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Tech feature: Specialized 2006, September 24, 2005 - part two

Specialized gets its carbon dirty

With all the attention Specialized has lavished on its road line for 2006, you could be forgiven for wondering if it had any time and energy left over for the mountain bike side. It certainly did, James Huang discovers.

New carbon front triangle
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Just add a few wraps
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Carbon fiber is again the name of the game for Specialized's new S-Works mountain bikes. Some may say that Specialized has lagged behind in incorporating carbon fiber in mountain bike frame design but they have certainly jumped in with both feet for '06 having introduced three all-new carbon XC frames.

Lots of carbon fiber
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Asymmetric chainstays
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As with the Epic
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Specialized's new Az-1 carbon construction technique also finds its way into the new carbon mainframe of its revolutionary terrain-sensing Epic FSR XC full-suspension design . The switch to carbon fiber not only drops weight as compared to aluminum, but also dramatically increases torsional rigidity for more precise handling and snappier response.

Heavily reinforced front end
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It almost looks too pretty
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The Brain unit
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The bottom bracket area is heavily reinforced for maximum drivetrain rigidity and the massive front end now incorporates an integrated headset design . Travel of the new M5 aluminum four-bar rear end is increased to 100mm of travel in a new lighter and stiffer asymmetric design .

Total frame weight including paint and shock now is only 2300g. Most models will be disc-specific, but US buyers can also opt for a rim-brake version .

The longer-travel XC/Endurance S-Works Carbon Stumpjumper FSR also receives similar treatment with an all-new Az-1 carbon front triangle and asymmetric M5 four-bar aluminum rear end .

Rear travel on the Stumpjumper has also been increased by 10mm, making for a total of 130mm and the entire frame weighs only 2450g. As with the Carbon Epic, the carbon front end drastically increases torsional stiffness but also incorporates a dramatically swoopy appearance that I honestly wish had carried over to the Epic a bit (but hey, that's just my opinion).

In any event, perhaps the most exciting development in the S-Works Carbon Stumpjumper is the addition of a remote Brain unit that lends Epic-like pedaling efficiency to the Stumpjumper's longer travel legs.

The new Brain Fade feature
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Both of the terrain sensing Brain-equipped Fox shocks on the Epic and Stumpjumper also incorporate a new tuning feature called Brain Fade. Previous Epic designs certainly did a good enough job of locking out when the trail was smooth, but some criticized the system for having too much of an "off-on" feel. The Brain Fade feature softens that transition a bit and should make for better overall trail performance on both bikes . The Epic's adjustment range, however, is still significantly stiffer than that of the Stumpjumper and retains its superior pedaling response.

Who says hardtails are dead?
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Specialized still hasn't forgotten its hardtail roots with the introduction of its third carbon mountain frame, the S-Works Carbon HT . The primary goal of this frame was a giant leap forward in frame rigidity and drivetrain response over its previous M5 aluminum version. The end result weighs only 1100g. The disc-only configuration certainly offers comment on what direction (at least in terms of how to stop) Specialized thinks the XC racer crowd is going these days . Last year's S-Works M5 HT was revamped as well and now wears a novel asymmetric seatstay design .

Getting cross

Cross season
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The flattened underside
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S-bend seatstays
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Massive fork crown
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The Tricross is Specialized's new-for-'06 cyclocross line . This new cross platform incorporates a number of thoughtful features courtesy of Andy Jacques-Maynes, pro cross rider for the Webcor squad in the US, who provided development help for Specialized's designer. Although it may not be carbon, the S-Works E5 Aerotec SLX aluminum frame is still super light at only 1300g. The flattened underside of both the top tube and down tube makes for easy portaging . The slightly curved top tube and S-bend stays provide a bit of vertical compliance and combine with the Zertz-equipped carbon fiber fork to smooth out the ride and damp vibration .

After a long weekend on the UC Santa Cruz campus, a couple of things became quite clear. First, if I ever have kids, there is no way I'm letting them go here unless they've won the lottery beforehand. Secondly, Specialized's designers and engineers clearly don't work here since they've obviously been very busy!


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by James Huang

  • New carbon front triangle and asymmetric M5 aluminum rear triangle are lighter and stiffer than last year’s all-aluminum model. All 2006 Epics also gain 10mm of rear wheel travel for a total of 100mm.
  • Just add a few wraps of carbon fiber, apply a little heat…
  • Lots of carbon fiber reinforces the bottom bracket area to insure immediate pedaling response.
  • Heavily reinforced front end provides excellent lateral and torsional frame rigidity when cranking on the bars. 2006 marks the first instance of integrated headsets for Specialized’s mountain frames.
  • Asymmetric chainstays reduce weight by allowing the non-driveside stay to take a more direct path to the rear axle.
  • US consumers may opt for a rim brake-equipped Carbon Epic. The braking obviously isn’t as good as disc-equipped models, but few will deny the weight savings of rim brakes.
  • Specialized uses carbon fiber for one of the suspension linkages as well. Face it, you can never have too much carbon!
  • It almost looks too pretty to beat up on an all-day epic or 24 hour event…. note that I said “almost”.
  • As with the Epic the asymmetric rear end of the Stumpjumper makes for a lighter and stiff rear end.
  • The Brain unit on the Stumpjumper FSR is remotely connected to the main shock. In order to function properly, the Brain needs to be mounted nearly vertical and as close to the rear wheel axle as possible. Mission accomplished.
  • Apparently nothing was deemed over the top for Specialized premier full-suspension XC/Endurance bike. Check out the carbon fiber mount for the Brain unit.
  • The Stumpjumper linkage is forged from magnesium as opposed to the carbon unit on the Epic. Dramatically swoopy carbon fiber design work is evident just about everywhere. Hydraulic hose running from the main shock routes oil out back to the remote Brain unit.
  • The new Brain Fade feature softens the “on-off” feel of previous Epics. Adjustments are easily performed using the large machined and anodized aluminum dial.
  • Who says hardtails are dead? Sure, they may not be the best tool for the job all the time, but there are certainly still times when only the lightest and most efficient will do.
  • Externally-bonded dropouts make for better stress distribution to the seatstay. Plus they look cool!
  • And who says aluminum hardtails are dead! Aluminum still makes for efficient, lightweight structures that usually won’t (totally) break the bank. Specialized certainly hasn’t given up on these, and neither should you.
  • This definitely goes into the “why didn’t anyone think of this before?” category. Asymmetric seatstay design reduces weight and complexity of symmetric designs.
  • Cross season is coming sooner than you think…
  • The flattened underside of the Tricross top tube adds a bit of vertical compliance to the frame but also makes for comfortable shouldering during runups.
  • S-bend seatstays on the Tricross have plenty of mud clearance and just a little bit of vertical give.
  • Massive fork crown isn’t quite as visibly offensive as it appears in the picture, but it does make for tons of mud clearance. Zertz units just around the cantilever bosses smooth out the ride and kill brake chatter that can sometimes be found with lightweight carbon cross forks.