2020 Specialized Enduro First Ride Review

Reinventing a model and a brand

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All photos by Harookz and Dylan Dunkerton

The 2020 Specialized Enduro is a new beginning for Specialized. In a category they pioneered (long-travel 29er) and with a suspension design that has stood for decades, Specialized sought to build something new – new suspension, new design, componentry, philosophy, and attitude.

170mm of front and rear 29er travel was the goal. Faster up, faster down and faster on the corners and maybe more acrobatic in mid-air were the measuring sticks. Have they succeeded? Kinda. They kinda hit it out of the park.

Out with the old

Specialized was one of the pioneers of this important genre with the Enduro 29. But they have faltered in recent releases and have been left out of many buying matrices by the most astute riders as bikes like the Evil Wreckoning, Ibis Ripmo, Santa Cruz Megatower, YT Capra distanced themselves in the category.

Proprietary Ohlins suspension, tilting Wu dropper post SWAT tools were some of the distinct features of the 2019 Enduro

We were not fans of the outgoing Specialized Enduro and we let them know about it. Geometry was dated and the suspension was difficult to dial in and control. And by the time we got close to getting the suspension to our liking, the front and rear shock started experiencing reliability issues. And we tried to get along with the 125mm Wu dropper post that tilted back as the seat post was dropped but it really distracted from the riding experience with a feature that no one seemed to ask for.

The new Enduro allowed us to take the option lines… on day one! Photo by Dylan Dunkerton

The new chapter

We brought down the outgoing model so we can build up the new one, right? Well, that’s not our intention. We really want to illustrate how far removed the 2020 Enduro is from the previous generation. When Brad Benedict of Specialized unveiled the new bike no words were said for a few seconds as we absorbed what we were witnessing. This is the new Enduro, the new Specialized, the phoenix rising.

The rebuild was indeed occurring over the last few years with some key strategic, branding and personnel moves. First, Specialized stopped suing folks. After the Specialized Roubaix Lawsuit fiasco of 2012, no more visible lawsuits were filed. The company slowly but surely cleaned up its act and became deeply involved with fundraisers, festivals and trail building efforts. The bikes got better and less proprietary, too. The 2019 Stumpjumper lead this charge, with standard shock mounts and a threaded bottom bracket. Finally, Specialized added notoriously candid and honest personnel, like Vernon Felton, a trusted bike media icon. The tongue-in-cheek marketing campaigns and launch videos poke fun at the brand and our audience embraced it. We could actually post Specialized product news in our social media and 90-percent of our audience listened to the info instead of half crying “lawsuit” like in years past.

This is a lot to take in.

The 2020 Enduro was a lot to take in. The frame design and suspension layout is a significant departure from the bread and butter arrangement of years past. It sported a SRAM or X-Fusion dropper post, a top, third-party component from another company. It had Shimano brakes! Deity stem and grips were used instead of the house brand. And every component seems to employ standard mounts and upgradeable parts.

Geometry Discussion:

First off, Specialized felt the need to change the Small, Medium, Large nomenclature for sizing to S2, S3, S4 to emphasize that a rider is not restricted to a single bike size now unlike a piece of clothing like a t-shirt for example. The intent is sound since riders can now choose a size based on preference, riding style, and local terrain. But was it really necessary to invent new terms and educate and confuse everyone? Of course not, as most manufacturers allow the exact same sizing concept now with sizing and stuck with the tried and true S, M, L terminology. This will be a point of confusion for years to come, so we just wanted to get it off our chest. We’ll compare a Medium frame to an S2 in this geometry discussion. Sizing, after all, makes the most sense to a rider when they have context to what they’ve tried before and to what’s available in the marketplace.

The all-important reach number on the last-generation medium Enduro used to be 440mm; now bumped up significantly to 464mm. Head angle and seat angle used to be at 66/76.7 degrees; now at 63.9/76 degrees, revealing a significantly slacker head angle. The seat tube length has been shortened, especially in the larger sizes to allow riders who want a longer bike to size up.

The legendary short chainstay length of 433mm of the outgoing model has increased to 442mm with the relocation of the entire rear suspension near the bottom bracket area and increased travel. The bottom bracket height of 346mm (in low mode) was basically maintained at 347mm despite the increase in rear travel to 170mm.

The medium on the outgoing model had a wheelbase of 1190 mm while the new S2 is quite a bit longer at 1246mm. It’s a longer bike for sure as styles have changed. But the rider in this size can opt for an S1 with a 1217mm wheelbase if that is a major concern.

The new suspension

The mantra that will hear most often about this bike is “rearward axle path”. It is the lynchpin for this whole new architecture and Specialized has redesigned the most timeless, most copied FSR suspension design in pursuit of this new hallowed axle path.

To what end? What they hoped to achieve was a faster bike. Faster downhill, faster uphill and more controllable in corners. With a more rearward axle path, the bike hangs up less on obstacles. Square-edged bumps, rocks, roots, holes are all common trail elements that hit the rear wheel slightly backward and slow the bike down. An axle path that is slightly rearward in its first one-third of the travel absorbs the hits better, keeps its speed and is thus faster.

In addition, the leverage curve is now more progressive, so it’s more supple in the initial part of its travel and it ramps up to give it big-hit capability.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Achilles heel of previous Enduros, climbing prowess, has been improved. Anti-squat has been increased by about 40-percent over the outgoing Enduro so this one is more efficient, more responsive on those power climbs, especially on those endless fire road ascents.

The Components

The componentry is incredible and unlike any Specialized we’ve tried before. We got to ride the S-Works and it basically used what was the best component available in the marketplace. It seemed like the shackles of house-brand droppers, shocks, grips, etc may be a distant memory now. Or even the monopoly of SRAM in Specialized spec may be a thing of the past as well. We looked in awe at an Enduro with a long Sram dropper, Shimano brakes and drivetrain, Raceface cranks and Diety grips.

Now we have a bike not held back by philosophy or OEM relationship constraints. Here was a bike that a tuner could possibly leave alone and be perfectly content that they have the best bike available. Up and down the models of different price points, we observed the same treatment of spec’ing parts that were best suited for the job.

We’re not likely to see any other saddles or tires other than the house brand though since those are core products of Specialized. We’re perfectly happy with their saddle options but we feel that the tires are holding this bike back. The Butcher is not up to par with the best all-mountain tires available today. But we’re happy to report that their new compounds and bigger sizes have improved performance a lot. And we’ve seen some fascinating new tire options from Specialized lately.

How does it ride?

I’m no spring chicken and a lot of the bike media riders in the Enduro launch at Northstar DH park are half my age with a downhill background. Nonetheless, I love all-mountain bikes since they showcase the progress of mountain bike design. These long-travel machines allow me to advance my descending skills as I go outside of my envelope and learn how to descend and corner.

Unfamiliar with Northstar, I slapped on some knee pads and gave it a go. We first climbed a fire road to the first run and it was a delight. I climbed it with the suspension wide open and it climbed like no other Enduro (or Stumpy or Camber) before it. Seated climbing, it held its rear suspension position under power. It felt like an Evil Wreckoning/Following where it’s active but it doesn’t bob under power on fire roads. Didn’t get a chance to climb it on rocky singletrack on this go-around.

And here is the biggest revelation of this test ride where we did about 15 runs on the downhill trails of Northstar. There are no photos since they would have been too boring for these renowned photographers, Harookz and Dunkerton. On the way to Boondocks trail, there is a gradual fire road descent strewn with rocks and bumps. The first time, I went down it, it felt like the bike was accelerating and trying to scare me. The second time, same and the sensation was more prevalent as I completely let go of the brakes. What was happening was the bike was not getting hung up by rocks and slowing down. It wasn’t ‘normal’ and it was noticeable. We did this segment many more times and it put a smile on my face every time since what they were saying WAS true. This bike had a rearward axle path and it was faster on this type of trail condition. The following day, I took a Stumpjumper trail bike on this same descent many times and it was noticeably slower, as it did get hung up on those bumps.

This suspension was like butter on Boondocks and Livewire and my adjustment period was minimal. By mid-day, confidence was high and I was riding like it was my regular bike. On one section of Boondocks, I veered right and went down an 8-foot drop, surprised ace photographer Harookz Noguchi and he yelled, “Niiiiiiice Francis!” I surprised him and myself since that all went so smoothly so I thought of the tagline for this bike, “the new Specialized Enduro – it lets you take the option lines.”

This is indeed the plushest, most capable and balanced Specialized I’ve ever tried. I went outside of my comfort zone and it never let me down. I’m not a fan of these Butcher tires on this North Tahoe sand but the new compounds on this 2.6 Butcher on 30mm rims helped it out a bit. But everything else about this S-Works spec was spot-on. In one day, this Specialized Enduro went from barely making my Top 10 all-mountain bike list to top dog. A longer-term test is obviously in order, but color me impressed!!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What was Specialized trying to achieve with the redesign of the Enduro?
Make an even faster Enduro or, more precisely, an Enduro that would be faster in every situation. There’s a lot to unpack there, so here are the highpoints. We wanted to improve the following: initial stroke (small-bump) sensitivity; bottom-out resistance (big-hit performance); pedaling efficiency; ride characteristics under braking; chassis stiffness traits; and its ability to maintain momentum over truly technical terrain.

2. How many models are there now?
We’re offering four new Enduro models, as well as a standalone S-Works frame option.

3. You say that improving momentum carry was key to this bike—that it’s all about making the bike faster on rough descents. How’d you achieve that?
This was a major goal for us. We wanted to reduce rear wheel hang up on square-edged hits and that meant significantly changing the axle path—making it more rearward in the first third of the stroke.

Photo by Harookz

4. Why isn’t the axle path “more rearward” throughout the rear shock’s compression stroke?
Your rear wheel moves up and over big rocks and roots more easily with a more rearward axle path. Consequently, we can improve the momentum carry by tweaking the rear wheel’s axle path. But when you say “more rearward” a lot of people envision the rear-axle shooting backwards in space indefinitely whenever you hit something really chunky. That’s not the case for any bike.

In reality, all rear-axle paths scribe an arc in space as the rear suspension compresses. The axle path initially goes rearward but eventually arcs forward. So, really, what we’re trying to do is have an axle path that scribes an arc that is more rearward—or less- forward arcing, really—as the rear suspension compresses.

New and old Enduro axle paths

Too convoluted? Just look at the graph above, because it shows fewer nouns and more actual axle paths. Red is the new Enduro 29. Blue is the Enduro you’ve been riding the past few years. The new axle path defined by the red line is, in fact, more rearward during key segments of the rear travel. This axle path thing only matters because it reduces rear wheel hang-up and helps the new Enduro maintain momentum and haul ass through really rocky terrain.

5. How exactly did you achieve that improved axle path?
It required a wholesale change to the Enduro’s kinematics. The new main pivot placement was a primary contributor to getting that more rearward axle path.

6. If a “more rearward/less forward” axle path is better at allowing the rear wheel to move away from and then over big, square-edged hits, then why didn’t you go even more rearward?
There’s no point in chasing one ride characteristic at the expense of other important ride traits. The goal is to achieve the right mix of ride traits. For example, if you go too far rearward with the rear-axle path, you start getting excessive amounts of chain growth and that, in turn, can give you excessive amounts of pedal kickback. This affects your pedaling performance. If the rear-axle is traveling too far rearward on big hits, you also wind up with your geo (wheelbase in particular) changing distractingly in really technical sections of a descent. In other words, you can overdo the whole rearward axle path thing. We wanted the Enduro to be faster across the widest range of conditions possible, and this means achieving the right balance of suspension characteristics.

7. This new Enduro looks more complicated than its predecessor. Why so many links?
The new suspension layout, which debuted on the Demo, allows us to achieve several key objectives. For starters, the two extra bars give us more flexibility in tuning the leverage curve. Making the bike both more supple and improving bottom-out resistance was key for the redesign, and the extra tuning options afforded by the design helped in achieving that.

Could we have reached that same suspension feel with the previous design? Yes, we could. The stand-over height, however, would have been higher, as would the bike’s center of gravity. So, to parse this answer down, the new design gives us more flexibility in tuning the suspension feel and helps us place the weight lower on the chassis while keeping standover height lower. And all of this adds up to more maneuverability and control on the trail.

10. Why no 27.5 Enduro?
The new Enduro is all about speed. Reaching it quickly, not hanging up in the chunder and, consequently, maintaining momentum like a champ. 29-inch wheels excel here. This doesn’t mean that we’re in a blood feud with smaller wheel sizes. There’s definitely a place for 27.5 in our mountain line, but for this iteration of the Enduro, 29-inch wheels are the perfect match.

8. How did the geometry change between the new Enduro and the previous version?
Here’s where we type “longer, slacker, and lower” and you try not to roll your eyes, and then we try not to feel like we’re just repeating the same old mantra over and over again. So, go ahead and check-out the geo chart comparison above; there are plenty of numbers there that illustrate the head angle slackening, reach growing, and the seat tube getting steeper (among other things).

Another, more subtle (but important) point is that we now offer the Enduro in our Style-Specific Sizing—so you’re looking at, say, an S3 or S4 or S5 instead of a Medium or Large. The point of Style-Specific Sizing is to highlight that, now, almost any single rider can choose between a couple of different frame sizes.

Very low standover heights and very long dropper posts allow riders to really choose their frame size based on how they want the bike to handle. Your desired reach and wheelbase, for example, now become the measuring stick by which you choose. Pick your bike based on your riding style instead of simply relying on the measurement between your crotch and the ground.

9. What’s the price range?
Prices range from $4,410 (Comp) to $9,510 (S-Works). We’re offering the S-Works frame for $3,200.
Enduro Comp 29: $4,410
Enduro Elite 29: $5,210
Enduro Expert 29: $6,510
S-Works Enduro 29: $9,510
S-Works Enduro 29 frame-only: $3,200

10. The Enduro is a carbon-only affair. Why isn’t there an aluminum Enduro 29?
We wanted to create the lightest, most bad-assed bike in this genre. Carbon was the ideal frame material for making that happen. And while there are no aluminum models in the new Enduro line at this point, there are still places in our larger bike lineup where alloy makes sense and will see continued usage.

11. What sets the S-Works Enduro frame apart from the other carbon Enduro frame?
In a word, weight. Ride feel (chassis stiffness) is the same between all of the carbon Enduro 29 frames, but the S-Works frame sports all-carbon top, middle and lower links, which shave an average of 250 grams (.55 pounds) from the overall frame weight.

The S-Works frame only option is a delight in this paint scheme.

12. What kind of “stiffness balance” did you pursue? Did the Enduro get stiffer in the front? Stiffer in the rear? Less stiff?
On average, the rear-end on the new Enduro is 12% stiffer than that of the previous bike (comparing 29er Enduro to 29er Enduro). The front-end stiffness remains the same.

13. You say you built more anti-squat into the new Enduro. How much more anti-squat did you add?
It’s impossible to give a single anti-squat value since anti-squat is a force that results from multiple factors that can change: the bike’s instant center location, chain force vector, and center of gravity. Accordingly, your height, the size of the chainring you’re pedaling, and the cog you’re using at any given moment can impact anti-squat value. Same holds true for your instant center, which (on anything other than a single-pivot bike) is constantly in flux as the rear wheel moves through its travel.
So, rather than cherry-picking a single, meaningless anti-squat value, we’ll put it this way: Holding gear combination, wheel size, and rider weight constant, we’ve increased the Enduro’s anti-squat value by 40%. There’s a significant increase in pedaling efficiency. Shifting the Enduro’s instant center (by changing the linkage and its orientation) had a big impact here.

14. What about the leverage curve on the new Enduro? How has it changed?
In a nutshell, it’s more progressive. We’ll dispense with the words and go straight to the leverage rate curve in the diagram above in the Suspension Discussion section.

Pricing and Info

Prices range from $4,410 (Comp) to $9,510 (S-Works). We’re offering the S-Works frame for $3,200.
Enduro Comp 29: $4,410
Enduro Elite 29: $5,210
Enduro Expert 29: $6,510
S-Works Enduro 29: $9,510
S-Works Enduro 29 frame-only: $3,200

More info: Specialized.com

Verdict

And that’s about as good as test session of a new bike can go. I tore down the outgoing model so I could illustrate how far this new Enduro has come. Specialized not only overhauled this bike to be one of the best in the category but they also took steps to rebuild their brand and image. Bravo!

 

⚠️ Visit the Specialized forum to share your thoughts on the new Enduro.


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  • dan says:

    Did you just say this thing climbs better than the Camber or the Stumpy?????

    • Francis Cebedo says:

      It won’t outclimb a Camber or Stumpy because of its weight, travel, tires. But it’s a better climbing suspension since it doesn’t sag under power on those steep fire roads. Still active on the techy climbs like the Stumpy and Camber.

  • JD Dallager says:

    Francis: Terrific review as always. Thanks.

    Is it Diety or Deity? 🙂

    Which tires would you suggest as better than the Butchers?

    Any thoughts on when the “new” FSR suspension will move to other Spec bikes?

    • Francis Cebedo says:

      Deity indeed!!

      The problem with Butchers is there is a gap in the tread horizontally since all the knobs are always aligned. For alternatives, Minions, E-thirteens, Vittoria Martello and Bontrager SE5 are good.

      On the Specialized line, we use a Hillbilly front tire for very loose stuff. And that new Eliminator tire is working out real well.

    • Francis Cebedo says:

      >>Any thoughts on when the “new” FSR suspension will move to other Spec bikes?

      This will absolutely be the case in our opinion. We compared this suspension to the current Stumpjumper and it was night and day on how supple the new suspension was over constant babyhead rocks.

      It also pedals better. Whether we see it on the Epic style bikes will be tough and dependent on getting the weight down.

      On ebikes, it will be a problem since all the suspension is where the motor lives.

  • Richard says:

    Glad to see Specialized getting away from their in house components and instead using the best that are out there. I have a 2019 s works stumpjumper and it has a spec dropper post…which after light riding for 6 months, no longer holds air. And spec support, at least to me a regular consumer, is basically non existent.

    • Francis Cebedo says:

      >>. I have a 2019 s works stumpjumper and it has a spec dropper post…which after light riding for 6 months, no longer holds air.

      They said they will never make a dropper post again. Music to our ears!

  • preston67 says:

    Any word on what the S-works frame weighs ?

  • N says:

    Did they fix those god awful hubs while they were at it? Bought a pair of 2016 mid level Spec mountain bikes and the front hubs were made out of garbage. Even a set of good bearings couldn’t overcome the fundamental design flaws that made the seals bind up. Also, what’s up with 24/28 F/R spoke count on a frigin’ enduro bike? I might buy one of the new entry level models but those wheels and tires will be the first thing to go.

    • Francis Cebedo says:

      Hubs are much better now. They use the nice DT Star ratchet internals in most of their hubs.

      The 24/28 spoke count is not the best. They’re good but this is a big bike and there are heavier/powerful riders that can stress this out… or catch sticks.

  • Gregor says:

    The numbers you’re quoting come from the S3 if you check the chart you posted.

  • Steve Bond says:

    I read that this new version climbs like a downhill bike. So, I do not really understand this bike it looks better than the old enduro but the old enduro climbed really well and was very playful on the down not plush stick to the ground but still lots of fun on downhills. why not make a bike which looks better and is still pretty good at climbing?

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