June 20/12 13:50 pm - Specialized Carve Expert 29er
Posted by Editoress on 06/20/12
The Carve series is new for Specialized in 2012. The company has a huge number of 29er models across its range, from entry-level to $10,000-plus carbon full suspension bikes. The intent of the Carve range is to offer an aluminum-framed 29-inched wheeled hardtail mountain bike in the $1000 to $2500 price range.
There are three models of Carve: the Carve Comp 29, the Carve Expert 29 (our test bike) and the Carve Pro 29. The same frame is used in all three, with the differences coming in the component spec. The component differences are in such areas as the fork, derailleurs and shifters. Items such as the wheels and cockpit and saddle are common between models.
The heart of the Carve is the frame. It represents much of what can now be done with aluminum. It is multi-shaped, tapering here and flaring there. The process of hydroforming certainly shows that aluminum is still a current material for bicycles. Specialized calls this alloy M4SL. The seat tube has a subtle rearward curve, the chainstays flair out from the BB to provide lots of tire clearance. The top tube goes from fat at the front to tiny at the seat cluster. However, you’ve got to look closely to actually see all of the effort that has gone into the frame. The Carve is available in five sizes, going from 39cm (15.5”) up to a gigantic 58cm (23”) for riders between 6’5” and 6’7”. Our test bike was a 53 cm (21”). It was a substantial bike.
The word subtle keeps coming to mind. The bike is entirely black and white. Don’t think of it as dull, though. It has an assortment of patterns that, at least to my eye, are extremely attractive. The components have also been selected to follow the B&W theme. It’s a great looking bike.
The front fork is an 80mm RockShox Recon Silver TK SL, complete with lockout. It has an alloy steerer and is tapered from 1 1/2” to 1 1/8”. The drivetrain is Shimano Deore. This includes shifters, front derailleur and 175mm cranks with 42/32/24 rings. The rear derailleur is upgraded to an XT Shadow. The cassette is also Shimano and is an 11-36 10-speed configuration. Brakes are the Shimano M446 hydraulic discs. The front rotor is 180mm (a nice touch), with the rear a standard 160mm.
Wheels are largely Specialized in-house items. Don’t worry. They are always quality products. Hubs are the Formula Stout 29, rims are Alex Carve Stout 29, and 32 black anodized spokes finishes them off. Tires are the Specialized Ground Control 29x2.1 and they are tubeless ready.
The Specialized cockpit is done with a straight, over-sized bar and shorty stem. The seatpost features a micro-adjust head to accommodate the 143mm Specialized Carve SL cromoly-railed saddle. Grips are Specialized Body Geometry XCT dual compound. They have an ergo shape to get some of the weight on to your palm. Pedals are alloy platform style, which likely will be replaced immediately.
I was fortunate enough to have the Carve Expert 29 for the better part of two months. I used it as my everyday bike over most of that time. All told, I put in about 600 kilometres on it. It rode rocks at Hilton Falls. I used it to ride sweep on a very muddy Paris To Ancaster. It rode tight single track at Puslinch. It proved to be reliable throughout.
The first impression is a good one. The Carve Expert 29 is an extremely attractive, well-spec'd bike. However, there are some concerns. It is not light. Our test bike came in at 12.4 kg (27 pounds 7 ounces) without pedals. Much of that can be attributed to the wheels. The front comes in at 2.1 kg (4 pounds 10 ounces) and the rear at 2.8 kg (6 pounds 3 ounces). Combined, that is over one-third of the weight of the complete bike. You notice that immediately. Acceleration isn’t the fastest and climbing suffers. But you do have 30 gears, which helps considerably. You might not be the fastest up the hill, but you will get there.
Like many riders I have being using forks with 100mm or more of travel over the last few years. It was a bit of an eye opener to go back to 80mm. My overall assessment of the fork is that it functions well but there is a good deal of weight there for not a whole lot of benefit. I think I’d be much happier with a 100mm travel fork on this bike. Of course that would require a whole bunch of messing with geometry. I really noticed the shorter travel when encountering rougher trail. Having said that, the larger 29" wheels do help soak up the bumps.
Once you do get the Carve Expert 29 up to speed it is quite pleasant. The big wheels maintain momentum well. The shifting function is excellent, and never missed a beat in a wide variety of conditions. I wasn’t familiar with this model of Shimano disc brake. They performed well in a variety of conditions, with only a little noise in really wet or really dusty conditions. The 180mm front rotor helps to provide good stopping power.
I have some criticisms on the cockpit. First, the bar is a ridiculously wide 28”. That is free ride width. Just about everyone, myself included, is going to need to cut these bars. The wide bar, combined with being a big bike, meant that it was not the best machine for tight single track.
Secondly, the grips, although attractive, weren’t the most comfortable. I have regular round Specialized grips on another of my bikes and they are more comfortable. As well, black and white isn’t the wisest choice for a mountain bike. Even after one ride in dry conditions the white part of the grip was turning grey. My wife coined the term “insta-grey”. Only serious scrubbing would get them close to white again.
Saddle starting to fray
As mentioned above I got some serious miles on the Carve Expert 29. It was showing some signs of wear in a couple of areas. The saddle, although quite comfortable, was starting to fray around the rear scuff material. As well, the anodizing on the Deore cranks disappeared rather quickly. This certainly detracted from the beautiful cosmetics.
Black anodizing on the Deore cranks disappeared rather quickly
I would suppose that one of the most important questions to address is who is this bike for and what is its intended purpose? I think it is for someone who is budget conscious who needs a good all around mountain bike with 29 inch wheels. Could you race it? Yes, although you’ll have a bit of a weight penalty. Could you commute or just ride around with it? Most definitely. With a few cockpit tweaks it would get you around with a minimum of problems.
Maybe the final decision is the price. The suggested retail price is $2000. I was able to find it on line for as low as $1499, and it is selling in the local shops for similar prices. That is a lot of bike for a pretty reasonable price. I feel that it will last for quite a few years based on my experience.
Check out the extensive lineup of Specialized bikes at www.specialized.com
By Mike Badyk