away from trying some of the "sick" stuff people have told me about since my bike and I are not up to these gnarly trails. I continually bottom out my front shock and get jostled around as I try to stay out of my seat to absorb the roots, rocks, and drops that the single track presents here.

It's time to change that and step up to the next level of riding I know awaits for me. So, when I saw that the local bike shop was having a demo day at one of the nearby trails I jumped at the chance to try some new bikes.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 29

Specialized S-Works Enduro 29, Image: Specialized
I wanted to try out the Specialized Stumpjumper 29 but unfortunately they only had the Medium which for my short legs was too tall. So, they setup their only Small Specialized, a Specialized S-Works Enduro 29.

Now, first, before you look at the price, oh you did already? Ya, $9300. I knew bikes could get expensive but that's insane.

This bike fit better than the Medium though, so I took it for a spin on the trails. For those keeping track, this bike has 155mm of travel (in it's suspension) and weighs about 26 lbs. The light weight and plush ride adds to the cost of this bike but this is one of the best All Mountain/Enduro bikes you can ride today.

So how did it ride? It was like floating over the trail. The trails at Soaring Eagle were not enough for this monster to notice. I went from picking a smooth line to avoid "technical obstacles" like logs, roots, rocks, drops, too hunting them out and smashing through them. I found nothing on the trail that made me slow down. This bike eats gnarly for breakfast.

Throughout the ride I hooted and whooped as I tried to keep up with this bike. Over and over I had so much speed coming through previously gnarly sections that I almost propelled myself into the woods as turns would come up too fast. Nothing slowed this bike down but my cardio.

The bottom line, this bike is more than I need. It is a blast to ride. But it would take some time to learn how to ride this bike. There is a learning curve here that years of XC riding did not prepare me for. I also don't have a lot of trails around here that truly need this level of travel.

If I had to make a complaint, it was that this bike was too plush for the cross country trails I rode it on. It felt like riding an easy chair through the woods and took away some of the joy as it was less nimble through turns.

Juliana Joplin (Standing in for Santa Cruz Tallboy 29)

Next up I wanted to ride a Santa Cruz Tallboy. Unfortunately they did not have one in my size. They
Image: Juliana
did have the women's version, the Juliana Joplin in red (my favorite color no less), in a Small which was a perfect fit. 

This bike felt like I expected. This bike has the same 100mm of travel as the Tallboy and is basically the same model with different colors.

This bike is dialed into the riding I most often do, XC. With it's 100mm of travel it let me scream through the same ride we had just done and still slam through technical sections.

This is more bike that I am riding with my hardtail today but definitely not as plush as the Enduro. Has the Enduro ruined me? Maybe.

This bike and the Tallboy are more in the ballpark of what I expect to spend. At $3399 for the entry level model this bike is more than I would like to spend (I'm cheap), but I know bikes are not cheap today. 

This bike would bring riding in the Northwest to the new level I am looking for. It is responsive, nimble in turns, wants to take flight off humps, and can absorb the gnarly sections. 


The insanely priced monster Enduro would be great if I step up bombing down the sides of mountains. Then I could use more travel but I don't see the need for it for my regular rides. Though fun, it actually took the spirit out of the tame, for this bikes suspension, ride that I put it through. It felt very squishy, especially with lateral control since this bike was built to fly down gnarly trails, not sprint nimbly cross country.

The Tallboy/Joplin was nimble, responsive and tuned to the trails we rode. This is the majority of what I plan to ride and with the travel in it's full suspension this bike felt like riding my hardtail with an upgrade.

The Tallboy also comes in Small so I can get the geometry and reach I want. That said, I really would like to try the Tallboy LT (Long Travel) which is a Tallboy with 130mm of travel. The big problem being that I would not be able to make that decision to go up in travel without trying out the bike since it starts in Medium.

All in all, it was a great morning and has given me some reference points to work with as I search for my new ride.

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