Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Cannondale's Carbon Hardtail - Flash carbon ultimate

After 18 months of development, Cannondale are introducing the 16.56lb Flash Carbon Ultimate hardtail, a dramatic departure for the Connecticut company known for fat aluminium tubes and full-suspension rigs.
Taking a page from the development of their race-proven, full-suspension Scalpel, Cannondale's aim with the Flash was to create the lightest, stiffest and strongest – it comes with a lifetime warranty and no rider weight limit – carbon hardtail on the market.
The 950g Flash Carbon frame uses the same high modulus carbon layup seen on Cannondale's SuperSix road frames, raced by Team Liquigas.
The continuous top tube/seatstay junction saves weight and adds stiffness, while the seatstays are straight – a major departure from the hourglass shaped stays found across the board at Cannondale for the past decade. Research and development director Chris Peck says this has been done to boost lateral stiffness for improved rear wheel tracking.
The high modulus carbon fibre top tube and seat stay junction is continuous, maximises carbon fibre's properties, weighs less, and gives tremendous efficiency.:
The chainstays – as well as the 27.2mm diameter carbon seatpost – feature Cannondale's Synapse Active Vibration Elimination (SAVE) technology, which is designed to dampen trail buzz without taking away lateral stiffness. The dropouts and disc brake mounts are alloy, not carbon, due to the intense heat created under braking.
The chainstays use cannondale's shared platform synapse active vibration elimination (s.a.v.e.) technology for damping trail buzz without taking away lateral stiffness.:
The Flash Carbon has a BB30 oversized bottom bracket shell, and comes with Cannondale's Hollowgram SL crankset – the lightest on the market – and Lefty monoblade suspension fork.
 First impressions? Plenty of comfort and performance packed into a technologically advanced frame which will certainly force Cannondale's competitors to revisit the carbon hardtail design approach. We're especially looking forward to the 29er version.
Somewhere in a park city, utah conference room...:
The Flash Carbon platform will come in three spec and pricing models:

Flash Carbon 2

  • Lefty Speed Carbon DLR 110
  • DT Swiss XCR 1.5 wheelset
  • FSA V-Drive BB30 44/32/22 crankset
  • SRAM X-7 shifters, X-9 rear derailleur
  • Avid Elixir R disc brakes
  • US$3,749

Flash Carbon 1

  • Lefty Speed Carbon SL 110
  • Shimano XTR wheelset
  • FSA K-Force Light BB30 44/32/22 crankset
  • Shimano XTR shifters/derailleurs
  • Shimano XTR disc brakes
  • US$6,399

Flash Carbon Ultimate

  • Lefty Speed Carbon SL 110
  • DT Swiss XCR 1.2 carbon wheelset
  • Schwalbe Furious Fred 26 x 2.1 EVO folding tyres
  • Cannondale Hollowgram SL BB30 42/28-tooth crankset w/ custom spider for SRAM XX
  • SRAM XX groupset
  • Fizik Antares carbon-rail saddle
  • US$9,599
Availability will be November 2009 for the 26-inch wheeled version pictured above, although MonaVie-Cannondale racers Tinker Juarez and Jeremiah Bishop will most likely race on pre-production models this season. A 29-inch version (below), the choice of many marathon racers, will be available in December.

The 2010 cannondale flash carbon 2 29er hardtail.:

Flash Carbon 29er 2

  • Lefty 29er Carbon DLR 80
  • DT Swiss X470 29er rims
  • FSA V-Drive BB30 44/32/22 crankset
  • SRAM X-7 shifters, X-9 rear derailleur
  • Avid Elixir R disc brakes
  • Price: TBC

Flash Carbon 29er 1

  • Lefty 29er Carbon SL 80
  • Stan’s ZTR Arch 29er rims and DT Swiss 240S rear hub
  • FSA Afterburner BB30 44/32/22 crankset w/ carbon spider
  • SRAM X-0 shifters, X-0 rear derailleur
  • Avid Elixir CR carbon disc brakes
  • Price: TBC
For more information, visit www.cannondale.com.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

My favorite mountain bike trails in the UK


Nine and a half miles of heart-racing climbs and heart- stopping drops, of the cheekiest twists and turns, of trees stumps, rocks, mud and glory - welcome to the Twrch Trail.
The Cwmcarn Trail climbs dramatically from dense woodland out onto open ridges with 15.5km of almost pure single track, this really is one of Wales’ hidden gems, and best of all the trails are free and can be ridden all year.
The Whyte bikes sponsored Twrch Trail at Cwm Carn is a purpose built 18km singletrack loop. We'll warn you know that nearly all the climbing is done in the first few km, some of it pretty technical and taxing on the legs. Don't give up though as once you're up the top the swooping, roller coaster singletrack back down again is more than reward enough. The trail is fast, flowing and very natural in feel, but first time round don't go crazy as there are some sections of real exposure on the edges of very steep hillside towards the end.

Any regular mountain bike will be fine for these trails. Just make sure the gears are working and there's plenty of life left in your brake blocks. As the trails are largely cut into stable base geology, there are only a few mud patches even in deepest winter but a Crud Catcher or similar will keep your face filth free.

The White’s Level Trail is the most technical of all the trails at Afan Forest park. Starting with a challenging singletrack climb, this 90% purpose built, all weather singletrack route then flows into a true trail roller coaster. An adrenalin pumping mix of rock drops, step sections, berms and cliff traverses - plus an optional black run descent section for the most skillfull riders - creates an outrageous 17km loop.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Specialized Stumpjumper 2010: New mountain bikes

It’s a bit thin on oxygen for a Yorkshire amphibian at Snowbird ski resort in Utah, but it’s not just the altitude that’s taking our breath away at Specialized's 2010 bike launch.

Okay that’s a cheesier intro than a face full of fondue, but to a cynical old sod like me it’s not often something as consistently impressive as their new trail bike line rolls under your nose.

As usual the devil is in the detail, but the key things to remember for the end-of-feature test are:

* New lighter, longer-travel Stumpjumper
* Much lighter and entirely new Enduro
* Biggest range of women's bike ever, including two truly top-end S-Works models
* Big-wheeled bikes – several of them – that are totally sorted
* A return to Fox-produced Brain shocks that are a genuine bonus not a headache

Stumping it up

The most significant news for most riders is that Specialized's trail flagship – the Stumpjumper – gets a complete reworking for 2010. Travel increases to 140mm front and rear, but weights drop across the board.

The S-Works flagship gets a totally new FACT IS carbon frame that’s 80g (50g in the mainframe, 30g in the seatstays) lighter than last year's 120mm bike.

Specialized's mountain bike engineers have unashamedly poached the latest ideas on layup and carbon knowledge from the road bike division. This includes a broad top tube and deliberate creases and curves in the wider sections to stop the ‘oil can-ing’ effect evident on some slab-sided bikes.

The front end is moulded in two pieces (front end and seat tube/bottom bracket) using post-layup stretching to remove any wrinkles or weak spots. The build system also makes the tubes much smoother internally with less overwrap at the junctions.

The Stumpjumper loses its short-lived rocker link layout in favour of a kicker link like the Specialized Epic. This means a healthy amount of seatpost drop before you bottom out on the curved tube.

The seatstay yoke attaches directly to the rear of the shock slider, with ball bearing pivots at all points for smoother actuation. The single-piece seatstays get a direct mount for the Brain chamber.

Fox-built brain shocks are far more consistently controlled than previous units and reliability issues should be sorted too. direct rear end mounting and full bearing linkages boost smoothness too:
Thank Fox for that

One of the most significant – and welcome - pieces of news from the launch is that Specialized are no longer using X-Fusion to make their Brain rear shocks. Instead all Brain – and Triad – shocks will now be made by long-time collaborators Fox. Not only should this eradicate the reliability issues of the past few years, but the performance is dramatically improved too.

The way the Brain activates has changed dramatically. It still uses a brass mass inertia valve, but now the shock link hose feeds in from the top, not the bottom, for a much faster reacting and more compact setup.

Rather than isolating oil flow from the Brain actuation, the compression circuit is now capable of opening the shock and keeping it open. There’s no spring delay on closing either so it opens and shuts immediately in response to the terrain.

After years of “no, it really works this year” assurances we’ll admit to being a bit jaded about the Brain concept, but this year it really does work. Dial the Brain Fade knob to your chosen opening threshold early in the first ride and then just forget about it.

The new top-flow brain shock from fox is far smoother and faster reacting than previous units, making it a genuine free flowing yet bob stopping bonus: the new top-flow brain shock from fox is far smoother and faster reacting than previous units, making it a genuine free flowing yet bob stopping bonus

There’s still a clunky feel in more static settings, but move towards the free flow end of the dial and there’s genuinely no trace of the inertia valve. Sprint into a rocky step-up with the rear end locked, pop the front wheel and the back end will swallow the impact completely, firing you up and over the crux.

It sucks up even the sharpest rock edges without pinch flats and you can squat and drive it through corners as well as any conventional shock, before firing out bob-free.

The new 140/115mm travel S140TA fork with its carbon crown and tapered steerer is equally impressive. New internals put damping in one leg and an air cartridge with single-stage travel-adjust in the other. That means it gains some weight over the previous 120mm fork but it’s still the lightest travel-adjust fork around at 1,602g (3.53lb).

According to Specialized, the 28mm axle end-cap design is stiffer with a conventional quick-release than 15QR forks. You can certainly rip the nose of the bike inside the natural line on corners and it holds a great line through lattice roots and random rock sections. With the Brain Fade turned to minimum it’s as fluid as any other fork we’ve tried and even with some auto lockout it triggers seamlessly when it needs too.

The only issue we had with the forks and shocks was the very light rebound damping, but talking to shock specialist Mick McAndrew, they’ll be changing that for production.

Specialized's new 140mm fork is the lightest travel-adjustable unit around thanks to its carbon crown and tapered steerer: specialized's new 140mm fork is the lightest travel-adjustable unit around thanks to its carbon crown and tapered steerer
S for spoilt

If your banker's bonus means you can afford the S-Works version you also get Specialized’s own FACT carbon cranks (97g lighter than Shimano XTR) driving a hybrid SRAM XX group. This puts non-pedal weight for a medium bike at a shockingly low 10.6kg (23.4lb), which only Scott’s Genius and the Ibis Mojo SL can compete with in the same travel category.

More frugal or financially restricted riders don’t lose out much either. The carbon Pro frame is only 100g heavier than the S-Works and the M5 alloy frame 200g heavier. The hydroformed tubes get the same stiffening crease lines as the carbon model too, along with cold-forged keystones including a hollow driveside dropout. All bikes get the oversize axle ends too (although Fox fork bikes use a smaller 26mm-diameter cap).
Slack attack

It’s not just the impressive vital statistics of the Stumpjumper that impress either, it’s the visceral, high velocity and insatiable chuckable ride that really sell the bike.

Typically for Spesh it’s based around “a roomy top tube, short chainstays, a low bottom bracket and relatively slack angles”. Actually their "relatively slack" is radically slack by most manufacturers' standards, with a 68.5-degree head angle in the short (115mm) fork setting and 67.5 in the long (140mm) travel setting. Add a short stem and this bike just loves to stir up trouble in tight singletrack or lean back and blast more open, rocky descents.

While Specialized haven’t said they’ve changed the makeup of their tyres, they seem a lot stickier before. This makes the bike a total rip-and-roost hooligan on Utah’s swooping, loamy, super-fast singletrack.

The tyres give it even more grip as it flexes its silly-light, locked-shock climbing prowess. The fact the locked rear naturally sits at the top of its stroke offsets the tendency of the slack angles to wander off line too. The fact it managed to blow us away with its trail scaling abilities is even more remarkable considering we were blowing out of our arse at 8,000ft.

The only real weak link in the mix is the very obvious slew and flex from the superlight Roval Control SL rear wheel. Then again, it’s all part of the headline-grabbing low weight, and the Germans will love it!

We’d also have liked a wider riser bar. Say that to any brand manager and they launch into a tortured speech about how it’s only the Brits who like big bars and the Europeans already think they’re too wide.

If you're thinking of engaging in a major race campaign in Europe, Specialized’s 2010 Epic is a better bike than it’s ever been before. The changes seem fairly small, but they make a big difference.

The chassis is unchanged, but the Fox version of the Brain-actuated micro shock is in a different league to the previous Specialized unit. It’s still pretty pert in action, but it’ll swallow decent sized landings without stumbling. The genuinely immediate shock actuation in lower Brain Fade levels means it doubles as a very fast and fluid short-travel trail bike.

Its credentials here are also improved by the same riser bar as the Stumpjumper, which actually feels wide enough on the skinnier, twitchier Epic. The same twangy Roval SL wheels also feel more in tune with the Epic than they do on the Stumpy.

It was my first time on a near-complete SRAM XX bike (it uses an S-Works oversized crank with Truvativ twin spider). Suffice to say the speed of shifting, powerful integrated mount brakes and sensible spread of off-road gears made a favourable impression. At just over 22lb for our large sample it’s proper race-light too.

All enduro models come with a custom double ring shimano crank and lightweight gamut chainguide to keep you chained up however hectic it gets: all enduro models come with a custom double ring shimano crank and lightweight gamut chainguide to keep you chained up however hectic it gets

Another platform where Specialized have worked from the ground up to save kilograms rather than just grams is the new Enduro.

Looking at the top S-Works model you’re getting a totally new carbon fibre frameset with an innovative ‘X Wing’ central crossover. The layout has been a real fight to make work, involving three separate bladders and internal walls to provide the proper compression. However, linking top tube and down tube has immediately tripled the number of cycles to fatigue failure and increased overall stiffness by 30 percent over the last Enduro frame.

The frame also uses impact resistant ‘high strength’ fibre rather than the more usual high stiffness but impact-vulnerable ‘high modulus’ fibre.

The previous rocker link layout has been replaced with the kicker link and horizontal shock mount first seen on the Epic. The rear eye of the Fox RP23BV shock is also slotted for direct attachment of two forged seatstay extensions onto the rear of the shock. Super-thick hollow dropouts give the same stiffness as a Maxle rear but with more versatility in terms of wheel choice.

The problem of putting ISCG mounts on a carbon frame has been dealt with very neatly too. A forged, keyed insert is fixed into the bottom bracket shell which an optional alloy ‘ISCGotron’ can be mounted directly onto. It only weighs 12g, can be replaced if it gets damaged or stripped and it’s Truvativ Hammerschmidt crank compliant too. The mainframes are all sized to take a standard water bottle too, and mud clearance is okay if not outstanding with a big 2.35in tyre.

Specialized have worked hard to continue trail ride practicality through all the components too. Every bike from the Expert upwards gets a Command Post adjustable seatpost with guides for the remote cable. This even includes a notch on the seatpost quick-release lever to tuck it in close when the lever is closed.

All models also get some sort of custom Shimano chainset running 36/22 rings and a Gamut double chainguide. Neat details like red anodised X.0 mech cage, shifter clamps and shifter levers all add to the bling appeal of the S-Works too.

Roval’s superlight Traversee wheelset keeps overall weight low and responsiveness high. From experience they’re properly tough rolling stock, although unsurprisingly you can feel them getting stressed through big sweepers.

The 160mm of rear travel is matched with a new 160mm fork. The previous bespoke triple crown unit has thankfully been dropped in favour of a new 34mm-legged fork using a tapered carbon steerer and crown with Maxle Lite 20mm axle. Like the Stumpjumper fork it can drop 25mm of travel via the top-cap switch and again it’s the lightest in its category by a huge margin at 1,774g (3.9;b). this brings complete S-Works Enduro bike weights to a startlingly light (for the travel) 26.8lb, and even the heaviest alloy bike weighs under 31lb with RockShox Lyrik forks.

Despite the lack of weight it’s certainly no fragile long-travel cross-country bike. The 66-degree head angle, low belly and tight rear end make this bike feel almost as straightline secure and shock sucking as the legendarily planted SX Trail. It certainly sits far lower into the trail than the previous Enduro, making it a blast to pump, slide and carve despite noticeable flex from the wheels.

The performance of the fork is particularly impressive, with a plush stroke once you’ve passed the initial ‘Spike Valve’ compression damping. Its ability to keep a level-headed and controlled response to rock-and-drop sections is clear when switching between the S-Works and the more clumsy feeling Lyrik equipped alloy bikes.

Red anodised sram highlights are typical of specialized's attention to detail: red anodised sram highlights are typical of specialized's attention to detail
Women’s bikes

With 18 women’s bikes across the various families Specialized are rightly proud that they have the widest range of female-specific bikes available. To quote program leader Rachel Lambert: “Nobody in the world takes female riders as seriously as we do. Nobody else creates bikes at as high a level as the S-Works and across more platforms.”

The new Safire is their designated all-rounder designed to cover 90 percent of riding situations. Travel is 140-115mm front and 120mm rear with 68.5 to 67.5-degree head angles. The S-Works version uses a women-specific narrower diameter tubeset and lighter layups. Standover is also 10-15mm better than the leading competitors for increased confidence. Sizes cover riders from 4ft 10in to 6ft and there are four models, the 23.6lb S-Works, Expert carbon, Expert alloy and a Comp alloy version.

Whatever the price, positive and negative springs are softened for lighter riders, and Brain units get lower thresholds. Smaller brake rotors, levers and specific saddles/grips, etc. give appropriate fit and performance.

The Era is essentially the female-specific Epic with Flow Control Brains and the same fit and standover attributes as the Safire. S-Works version highlights include the 3.1lb E100 fork, FACT 10M carbon frame and FACT cranks. There are also Expert carbon, Expert alloy and Comp alloy versions.

Myka deploys the same thinking but at an entry-level price. Both the hardtail and 100mm-travel full-suspension bike use an M4 frame plus custom tuned suspension from X-Fusion and Fox rather than just off-the-shelf units.

Specialized are also extending their links to the Susan G Komen for the Cure breast cancer awareness program. Limited edition bike and kit sales include a 10 percent donation to the cause and they’re supporting a series of events in the US, Italy and Germany.

Specialized have massively expanded their 29er programme too. There are carbon S-Works and M5 alloy geared and singlespeed hardtails, plus M5 Epic and 130mm travel Stumpjumper 29er versions.

All are based around a very short chainstay, offset trail and an inch-and-a-half lower bottom bracket, and they feel ‘right’ on the trail straight away. The S-Works hardtail certainly makes big wheels more competitive than they’ve been before, with a 1,150g (2.54lb) frame that’s as light as last year's 26in bike.

The 90mm travel RockShox Reba S29 fork uses a Specialized carbon crown mated to a Reba Team bottom end to deliver a 1,625g (100g lighter than Reba) front end. A tapered headtube keeps stiffness high and cockpit low, while a curved seat tube gives correct front mech positioning.

Dedicated single- and multi-speed frames both use a curved top-to-seat tube flow which increases compliance and comfort. A super-stiff down tube, oversize bottom bracket and offside alloy dropout areas maximise power delivery from the S-Works crank enhanced SRAM XX groupset. Full bike weight is a minimal 21lb/9.2kg complete with Roval 29 wheels and Specialized’s new 3.8g top cap.

Specialized have seriously committed to big wheelers this year, with s works race hardtail, singlespeed, epic and stumpjumper options: specialized have seriously committed to big wheelers this year, with s works race hardtail, singlespeed, epic and stumpjumper options
The big bikes

Finally, there’s not much news on the big bikes yet for 2010. The SX Trail gets a slight tube straightening to better fit the latest Fox shocks, while the Demo 8 gets slacker, Sam Hill inspired geometry. Specialized hinted that something more interesting will be debuted at Crankworks in August.

Scott Scale 899 2011 hardtail. Lightest MTB ever???

The race is on, in more ways than one. Understandably narked at being outdone in the lightest production mountain bike stakes last year by the Merida 0.Nine, long-time featherweight enthusiasts Scott will turn racers’ heads with their new Scale 899.
With a guaranteed frame weight of just 899g (for small and medium sizes), the new Scale’s proprietary HMX net carbon frame is beating its nearest established rival by some 31g and the previous Scale by a hefty 100g. Specced with full SRAM XX transmission and brakes, a longer-travel 100mm fork and new geometry to suit, this thoroughbred may prove more than a race-day black beauty.
It'll no doubt grab podium places next year, but while its focus is clearly whippet-like speed, it’s refreshing to see that the designers have also paid attention to the evolving demands of riders and created a bike that boasts a bit more versatility, albeit at a tremendous price.
Ride & handling: Bred purely for the racetrack but still rides like a dream
As soon as we threw a leg over the 899 we found we were impelled to go fast. Put the hammer down and the frame twitches with energy without a murmur of flex. Climbing was a joy, with SRAM’s XX chainrings delivering faultless shifting under power and the new rear triangle delivering ground-hugging compliance.
Rather than skip its way over every bump, the Scale 899 seems to suck up the terrain, helping to retain rear wheel traction – an attribute that reminds us of the legendary GT Zaskar LE’s triple-butted stays of old.
Borrowing technology from their CR1 road frame by way of both ovalising the seatstays and adjusting the carbon direction layup, Scott’s engineers have added a degree of vertical compliance while increasing lateral stiffness, which they claim increases comfort by 30 percent over the old Scale. The result is a rear triangle that is instantly there for you when you put the power on, but glides over climbs almost effortlessly.
Many oh-so-light hardtails are gold on the climbs but can prove skittish on the descents. Not so the Scale 899. From the moment we rolled into the first snaking singletrack descent this bike felt like it was on rails.
The tapered head tube and oversize box section leading the main triangle ooze surefootedness and directional stability, helped by the stiff carbon lower assembly of the fork. The tweaked geometry rewards the 899 with a character that touches on the playful – something you wouldn’t expect from a highly tuned race-ready machine.
Now the lightest production mountain bike, the new scale is bred purely for the racetrack but still rides like a dream:
Scott’s one-piece 600mm-wide bar and stem carbon combo felt comfortable and positive, though it does represent a limitation to riders looking to customise the front end with their choice of bars and stems. Meanwhile, the tight, snappy frame offered every change of direction with a burst of energy delivered via short 16.5in chainstays.
In performance terms, Scott have nailed it with the 899 – only the value of such a bank balance-busting bike is in serious question. Yes, it rides great, is the world’s lightest production hardtail, oozes tech advances and is a status symbol to boot, but you pay a hefty premium for the privilege.
Not only is it £1,000 more expensive than the Cannondale Flash Team, which weighs a very close 16.6lb (7.5kg), but the 899’s price exceeds the sum of its parts by around £250. So you could buy the frame only, spec it with full SRAM XX, top-end Scott, Ritchey and DT Swiss parts, and it’ll cost you less than to buy the complete bike. Yes, less.
Scott say this is due to the 899 being lavished with some custom parts and finishing flourishes including a one-off DT Swiss wheelset. Realistically, however, most privateers will plump for a lower priced Scale RC (£4,699) or the frame alone (which is both 31g lighter and £139.03 cheaper than the Merida O.Nine frame).
Frame & equipment: Road-bike-light chassis plus top-end race kit
Scott have gone back to the drawing board to shave weight from their already successful Scale carbon frame. While diminutive frame hardware such as the minimalist new integrated seat collar (weighing a scant 5g), post-mount brake mounts and new carbon dropouts visibly shout weight savings, the new frame has a lot more going on out of sight too.
Large one-piece bottom bracket and head tube boxes replace the previous tube-to-tube bonding, making a lighter and – according to Scott – 10 percent stiffer and stronger frame where it most counts. The aluminium BB insert of old has been ditched and the BB (either standard 92 or BB30) is now press-fit, retained in a plastic sleeve to assist servicing.
With its curving one-piece homogenous seat- and chainstays and seamless front triangle, the 899’s skeleton screams contemporary carbon aesthetics. It’s topped off by a raw matt carbon finish and simple red and white graphics that announce in no uncertain terms the weight of your frame: 899g.
Scott wisely listened to their team riders and added 20mm of travel up front by speccing a new DT XCR 100mm fork – the production bike also gets a carbon steerer and carbon lowers. The bike’s geometry has been tweaked to match the longer travel, with a shorter 90mm stem, 10mm longer top tube, 10mm lower BB and a one degree slacker 70-degree head angle.
All this helps to balance the inherent racy feel with more planted handling. Finished off with a splattering of carbon-tinged componentry and 2x10 SRAM drivetrain, we're under no illusions as to the race-winning intentions of this bike.

The new dt swiss 100mm xcr fork adds stiffness and 20mm of travel:

Thursday, 9 December 2010

First ride: Specialized S-Works Epic

Despite the current Specialized Epic having debuted just a couple of years ago, there's now an all-new model for 2011. That's a pretty quick design turnover, but there's a good reason for it - Specialized wanted to tackle the high-end 29er full-suspension market, which meant doing an Epic 29er in carbon. At that point, redesigning the 26in bike was an obvious next step.
The 2011 Epic is a rare example of the design of a 26in bike being driven by the needs of a 29er. Specialized's engineers, led by mountain bike engineering manager Jan Talavasek, were aiming to overcome the fact that bigger wheels and frames are inherently more flexible - stiffness was a primary design goal. Everything that the team came up with found its way into the 26in bike too.
A bike this light will always flatter on the climbs, but it's not just weight that helps - the sorted Brain suspension has all the traction-grabbing ability you'd expect on loose or rough ascents. The previous model delivered extra trail sensibility and the new one carries on in a similar vein. When a bike rides this well, you don't want to stop.
Ride & handling: Out-of-the ordinary, full-paced ride
We rode the S-Works Epic on an all-day singletrack loop, taking in sections of the Colorado Trail, a 500-mile route through the Rockies. The first impression was one of speed. This is an awesomely fast bike, even when the engine is somewhat hampered by operating at 11,000ft. A lot of that is down to its feathery weight, but low mass isn't the whole story.
Often, flea-weight bikes feel twangy and nervous, but all the work that went into making the Epic stiff has paid off - it's not just eager under power, it's poised in corners too.
The test bike did have a secret weapon in the shape of its carbon-rimmed Roval Control SL wheels. At 1,200g a pair they're amazingly light, but don't feel as flimsy as you'd expect. Production Epics will come with aluminium rims that weigh a little more but still feature the stiffness-enhancing range width tweaks.
Specialized has been pushing its Brain inertia valve shock tech for years. From an uncertain start it's been continuously developed, and the setup on the 2011 Epic leaves little grounds for complaint. The transition between locked-out for smooth trails and open for bumps is usually scarcely detectable and the Mini Brain rear shock and E100 fork work well together. There's also a useful range of threshold adjustment at both ends, so you can almost always have it locked-out, except for the big stuff, or a setup that's nearly always open.
Despite the Epic's race-oriented demeanour, Specialized has kept the handling balance conservative. Some cross-country race bikes are tricky at higher speeds or over rough ground, but the Epic is friendly. There's no lack of agility in the twisties, but you can give it its head when things open up, and it will hold a line.
On the flowing descents of the Colorado Trail it was spectacular - fluid and poised over the bumps and through corners, and like lightning out of bends and up short rises.
Frame & equipment: Brain shock concept has come of age
While the general layout of the Epic's rear suspension is unchanged, some tweaks have been made. There's now a seatstay bridge, with a removable shock mount at the front end of the seatstays to permit assembly. The seatstays themselves have a new hockey stick profile, with the rear end incorporating the chainstay pivot, through-axle carrier, brake mount and Brain inertia valve mount (the latter two on the non-drive side) into a light carbon fibre moulding.
The X12 142x12mm through-axle rear wheel system is found on a lot of 2011 bikes, but not many in the Epic's category. Specialized has taken advantage of the fact that it build its own wheels to make the most of the extra width. Rather than using the extra axle length to engage in frame slots to ensure wheel alignment, they've moved the cassette 2mm outboard to accommodate wider range spacing for a stiffer wheel.
"By moving the flanges further apart, we have over 20 percent stiffness increase just in the wheel," Jan explains. The system is called 142+. The Epic will take any X12 wheel, but the Epic-specific Roval 142+ wheels won't fit other X12 frames. 142+ is a tool-free design and racers will be glad to hear Specialized say it's at least as fast to change a wheel as with a conventional quick-release dropout.
Standard spec on the S-Works are Roval Control SL wheels - with 24 spokes front and rear, a DT freehub mechanism and a carbon/alloy front hub with oversized end caps - that increase stiffness when combined with the Specialized Future E100 inertia valve fork. Less expensive Epics (and the 29er models) will come with RockShox Reba forks with Brain inertia valve internals, but Specialized is sticking with its own fork on the flagship model. A bijou Mini Brain shock suspends the back end.
Up front, the main frame is all carbon fibre. The extra top tube strut on the 2010 Epic has gone (except on the L and XL sizes), to be replaced by a generous flare. The tapered head tube takes a 1.125/1.5in headset, while the bottom bracket shell is sized for the press-fit 30 system. As is traditional on a high-end Specialized, you'll find the company's carbon fibre crank arms on the Epic, with a spider designed to take 29/36 SRAM XX chainrings. The complete bike comes in just under 10kg (21.4lb).
Tester says...
Mike Davis: "When the first Brain-equipped Epic came out we were sceptical. It was unpredictable, didn't help much on bumpy climbs and lacked adjustability. While we're still not 100 percent sold on the concept for long-travel bikes, on the 100mm Epic it's a bona fide asset. Stir in the stiffness boost in the back end and the ultra low weight and you've got a winner, whether you're racing or not."

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

5 Best MTB trails in the UK

1. Afan Forest Park, South Wales
Great for: Those who love magical forest riding.
Trail breakdown: Best known for its hard-core mountain biking, Afan is also home to the brilliant, family-friendly Rheilffordd Trail, a 14-mile, purple-graded (easy) loop that follows the gentle river and valley floor and is perfectly suitable for road, mountain or BMX bikes. The trail starts at the Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre, and aims for the Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike Centre for a food stop and leg rest.
The route then heads back on the opposite side of the river using reconditioned railway embankments that weave their way through the unspoiled countryside. With plenty of BBQ areas, picnic benches and the old Cynonville train station – which has been converted into a viewing stop-off – there’s no shortage of rest stops, while more adventurous riders might wish to tackle some of Afan's more famous routes: the red-graded Penhydd, The Wall, Skyline and White's Level trails. Expert riders can try the black-graded W2 trail – a 44-km loop of serious off-road riding and one of the most challenging trails in Europe. 

Standard of riding: Afan caters for everyone, from absolute beginners through to professionals. Bike hire is available from Skyline Cycles (skylinecycles.co.uk, 01639 850011) at the Glyncorrwyg Visitor Centre with prices from £20 per day for a Kona-branded mountain bike. 

Further info: Try the mbwales.com site as well as afanforestpark.co.uk. The Forestry Commission site forestry.gov.uk lso has a wealth of info on the area. 

Ordnance Survey map number: OS Landranger Map 170 – Vale of Glamorgan covers the region.
Ordnance Survey grid references: Afan Forest Park visitor centre can be found at: SS821951, while the Glyncorrwyg Mountain Bike Centre is: SS872984. 

2. The Ae Line, Ae Forest, part of the 7Stanes Project, Dumfries, Scotland
Great for: Adventurous daredevils.
Trail breakdown: Scotland’s 7Stanes Project – seven trail centres spread over southern Scotland – may share one website, but each centre has its own character and charm and appeals to different riders. Ae Forest, to the north east of Dumfries, is the best place to head if you like lots of jumps, twisting trails, and high-octane riding. The centre’s fabulous Ae Line trail is 24 km of twisting and turning single track through untouched forest, with plenty of rest stops that take in the fabulous views over Big Knowe, Green Hill, and Whaup Knowe.
While there is a specific downhill trail here for serious racers (with an uplift service on scheduled days), the Ae Line has been built for those who love to get airborne but still want a full work out and a good ride into the wilderness. Near the highest point of the trail sits the Omega Man, a sculptured head – or ‘stane’ (hence the name of the centres). From here the run back to the impressive visitor centre is so full of adventurous launches, balance beams and tight turns that riders regularly walk back up the purpose built ‘push up’ track to have another go.
Standard of riding: As with all the 7Stanes resorts, there are trails to suit all abilities, though more advanced riders will get the most from the technical challenges here.
Further info: 7stanes.gov.uk has full details of the trails, while the ae7.co.uk site has info on the café, visitor centre and bike hire facilities. Prices start from £20 per day for a Specialized-branded bike. 

Ordnance Survey map number: OS Landranger Map 78 – Nithsdale & Annandale is the one to get.
Ordnance Survey grid reference online: The Ae Forest Visitor Centre can be found at NX983893

3. The South Downs Way, Winchester to Eastbourne, Hampshire & Sussex
Great for: A bank-holiday weekend adventure.
Trail breakdown: At just over 160 km long, the South Downs Way is a serious ride by any stretch. Add in the total vertical climb of 3 555 metres and it sounds like a gruelling slog. In actual fact, ridden over three days it’s a hugely rewarding challenge for almost all abilities. Most of the route is over chalk gravel bridleway, but there are plenty of sections where the trail dips into the woods and has great single-track loops to discover. Make sure you ride from west to east (odds on the wind will be on your back), and take a camera for the beautiful views from Beacon Hill as well as the stunning Seven Sisters sea cliffs just before Eastbourne.
Foodies will love a detour to Lewes, while a stop in Arundel – with its incredible castle – is another brilliant minor excursion. If you only have one day, and simply wish to sample the trail, then head to Bignor Hill (Ordnance Survey grid reference SU978131) which has great views along the coast. From there ride to Washington – around 15 km down the SDW – and finish with a pint at the brilliant Frankland Arms pub (Ordnance Survey grid ref TQ122128).
Standard of riding: Absolute beginners might be better off trying their skills out at the brilliant Queen Elizabeth Country Park (a mini section of the SDW, with fantastic waymarked trails and bike hire available – www3.hants.gov.uk/qecp); otherwise, the entire SDW is fine for all standards, though slower riders might wish to add an extra day to their plans.
Further info: A list of accommodation ideas along the way can be found at nationaltrail.co.uk, while the brilliant bikedowns.co.uk has detailed plans for each section of the route specifically for cyclists.
Ordnance Survey map number: Winchester is covered by OS Explorer Map 132, while Eastbourne and Beachy Head are covered in map number 123. In between, you’ll need numbers 133, 134 and 122.
Ordnance Survey grid reference online: Start at Winchester Cathedral (SU481292); finish in Eastbourne (TV598982). 

4. Mineral Tramways Project, Portreath, Cornwall
Great for: A family day out in spectacular countryside.
Trail breakdown: Cornwall’s Mineral Tramways Project has converted many of the disused ex-mining railways around the Redruth area into one of the country’s finest cycle path and bridleway networks. There are currently seven waymarked trails to chose from: Tehidy, the Portreath Branchline, Tresavean, Great Flat Lode, Tolgus, Redruth & Chasewater, and the main attraction – the Coast to Coast Trail. This 15-kilometre route stretches from Portreath on the north coast down to the beautiful estuary village of Devoran on the south coast, where the Old Quay Inn makes for a perfect full stop on the day’s riding.
Being ex-railway and pony-treck lines, the riding is naturally very gentle, but don’t be fooled into thinking the MTP only caters for beginners. The sheer variety and number of loops will satisfy riders hungry to eat up kilometres, while more experienced thrill seekers will love the fact that the dirt-jumping spot of The Track is within the network, as is the downhill heaven of Poldice Valley.
Standard of riding: Absolute beginners through to experts. Bike hire and accommodation is available from £12 per day either from the Bike Barn near Portreath (elm-farm.co.uk) or from The Bike Chain in Bissoe near Devoran (cornwallcyclehire.com)
Further info: cornwallcycletrails.com for the MTP, while The Track can be found at the-track.co.uk
Ordnance Survey map number: OS Explorer Maps 104 and 105 cover the area.
Ordnance Survey grid reference online: The visitor centre at The Bike Barn near Portreath can be found at SW694457. The Bike Chain in Bissoe is at SW771413. 

5. Kielder Water & Forest Park, Northumberland
Great for: Empty road riding and brilliant off-road terrain.
Trail breakdown: There are two reasons for heading to Kielder – the road-bike friendly Lakeside Way route (which at 35 km skirts Europe’s largest man-made lake) and the incredible mountain biking to be found in the UK’s largest forest. Recently voted ‘the most tranquil place in England’ by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, visitors can expect to see newly introduced Ospreys, the beautiful Kielder Castle and enjoy the numerous visitor centres and cafes around the park.
Road riders will love the views, the car-free roads and the fresh air, while mountain bikers can reap the benefits of a recent £900 000 investment into the area’s trails. There are three new routes for 2009: a blue-graded easy trail and a more challenging red-graded run, both of which take in the summit of 1 900-feet-high Deadwater Fell; and the new Lonesome Pine trail – the UK’s longest section of Northshore (purpose-built wooden beams that test a riders skill and balance).
Standard of riding: Absolute beginners and families will love the Lakeside Way, while the mountain biking is perfect for all levels. There’s even a ‘skills area’, designed to show what grade of obstacles suit your standard.
Further info: The Purple Mountain Bike hire and shop has Kona-branded bikes for hire from £25 for a full day (purplemountain.co.uk), while info on the trails can be found at visitkielder.com or the local rider site kieldertrailreavers.co.uk
Ordnance Survey map number: OS Landranger Map 80 covers the Cheviot Hills and Kielder Water.
Ordnance Survey grid reference online: Kielder’s main visitor centre at the castle (also home to Purple Mountain Bike) can be found at NY632936.