In-Depth Review of Specialized Mountain Bikes: Pioneers of Mountain Bike Performance & Design
Specialized is one of the world’s best bike brands, renowned for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in cycling.
Specialized mountain bikes have brought innovations to the industry since its beginning, blending groundbreaking technologies and creative designs.
The company is one of the pioneers of mountain biking, developing the game-changing FSR suspension system, the smart Brain suspension technology, body geometry saddles, and so much more.
In this review, we aim to take a closer look at the Specialized mountain bike lineup and delve into the leading features that set them apart from the competition.
Whether you’re a proud owner of a Specialized mountain bike or someone interested in becoming one, you’ll find this review to be an invaluable guide to the value Specialized MTBs provide.
Innovative Features of Specialized Mountain Bikes
The history of Specialized Bikes is defined by innovation since its early beginnings.
The company began in 1974, started producing bike tires, and then took the mountain biking world by surprise in 1981 by releasing the first generation Stumpjumper.
Specialized mountain bikes boast cutting-edge FSR suspension designed back in 1993, sophisticated aerodynamics achieved in a wind tunnel designed by NASA engineers, and innovative reach-based sizing.
Today, Specialized makes some of the best mountain bikes around, frequently seen on world championship podiums.
Specialized’s FSR suspension system was designed back in 1993, with the help of Horst Leitner of AMP Research.
This is a four-bar suspension system that represented a significant advancement in mountain biking technology at the time.
The FSR technology allows the bike’s rear wheel to move independently of both pedaling and braking forces, improving comfort, control, and efficiency.
Why is this important? Because this design increases tire contact with the ground, giving you more control and better traction compared to other suspension systems.
These features are especially noticeable when climbing steep hills or tackling technical descents.
According to the company, the FSR technology has been the main factor in Specialized’s multiple wins at both the Cross Country and Downhill World Championships.
The Specialized Brain suspension technology was introduced in 2002 and is found in Epic shocks and forks today.
This groundbreaking feature distinguishes between pedaling forces and bump forces, keeping the suspension firm while you’re pedaling and plush while you’re riding over bumps.
All of this happens automatically and in real-time thanks to an inertia valve mechanism, which remains closed on smooth terrain for a firm, efficient ride, and instantly opens up when it detects bumps or obstacles.
As a result, the Brain suspension almost has a mind of its own and reacts faster than any rider could if they were to control the suspension by pressing a lever.
Specialized believes that selecting a mountain bike size based on inseam and height measurements is outdated and limiting.
Instead, they designed an innovative approach to mountain bike sizing known as style-specific sizing, or S-Sizing.
This sizing method works by focusing on the bike’s reach measurement and optimizes the fit based on individual rider preferences and riding styles.
The S-Sizing helps riders achieve their desired bike feel and performance expectations by offering a range of sizes that vary in reach, but all have a similar headtube length and standover height.
If you want more stability on the trails, you’ll choose one of the bigger sizes (S4, S5, S6), but if you’re looking for more maneuverability, you should go with one of the smaller sizes (S1, S2, S3).
For XC bikes, the traditional sizing method makes sense because XC racing involves a lot of pedaling. However, on technical trails, stability and maneuverability rule supreme.
The Specialized SWAT technology is short for Storage, Water, Air, Tools and is a storage solution introduced in the early 2010s.
The SWAT design integrates storage compartments within the frame, allowing you to stow gear, tools, and nutrition without packing it all inside your rear jersey pockets.
This technology allows riders to have a cleaner bike appearance and eliminates the need for carrying a backpack or saddlebag.
The SWAT solutions vary from integrated compartments inside the bike’s downtube, water bottle cages with tool storage, and even cycling apparel with secure pockets.
On mountain bikes, Specialized also introduced the frame-mounted EMT multi-tool and top cap chain tool, allowing riders to deal with any trailside mechanical repair.
Specialized Mountain Bikes Range Overview
Being one of the best mountain bike brands in the world, the Specialized mountain bike range consists of a diverse lineup of models in all biking disciplines and pricing categories.
Starting from around $500 for basic hardtail cross-country and trail builds and going up to $15,000+ for premium S-Works builds, Specialized truly offers something for everyone.
Specialized denotes different build levels of their mountain bikes with terms like Sport, Comp, Elite, Expert, and Pro. Here’s what these terms tell you:
- Base: This build level has no additional denotation next to the model name and is reserved for the most basic and affordable builds in the series.
- Sport: This term is used for entry-level models with basic components tailored to beginner riders. They offer good value for the money and just enough performance for recreational and novice riders.
- Comp (Competition): This term denotes a step up from Sport, offering slightly better components and sometimes lighter materials. These models are built for more serious recreational riders looking for better performance and reliability without the high price tag of top-tier models.
- Elite: These models are intended for enthusiasts and avid riders. They usually come with higher-end components, lighter frame materials like carbon or high-grade aluminum, and more advanced features. They offer the best balance between performance and price for the dedicated rider.
- Expert: These builds are suitable for riders looking for a higher performance that’s still offered at a reasonable price compared to the top-tier models. Expert builds usually boast high-end components and light materials, with more attention to detail in the build.
- Pro: This term is used for models that are equipped with top-of-the-line components, frames, and technology for the price. Pro bikes are built to perform at the highest levels of competition and come with a price to match.
In addition to these build levels, you will also see terms like EVO and LTD:
- EVO: This designation on Specialized mountain bikes signifies models built for more aggressive riding and technical terrain. EVO models boast modifications like slacker head angles, longer wheelbases, and increased suspension travel. This makes them ideal for riders who plan to tackle demanding trails and downhills.
- LTD: This term is short for “Limited Edition,” and is used on models with unique paint jobs, components, or other unique features that set them apart from regular builds. They are typically offered for a limited amount of time and have higher price tags than regular Specialized mountain bikes.
Cross Country Mountain Bikes
Specialized’s Cross Country (XC) mountain bikes feature some of the least expensive and most expensive models the brand has to offer. The prices start from as little as $650 for the Rockhopper and reach $12,000 for the S-Works Epic model.
The cross-country lineup is designed to tailor to the needs of a diverse range of riders, including absolute MTB beginners, amateur enthusiasts, and professional racers.
The entire range of XC models includes the following families:
- Epic Hardtail
The Rockhopper and Chisel are hardtail-only XC bikes, whereas the Epic has both hardtail and full-suspension builds. If you’re looking to spend less money or get a model that excels in climbing efficiency and speed, you can choose a hardtail build. Otherwise, if money is not a problem and you want top performance, the Epic full-suspension model is the way to go.
The Epic series incorporates Specialized’s Brain technology, FACT carbon, SWAT storage, and so on.
In general, cross-country mountain bikes are characterized by low weights, low amount of travel, pedaling efficiency, and geometry designed for speed and nimble handling, which is exactly what you can expect from these Specialized builds.
Trail Mountain Bikes
The Specialized trail mountain bikes are designed for more rugged terrain compared to the cross-country selection, though the Rockhopper is featured in both disciplines.
They’re perfect for riders who love exploring challenging singletrack trails, fast descents, technical climbs, and rock gardens.
This category includes both hardtail and full-suspension models, though the full-suspension models take the lead because they offer more trail capabilities.
The key Specialized mountain bikes in this category include the following model series that range between $650 and $11,500 in price:
The Rockhopper and Fuse represent the hardtail selection, aimed toward riders with a lower budget or those who love the simplicity and pedaling efficiency of a rigid frame. The Fuse offers models for enthusiasts and avid mountain bikers, whereas the Rockhopper series is geared towards novice riders and occasional shredders.
On the other hand, the Status, Stumpjumper, and Enduro are the key models in the Specialized Trail and All-Mountain lineup. The Stumpjumper is a legendary name in mountain biking, as it is the first mountain bike built by Specialized in 1981.
This lineup is where you’ll first see any new technology and innovative features developed by Specialized, such as the FSR suspension, SWAT storage, S-Sizing, FACT carbon frames, and so on.
Downhill Mountain Bikes
If you’re a DH/Gravity rider and you love the adrenaline of shredding technical descents, the Specialized’s downhill mountain bike category is where you should look for your next two-wheeled companion.
Specialized makes only one downhill bike, called the Demo, which is not uncommon in the cycling world—most big brands have only one or two DH builds.
The Demo has a mullet setup with a 29-inch front wheel and a 29-inch rear wheel coupled with the most travel you’ll get on any Specialized mountain bike—200 mm.
The Demo DH bikes are designed for professional downhill racers and dedicated enthusiasts who need a bike that can endure the abuse of technical, big jumps, and rough obstacles.
Their innovative design is characterized by a low center of gravity, asymmetrical frame, and a suspension setup optimized for maximum traction and shock absorption.
The latest version of the Demo was designed in collaboration with the World Champ Loïc Bruni, and has already won the Downhill World Championship and overall World Cup titles in its very first season.
These bikes boast top-tier components in the industry, packed around a heavy-duty aluminum frame with DH-optimized geometry and Öhlins suspension on the Race model.
BMX/Dirt Jump Bikes
If you’re a thrill-seeker who loves doing aerial tricks, spending time at pump tracks and skate parks, the Specialized Dirt Jump bikes are made for you.
These bikes prioritize precision, durability, and agility, boasting simple, no-fuss builds that have all the features you need and none that you don’t.
The top model in this category (and the only one at the time) is the P.Series, consisting of four distinct builds:
- P.1 (20″)
- P.2 (24″)
- P.3 (26″)
- P.4 (27.5″)
The P.Series dirt jumpers deliver strong, lightweight frames that can withstand the abuse of technical riding, jumping, and doing tricks.
The lineup includes fully rigid and hardtail builds with single-speed drivetrains and dependable hydraulic disc brakes. This makes maintenance super-easy and allows the bike to stay in top condition despite all the abuse.
In terms of the price, the P.Series are relatively affordable, ranging between $650 and $2,100, which makes them accessible to a wide range of riders.
It’s important to note that each build has differently sized wheels (from 20″ on the P.1 to 27.5″ on the P.4) and fits a different range of rider heights. However, you can size down for more maneuverability or size up for more stability.
Electric Mountain Bikes
Specialized’s electric mountain bikes allow you to say goodbye to shuttles and chairlifts—instead, climb your way up the hill with the help of an electric motor and then shred the descent like you’re riding any other MTB.
With an electric MTB, you’ll be able to spend more time on the trails, explore more singletracks, climb steeper hills, and cover more ground with less effort.
The electric models that are currently available include:
- Turbo Levo Kids’
- Turbo Levo
- Turbo Kenevo
The Turbo Levo is a versatile electric trail bike that can do a bit of everything, but specializes in trail performance, agility, and handling.
On the other hand, the Turbo Kenevo is a more aggressive all-mountain/enduro build with longer travel and geometry optimized for rougher downhill sections.
What’s interesting is that these bikes are powered by Specialized’s proprietary motors and batteries, which makes them optimized for top performance.
However, what might be a deal-breaker for many riders is the steep pricing. The price range starts at around $7,000 ($3,800 for the kids’ model) and climbs all the way up to $15,000.
Finally, these are Class 1 e-bikes with pedal assistance that enhances the ride without dominating it, keeping mountain biking fun while making it more accessible to a wider range of riders.
S-Works Specialized Mountain Bikes
If you’re looking to get the best Specialized has to offer, you should consider their S-Works line.
The S-Works Specialized mountain bikes represent the pinnacle of engineering and bike design, showcasing the brand’s latest technology and innovation.
S-Works bikes were first introduced in the late 1980s as Specialized’s premium offerings, built with high-quality materials and top-of-the-line components.
The S-Works lineup includes mountain, road, gravel, and even ebike categories, all of which are built with the groundbreaking FACT (Functional Advanced Composite Technology) carbon engineering process. In short, the S-Works mountain bikes are the supercars of cycling.
The Specialized mountain bike model families you can get with the S-Works attention to detail include:
- S-Works Enduro
- S-Works Stumpjumper
- S-Works Epic
- S-Works Turbo Kenevo
- S-Works Turbo Levo
All S-Works Specialized mountain bikes boast the brand’s latest innovations and features, such as the FSR suspension system, Brain shock technology, SWAT integrated storage, FACT carbon fiber, and more.
They are fine-tuned for top-level racing, which is why they are the choice of elite cyclists and a common sight at both the Cross Country and Downhill World Championships.
S-Works mountain bikes are also the go-to choice of avid cycling enthusiasts with deep enough pockets, who are looking for the best and lightest performance.
Unfortunately, not everyone can afford an S-Works model as the prices range from around $11,000 to $15,500.
Specialized mountain bikes can be the right choice for any kind of rider.
Whether you’re a mountain biking novice, a seasoned enthusiast, or a professional athlete, you’ll be able to find a model that meets your needs and propels you forward.
These mountain bikes showcase the latest achievements in mountain biking technology, boasting features such as the FSR suspension, S-Sizing, FACT carbon, Brain suspension, SWAT storage, and so much more.
After delving deeper into the full range of Specialized mountain bikes and looking at their key features, it’s pretty clear why they stand out from the competition and why you should consider getting one.