New for 2012 is the Carve 29 from Specialized. The Pro sits at the top of the line up above the Comp, and Expert models. The Carve Pro comes with a good range of components: Shimano brakes and drivetrain, Rockshox Recon Fork, and Specialized everything else. This line of bikes is for the riders that desire a fast and durable hardtail 29er, but doesn’t want to spend the cash for the Stumpjumper HT. Lets look at what you get for the $2000 price tag.
The frame is made from fully manipulated M4 aluminum with XC 29er-specific geo. Tapered tubes all over with a headtube thats 1 1/8″ to 1 1/2″, a seat tube that starts from a small 27.2 and widens at the BB area, and a very sleek looking top tube that slowly thins out as it meets the seat tube. The Seat tube also has a slight bend in it to tuck the rear wheel under the rider, keeping the chainstays on the short side. The seatstays are bridge-less for more “vertical compliance while torsionally stiffening the rear triangle ” according to Specialized. The rear brake is post mount for a clean simple look. The first thing I noticed riding The Carve is, it’s Stiff! It”s been a while since I have ridden an Aluminum Hardtail. The good side to this is, all the power you’re putting to the pedals, goes straight to the ground. I felt zero flex from the frame, even out of the saddle, under hard effort.
The Fork is a Rockshox Recon Gold TK SL that features a Tapered Steerer, Hollow Aluminum crown, 32mm Aluminum Uppers, and Light Weight Magnesium Lowers. The Pro model also has a handlebar mounted Lockout, which does not come on the Expert and Comp models. According to the recommended pressure chart on the fork, I should of set the psi between 90 and 110, for my 145lb weight. I started at 100 psi, and didn’t get 20% sag till 70 psi. After a few rides, 75 psi was the best feeling set up, with the rebound set in the middle. The Recon felt like it had more than its 80mm of travel. Its smooth and strong. I never had any issues with it’s performance. Although I am used to leaving my front suspension unlocked for 90% of my riding. The remote Lockout was convenient, and worked great.
Drivetrain/Brakes were a pretty simple, yet proven, Shimano Deroe/SLX/XT combo. Using the Dyna-Sys System, which is 24/32/42 rings up front and a 10 speed 11-36 cassatte in the rear, gives you plenty of gear choices no matter what terrain your riding. The SLX shifters and XT rear derailleur delivered ultra solid shifts. The Shimano Deore Servo Wave hydraulic brakes came with 180/160 rotors. Even though the brakes could bring your speed down pretty good, they were very noisy! Even after adjusting, and cleaning. Almost unbearable at times. Also, the levers seemed short and stubby, no matter were I put them, they weren’t comfortable. The brakes were just not up to par with the rest of this bike.
Deore Brakes/SLX Shifters/Rockshox Lockout lever
Rounding out the package is a slew of Specialized branded parts. A 27 inch alloy flat bar bolted to the 75mm stem, put my weight centered on the bike. The Specialized Body Geometry XCT Grips were great, expecially on longer rides. The Carve saddle is 143mm wide with hollow Cr-Mo rails. I love Specialized saddles, especially the Phenom model, but if I put in more than 25 or so miles on the carve saddle, it seemed a little uncomfortable. Last but not least, are those big wheels. The Carve Stout 29 rims are alloy double walled, laced with Stainless 2mm spokes, to 32 hole Stout hubs. Both Hubs have sealed cartridge bearings and spin smooth. The wheels are strong and can take abuse. They are not the lightest out there for sure, but were solid and stiff. The front uses an oversized dropout interface for front-end rigidity. This means the endcaps on the hubs and QR are larger than normal where they clamp down on the fork. This, added to the Tapered Steer Tube made for a very stiff front end. The Captain Control tires are some of my favorite trail tires. They feel bigger than their 2.0 size. They bite well in the corners, and are predictable when pushed to their limit. Although set up with tubes, they are tubeless ready, or “2Bliss” as Specialized calls it.
I normally ride a HT 29er. So whats different about this one? If I had to pick one thing, it would be it handles great. Actually, it handles better than most 29ers I’ve ridden. I also wanted to get the opinion of someone who doesn’t normally ride a 29er. One of my riding buddies normally rides a 26 inch dual susp. He and I did a 10 mile loop at our local spot with the Carve. This is what he had to say, “The bike pedals smoothly, accelerates quickly, and climbs great. I need to get a 29er!” This bike make him a 29er believer. If I could make small changes I’d say, a carbon seatpost would have more flex and would be more comfortable on longer rides. Also going tubeless would allow you to run lower pessures, giving you more traction and better ride quality. And as I stated before, the Deore brake didn’t impress me. Upgrading to the XT or just SLX brakes would make the component spec super solid. With the Carve line starting at only $1350, and the Pro tested here retailing for $2000, I think Specialized did a good job at putting together a durable bike than performs good without breaking the bank.