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By Reid Wright

 

First, let me be clear: I’ve ridden the hell out of this bike. About 2,500 miles now since purchasing it in the fall of 2014. So this review isn’t just based on a day-long demo or ride around the block.

As advertised, the Crave is an affordable (retails for about $1,600) option for someone getting into cross-country racing who doesn’t want to pay $7,000+ for a carbon-fiber race bike. What’s surprising is all the other things this bike can do. Like ripping tight corners on single track, long-distance gravel grinders, dancing through rock gardens and bike packing the entirety of the Colorado Trail.

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My first impression of riding the Specialized Crave was that it makes me feel like a ninja. For a large-wheeled bike, it is remarkably agile and maneuverable. Without getting into the geometry lesson, the design of this frame is dialed and honed to perfection from decades of mountain bike evolution. Sure, you have to ride it more like a ballerina and less like a bull – but that goes for most hard tails. Dancing over the rocks on this bike has honed my technical skills, and I feel like I’ve grown as a rider because of it. I now clear technical climbs that I never could before.

The Crave provides the pedaling efficiency, mountain goat climbing, and stand-and-deliver acceleration you love from a hard tail, but still rolls remarkably well over large rocks and steps. I was recently tickled when some riders on six-inch travel enduro bikes did a double take at me as I was keeping pace with them on the rocky downhills of Sedona’s Highline trail. But this bike really shines on smoother single-track and dirt roads.

The Shimano disc brakes, SRAM X5/Shimano SLX 2X10 drive train, stock seat post and handle bars are all solid performers on this bike. I even kept the Specialized Body Geometry saddle and now prefer it.

Recommended upgrades, if you can find a good deal on parts (no use sinking a ton of money into a bike that isn’t worth much) would be to the tires, wheels and fork lockout. The stock remote lockout on the Rockshox Recon fork was nice while it lasted, but stopped working after about thousand miles. My mechanics were unable to repair it, so I just took it off and pumped up the fork firm for increased pedaling efficiency.

I’m afraid the Specialized Stout wheels and hubs don’t quite live up to the name. They are a nice compromise between lightweight, affordability and strength – but they are not bomb proof. Early on, I came around a corner and had to ride over a sharp rock because a guy was resting with his legs outstretched into the middle of the trail. It pinch flatted and put a nice dent in the rim. My mechanic was able to bend it back into tubeless functionality, but after bike packing the Colorado Trail, the rear hub came loose internally and started rattling. Specialized was kind enough to send me a new wheel assembly under warranty complete with hub, tire, tube, rotor and cassette (hurray for spare parts!), but the replacement wheel had a 9-speed cassette for a 10-speed bike and was bored for a Schrader valve (boo).

Despite the wheel setbacks, my Crave is currently set up for tubeless and is rolling as fast as ever. I’m currently experimenting with a 2.3 inch Specialized Slaughter tire in the back, and a 2.3 Specialized Butcher in the front (review to come) – in the hopes that a wider tire will better protect the rim. I’m also on the lookout for a set of used or take-off 29 inch race wheels. Lastly, I’m looking into upgrading to a 1×11 drivetrain.

I have also had to replace the chain, cassette, cables and brake pads, but I would definitely attribute that to normal wear and tear. Also had an issue where the headset started coming loose, and a mechanic had to install another spacer (worked fine ever since). The right crank occasionally has to be re-tightened. I like to think it just can’t handle the raw power of my pedal stroke.

I’ve ridden this bike hard, and used it in ways that were probably never intended by the designer. But like a scrappy underdog, it keeps fighting the trail and never letting me down. I’d recommend it for anyone on a tight budget that rides smoother terrain and wants to up their cross-country riding game to the next level.

For more information, go to https://www.specialized.com 

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