Specialized Camber Elite 29er Review

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.

But…

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!

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6 thoughts on “Specialized Camber Elite 29er Review”

  1. I currently ride a 2007 Gary Fisher Paragon 17″ frame. I love this bike and it is very fast, handles well, but is a little small for me. I am 6′. I saw where you have rode a Paragon. I am looking to buy a 29″ full suspension large bike. I am between the 2011 camber elite and the 2011 Kona Hei Hei. Both are new and in my price range. I can get either for $2000.00 right now. What are you suggestions since we both have rode Paragons and you know the feel I am looking for. I dont like pedal bob when climbing. I live in the North Ga Mountains so alot of climbing here. Thanks for your time.

    Greg

    1. Short Answer: Camber for the way up, Hei Hei for the way down.

      Longer Answer: The Camber has a better suspension for climbing, in my opinion. The FSR linkages just isolate pedal motion better than any platform damping from a rear shock. Add to that a lockout on the rear shock of the Camber (if you really need it) and you get a much better climbing platform. I’m assuming you’re looking at the Hei Hei 2-9 SE, which only comes with an RP2 and not the RP23 on the more expensive Hei Hei 2-9. Neither has a proper lockout anyways.

      The only reasons I would pick the Hei Hei over the Camber are:

      1. The Kona has a longer feeling top-tube, like the Fisher you have now.
      2. The Kona is a little bit better descender.
      3. Parts spec on the Kona is marginally better (shifters, for example)
      4. If you like SRAM shifty bits better than Shimano.
      5. For the color of the bike.

      Since I hear you saying climbing efficiency is your top priority, I’d get a Camber. However, the best thing to do is to ride each one and determine which one “feels” best.

      1. The Kona is a 2011. It is equipped with X9 components, Fox32 f29 fork and a Fox rp32 rear shock. Is the 19″ a large? This is a mail order piece. That is the reason I can get such a good deal. I do understand the risk involved without testing. I am hunting a dealer that has one but so far no luck.

      2. Oh wow. That’s a heck of a deal on that Kona. The Hei Hei I rode over the summer was a 19″ (which is a Large) and fit me very well. (I’m about 5’11” with a 32″ inseam.) I did find I needed a seatpost with a pretty decent amount of setback to be comfortable.

        I’d still get the Camber, personally. I think the FSR suspension is more efficient and that the Camber handled better. But if you have time to tweak that RP32, I’m sure you could get it set up to be a really efficient platform and you would like the nicer parts spec on the Kona. If it was my money, I’d buy the Camber.

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