After the disaster that was the Stony Creek Marathon, I rented a Specialized Camber Elite 29er from the fine folks at Kinetic Systems in Clarkston, Michigan, the town I grew up in. (An aside: Why are all of the good Specialized dealers so far away from me? When I lived in Minnesota, the folks at the closest Erik’s Bike Shop were terrible. Up here, Hancock Bike Shop is the most useless shop in the world.) I got a little over 5 hours on the bike over 3 days and lots of different kinds of trails, so I think I can give some pretty good first impressions.
So first, would I buy one? Probably not. But not because it was a bad bike. On the contrary, I enjoyed riding it greatly. I’m just not a point where a trail bike like the Camber fits into my purchase plans.
The 29er platform seems excellent. I rode all of the trails at Highland State Recreation Area, a Metro Detroit trail system known for its tight, twisty, technical singletrack. It was not often – if ever – that I felt that turning the bigger wheels were a hinderance in my ability to ride those trails. I did come out of the ride really tired, and that may have been from muscling the bike around. I am certain there were some little rock gardens that I cruised through with a lot less impact than I am used to feeling. This is a bit of a surprise, because I’ve been riding tubeless recently on my own bike, and the Camber had tubes and the tires were inflated up to 35 psi. I’ve been a fan of the 29″ wheel since the first time I rode a Gary Fisher Paragon on the Lebanon Hills trails in Minnesota, and this has really confirmed that. Riding the more buff singletrack of Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area was really excellent, as the big wheels had more opportunity to pick up and hold their momentum. People often point out that you end up having to slow down a lot around corners and waste energy accelerating out of them. Either this is how I already ride or I have no issues with this.
The FSR suspension is so immensely superior to a single-pivot. My bike wasn’t completely set up right, since I couldn’t use all of the rear travel. No matter what I was doing, that little O-ring just wouldn’t travel more than about 75% of the way back. I didn’t have a shock pump to adjust it, so I just dealt with it. Climbing was a joy and descending didn’t seem to suffer. Occasionally I felt a little bounced around, but that may have more to do with the incorrect setup as opposed to an overly stiff suspension.
I still love The Captain tires, even in the wire-beaded Sport version. I was immediately comfortable and confident on them. I haven’t tried every trail tire in the world, largely because I find The Captains so very competent.
Parts spec is good across the board. I finally got to ride some hydraulic discs that didn’t always drag on the rotors (I’m looking at you, Tektro Dracos!). I’m not convinced they are that much better than my old mechanical Avid BB7’s, but I wouldn’t turn them down on a new bike.
Overall, I loved the bike. I just wouldn’t buy one until I stop focusing so much on racing. I think the Camber is still race-able, as long as you put some less aggressive rubber on the wheels. If/when trail riding with my family becomes my primary outlet for riding, the Camber would be way, way up on my list of candidates for a bike.
Tiny Update: In case you read this looking for comments on rising shock rates or fork rebound rates or anything like that, I’m sorry I don’t have it. What I can tell you, from a completely subjective point of view, is this: I got on a very good-looking bike, was immediately comfortable, didn’t feel that the big wheels were sluggish or hard to control, and enjoyed every benefit the 29″ wheels could give me. It was a completely positive experience!